Sunday 2nd July 2017 – Producing fruit: Peace
I don’t know if you’ve ever seen “Miss Congeniality/Miss Detective”, the Sandra Bullock/Michael Caine film where she play a tough, one-of-the-lads FBI agent sent undercover as a beauty queen contestant as part of an investigation. Part of the comedy of the film is about this gum-chewing policewoman who really just wants to be one of the lads but finds herself having to have her legs waxed, her eyebrows plucked and her whole image turned upside down. To fit in with the other Miss United States contestants, she has to become more “congenial” – which really isn’t her character strongpoint! There are also some sideways swipes at beauty pageants and their contestants. One aspect that gets a particular airing is the stereotypical replies the contestants give to the questions they are asked on stage:
“What is the one most important thing our society needs?” – “Oh, world peace!”
We’re looking at what should happen next for the Christian after we have believed and begun to follow Jesus. We’ve seen that the two things God looks for are that we should share the Good News with others, making disciples of them; and that we should be transformed in our character to become like Jesus.
We’re continuing our look at this character transformation: producing fruit in our lives, the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance [patience], kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Gal 5.22-23)
And today we come to peace. What does that mean, ‘the fruit of the Spirit is peace’? What does peace itself mean? The dictionary says,
– Freedom from disturbance; tranquillity
– A state or period in which there is no war, or a war has ended.
I suppose that’s a good thing – none of us want to be at war, and we don’t want lots of disturbance. But is that it? And if it is, how on earth can it be something that the Spirit can grow in us as a character trait? How can God produce world peace by growing our character to be more like Jesus?
One could imagine that, if everyone – literally everyone, began to follow Jesus, there might be peace. Even then, there are lots of people who profess to follow Jesus who are not at peace with each other. Certainly, then, this character transformation in something that does need to happen; it’s not automatic; we need to ask for it and work with the Holy Spirit to allow him to change us. As we look at Christians & the church today and throughout history, it’s obvious that – at the very least – many people have not done that. They’ve not received God’s peace; they are at odds with other Christians around them, let alone at peace with the rest of the world. We must let God’s Spirit do his work in our hearts and minds; changing the way we feel; changing the way we think.
But is there more? There are two verses that shed some particular light on this. The first is Jesus talking to his followers:
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14.27)
Jesus makes it clear that this fruit is something that he gives us; and that it’s not the kind of peace the world thinks of, nor is it given in the way that the world gives. How does the world give peace? Usually by crushing the opposition; by wiping out those who are causing the disturbance. The Pax Romana, for example – the “peaceful” 200 or so years presided over by the Romans from about 27BC to 180AD – was only brought about by military might and conquest.
God’s peace isn’t established like that. He places it in our hearts. His peace doesn’t come into our hearts and minds (our feelings and our thoughts) because outside circumstances change – it comes because he gives us it to us despite outside circumstances.
The other verse, which underlines this, is in Philippians 4:
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4.7)
It’s not a circular argument – “think peaceful thoughts; meditate and be Zen and you will know peace”! Not at all. God is saying he will give us peace, and that inner peace will protect our feelings and thoughts. Look at the context:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4.4-7)
God is telling us
- a) that he will give us his peace
- b) that, in the difficult trials, circumstances and deserts we will find ourselves in, we should hold onto him, rejoice, pray, give thanks, show gentleness and that the peace he has given us will enable us to live through those hard times.
So why, if God gives us his peace, is it also described as an aspect of the fruit of the Spirit, a Christian character trait?
I believe the answer is that God gives his peace to us, but then we also have a responsibility to let it grow. We need to tend it, feed it, water it and pull out the weeds that might grow around it:
- keep rejoicing
- show gentleness
- refuse to be anxious, plucking out the seedlings of anxiety by praying and bringing those sprouting worries to God.
Let’s end with a practical exercise:
- Pretend it’s four o’clock in the morning and you’ve woken up and are feeling anxious about that thing you’ve been feeling anxious about on and off for ages.
- Now, ask for God’s peace, “Father, please fill my heart and my mind with your peace, the peace that goes beyond what I can understand.”
- In your mind’s eye, take that situation in your hands and pass it to God, saying, “Thank you, Father, that you have promised to watch over me. Please watch over this matter, too, and guard my heart from worrying and being anxious about it. Let me live in your peace over this matter – and let me radiate your gentleness to those around me.”