Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Fruit of the Holy Spirit part 3: Peace ( Galatians 5:22-23, Psalm 46, Ephesians 2:11-22 )

Dorothy Thompson, an influential American journalist in the 1930’s and 40’s commenting on the world situation of her time said ‘They have not wanted peace at all; they have wanted to be spared war- as though the absence of war was the same as peace.’

This is part of a series on Paul’s list of the fruit of the Holy Spirit the character traits that develop within the followers of Jesus when we allow the Holy Spirit to lead us and we walk in step with the spirit. The third of those fruit mentioned is peace.

Peace is kind of one of those slippery words, like love, that we use a lot and that we can attach so many different meanings to.

Peace says Richard Longenecker is the ‘universal quest of humanity, though it is defined differently in various philosophies and cultures.’ That’s important when we come to grasp a biblical understanding of peace, because the New Testament is a collection of very cross cultural documents. The New Testament writers in the main part are Jewish thinkers writing in the Greek language to people from a whole raft of different cultural backgrounds held together by the ‘Pax Roma’ social peace backed and enforced by the military might of the Roman Empire.

Eirene The Greek word we translate as peace, Eirana, picks up the Greek definition and aim in life to find an inner tranquillity, and a quietness of mind. Expressed, negatively it means an absence of pain in the body or trouble in the mind.

The Jewish word which we translate peace is ‘Shalom’. It has more an idea of wholeness or being in right relationship. That for the Jews was their ideal for peace: A right relationship with God, a right relationship with each other, inside the covenant community and a right relationship with those around them, and with creation, and with their possessions. All of which were intertwined.

We shouldn’t be surprised that peace is the fruit of being lead and walking with the Spirit. Six times in the New Testament God is called the ‘God of peace’. At the core of our understanding of God is the trinity, three persons one God: A community of love, whose relationship are so right with each other that they model for us what it is to living in shalom, peace and wholeness.

Shalom is at the core of God actions towards us. Jesus is called ‘the prince of peace’, the one who has come to restore those right covenant relationships, the one who invites both Jew and gentile into right relationship with God and a new way of being humanity together, in the kingdom of God which the whole of creations Romans tells us is aching to see revealed .

It’s rather ironic that the Christian understanding of the inner peace that the Greek’s sought is best summed up in the words of the ancient Hebrew song or prayer, Psalm 46, which we had read to us this morning. “Be still” says the Psalmist, despite the idyllic illustrations that go with this verse it’s not that there is an absence of trouble or conflict, because the whole Psalm revolves round the fact that God is a help in a time of danger, a refuge and strong tower, its great that God can stop war and break the bow because you get the idea that war and conflict is raging all around. Some Christians wish that life was like they’d gone hang gliding and missed the fall. But the psalmist points to the thing that is able to give us that peace and stillness, in the midst of a fallen and broken world, he says that God breaks into that brokenness and says ‘Be still and know that I am God’. That desire for inner peace comes from a right relationship with God. It comes from knowing God. That peace that Jesus Gives that the spirit brings is not dependant on the situation but on the one who is in that situation with us and ultimately is the one who is sovereign in all situations.

Bob Glen my Church history lecturer at the Bible College of New Zealand, which is now Laidlaw college, used the illustrated being still as being like a bird feeding its young in a nest right next to a raging waterfall. Despite the roar and the embodiment of chaos right beside it, it kept about its business trusting in God. In his sermon on the mount Jesus also applied this peace that comes from trusting in God’s ability to look after us in terms of the birds of the air and the flowers of the field. Telling us that we should not be anxious for anything, because the same God who feeds the sparrow who does not sow or reap and that clothes the wildflower that is here today and gone tomorrow, is the God who provides and cares for us. It’s amazing the amount of worry and anxiety there is in the western world at the moment with the deepening effects of the credit crunch. Jim Wallis the cofounder of the Sojourners community in Washing DC likened it to the aftermath of 9/11 when everyone was united in sharing the same concerns. It’s ironic, and I’m not wanting to down play the very real concerns of people round the world who are losing their homes and their savings and their livelihood, but it’s ironic that this is happening in a culture where its currency boldly proclaims in God we trust. For peace of mind we need to recapture that understanding

For peace of mind in the face of life’s storms and crisis we need to remember, which for the Jews was the same as having faith, that God is with us and for us. The last scene in the epic disaster movie twister has the two main characters face to face with a huge category 5 tornado over a mile wide that is causing havoc and destruction on what people in our post Christian society would say was biblical portions. They try and take shelter in a barn but even on the outskirts of this storm the barn begins to disintegrate and wood and corrugated iron swirls round them.

In desperation they run to a pump house where the pipes are embedded meters into the ground and they lash themselves to these pipes. The roar of the storm overpowers even their shouts to each other and the pump house dissolves round them and they are battered and bruised but the storm does not uproot them.

In saying that in knowing God we find an inner peace and stillness I’m not saying we are to be passive or fatalistic.

Again to quote Dorothy Thompson ‘Peace has to be created, in order to be maintained. It is the product of faith, strength, energy, will, sympathy, justice, imagination, and the triumph of principle. It will never be achieved by passivity and quietism.’

Jesus said that this trust in God should free us up to put first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.’

Martin Luther King Jr said ‘true peace is not merely the absence of tension, it is the presence of Justice’

We can easily forget that the context of the fruit of the Holy Spirit is not primarily in our own personal life but it is in the community of faith. The fruit of the Holy Spirit are at the centre of how we can form the people of God together, they are the character traits of the Christian believer and of the Christian community. This understanding of peace is very much the Hebrew understanding of right relationships. Influential fourteenth century theologian and mystic

Thomas A Kempis summed it up when he said, ‘First keep the peace within yourself, then you can also bring peace to others.’

In Ephesians 2:11-12’ Paul articulates the fact that Jesus is the one who is the peace across the great divides of humanity. He is the one who has broken down the dividing walls between us and it’s only natural that as we allow his spirit to lead us and we walk in the spirit that we should grow this peace between us. Again we don’t often pick up the irony in the scriptures, Paul was writing to the Ephesians while he was in prison awaiting trial in Rome. The Jewish authorities in Jerusalem had accused Paul of taking a gentile past the court of the gentiles in the temple to where only Jews were able to go. Paul maintained he was innocent, but must have had a lot of time to reflect on the way that Jesus had broken down that dividing wall and that in Christ we all have that same access to God, he made a way for us all to be God’s children together. So a fruit of the spirit working within us is a peace between us.

In Galatians the fruit of the spirit are put in juxtaposition to the work of the flesh which are divisive and seek the good of the individual above that of the group. But the spirits work is to bring us together to unite us in Christ. The hope that we are able to bring to a world wrecked by conflict and hostility between individuals and groupings, between nations, races and tribes, is the peace we have with one another in the one who has become our peace, in the one in whom we have been made one.

It is why when we look at the fruit of the Holy Spirit we see that they all need to ripen and develop together. To achieve this peace we need love and a shared sense of joy we find in knowing and being known by God, we need patience and kindness and generosity, gentleness and self-control.

‘Christians often focus on the peace that is beyond understanding, its the peace that Jesus gives us as we come to know him a peace that the world cannot understand it because it comes from God and a peace that comes from knowing God. But we also need to be aware that the work of the Holy Spirit is to produce a peace between us.

The sort of work that Helen Keller summed up when she said, ‘I do not want the peace that passeth understanding. I want the understanding which bringeth peace.’

The great thing is that in Christ we can have both.

(once again I am indebted to the book 'Fruitg of the Holy Spirit' by Thomas Trask and Wayde Goodall  2000, Zondervan)

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