In the New Testament, the word "peace" is found at the beginning or end of every epistle except for James and 1st John. The breadth of its meaning is apparent when it is linked with "grace" (Romans 1:7), "life" (Romans 8:6), and "righteousness" (Romans 14:17). What are the different shades of meaning of this wonderful word?
Romans 1:7, "...to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."
Romans 8:6, "...For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace."
Romans 14:17, "...for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit."
The Biblical word "peace" signifies far more than merely the absence of war. It carries the idea of completeness and wholeness. It conveys a sense of inner-satisfaction and fulfillment. It communicates the idea of contentment and serenity. In its fullest sense, it expresses our hope of reconciliation and redemption.
In the Old Testament, the concept of peace is usually expressed by the Hebrew word shalom and its derivatives. This was a typical greeting among the Hebrews. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia says that "shalom, one of the most significant theological terms in Scripture, has a wide semantic range stressing various nuances of its basic meaning: totality or completeness. These nuances include fulfillment, completion, maturity, soundness, wholeness (both individual and communal), community, harmony, tranquillity, security, well-being, welfare, friendship, agreement, success and prosperity." (1)
In the New Testament, the Greek word eirene [i-ray-nay] and its derivatives express the idea of peace. Thayer defines this word as "1. a state of national tranquility; exemption from the rage and havoc of war... 2. peace between individuals, i.e., harmony, concord... 3. after the Hebrew SHALOM, security, safety, prosperity... 4. spec. the Messiah's peace... 5. acc. to a conception distinctly peculiar to Christianity, the tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and content with its earthly lot, of whatsoever sort that is... 6. the blessed state of devout and upright men after death." (2)
Bauer says eirene refers to "1. peace a. lit. b. fig. peace, harmony c. order; 2. corresp. to Hebrew Shalom, welfare, health... in a farewell greeting ... A new and characteristic development is the combination of the Greek epistolary greeting charein with a Hebrew expression in the Pauline and post-Pauline letters: 'grace and peace'; 3. Since, according to the prophets, peace will be an essential characteristic of the messianic kingdom. Christian thought also frequently regards peace as nearly synonymous with messianic salvation." (3)
The Revell Bible Dictionary defines peace as "(1) Wholeness, unity, harmony; (2) prosperity, health, and fulfillment; (3) theologically, inner harmony and harmonious interpersonal relationships with others made possible by a personal relationship with God." In conclusion, "the Biblical concept of 'peace' is total and profound. It touches on our relationship with God, with our inner self, with other believers, and with the world at large. Biblically, peace is no mere absence of strife but the active experience of a harmony that promotes total well-being. Peace is always the product of God's active involvement in our lives, and God's intervention is essential, for sin has so marred individuals and society that strife is our constant companion. Only god's saving work can bring us an experience of his peace." (4)
Hermann Cremer offers three distinct definitions: "(1) in contrast with strife, and to denote the absence or end of strife... (2) As used in the New Testament, we observe the influence of the Hebrew shalom, which denotes a state of well-being, and only in a derivative manner 'peace,' in contrast with strife... (3) This state is the object of divine and saving promise, and is brought about by God's mercy, granting deliverance and freedom from all the distresses that are experienced as the result of sin... Peace as a Messianic blessing is that state, brought about by the grace and loving mind of God, wherein the derangement and distress of life caused by sin are removed. Hence the message of salvation is called 'the gospel of peace' (Ephesians 6:15)." (5)
Ephesians 6:15, "...and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace."
Our first priority should be to find peace with God. Those who delight in God's law are blessed, but sinners experience misery and unhappiness, conflict and chaos, tragedy and heartache. Sin not only severs our relationship with God (Isaiah 59:1-2), it also destroys our chance for real happiness here below (Psalms 1:1-6; Isaiah 57:20-21). Disobedience will bring God's indignation and wrath down upon our heads, but glory, honor and peace belong to those who keep his commandments (Romans 2:6-11). If we are to avoid temporal misery and eternal condemnation, we must make peace with God and be reconciled unto him. This can only be accomplished on God's terms: Obedience is the key! Peace is the fruit borne from living in harmony with the will of God (Proverbs 3:13-17; Psalms 37:37; 119:165; Galatians 6:16).
Isaiah 59:1-2, "...Behold, the Lord's hand is not so short That it cannot save; Nor is His ear so dull That it cannot hear. But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, And your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear."
Psalms 1:1-6, "... How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the Lord, And in His law he meditates day and night. He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, Which yields its fruit in its season And its leaf does not wither; And in whatever he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, But they are like chaff which the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, Nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, But the way of the wicked will perish."
Isaiah 57:20-21, "...But the wicked are like the tossing sea, For it cannot be quiet, And its waters toss up refuse and mud. 'There is no peace,' says my God, 'for the wicked.'"
Romans 2:6-11, "...who will render to each person according to his deeds: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation. There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God."
Proverbs 3:13-17, "...How blessed is the man who finds wisdom And the man who gains understanding. For her profit is better than the profit of silver And her gain better than fine gold. She is more precious than jewels; And nothing you desire compares with her. Long life is in her right hand; In her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are pleasant ways And all her paths are peace."
Psalms 37:37, "...Mark the blameless man, and behold the upright; For the man of peace will have a posterity."
Psalms 119:165, "...Those who love Your law have great peace, And nothing causes them to stumble."
Galatians 6:16, "...And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God."
The Old Testament prophets spoke of the Messianic age as a time of peace (Isaiah 2:4; 11:6-9). Indeed, the Messiah is called the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). The New Testament reveals the fulfillment of this hope. Jesus Christ is our peace (Luke 1:78-79; 2:10-14). In fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah, he paid the price for our redemption (Isaiah 53:5). As a result of being justified through faith in Christ, we can have peace with God (Romans 5:1).
Isaiah 2:4, "...And He will judge between the nations, And will render decisions for many peoples; And they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, And never again will they learn war."
Isaiah 11:6-9, "...And the wolf will dwell with the lamb, And the leopard will lie down with the young goat, And the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; And a little boy will lead them. Also the cow and the bear will graze, Their young will lie down together, And the lion will eat straw like the ox. The nursing child will play by the hole of the cobra, And the weaned child will put his hand on the viper's den. They will not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain, For the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord As the waters cover the sea."
Isaiah 9:6, "...For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace."
Luke 1:78-79, "...Because of the tender mercy of our God, With which the Sunrise from on high will visit us, 79 To shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, To guide our feet into the way of peace."
Luke 2:10-14, "...But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.' And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.'"
Isaiah 53:5, "...But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed."
Romans 5:1, "...Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
Christianity affords peace with self, i.e., an inner tranquillity, independent of circumstances. Yet, peace of mind is a rare quality in today's world. The melancholy evidence is all around us: delinquency, divorce, substance abuse, and suicide. Witness also the physical signs of stress: hypertension, ulcers, heart attacks, etc. While the Declaration of Independence assures every American the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, it is painfully obvious that few are successful in their quest for serenity and inner calm.
Peace of mind cannot be found in alcohol or drugs. The secret is not found in reading self-help books or trying to achieve a positive mental attitude. We achieve peace of mind by applying God's word to our lives (Galatians 5:22). Inner tranquillity belongs to those who lean upon the Lord (Isaiah 26:3; Philippians 4:6-7). Contentment is the fruit of a spiritually-minded attitude (Romans 8:6). Serenity is the natural effect of letting the God of Peace rule our hearts (Colossians 3:15). As Matthew Arnold once said, "Calm Soul of all things! make it mine to feel, amid the city's jar, that there abides a peace of thine, Man did not make, and can not mar." (6)
Galatians 5:22, "...But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness."
Isaiah 26:3, "...The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace, Because he trusts in You."
Philippians 4:6-7, "...Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
Romans 8:6, "...For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace."
Colossians 3:15, "...Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful."
Christians should be the happiest and most well adjusted people in the world. We may face difficult problems, but the peace of God enables us to maintain a proper balance. Peace is not the absence of conflict in life, but the ability to cope with it. The old gospel song, "It Is Well With My Soul," beautifully expresses this sentiment: "When peace like a river attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll, Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul." (7) Through Christ, we can overcome any adversity; we can rejoice even in the face of hardship. As someone once said, "Peace doth not dwell in outward things, but within the soul; we may preserve it in the midst of the bitterest pain, if our will remain firm and submissive. Peace in this life springs from acquiescence, not in an exemption from suffering." (8) The peace that Christ affords is qualitatively different from that which the world can give (John 14:27; 16:33).
John 14:27, "...Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful."
John 16:33, "...These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world."
Christianity also produces peace with others. It creates a harmonious relationship among believers, and also yields relative harmony with the non-Christian world around us. In one sense, Jesus came not to bring peace, but a sword (Matthew 10:34-36). This describes the struggle between righteousness and evil. It reflects that division that inevitably occurs between those who seek to please God and those who rebel against heaven's will. At times we will experience conflict with the world, yet as a rule, obedience to the Lord will improve all our relationships (Proverbs 16:7). Thus Christians are admonished to live peaceably with all men (Romans 12:18). If the gospel of Christ could break down the wall of hatred that existed between Jew and Gentile, it can resolve whatever difficulties exist between brethren, if we will only follow the Biblical pattern (Ephesians 2:13-17).
Matthew 10:34-36, "...Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man's enemies will be the members of his household."
Proverbs 16:7, "...When a man's ways are pleasing to the Lord, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him."
Romans 12:18, "...If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men."
Ephesians 2:13-17, "...But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near."
The people of God must actively promote peace (Matthew 5:9; James 3:17-18; 1 Peter 3:10-12). We must strive to live in harmony and concord (Psalms 133:1; 2 Corinthians 13:11). We must seek to maintain Christian unity (Ephesians 4:1-3). This not only means that we should avoid strife and discord, we should also put positive effort into building up the body of Christ (Romans 14:19). The importance of this matter cannot be overstated: without this disposition, no man will see God (Hebrews 12:14).
Matthew 5:9, "...Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God."
James 3:17-18, "...But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. 18 And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace."
1 Peter 3:10-12, "...For, 'The one who desires life, to love and see good days, Must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit. He must turn away from evil and do good; He must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous, And His ears attend to their prayer, But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.'"
Psalms 133:1, "...Behold, how good and how pleasant it is For brothers to dwell together in unity!"
2 Corinthians 13:11, "...Finally, brethren, rejoice, be made complete, be comforted, be like-minded, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you."
Ephesians 4:1-3, "...Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."
Romans 14:19, "...So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another."
Hebrews 12:14, "...Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord."
As Longfellow said, "All your strength is in your union. All your danger is in discord; Therefore be at peace henceforward, and as brothers live together." (9) No peace is possible where there is malice and rancor. Unity cannot exist where there is selfishness and pride. If we are to achieve peace with others, we must have the humility of Christ (Philippians 2:1-8).
Philippians 2:1-8, "...Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross."
Jehovah is a God of peace; the gospel is a message of peace; those who lean upon God know a peace that passeth understanding. Have you been baptized into Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26-27)? Have you been translated into his kingdom wherein we experience redemption and forgiveness (Colossians 1:13-14)? If you were to die tonight, would you rest in peace? If not, obey God while there is time and opportunity (2 Corinthians 6:1-2)!
Galatians 3:26-27, "...For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ."
Colossians 1:13-14, "...For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins."
2 Corinthians 6:1-2, "...And working together with Him, we also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain-- for He says, 'At the acceptable time I listened to you, And on the day of salvation I helped you.' Behold, now is 'the acceptable time,' behold, now is 'the day of salvation'."
1 International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, rev. ed. (1986), s.v. "Peace," by R. F. Youngblood.
2 Joseph Henry Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, s.v. "EIRENE" #1515.
3 Walter Bauer, F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), s.v. "EIRENE" #1515.
4 The Revell Bible Dictionary, ed. Lawrence O. Richards, (Grand Rapids, MI: Fleming H. Revell, A Division of Baker Book House, 1990), s.v. "Peace."
5 Hermann Cremer, Biblico-Theological Lexicon of New Testament Greek, 4th English Edition, (Edinburgh, Scotland: T&T Clark, 1895, 1962), s.v., "EIRENE," p. 244-245.
6Matthew Arnold, Lines Written In Kensington Gardens , st. 10, quoted in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 15th ed., (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1980), p. 585:1.
7 H. G. Stafford and P. P. Bliss, "It Is Well With My Soul," Sacred Selections, No. 561.
8Francois de Salignac de La Mothe Fenelon, quoted by Frank S. Mead, ed., The Encyclopedia of Religious Quotations, (Westwood, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1965), p. 326.
9 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, The Song of Hiawatha , pt. I, quoted in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 15th ed., (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1980), p. 511:15.