July 31, 2016
In a world that longs for peace, where is it to be found? As followers of Christ, our lives should be ruled by peace—but that is often not the case. In this sermon, Alistair Begg provides biblical answers to four questions regarding peace: What is it, why is it needed, where is it found, and how is it to be discovered? The great need of every person is peace with God, and it can only be discovered in the person of Jesus Christ.
Sermon Transcript: Print
We’re going to read this morning from Paul’s letter to the Colossians and chapter 1, and we’ll read from verse 9 to verse 20. Colossians 1:9–20. Paul has been thanking God in his opening part of the letter for the believers there in Colossae, and particularly for Epaphras, whom he has described as a “faithful minister of [Jesus].” And verse 9 begins:
“And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; [may you be] strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered 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.
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”
Thanks be to God for his Word.
Galatians 5:22 reads as follows: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
Father, as we turn to think on these things, we pray for the help of the Holy Spirit so that what is said, what is heard, what is understood, believed, and obeyed may translate into our lives being increasingly conformed to the image of Jesus, who is the embodiment of this fruit and in whose name we pray. Amen.
Well, we’re coming this morning to the third study in the fruit of the Spirit, a topical study. We’ve left off from Ephesians for a little while in order that we might look at each of these areas. And this morning, having dealt with love and with joy, now we come to peace.
Many of you visit in the UK, which always makes me happy. It’s good for the balance of payments, etc. But also, you come back far better educated than when you left. And you have returned to let me know that if you have been in London or, better still, in Edinburgh, you will have visited the Palace of Holyrood or Buckingham Palace, and you will have been informed of the fact that one is able to tell whether the Queen, whether Queen Elizabeth II, is in residence is by the presence or the absence of the Royal Standard of the flag which flies from the flagpole over each building. The flag indicates the residence of royalty. That picture we used as youngsters in Scotland, singing a song that went, “Love, joy, peace is the flag flown high from the castle of our heart, for the King is in residence here,” affirming in the song the notion that into the citadel of our hearts Jesus Christ has come as King to reign.
It’s a good song, and it’s fair enough as a metaphor, but it doesn’t quite fit the bill. Because as we’ve been seeing, the fruit that is mentioned here in Galatians 5 is not something that is attached externally, like ornaments may be attached to a Christmas tree or the way in which a flag may be externally attached to a flagpole, but rather, this fruit is exactly that: fruit—that it grows internally, that it is a product that is spiritual. And the Lord Jesus explained to his disciples when he was with them that they would be recognized not by a particular form of dress or even by a particular way of speaking, but rather that they would be identifiable in terms of their fruit.
And we have been noticing already that this fruit is singular; it is not plural: “The fruit of the Spirit is…” And these aspects are produced together, unlike the gifts of the Spirit, which are given variously. And the obvious implication in studying this—and it is quite a challenge—is that if Jesus Christ lives in us, then there will be fruit to prove it. And that fruit is not produced by commandment, nor is it produced by law, but it is produced by life.
With that said, I want to attempt to answer four simple questions in relationship to our subject this morning—namely, peace. First of all, what is it? Secondly, why is it needed? Thirdly, where is it found? And finally, how is it discovered?
So, first of all, then, and briefly, what is it?
The bottom line: it is the peace that comes from knowing that my account with God has been settled, that my debt has been canceled, and that my account, as it were, is in a favorable balance on account of who Jesus is and what Jesus has done. The word as it appears in our New Testaments, in Greek, is the word that has given rise to some of your names. There will be at least one lady here, I’m sure, this morning who is called Irene. And the reason that your name was given to you, presumably, is because your parents knew that Irene is Greek for “peace,” and they anticipated that you would be a wonderful, peaceful person. And I don’t know whether you’ve lived up to your name or not; I will leave your husband to decide. Nevertheless, that is the word eirḗnē. It is the Greek translation of the familiar Hebrew word—people who only know one Hebrew word know this word, and that is shalom. Shalom. And you know that from the very beginning, shalom appears in our Bibles.
Now, this peace is not simply the absence of something. It’s not simply the absence of turmoil or the absence of conflict. Rather, it is that, but it is also the presence of everything that is necessary for the wellness, for the well-being, and for the good of the individual. So, for example, in the Aaronic Blessing, which we sometimes use as a benediction, you remember how it progresses:
The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious [un]to you;
the Lord lift up [the light of] his countenance upon you and give you [his shalom].
And that shalom, the reality of that peace, cannot be discovered absent the light of his countenance and the blessing of his grace and of his goodness.
You remember that it was this shalom which formed the song of the angels when the shepherds, hearing the sound in the in the skies, realized that they were singing shalom: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth shalom, peace, towards those upon whom his favor rests.”
So, what is it? It is this. It is also, if you like, threefold. It is, as I’ve said, first of all, peace with God. It is also peace with others. You remember when Paul writes to the church at Rome, he says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends [up]on you, live at peace with everyone.” And it also is peace within. So, peace with God, peace with others, peace within. That aspect—the “within” part—will be the focus of our time together tonight. I can’t cover it all in this one talk. And it is an important thing, because even as we sang the lines (and you sang them too), “Not a surge of worry, not a [strain] of care, not a blast of hurry”—and if you didn’t nudge yourself, then the person next to you should have nudged you and said, “Then what was going on with you in the evening hours last night, with all that worry and all that hurry and all that care?” How do we fit these two elements together? Why is anxiety such a part even of Christian experience? That we must come to this evening. But for now, we proceed.
What is it? It’s this. And secondly, why is it needed?
Now, the answer to that may seem as obvious as the nose on our faces. After all, our world is demonstrably lacking in peace. Our world today is a world in which conflict and chaos, if they don’t reign, they certainly are present at every turn. A reading of history lets us know that it has been this way from the beginning. Cain and Abel, when sin enters into the world, are immediately at war with one another. Siblings are at war. Parents and children are at war. Husbands and wives are at war. And if you read the history of Europe, even over the last three hundred years, Europe itself has been an arena of almost constant conflict. In fact, the changing map of Europe, both Eastern and Western, is fascinating even in some of our lifetimes. And that map and the geographical boundaries of nations is in part tied to the issue of conflict.
Since the sixteenth century, it is estimated that there have been eight thousand known peace treaties signed. They were signed with the intention that the peace would last forever. We’re told that by and large, most of them lasted little more than two years. Think, for example, of the Middle East, even in the last quarter of a century, and the various attempts by different individuals to bring about a lasting peace. Hardly is the ink dry on the paper before something has come to challenge it. Of course, the classic is in Chamberlain—Neville Chamberlain—the prime minister of Britain, September 30, 1938, standing outside with a large sheet of paper and explaining that he has just come from time with Adolf Hitler; Adolf Hitler and he have decided that there was no possibility of conflict between Britain and Germany, because we all want to live together very happily. And less than a year later, of course, Britain was at war with Germany.
And this international conflict is reflected, as I say, in the interpersonal relationships. Just if I bleed into this evening for a moment, I can’t stop myself, because as I was working on this during the week, I said to myself, “I wonder what there is about stress?” Stress. It’s a very, sort of, trendy word: “You’re stressing me out,” or “Don’t stress me.” And so I said, “I don’t think stress, in terms of its background, etymologically, is about that.” So I got my Oxford English Dictionary to prove that I was right, and I was right—which, I always like that. My wife, she loves that, when I’m right as well. (And she said, “I could have told you that before you looked it up.”) But anyway…
Then I discovered that stress, actually, as is used in contemporary vocabulary and as a part of our human existence at this point in history, is a relatively new usage of the word. It came about as a result of a research paper written by a Hungarian doctor that had to do with psychology and endocrinology and all manner of chronologies. And I read a little bit of it, enough just to get myself off to sleep. But the fact is that ever since then, stress is front page.
And there is an American Institute of Stress, you may be interested to know. Some of you may be members of it; I don’t know. But I said, “I’m very interested in this,” and I read, and I discovered that upcoming are two congresses on stress. If you like, you can go to the practical congress, which is going to deal with the stress of daily life—with corporate stress, combat stress, post-traumatic stress. It’s very stressful just thinking about it, isn’t it? But if you want something a little better than the practical one, then you can go to the theoretical one. And at the theoretical one, it’s going to tackle matters like dimensionality, intentionality, and concepts of reality.
I quote now: “Leading experts on life and the universe will [provide] cutting edge theories” about “who we really are” and “what part of the puzzle of the universe we fit into”—which just proves that they’re not on the cutting edge of grammar, all right? Because that is a preposition, to quote Churchill, “up with which I will not put.” All right? But I said to myself, “That’d be quite remarkable. I can go and listen to experts—I wonder who they are—experts explaining life, the universe, and who I really am.”
Now, I’m not making fun of this. This is a real institute. This is a real issue. The reason that such a thing can exist is because of the reality of the absence of a deep-seated peace in the human heart. And consequently, people will be prepared to try just about everything and anything in order to settle that issue.
Now, we’re here because we asked the question, Why is it needed? Why is it needed? Well, the Bible gives the answer, and it does it categorically. It says a-b-c: that we are a, by nature, alienated from God; b, we are in bondage to our own sinful desires; and c, we are in conflict not only with God and with others but also with ourselves. It also says that the wicked cannot know peace. So, by nature we are sinful, we are wicked, and therefore, it is impossible for us to know peace. This is, in fact, what the prophet says: “The wicked”—this is Isaiah—
The wicked are like the tossing sea;
for it cannot be quiet,
and its waters toss up mire and dirt.
It’s a graphic picture, isn’t it? The idea of this constant moving of the tides, churning things up. You see it internationally. You see it interpersonally. Let’s be honest: you see it in your own heart, don’t you?
Some of you are here today, and the reason you’ve begun to attend church, the reason you’ve begun to come around these things, is because you know in your heart of hearts that you have not been able to find a satisfying peace—something that will deal with your conscience, something that will deal with your death, something that will deal with the difficulties and the vicissitudes of life as they confront you. You’ve come to a good place. Because the great need is the need that the Bible confronts us with—namely, the need of peace with God.
Thirdly, where, then, is it found? If our great need is peace with God, where is this peace with God to be found?
In short order, in God, in himself—that he is the God of all peace. In other words, peace is not, as we read our Bibles, found in a program or in a philosophy but in a person. In fact, Jesus, as he’s getting ready to take his leave of his disciples… And John records this for us so very, very well, beginning, you know, in chapter 14 and proceeding from there all the way through 16. You remember, in chapter 14 it begins, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.” And Jesus says, on that occasion, “I have said these things to you, that in me you [might] have peace.” “That in me you [might] have peace.”
Now, let’s just think about that for a moment. He doesn’t say, “In my ideas you might have peace,” “In obedience to the commands of God you might have peace,” but “In me you might have peace.” In other words, he says what, to the best of my knowledge, no one else has been prepared to say—and rightly so! You do not find this in the writings of the Buddha. You don’t find that Muhammad is prepared to make such a statement. You don’t find it in the essence of Hinduism. You don’t find it in comparative religions. These religions may be prepared to say, “We can help you with karma. We have a philosophy here. We have an idea. We have a concept, a construct. If you will embrace this, if you will apply it to your life, if you will sit here quietly,” and so on. There are all kinds of opportunities. But here, standing on the stage of human history, is a Galilean carpenter, Jesus from Nazareth, and he gathers his disciples around him, and he says, “Listen, fellas: in me… I’ve told you all this stuff so that in me you might have peace.” In other words, the peace is in Christ. Therefore, if I am outside of Christ, there’s no peace. I need to be in him, and he in turn needs to be in me.
Now, that’s why, incidentally, I read from Colossians chapter 1. Because if you think about it, you say to yourself, “Well, on what basis, you know, does this carpenter from Nazareth say, you know, ‘In me you might have peace’?” Well then, we need to figure out who this carpenter from Nazareth actually is. When I was at the Jewish synagogue during the week, we spent the majority of our time—I was invited there by the Rabbi, as you know—and we spent the majority of our time just asking the question, Who is Jesus of Nazareth? Is he the person he claimed to be? And here Paul says of Jesus: “He is the image of the invisible God.” He’s “the firstborn of all creation.” Listen to this: “For by him all things were created.” He’s “before all things, … in him all things hold together.” He’s “the head of … the church.” He’s “the firstborn from the dead.” In him “the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, … through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood [shed on the] cross.” It is this person who says, “In me you might have peace.”
Now, as I say, this peace is far more than simply the absence of warfare. It’s talking here about a peace that is more than simply an inner well-being. It’s talking about that which is not simply the calming of our troubled spirits, but it is that which is three things: number one, essential; number two, spiritual; and number three, eternal. Essential, spiritual, eternal.
You see, the Bible, like a good physician, examines us and gives an honest diagnosis. A good physician will give a straightforward diagnosis. They may do so gently and kindly, but they must, if they’re true to their oath, tell us the truth. It’s not always easy to take, but it is always essential. So when I read my Bible, and I come to the Bible, and I say to myself, “I wonder why it is that my life is like just a walking rock-n-roll show? Why is it that I go one step forward and two steps back? Why is it that despite all of my endeavors to try and fix myself and cure myself, I’m still like this great tossing ocean throwing up this and throwing up that?” And then I turn to the Bible, and this is what it says. It says, “The reason you are that way is because you are at enmity with God. You are alienated from the God who made you for a relationship with himself. So, both by your rebellion and by the extension of his righteous wrath, you’re enemies. And there is no peace as long as that conflict remains.” So the Bible speaks so clearly about it. The answer to that, as we’re going to finally see, is mitigated by the notions that exist in our humanism, in our humanity, in our self-assertiveness.
My colleagues, my children—actually, just about everybody—is pretty well tired of my lyrics from the ’60s. But they’re the only ones I really have. I remain… I will be happy to be convinced that there are better lyrics when you read them to me, and I will use them. So far, you’re not doing a very good job! But you see, when the Bible says what it says and shines… And, you know, you get, they take the image, the X-ray image, and they put it up on that screen, and they point it to you, they say, “Look, if you see this, and can you see this and this,” and you’re like, “Oh dear, oh dear!” Now, the answer, when the spiritual MRI goes up, of so much of humanity is, in the words of the Beatles, “Hey, we can work it out. We can work it out. Think of what I’m saying. Do I have to keep on talking till I can’t go on? We can work it out.”
But we can’t! So it’s a red-letter day when we close that track and we open up a different track, which starts, “Help! I need somebody! Help! Not just anybody! Help! You know I need someone! Help!”
Now, let me ask you, have you ever cried help to God in that way? I’m not asking you if you decided to rearrange the external elements of your life, sticking them on the artificial Christmas tree of your life. No! I’m asking what the Bible asks: Have you ever, like blind Bartimaeus, cried out, “Jesus, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Because I am alienated, I’m in bondage to my sinful self, and I’m in conflict with others and with myself.”
You see, on that day, you will discover what an amazing God it is with whom we are in conflict. Because this God is the God who seeks out those who are his enemies. This God is the God who extends grace to those who say, “I don’t want anything to do with him.” This is the God who pursues the least and the last and the rebellious. It is this God! Because in Jesus, he bore the penalty that our sins deserve in order that we might enjoy the peace that he provides. This is how the prophet puts it:
He was [wounded] for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his [stripes] we are healed.
You see, this shalom is essential for all. And it is when this aspect is dealt with that the reality of the hymn we’ve just been singing really takes hold. There was so much tragedy, so much sadness in the loss of his daughters on the way to Le Havre, out there in the Atlantic Ocean. What possessed him to have that pointed out to him, the spot where the ship went down, and then to take to his cabin and to write those lines? “When peace… When [sorrow]…” And then, “My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!—my sin, not in part but the whole…”
His girls he had taken to a Moody evangelistic campaign in Chicago. They had heard the story of Jesus; they had turned to him in childlike and believing faith. The real issue is the real issue for you and for me. Because by nature, we haven’t known the way of peace.
Now, as I stop, let me do two things. First of all, let me disavow the notion, which is a prevalent notion—and often people will say this at the end of a conversation, say, “Well, that was very interesting talking with you, but we’ll all be dead one day, and what will it really matter?” Well, it’s going to really, really matter. Because we’re going to face the God who has come to pursue us in the Prince of Peace. If we have rejected the peace that that God offers in time, on what basis do we believe that it will be granted to us in eternity? The idea that in eternity all bets are off makes a nonsense of the entire Bible and, essentially, of the death of Jesus upon the cross. So don’t think, if you’re agnostic and wondering, to sneak out, as it were, intellectually under the cover of your death.
Finally, if it is to be discovered, how is it to be discovered? Well, it’s to be discovered in a person, as we said. It’s to be discovered in the person who is described in Isaiah 9 as the Prince of Peace, and it is to be discovered in coming and receiving from him all that he has made available to us by his death on the cross. That’s Colossians 1 again, as we read it in verse .
Having started in the ’60s, I’ll finish in the ’60s. Because the songs of the ’60s, it seems to me, represent unfulfilled longings and a whole ton of unanswered questions. Unfulfilled longings. For example, it’s not uncommon to turn on your radio now—or you can download it if you choose—and hear John Lennon singing, “All we are saying is give peace a chance.” It’s an understandable longing, isn’t it? It was a longing of the 1960s. It’s been a longing for a lifetime: “If only we just give it a chance. We can do this, if you’ll just give it a chance.” It’s an unfulfilled longing. Where is that longing met? In the Prince of Peace. And the songs are representative of a ton of unanswered questions. Classically, in the Moody Blues’ “Question”:
Why do we never get an answer
When we’re knocking at the door
With a thousand million questions
About hate and death and war?
That’s how the song begins. Do you remember the refrain, how it goes from that hard-driving guitar music and then goes into a tranquil peace? What does he then sing?
I’m looking for someone to change my life;
I’m looking for a miracle in my life.
Well, I’ve got good news for the person who has the unfulfilled longing for peace, who has the unanswered questions about death and life and destiny and hope: that is all answered in and through the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. And it is the enjoyed reality of those who will come to him—to him who is the Prince of Peace—who will lay down the arms of our rebellion, who will admit that our intelligence and our materialism has not provided what we’ve hoped for, and who will say, “Help! I need somebody, not just anybody. Help. I need you, Lord Jesus.” And from all I can tell from reading the Bible, every time someone comes to Jesus in that way, they never go away disappointed. And neither will you.
God our Father, you know us, ’cause you made us. You know where we are this morning. Some of us are teenagers. We’ve heard this a thousand times. We could finish the story, but we’ve never actually turned to you, cried out to you for help. Some of us are serial church attenders. We’re like unconverted believers, but we’ve never actually laid hold upon the promise of life that is ours in Christ Jesus. Thank you that you don’t want us to get ourselves in the right kind of position so that we can meet you, but rather that we can come to you exactly as we are, embrace all that you provide, and let you know that we would be happy for you to have our entire lives so that we might follow you. Hear us, O God, from the silence of our individual hearts. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
 Colossians 1:7 (ESV).
 Numbers 6:24–26 (ESV).
 Luke 2:14 (paraphrased).
 Romans 12:18 (NIV).
 Frances Ridley Havergal, “Like a River Glorious” (1874).
 “Theoretical Congress,” American Institute of Stress, https://www.stress.org/theoretical-congress.
 See Isaiah 57:21.
 Isaiah 57:20 (ESV).
 John 14:1 (ESV).
 John 16:33 (ESV).
 John Lennon and Paul McCartney, “We Can Work It Out” (1965). Lyrics lightly altered.
 John Lennon and Paul McCartney, “Help!” (1965).
 Luke 18:39 (ESV).
 Isaiah 53:5 (ESV).
 Horatio G. Spafford, “It Is Well with My Soul” (1873).
 See Isaiah 9:6.
 John Lennon and Yoko Ono, “Give Peace a Chance” (1969).
 Justin Hayward, “Question” (1970).
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.