This past Sunday was the first Sunday of Advent for 2022 leading up to Christmas Day. Several years ago I purchased a small book of Advent readings titled, “The Dawning of Indestructible Joy” (2014), by John Piper, an American Calvinist Baptist pastor and author; founder and leader of desiringGod.org; and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. This book of 25 devotionals “helps readers refocus and meditate on the one thing that makes the Christmas season worth celebrating: the birth of Jesus, Israel’s long-awaited Messiah” (quote source here). At the conclusion of the book, he focuses on the importance of peace, and finding it in the “Three Relationships of Peace” (pp. 88-92):
My great desire for you this Christmas is that you enjoy this peace [peace with God, peace with ourselves, and peace with others]. We know that there are global aspects to this peace that lie in the future when “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Hab. 2:14). When, as Isaiah says, “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end” (Isaiah 9:7).
But Jesus has come to inaugurate that peace among God’s people. And there are three relationships in which he wants you to pursue this peace and enjoy this peace. Peace with God. Peace with your own soul. And peace with other people, as much as it lies with you.
And by peace, I mean not only the absence of conflict and animosity but also the presence of joyful tranquility, and as much richness of interpersonal communication as you are capable of.
So let’s look at each of these three peaceful relationships briefly and make sure you are enjoying as much as you can. The key to each of them is not to separate what the angels kept together: the glory of God and the peace you long for. “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace.”
Peace with God
The most basic need we have is peace with God. This is foundational to all our pursuits of peace. If we don’t go here first, all other experiences of peace will be superficial and temporary.
The key passage here is Romans 5:1: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith [there’s the pivotal act of believing], we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” “Justified” means that God declares you to be just in his sight by imputing to you the righteousness of Jesus.
And he does that by faith alone: “Since we have been justified by faith” (Rom. 5:1). Not by works. Not by tradition. Not by baptism. Not by church membership. Not by piety. Not by parentage. But by faith alone. When we believe in Jesus as the Savior and the Lord and the supreme treasure of our lives, we are united to him and his righteousness is counted by God as ours. We are justified by faith.
And the result is peace with God. God’s anger at us because of our sin is put away. Our rebellion against him is overcome. God adopts us into his family. And from now on all his dealings with us are for our good. He will never be against us. He is our Father and our friend. We have peace. We don’t need to be afraid anymore. This is foundational to all other peace.
Peace with Ourselves
And because we have peace with God because of being justified by faith, we can begin to grow in the enjoyment of peace with ourselves–and here I include any sense of guilt or anxiety that tends to paralyze us or make us hopeless. Here again, believing the promises of God with a view to glorifying God in our lives is key.
Philippians 4:6-7 is one of the most precious passages in this regard: “Do not be anxious about anything [the opposite of anxiety is peace], but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God [in other words, roll your anxieties onto God]. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
The picture here is that our hearts and our minds are under assault. Guilt, worries, threats, confusions, uncertainties–they all threaten our peace. And Paul says the God wants to “guard” our hearts and minds. He guards them with his peace. He guards them in a way that goes beyond what human understanding can fathom–“which surpasses all understanding.”
Don’t limit the peace of God by what your understanding can see. He gives us inexplicable peace, supra-rational peace. And he does it when we take our anxieties to him in prayer and trust him that he will carry them for us (1 Peter 5:7) and protect us.
When we do this, when we come to him–and remember we already have peace with him!–and trust him as our loving and almighty heavenly Father to help us, his peace comes to us and steadies us and protects us from the disabling effects of fear and anxiety and guilt. And then we are able to carry on, and our God gets the glory for what we do because we trusted him.
Do that this Christmas. Take your anxieties to God. Tell him about them. Ask him to help you. To protect you. To restore your peace. And then to use you to make peace.
Peace with Others
The third relationship in which God wants us to enjoy his peace is in our relationships with other people. This is the one we have least control over. So we need to say it carefully the way Paul does in Romans 12:18. He says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”
For many of you, when you get together with family for Christmas, there will be some awkward and painful relationships. Some of the pain is very old. And some of it is new. In some relationships you know what you have to do, no matter how hard it is. And in some of them you are baffled and don’t know what the path of peace calls for.
In both cases the key is trusting the promises of God with heartfelt awareness of how he forgave you through Christ. I think the text that puts this together most powerfully for me again and again is Ephesians 4:31-32: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
Continually cultivate a sense of amazement that in spite of all your sins, God has forgiven you through Christ. Be amazed that you have peace with God. It’s this sense of amazement–that I, a sinner, have peace with God–that makes the heart tender, kind, and forgiving. Extend this to others seventy times seven.
It may be thrown back in your face. It certainly was thrown back in Jesus’ face on the cross. That hurts, and it can make you bitter if you are not careful. Don’t let it. Keep being more amazed that your wrongs are forgiven than that you are wronged. Be amazed that you have peace with God. You have peace with your soul. Your guilt is taken away.
Keep trusting God. He knows what he is doing. Keep his glory–not your success or your effectiveness in peacemaking or your relationships–supreme in the treasure chest of your heart.
And then you will be like the angels: Glory to God in the highest is the first thing. Peace among his people is the second thing.
“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” This is why he came–on a day, to a city, as a Savior, Messiah, and Sovereign. That God would get glory and that you would know peace. May the God of peace give you peace and get his glory. (Quote source: “The Dawning of Indestructible Joy,” pp. 88-92.)
Of the “three relationships of peace,” mentioned above, perhaps the most difficult is the third–peace with others, at which point Dr. Piper mentions the words of Paul found in Romans 12:18: If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone (NIV).
In a blog post published on April 8, 2015, titled, “Romans 12:18,” by Zec, who at the time of publication described herself as “a 25-year-old female protestant Christian, a second-generation Christian, born and bred in a Presbyterian Church,” she offers the following analysis on Romans 12:18:
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you–the first thing this line should tell anyone is the fact that it is not always possible and it doesn’t always depend on you. As much as it is ideal, Paul knows that we are limited. We can neither control others, nor can we control our very own circumstances. As such, we can only look at ourselves and do what we can do. We’re not asked to do the impossible. We’re not asked to change others. But if it is possible, let us do it with a fair measure of humility. If we find ourselves in a position that we can influence, let us influence. If we possess the power or the ability to change something, then, without compromising what is right, let us do it.
There are many examples, aren’t there?
In Matthew 5:23-24 it says–Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift. Jesus was teaching about how it was important that reconciliation with men had nothing to do with the religious acts that they performed. It’s just like in Job 42, where the Lord first demanded reconciliation between Job and his three friends before he went ahead to bless Job. Is reconciliation something that depends on us? Not exactly–but if we would only swallow down our pride and initiate the reconciliation, sincerely, then we are doing what we can. Whether the reconciliatory efforts are appreciated or not, that doesn’t depend on us.
Even if we fail to reconcile, or even if reconciliation was impossible due to the unwillingness of the other party, let us not increase our bitterness and deepen the hostility by exacting revenge. Indeed, Romans 12:18 is sandwiched between two important verses that warns us against vengeance–in Romans 12:17–Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. In Romans 12:19–Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.
Live at peace–do you live at peace? Can you say with certainty that you are at peace with the people around you? This is an age-old teaching, an age-old concept:
- Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it [Psalm 34:14]
- Deceit is in the hearts of those who plot evil, but those who promote peace have joy [Proverbs 12:20]
- You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you [Isaiah 26:3]
- Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other [1 Thessalonians 5:13]
- Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful [Colossians 3:15]
- Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace [Ephesians 4:3]
- Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart [2 Tim 2:22]
- Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord [Hebrews 12:14]
What is peace? And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus [Phil 4:7|Article]. I’ve always felt that this verse alone more than adequately defines the Biblical peace, the peace that Jesus left us [John 14:27]. The instruction is clear–Christ left us peace, so let us live in peace, pursue peace, promote peace, letting this peace rule in our hearts because we were called to it.
With everyone–or at least, everyone around us, whom we interact with. In our families, with our parents, our spouses, our children–our natural relations, those whom we interact with most. This is perhaps, for some people, hardest. Spiritually, in our churches, with our leaders, our co-workers, our fellow members of the congregation. As much as churches often seem to put on a veil of perfection on the outside, there is often a lot of strife inside churches–this has been true since the early church era. If we live without peace, perhaps this will be our ending–If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other [Gal 5:15|Article]. In our marketplaces, with our employers, our employees, our clients and our contractors. In our schools, our teachers, our counsellors, our students. In our community, with our neighbors near and far. The list goes on.
This is a verse that I hold on to very dearly in my interactions with others, especially in situations that I am not comfortable with. It forces me to adopt a different perspective than what I’m usually inclined to, or what the world and my survival instincts teaches me to. Do you think it is hard? Well, it is–without a doubt. Often you may lose out, often you may be taken advantage of. Let us just bear in mind the first part of this verse–if it is possible, as far as it depends on you. At times, it may be easier to take the peaceful way out, and keep quiet, shut up, and move on. But even as we seek peace, let us seek the peace that is not of this world but of Christ–the peace that Jesus Christ left us, the peace that transcends human understanding. Let us not compromise the truths of the gospel, the edification of others, or the glorification of God in order to achieve peace. That would be very much defeating the purpose of what the Bible preaches about peace.
Otherwise, let us do our best, and live at peace. (Quote source and the rest of her article are available at this link.)
These are wise words to consider from both authors as we navigate this season of Advent, Christmas and the upcoming New Year of 2023. I’ll end this post with the words from Romans 12:18 (NIV): If it is possible…
As far as it depends on you . . .
Live at peace . . .
With everyone . . . .
YouTube Video: “Glory (Let There Be Peace)” by Matt Maher: