Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about peace. Rather, I’ve been lamenting the lack of peace that seems to be rending not only our nation and world in some very visible ways, but especially situations closer to home which are breaking my heart and the hearts of people I love. I find myself praying in a posture of mourning and grief.
Searching for something else, I found some of my old blog posts from the book of Ephesians. The following is stitched together from posts on Ephesians chapters 1 and 4, originally published in the Spring of 2017.
In the opening of Ephesians, as with all his letters, Paul dives straight into theology. In chapter 1, verse 2, we are greeted with, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Far from being a formality, Paul is giving us two of the main themes of this letter. Chapters 1 through 3 focus on God’s grace, and in chapters 4 through 6 we learn how, based on that grace, we are to live lives of peace.
The peace which is available to us through the gospel has both a positive and a negative side. The negative is the removal of the hostility that existed between rebellious creatures and the God who created them. We are never neutral in our relationship with God; because of our own sin, we are his enemies. The positive side of this peace from God is the blessedness and harmony which is made possible only through the gospel. In Christ, and only in him, the hostility between us and our Creator is removed so we may have peace with God and be drawn into a relationship of mutual love with him.
Having peace with God, we are able to live at peace with other believers and extend this peace to those around us, being salt and light to an unbelieving world, pointing them to the only source of peace, our Savior Jesus Christ. This peace is the secret ingredient to truly obeying the first and second greatest commandments: to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves.
The peace from God which surpasses understanding is the great need for believers undergoing trial and pain. “Peace comes through submission to the Almighty by faith in the Savior who removes the hostility and sends God’s Spirit of peace… even in the midst of hostility [from the world], turmoil and tragedy, Christians can have peace (Phil. 4:6-7)” (Richard D. Phillips, Ephesians, a Mentor Expository Commentary, Christian Focus Publications, 2016, p. 5).
How do we find this peace? Only by God’s grace. Before God invaded our hearts by his grace, we were wretched, guilty, outcast, and justly under the condemnation of God. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved!” (Eph. 2:4, bold, underlined italics and exclamation point mine.) And now, being saved by God’s grace, we may enjoy peace with God and from God, and we can share that peace with others.
In the opening verses of chapter 4, Paul breaks down how we are to live now in the peace we enjoy with God through his grace. We are to walk “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love” (4:2). Without humility we cannot treat others with gentleness or patience or bear with one another in love. The humility we are to have before others was modeled by our Savior, as Paul wrote elsewhere, encouraging us to “in humility count others more significant than [our]selves.”
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8)
An attitude of humility leads to treating others with gentleness. After gentleness, comes patience. We don’t often pray for patience until we are in the thick of a situation which demands it. But Paul is here telling us that we should always be seeking patience. The circumstances through which we learn patience may be difficult—to say the least—but knowing that through them we are growing more holy ought to change our attitude toward them. As Paul has elsewhere taught, “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that our suffering produces endurance (patience)” (Rom. 5:3).
Read the next phrase in this list of graces thoughtfully. When you read “bearing with one another in love,” does the word “love” jump out and cause you to miss what preceded it? This isn’t simply an exhortation, as found in numerous other places in Scripture, to “love one another.” This is an exhortation to love one another when loving one another is not easy to do. To “bear with” one another implies a burden. I will be the first to confess that I know I have been burdensome to others in my church family. From personality differences, to just having a bad day, to genuine conflict, we all need God’s grace to bear with, and be borne by, others. When Christ bore our sins in his body on the tree it was out of his unsearchable love for unlovable sinners. We must love one another—and that is not conditional. We must love one another even when it’s hard, because Christ loved us even when it was deadly.
In verse 3 we are told that we must “make every effort,” or, be “eager” to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Like its twin verse in Romans: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (12:18), this will require prayerful wisdom to apply to each of our situations. Paul will give us some solid guidelines to help us in the rest of his letter to the Ephesians, but it’s not plug-and-play—it will take effort. The effort is aided by the Lord, and impossible without him. But since we aren’t robots or puppets, we need to work at doing the right things to maintain the peace and unity of the body of the Church.
We must strive on our own part—often doing battle within our own hearts and minds—to lovingly keep peace with our brothers and sisters. The best place to begin is on our knees in prayer, bringing our brothers and sisters before the Lord. Let us pray for our own hearts to love others, and pray for the Lord’s blessings upon those with whom we are struggling to maintain peace and love. This is the perfect opportunity to pray with David:
“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23–24)
The effects of God’s grace on creatures made new in his image are glorious. Those who were dead in their trespasses come alive in Christ, put off their old corrupted selves and, renewed in their mind put on new selves made after the likeness of God. Enemies of God become imitators of God, as beloved children. Troubled hearts are soothed by the peace of God. Hearts formerly filled with anger and hate are flooded with love and mercy.
As we are being sanctified by the Holy Spirit, loving the Father and imitating the Son, showing forth God’s love to one another and a lost and hurting world, denying ourselves and taking up his cross, we are trophies of his grace. This is what it means to live to the praise of his glorious grace. Oh, brothers and sisters, because of God’s glorious grace, lavished on us in Christ, let us eagerly make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace!