Theme: The Fruit of the Spirit Is Peace
Leading Question: Why have the followers of Jesus so often led out in bloody conflict when their Master both taught and modeled the way of peace?
1. Peace at any price? Jesus’ most striking statement against “peace” as a fruit of the Spirit was his claim that he had not come to bring peace to the earth, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matt. 10.34). But the larger context indicates that Jesus is not at all admonishing his followers to take up the sword, either to attack or defend. They would be sheep among wolves, he said. Therefore, “be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matt. 10:16). God would provide their defense if they were dragged into court (Matt. 10:19-20). When persecution arises, they are to flee, not fight (Matt. 10:23). “Whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me,” declared Jesus (Matt.10:38). Will it always be clear whether the believer is to stand firm or to flee? The principles in the conflict may be quite clear, but is our response always going to be clear? Should we buy peace at any price?
2. Modeling peace in the New Testament. The picture of Jesus sleeping through the storm, then calming the waves for the sake of the disciples (Matt. 8:23-27), is often cited as the model of a passionless life, unperturbed by the surrounding troubles. But there are counterbalancing examples. In commenting on the life of Christ, Ellen White often followed the hints of the biblical text, an approach that could produce contrasting statements:
A. Passionless Jesus, passionless believer:
[DA 330, “The Invitation”]: In the heart of Christ, where reigned perfect harmony with God, there was perfect peace. He was never elated by applause, nor dejected by censure or disappointment. Amid the greatest opposition and the most cruel treatment, He was still of good courage.
[DA 331, “The Invitation”] Those who take Christ at His word, and surrender their souls to His keeping, their lives to His ordering, will find peace and quietude. Nothing of the world can make them sad when Jesus makes them glad by His presence.
B. Anguished Jesus:
[DA 326, “Who Are My Brethren?”]: They often saw Him full of grief; but instead of comforting Him, their spirit and words only wounded His heart. His sensitive nature was tortured, His motives misunderstood, His work was uncomprehended…. Their reproaches probed Him to the quick and His soul was wearied and distressed.
[DA 393, “Crisis in Galilee”] The consciousness that His compassion was unappreciated, His love unrequited, His mercy slighted, His salvation rejected, filled Him with sorrow that was inexpressible. It was such developments as these that made Him a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.
A. The Ideal: Worry-free Paul: “Do not worry about anything” (Phil. 4:6, NRSV).
B. The Actual: Worried Paul: “Besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches” (2 Cor. 11:28, NRSV).
3. Finding Personal Peace. Jesus’ famous invitation to find rest in him (Matt. 11:28-30) does not immediately solve the challenges of peacemaking in the world. Jesus pronounced a beatitude over the peacemakers, calling them the children of God (Matt. 5:9); but what does that mean in these real life situations?
A. How should the believer react when at risk? In at least one instance, Jesus counseled his followers to flee persecution (Matt. 10:23); yet the same context counsels them to stand calmly in court when arraigned in matters of faith (10:17-20). Does that ambivalence still confront Christians today?
B. How should the believer relate to one’s enemies? In Matthew 5 Jesus makes it quite clear that when others seek to coerce us, we are not to respond in kind. We are called to turn the other cheek and go the second mile (Matt. 5:38-42).
C. How should we deal with conflict in the church? Again in Matthew 5 Jesus urges the listener to make peace with fellow believers, even before offering gifts to God (Matt. 5:23-26). In Matthew 18:15-20 Jesus urges that conflicts in the church be addressed persistently and consistently. And this peacemaking theme is reinforced by the larger context of the “Fruit of the Spirit” passage in Galatians 5.
4. Peacemaking in Galatians 5. In the section of Galatians 5 that leads into the “Fruit of the Spirit” list, Paul warns of what might happen if the law of love is not followed: “If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another” (Gal. 5:15, NRSV). At the end of that same section, Paul admonishes something very similar: “Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another” (Gal. 5:26, NRSV).