Like a River
By: Barr Overcast, Assistant Pastor
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” — Galatians 5:22-24
These words are among the most well-known in all of Scripture. But what exactly qualifies something as a “fruit of the Spirit”? For whatever reason when I was reading the fruit of the Spirit passage recently it struck me afresh that these fruit are qualities that we share with God. They are given to us by God out of His own character. This thought has now prompted an exploration. This is the third in a series of nine blog posts in which I am exploring the ways that each of these attributes flows from God’s character.
Give Peace a Chance
In September of 2011, the Los Angeles Lakers’ small forward Ron Artest shocked fans and media when he had his name legally changed to Metta World Peace. As he took the court that December, he donned his #15 jersey, but now instead of Artest, the name on the back was World Peace. By this odd and eccentric promotion of world peace, Artest stands in a long line of contemporary men and women who have sought to bring peace to the forefront of our culture’s thinking. Since at least the 60’s, peace, and especially world peace, have been amongst the foremost values of western culture.
Peace, or shalom, is one of the most prominent and discussed words in the Old Testament, and peace is one of the richest concepts in the Bible. Peace is a robustly positive concept describing a relationship that is fulfilling its God-given purpose, often after being broken and subsequently restored. It can refer to our relationship with God, with other people, within ourselves, with the created order, or all of these at the same time. Clearly, here is a word that is robust with meaning.
The depth and variety of meaning that “peace” carries with it is a mixed blessing, especially as we think about Paul’s meaning that “the fruit of the Spirit is… peace.” Is Paul saying that the fruit of the Spirit is peace with God? Or does he mean that the work of the Spirit will create a sense of peace within ourselves? Or should we be looking for this fruit at work in our relationships with other people? It’s quite possible that Paul has all of these in mind in one sense or another.
However, as we approach this fruit of the Spirit from the perspective of God’s attributes, there is one type of peace that takes center stage. When we think about peace as a character quality of God, we are talking about God’s nature as a peacemaker: God making peace with his rebellious creatures. God is a peacemaker, and therefore, we should be peacemakers, as well. And as we seek to bring peace in our relationships, God Himself paves the way for us to bear the fruit of peace in four ways.
1) God shows us the true nature of peace.
We’ve already seen that peace isn’t merely the absence of conflict. This can be seen in the relationship between the U.S. and Soviet Union during the Cold War. These nations never engaged in direct combat with one another; however, no one would argue that there was peace between them. Both countries were simply biding their time, growing their influence and power, preparing for the seemingly inevitable carnage. The same is true for peace in relationships.
Peace is about wholeness and rightness and goodness, and peace-making is about restoring relationships to a place where those concerned are living in harmony, pursuing one another’s good. Another word for this is reconciliation. This is what we see in 2 Corinthians 5:19, which says, “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself.” God looked out on his creation and saw a world that He could not have peace with because of its sin and rebellion. He decided to change that and achieve reconciliation through the blood of Christ.
As we seek to be peacemakers, the model that God sets us is the pursuit of shalom, reconciliation. We don’t simply want to get to a place where there is no outward aggression, a cold war of sorts; our goal is to get to a place where we are passionately for the other person, pursuing their good out of love.
2) God shows us how to make peace.
Peace is often costly. And no peace has been more costly than the peace that God has created with us, because this peace cost Him His Son. Romans 5:10 says, “we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son.”
God does not force us to pay the penalty for the ways we’ve wronged Him before there can be peace. If He did, there never would be peace, because we would spend all of eternity paying it off. Only as God takes our punishment on Himself can we have peace with God. And in this we see the only true route towards peace.
All peacemaking involves bearing the cost of peace ourselves. The Bible makes it clear that whether you have something against someone or know that someone has something against you, either way you should take the initiative in restoring peace (Matthew 5; Matthew 18). You cannot wait for the other person to initiate. If you have wronged someone, bearing the cost of peace means placing your pride on the shelf and being willing to do whatever it takes to restore the relationship, even if you think that the “punishment doesn’t fit the crime”! Go the extra mile so that you can restore peace in the relationship.
Peacemaking involves bearing the cost yourself. In one sense this is true whether you have wronged or have been wronged. But in another sense, it is the person who has been sinned against who must ultimately bear the cost of peace, because at some point they have to be the ones to say, “I forgive you. Let’s put this behind us now.” Forgiveness always involves bearing the cost of the other person’s sin because it means not taking your anger out on them and ultimately opening yourself up to be sinned against again.
3) God gives us the right reason to overlook sin.
When we pursue peace with someone who has hurt us, there are two ways we can respond. Both of these responses are modeled by God in Scripture, and both are appropriate in different circumstances.
The first way that we can respond to sin in order to pursue peace is by overlooking the offense. Proverbs 19:11 says, “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” Not every sin needs to be confronted. Think about how exhausting and demoralizing life would be if we pointed out every time someone did something wrong. We would probably think that everyone hates us. Instead, there are many times when it is appropriate for the sake of the relationship not to say anything, let it go, and move on.
But there’s an even better reason to overlook sin beyond the practical matter of how exhausting that would make our lives. We overlook the sin of others because God overlooks our sin. According to Psalm 103:10, “[God] does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.” Do you know every sin you’ve ever committed? Of course not. In our spiritual blindness, we don’t even know every type of sin we commit, much less every individual instance of sin from the many years of our lives. The reason we don’t know all of our sin is because God chooses to overlook it. God has forgiven us and part of that forgiveness is that He often looks at our sin and moves on without comment.
If we are to “forgive one another as God in Christ forgave you,” then there will be times when we simply overlook the sin of others. We do not need to confront every instance of sin. As we seek shalom in our relationships, we can keep our mouths shut sometimes in favor of keeping the peace.
4) God gives us the right reason to confront sin.
However, there are some times when overlooking sin is not an option. If someone is causing significant harm to themselves, to someone else, or to God’s reputation, or if the offense causes a barrier to relationship, then it is time to confront.
Even when confrontation is necessary, it is possible to confront out of the wrong motivation or in the wrong way. And this is where following God’s example of peacemaking becomes so important. When we follow God as peacemaker we are reminded that 1) we are not the judge, therefore it is not our job to hand out judgment, 2) the goal of confrontation is always the removal of sin and restoration of the relationship, and 3) confrontation is most effective when the other person knows they are loved.
Ultimately, following God’s example of peacemaking means that we confront out of love for the other person and it means we confront in order to restore the relationship. Confrontation that merely serves as a cathartic experience for you to unburden your pain is not biblical confrontation.
The fruit of the Spirit is peace.
Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash