See the study on Love and Joy for a full introduction to our continuing study of the Fruit of the Spirit. One paragraph from that introduction bears repeating here:
The intent of this study is not to send us out to work hard at bearing fruit. It is impossible to simply decide to be peaceful and patient. The fruit comes as a result of walking. It is important to remember that this is the fruit of the Spirit. When we make knowing God the center of our lives, when we walk with Him in loving obedience, when we live thankful lives based on the gospel – THEN we bear the fruit that marks us as one of His. The intent of this study is to recognize the fruit and assess where we are in knowing our Creator. If the fruit is not there we should examine ourselves to make sure we are in the faith. And then we should prayerfully work at knowing our Father and walking by His Spirit.
Peace can mean several things in the Bible. It can refer to the peace with God that redemption procured. Because of the cross, believers are no longer at war with a righteous God. This is what the angel referred to when he announced Christ’s birth to the shepherds – “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased” (Lk 2:14). Paul explained this in Romans 5:1-2 – Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.
Peace can also refer to interpersonal relations. As believers we are to live at peace with other men since we are secure in God and place our rights with Him. If we esteem others and live for God’s glory, we can be peaceable toward others because their treatment of us is secondary to our commitment to God. This is why Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matt 5:9). It is also why Paul commanded, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Rom 12:18).
The peace referred to in the fruit of the Spirit, however, likely refers to the peace that comes from trusting God. It is a condition of freedom from disturbance within the soul (per The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia). Another word for it is ‘tranquility.’ It is the opposite of anxiety and worry. It is the internal state of the believer in the midst of life.
Paul elaborates on it in Philippians 4:6-9:
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace shall be with you.
Look at the combination of commands and promises to the believer. Paul commands us to do certain things and then promises us what God will do in response. The commands are weighty but the promises are incredible.
He first commands us to be anxious for nothing. At first glance this appears to be self-evident and unreasonable. If we could do this we would not need to read any further. It is like the old joke about how to have a million dollars and not pay taxes: step one, get a million dollars. Or like telling a sick man that the first thing he needs to do if he wants to feel better is stop being sick. Note something, however. The sentence does not end with nothing. Paul’s statement goes on to say what we ARE to do instead of being anxious. His point in commanding us to stop being anxious is to make us aware that there is a better way to spend our time in the midst of trials. Instead of fretting and worrying we should take everything that is causing the anxiety to God.
[How many times does this simple exercise go undone in our lives? How much quicker are we to call someone and vent or tell our friends how hard things are right now or seek counseling when the FIRST item on the agenda should be to go to God? And how sad is it that the one Person who can actually do something about our trials and who is always available and who loves us more than anyone is oftentimes the LAST Person we talk to or the One we talk to the least? Paul simply makes the point that the believer should not be anxious because he should be busy praying.]
Paul then tells us how to pray. We pray about everything with thanksgiving. We take it all to God. We take everything to God. We take all the hard stuff, the dirty stuff, the stuff that makes us look bad, the stuff we hate, the stuff we cannot bear any more, the stuff that is about to make us shut down and give up, the stuff that is causing all the anxiety – we take it ALL. We take it to the one of whom Jesus said, “For your Father knows what you need before you ask Him” (Matt 6:8). It does not make a lot of sense to hold things back from One who is omniscient.
So we are to be anxious for NOTHING and pray about EVERYTHING. Anything that can cause anxiety we take to God. We are not to worry about anything because we take everything to God. We are to worry about NOTHING. Nothing big, nothing small, nothing unknown, nothing known, nothing that directly affects us or indirectly affects us, nothing that is life-altering or so small it would embarrass us if anyone knew we worried about it. NOTHING. We do not worry about it because we take it to God and let Him worry about it.
We take it all to Him but we take it with thanksgiving. In the midst of crying out to God and barely holding our heads above water we must remain thankful. This is masterly by Paul. If you are thanking God then by definition you are taking your mind off your problems. If you are thanking God you cannot wallow in the swamp of self-pity and discouragement. Thanking God – even if we do not necessarily feel like thanking Him – renews our mind and changes our perspective. Discouragement does not coexist well with thanksgiving.
The result of making our requests known to God with thanksgiving is that the peace of God will guard our hearts and minds. God’s peace acts as a sentry around our thoughts and emotions and keeps worry and anxiety from setting up shop in either place. It is God’s peace – this is the same as saying it is part of the fruit of the Spirit. It is not naturally generated by man – it is peace that comes from God as a result of prayer.
The peace is also supernatural in how it works. It surpasses all comprehension. This is not just a good feeling we get because we decide to focus on the good things in life or remember our blessings. This is God-authored-against-all-odds-does-not-make-sense peace. This is a surpassing calm in our souls that makes no sense in light of current circumstances. This is confidence in our sovereign Father in heaven when there is absolutely nothing in our lives that testifies to that confidence. It surpasses all comprehension. It should not be there and we cannot by any means explain it, but our hearts and minds experience it.
This is more than a belief that “everything will be alright.” Everything may in fact NOT be alright from a certain perspective. We know there will be trials – God tells us that. We know God may intentionally bring things into our lives that are very unpleasant – or may simply allow the ramifications of a sin-drenched world to affect us. He also tells us that we will face specific trials simply because we are His followers (Matt 10). As believers we should be very realistic about the state of the world and the hardships of life. The peace of the Spirit is not about escape or trying to minimize the ugliness of tough times. It is an inner security in our Father that exists in the midst of the ugliness of tough times.
The peace is supplied supernaturally by the Spirit and is based on the promises of God. When we walk by the Spirit He brings to mind what God’s word tells us about our status and God’s love and sovereignty. The one led by the Spirit remembers the following when hardships come:
God is sovereign.
God is good.
God loves me.
Anxiety comes when something other than knowing and glorifying God is my goal. Anxiety comes when I have something valuable to lose. Anxiety comes when I face hardship alone or have an unrenewed mind that forgets Who walks with me. The one whose life is centered on God is not anxious because nothing can make him lose God – and anything short of that is in God’s hands. If knowing the One who controls all things and loves me is my greatest desire, then nothing can touch me and nothing can cause me to worry. I can say with David, “I fear no evil for You are with me” (Ps 23:4).
So does this mean a Christian never worries and is never anxious? It probably makes sense to delineate between concern and worry. The Christian should not be one who is continually stressed and a nervous wreck because of all the things in his life that are beyond his control or not going well. By the same token, to have concern for others and their welfare is oftentimes an act of love. Paul himself said, “Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure upon me of concern for all the churches. Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern?” (II Cor 11:28-29).
Outright worry, however, is sinful because it betrays a lack of trust. We do not truly believe the promises of God or do not believe that He is capable and willing to take care of us. We do not believe Jesus when He says, “Do not be anxious then, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘With what shall we clothe ourselves?’ For all these things the Gentiles eagerly seek; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you” (Matt 6:31-33). Jesus personally promised us that God will take care of us and that we should simply focus on Him. The worrier says that is not good enough.
Basically, worry and stress communicate that it’s okay to sin and not trust God because the stuff in my life is somehow exceptional. Both behaviors reek of arrogance. They declare our tendency to forget that we’ve been forgiven, that our lives here are brief, that we are headed to a place where we won’t be lonely, afraid, or hurt ever again, and that in the context of God’s strength, our problems are small, indeed. – Francis Chan, Crazy Love
Obviously, however, this side of eternity we will continually fight the temptation to worry. Perfect security in our Father will not be reached any more than perfection in other areas. This is where James’ words to his readers regarding trials become so valuable. James said to those who have a hard time focusing on the joyful aspects of trials, “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (1:5). Trials may cause us to worry but they also must drive us to God. This goes right along with Paul’s words above to the Philippians. We worry, we go to God, we repent, we give it to Him, we experience His peace and receive His wisdom that allows us to see purpose in suffering.
Walking by the Spirit causes us to know God and experience His peace. God does not worry or suffer anxiety. As we share in His divine nature through His Spirit His peace rules in our lives. To know God is to have peace. Peter said, “Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord” (II Pet 1:2). To worry and be anxious is to live as if we do not know God. When we know Him through prayer and His word we have His peace which surpasses all comprehension.
Words of Peace in Tough Times
I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Matthew 28:20
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23:4
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of his Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren; and whom He predestined, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. Romans 8:28-30
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4
These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world. John 16:33
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains quake at its swelling pride. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold. Psalm 46:1-3,7
Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10
I have set the Lord continually before me; because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Psalm 16:8
Cast your burden upon the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken. Psalm 55:22
He only is my Rock and my Salvation; He is my Defense and my Fortress, I shall not be moved. Psalm 62:6
Casting all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7
The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble, and He knows those who take refuge in Him. Nahum 1:7
The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace, because he trusts in You. Isaiah 26:3
If we serve a sovereign God we must understand that we are where we are because He wants us there. If God is the author of my circumstances and He loves me and promises only what is ultimately best for me, then patience should typify my life. Like peace, patience is a declaration of trust in my heavenly Father.
The same is true in reverse. If God controls all things, then my impatience is not actually with the person ahead of me or the circumstance in my life that never seems to change. Like bitterness, all impatience is ultimately directed at a sovereign God.
I can endure trials when I trust my Father. I can wait for justice when I trust my Father. I can be patient with others (even those related to me) when I trust my heavenly Father and focus on His mercy and love toward me.
Patience reigns in the one who walks by the Spirit because he focuses on more than this world. James says to those suffering persecution, “Be patient, therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold the famer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand” (Jas 5:7-8). We are patient when we wait on God and look to the next life with our expectations rather than demanding they be met in this one.
The one who walks by the Spirit does not berate the receptionist when the doctor runs late. The one who walks by the Sprit is not rude to a waiter who does not provide good service. The one who walks by the Spirit does not give up the faith because his hard times do not end when he thinks they should.
God is patient toward the unsaved, wishing for all to come to repentance (II Pet 3:9). In the same way, when we are patient in the midst of difficult circumstances or people we model His traits as His children. God loves us and is sovereign (the same qualities that infuse our peace); thus we can live patiently, waiting on Him and His perfect timing.