Beliefnet
Mark D. Roberts

Peace with God and peace within our souls do not exhaust the potentialities of peace through Christ. Scripture connects inner peace specifically to peace among people: “Let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are all called to live in peace” (Col 3:15). If divine peace reigns within us, it should touch the rest our lives, especially our most important relationships in family, among friends, and in church. But the peace Christ impacts an even broader set of human relationships than these.

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians lays the spiritual foundation for peace among people. After first showing that the death of Christ leads to our personal salvation (Eph 2:4-10), Ephesians 2 goes on to explore the corporate implications of the cross, focusing on the fundamental division between Jews and Gentiles.

For Christ himself has made peace between us Jews and you Gentiles by making us all one people. He has broken down the wall of hostility that used to separate us. By his death he ended the whole system of Jewish law that excluded the Gentiles. His purpose was to make peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new person from the two groups. Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death, and our hostility toward each other was put to death (Eph 2:14-16).

The death of Jesus not only brings reconciliation between individuals and God, but also creates reconciliation among people by exploding the hostility that keeps us from living peacefully together. It’s crucial that we pay attention to what Paul is teaching here because sometimes we get so excited about the personal relevance of the cross that we neglect its corporate implications. We end up proclaiming the possibility of peace with God and peace within ourselves without mentioning peace among people.

But God’s plan for you includes more than reconciliation with him, however essential and foundational this reconciliation is. On the basis of peace with God, you can have peace with others as well, an essential dimension of God’s perfect peace. Notice, too, that peace among people is not limited to a few close relationships. It transforms the relationship between Jews and Gentiles. It impacts races, ethnicities, and even nations. The Old Testament foresaw that the righteous king who comes humbly, “riding on a donkey . . . will bring peace to the nations” (Zech 9:9-10). When Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, he came to die so that God’s peace would pervade all peoples and nations.

I didn’t always think of God’s peace in this way. I grew up focusing on Christ’s provision of peace with God, within my own soul, and with my closest companions. Biblical passages that spoke of the social and political dimensions of divine peace could be reinterpreted to fit my preconceived notions of peace. I could easily ignore the texts that connect peace with righteousness and justice, or else relegate them to the future when Christ returns.

Yoder-Neufeld-Ephesians-4.jpgBut when I was in graduate school, my best friend was a Mennonite pastor who conceived of God’s peace much more fully. While not denying the central importance of peace with God or the blessings of inner peace, Tom spoke passionately of the broad dimensions of biblical peace. He helped me take seriously passages from Scripture that I had ignored or misinterpreted, especially the latter half of Ephesians 2, which shows how Christ’s death makes peace between hostile peoples. He also showed me the rich meanings of the Hebrew term shalom, a word that I had understood to refer primarily to the absence of conflict. Through Tom, I realized that I had truncated biblical peace to fit my own values, needs, and preconceptions. By his influence, I came to embrace the richer and truer sense of biblical peace, recognizing its interconnectedness with righteousness, justice, and wholeness in all of life. (Photo: Tom Yoder Neufeld’s watershed interpretation of Ephesians can be found in his commentary on this New Testament book, which I highly recommend.)

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