How to Experience God’s Peace | 2 Thessalonians 3:16
Brian Hedges | March 25, 2020
Turn in your Bibles to 2 Thessalonians 3:16. I want to talk tonight for a few minutes about peace. I think peace is one of the universal longings of the human heart. Everyone wants peace; we want peace in our own lives, and we want peace in the world. We define that peace in different ways. We may think of it in terms of world peace, the absence of conflict between races and peoples and nations. We may think of peace in terms of our own personal relationships, our friendships, harmony in our homes and our families. Of course, there’s the subjective dimension of peace as well. We want peace in our hearts.
Scripture speaks of peace very broadly. It includes all of those things in God’s ultimate plan, and there’s a passage of Scripture from 2 Thessalonians 3 that is really a prayer wish from the apostle Paul. He’s writing to friends that he is separated from by distance, and he’s sort of praying for them on a horizontal level. He wishes peace to them, speaking to them but appealing to God to give it to them. It’s a marvelous verse that’s compressed with a whole theology of peace. I think with the times in which we’re living, the things that we’re all facing and experiencing right now, we need peace, and we need to have a grasp on what the Scripture says about peace.
So, 2 Thessalonians 3:16. Let me read the text, and then I want to ask three questions about peace. Here’s what Paul says. “Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with you all.” This is God’s word.
Let’s just ask three questions of this text.
I. What Is Peace?
First of all, what is peace? Spurgeon preached a sermon on this, and he called the sermon “The Jewel of Peace.” The reason is because, he said, peace is like a gem, with many different facets or aspects. Indeed, I think that’s a good metaphor for peace as we understand it in Scripture. We have to work this out and think, “What does Scripture mean by peace? What does Paul mean when he says, ‘The Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way’?”
(1) The first thing to say is this, that peace in Scripture is not merely the absence of conflict. We’re not merely thinking about peace in terms of no conflict, no fighting, no disharmony between peoples in the world. Ultimately, the vision that Scripture gives us of peace will include that. There is a day that is coming when all wars and all fighting will cease. But the absence of conflict alone is not peace.
Look at a graveyard. In a graveyard, there’s no conflict. There’s very little activity. We read on the gravestones, “Rest in peace,” but that’s not the biblical picture of peace. The biblical picture of peace is more like a garden than a graveyard. It’s a place where there is life, where there is flourishing, where there is bounty, where there is a fruitfulness in every conceivable way. That’s the biblical idea of peace.
(2) However, the biblical idea of peace is not merely the idea of peaceful circumstances. It can include that, but it’s not only that, and in fact, oftentimes when Scripture describes peace it talks about a peace that somehow transcends our circumstances. You remember how Jesus said to his disciples in John 16:33, “I have said these things to you that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
One time there was a king who commissioned the artists and the painters in the land to paint a portrait of peace. He wanted to understand their vision of what peace looked like. There were many different drawings, there were many different paintings that were presented to the king for his approval. He didn’t really like any of them, except for two.
One of them was a painting of a very calm and placid lake. It was as clear as crystal, you could see the reflection of this vast mountain range there in the lake, blue skies with clouds above. All of this was in that painting, and it was a very beautiful painting; and everyone thought, “Surely, this is the painting that the king will choose.” He loved the painting, but there was another painting that he liked more.
This painting was also a painting of a mountain, but it was a sharp, rugged, craggy mountain. Overhead there was a stormy, threatening sky with lightning bolts, and coming off the mountain was a roaring waterfall. But if you looked really closely, behind the waterfall, in a little crack in the rock, there was a nest. There was a bird in the nest, peacefully tending to her nest, even in this stormy, threatening terrain around her.
That’s the picture that the king chose, because, he said, “Peace does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise or trouble or hard work. Peace means to be in the midst of all those things and still be calm in your heart. This is the real meaning of peace.”
Well, that’s the idea of peace that we get in Scripture. We have tribulation in the world, we have trials, we have troubles, and yet we can still have peace. We can have peace that transcends circumstances.
(3) The third thing to say about peace as we understand it in Scripture is that the biblical vision of peace is the vision of full flourishing in every way. It’s the vision of harmony in all relationships and in all dimensions of our being. This would include the vertical dimension, peace with God, so that our relationship with God is characterized by peace. But it also would include peace with people on the horizontal plain, that we are living at peace with others.
It also would include what we might call cosmic peace. The Scripture talk about this cosmic reconciliation between things that are of heaven and things that are on earth, when Christ will bring peace to the world in all fullness. This is something for which we wait.
The Hebrew word for peace is the word shalom, and theologians Neil Plantinga has defined shalom in this way, as “the webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight. We call it peace,” he says, “but it means far more than mere peace of mind or a ceasefire between enemies. In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be.”
In fact, this is the way God originally created the world. He created the world to be a garden of delights, the very idea of Eden. It was a place of shalom, it was a place of peace, of flourishing. It was the garden, the world which we were created for. But something has interrupted that peace. Sin has disrupted that peace in the world. Sin is this force of disruption that brings a breach in all of those relationships, a breach in our relationship with God, the vertical relationship; a breach in the horizontal relationships, our relationships with other people; and even in the very fabric of creation itself, so that there is now disease and disorder and decay and death. All of this is because of the interruption of peace, the breaking down of God’s shalom.
So when Paul writes this prayer wish to the Thessalonian believers, he wants them to begin to experience in the here and now a dimension of this shalom, which is a foretaste of what Christ will ultimately bring when he heals the world. This is peace that’s very different than the world offers.
You remember how Jesus said in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” Jesus gives a kind of peace that the world cannot give, that the world cannot offer.
We might define this peace as a supernatural peace, as a spiritual grace—that is, a Spirit-given grace—which gives us a sense of inner wellbeing and harmony and contentment and rest and satisfaction in God, a peace that transcends our circumstances. This is peace that comes from the spirit of Christ living and reigning within us. It comes from the Lord of peace.
So we’ve asked this question, “What is peace?” and we see that it’s a broad topic that includes all of these dimensions of wellbeing and flourishing and harmony and relationship with God and with one another and with the world. But sin has disrupted that peace, but now the Lord of peace has come.
II. Why Is Jesus called "the Lord of Peace"?
The second question is this: Why is Jesus in this passage called the Lord of peace? Again, look at what Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 3:16, “Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with you all.”
When Paul says “the Lord of peace” he’s thinking of Jesus, and he’s thinking of Jesus in terms of the peace that he brings. Why does he call him the Lord of peace?
This is an important question for us to ask, because there are other passages in Scripture in which it becomes clear that there’s a sense in which Christ does not bring peace to everyone in every situation.
For example, the words of Jesus himself in Matthew 10:34. Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” What did Jesus mean by that? “I have not come to bring peace to the earth.” Isn’t it true that when he was born that the angels declared, “Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth, and goodwill to men”? Isn’t Jesus the Prince of Peace and the Lord of peace? Yet there’s a sense in which he came not to bring peace, but to bring a sword.
Nor does Christ bring peace to all people. The Scriptures very clearly say (Isaiah 57:21) that there is no peace for the wicked. So there are some people who will not—indeed, they cannot—receive peace. They cannot receive peace from God or peace through Christ until something is done in their hearts and in their lives.
And the Scriptures, speaking about the day of judgment, tell us that at the end of time, on the day of judgment, there will be peace for some, but there will be anguish and wrath for others. Listen to Paul in Romans 2:9-10. He says, “There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek.”
Once again, we’re confronted with the reality of sin, this great, disruptive force in the world, and how this sin leads to judgment, it leads to wrath, and there’s no peace for those whose sins are not somehow dealt with, are not covered.
So how is Christ the Lord of peace? I think we can say he’s the Lord of peace in these two ways: He is the Lord of peace because he brings us peace with God and because he gives to us the peace of God. Let’s think about those two things.
(1) First of all, he brings us peace with God. Christ is the Lord of peace because he is the one through whom men and women, humanity, can be reconciled to God, their sins be atoned for, their sins be forgiven, and the harmony between our souls and God be restored. Scripture speaks of this in several passages.
Consider Ephesians 2:13 and following. The apostle Paul, again, is writing, and he says, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.”
Now, in this passage Paul is writing into a context where you have Jewish believers and Gentile believers who have been reconciled together and are now part of the church. So when he talks about making both one, he’s talking about bringing these two races together, so there’s a horizontal dimension.
But notice that he says that he’s brought both one so as to bring them together to God, and in order to do that, Christ through his blood had to break down the hostility, the enmity. That is, the breakdown in the relationship, the hostility between man and God, Christ had to deal with that; and that hostility is symbolized for us in terms of this dividing wall. You might think of the veil in the temple that separated man from God, that kept human beings out of the Most Holy place, where God’s very presence was manifested.
What Paul is telling us in Ephesians 2 is that Christ, through his blood on the cross, through his atoning work on the cross, he has broken down that wall, he has torn that curtain, he has opened the way to peace with God, in order to reconcile us to God.
You have the same thing in Colossians 1, where Paul tells us that the fullness of God was pleased to dwell in Christ, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. How do we get peace with God? We get peace with God through the blood of Jesus Christ.
I love the words of that old hymn-writer William Gadsby.
“Peace of conscience, peace with God
We obtain through Jesus’ blood.
Jesus’ blood speaks solid rest;
We believe, and we are blessed.”
Peace with God comes through the blood of Christ, it comes through the gospel. In fact, the gospel is called the gospel of peace in Romans 10. The gospel of peace, the glad tidings of good things.
Spurgeon said that "peace is the juice, the essence, and the soul of the gospel." The only way that we get this peace, peace with God—that is, harmony in our relationship with God, open access to God, being welcomed into the family of God—the only way we get it is through faith in Jesus Christ. Paul says in Romans 5:1, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
I want you to know that though you’re a sinner, and though sin as this disruptive force in the world has disrupted your relationship with God, that through the atoning work of Jesus Christ on the cross you yourself can have peace with God. You can be welcomed into the family, you can be reconciled. The harmony can be restored.
(2) But not only that, you can also receive what Scripture calls the peace of God, and Christ gives us this as well. He gives us not just peace with God (that is, an objective relationship with God that’s characterized by harmony and by friendship and by love), but he also gives us the subjective experience of God’s peace called the peace of God.
Paul in Phillipians 4:7 tells us that, rather than being anxious, if we will entrust ourselves to the Lord, if we will pray, if we will offer thanksgiving to God, if we will let our requests be made known to God, he tells us that “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your minds and your hearts in Christ Jesus.”
It’s the idea of a garrison, this word guard. He means that the peace of God will come and will fortify our hearts; that, even in the midst of difficult circumstances, even when things are going badly, even when the world around us seems to be falling apart, the peace of God can garrison our hearts, can fortify our hearts, so that we still know that inner peace and calm and serenity and tranquility of heart.
We know that God is for us and he is not against us. We can be at peace in the midst of difficult circumstances. We can be like that bird, building its nest behind the roaring waterfall, with the stormy lightning and stormclouds above, on this rugged mountain. Even in the midst of all this chaos, there is peace.
III. How Does Christ Give Us This Peace?
That leads us to a third question: How does Christ give us this experience of peace? We’ve asked, “What is this peace?” We’ve asked, “What does it mean that Christ is the Lord of peace?” But how does he give us this experience of peace?
Again, notice that Paul says, “May the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way.” How does he do that? I want to just give you a number of things that Scripture says about this. Again, thinking of peace as a jewel, we’re just turning the jewel around, looking at the various aspects, the various facets of this jewel. Now, as we think about the experience of peace—which I think we all need right now; we need to know this peace, we need to experience this peace, we need to be confident and to know that God is for us and God is with us and that we can experience peace even in the midst of chaos. So I just want to take you through several passages of Scripture that show us how.
(1) Here’s the first one, Romans 15:13. Notice what Paul says here. He says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”
What do we learn from that? We learn that peace comes through faith, and peace comes through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing—” that means through faith “—so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may about in hope.”
You know what this means? It means that Christ not only has given us himself on the cross to give us peace with God, but Christ has also given us his Spirit to indwell our hearts, so that we can experience this subjective peace of God. It means that there is a power available for us, the power of the Holy Spirit, to come to invade our hearts and our lives, to fill us with these graces of faith and of hope and of joy and of love and of peace. In fact, isn’t peace one of the fruits of the Spirit, Galatians 5:22? “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace…”
How do you get peace? How do you experience this peace? You experience this peace as the Holy Spirit fills you, as he empowers you, as he strengthens you through faith. That’s first.
(2) We also get peace as we keep our minds fixed on the Lord. This is the actual exercise of faith. Listen to Isaiah 26:3. He says, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” “I will set the Lord always before me, therefore I will not be greatly moved,” the psalmist tells us.
If you and I want to experience peace in these difficult and turbulent times, the only way is if we keep our minds steadfastly fixed on Christ. We keep our eyes on him, our minds stayed on him, trusting in him. We do that through trusting in his word and believing in his word. This is another means for experiencing peace.
The psalmist in Psalm 119:165 says, “Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble.” Great peace! Not just small peace, not just a little bit of peace, not just sometimes peace but not always peace. He says, “Great peace have those who love your law.” Does that describe us? Do we love the law of God? Do we love the word of God? Are we feasting our hearts on Scripture?
I think some of the time one of the reasons why we so often live without the experience of peace is because our minds are so filled with the news headlines and with posts on social media and with the latest thing that we’ve heard from someone else, or with our own worries, our own fears, our own concerns; and we are forgetting the promises of God, we’re forgetting the truth, we’re not thinking about the gospel. We are not filling our minds with Scripture and with truth, therefore we don’t have great peace. The promise of Scripture is, “Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble.”
Here’s another way we know that peace comes to us through Scripture. Everything that we’ve considered so far together this evening is coming right out of the Scriptures; all these passages that talk about peace. We wouldn’t know about that peace if we didn’t have it through the Scripture.
But here’s another way: Paul, in virtually all of his letters (you should check this out—read through the letters of Paul), in almost every letter, at the beginning of the letter, he says something like this; he says, “Grace and peace to you.” Now, is Paul just being polite? Is he just beginning with a salutation, a polite greeting? No, those words “grace” and “peace” are theologically loaded words! When Paul says, “Grace and peace to you,” and then begins to write as the ambassador of Christ, as the commissioned apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, writing to the churches to strengthen them and to help them, I think what he means is this: I think he means that, “As you read this letter, as you read these Spirit-inspired, Spirit-given words, may they convey to you grace and peace.” The word of God is a means for experiencing peace.
(3) Here’s another one. This one’s so obvious. We all know this, but we so often forget it: prayer. Pray is one of the essential means of experiencing the peace of God. Again, I’ve already referenced it, but Philippians 4:6-7. “Do not be anxious about anything, 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 understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
You remember the words of that old hymn:
“What a friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear.
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer.
Oh, what peace we often forfeit,
Oh, what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer.”
Friend, how’s your prayer life? How long has it been since you’ve talked to God about the things that are bothering you, that are weighing you down, that are worrying you? How long has it been since you’ve prayed about the things going on in our world? If you want to know the peace that surpasses understanding, you will only find it through prayer.
(4) Then notice this, again from our main passage in 2 Thessalonians 3. This is a peace that we can know in all circumstances. “Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way…” The New American Standard says it like this, “Now may the Lord of peace himself continually grant you peace in every circumstance.”
That means in good times and in bad times. It means times of wealth and times of poverty, times of health and times of sickness. It means when things are going well in your family and when your family feels like it’s falling apart at the seams. It means when the economy is good and when we’re headed into a recession. It means that even right now, in these difficult circumstances, we can know peace, because the Lord gives us peace at all times, in every way. In every circumstance he continually gives us peace.
(5) Here’s one more thing to note about this, and it’s such an encouraging part of this passage. It says that Christ himself gives you peace. Did you notice that? “Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace.” Paul emphasizes this. This peace is not merely the result of following some spiritual disciplines, observing certain means of grace.
All these are important (we’ve just seen that they’re important in Scripture), but it’s not as though if you merely check off the boxes that you experience peace. No, Christ himself works through these means, and Christ himself mediates his presence and his peace to us through these means, so that as we seek him in prayer, as we are filled with the Spirit, as we meditate on his word, through faith, through believing his promises, Christ himself comes and he gives us peace. Jesus himself will come to you and will give you peace. “Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way.”
Just to make it clear how he does this, Paul says, “The Lord be with you all.” The presence of Christ is what brings peace. It’s the Lord being with you that gives you peace. He himself, the risen Christ, the living Lord, crucified for us but risen from the dead, sitting at the right hand of God, ministering to us through the power of his Holy Spirit! The Lord himself gives you peace.
As we draw to a close, let me ask you, first of all, are you at peace with God? Do you know what it is to have peace with God, so that you’re not in hostility against God, you’re not in rebellion against God, your sins do not form this breach between you and God, but that breach has been healed through the atoning work of Jesus Christ? If not, I would invite you tonight to look to Christ, look to the cross, look to the Christ who was nailed there for you, who bled for you, who died for you.
Look to the Lord, who was willing for a time to be separated from his Father, forsaken of his Father, so that you could be welcomed in, so that you could be a part of his family, so that you can have the peace with God that comes through faith in Jesus Christ; so that you can be justified of your sins, forgiven all of your sins (past, present, and future), forgiven and covered and pardoned, and you yourself counted righteous in God’s sight through Jesus Christ. Are you at peace with God?
Secondly, here’s a question for you: Do you know the peace of God? Are you living in the daily, even the hourly, ongoing experience of this peace? Maybe instead you’re fretful and anxious and worried.
I think all of us, if we were honest, would have to say that there have been moments, certainly, in these past few weeks where we’ve felt some of that. Maybe we’ve felt fearful. We read some of these headlines, or maybe we know someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19, or maybe we’re concerned about the pandemic in our own communities, our own families, or maybe we’re somehow at risk.
Some of you are medical professionals, you’re working on the front lines; we’re so thankful for you, we’re praying for you. Did you know that even when you serve in this difficult way, whoever you are, wherever you are, you can know the subjective experience of God’s peace. You know that as you use these means that God has given us, and you do it in dependence on the Holy Spirit.
In 1871 there was a terrible fire in Chicago. Over 300 people were killed, over 100,000 people were left homeless. There was a businessman in the city who had invested much in the city, and he suffered great financial loss through this fire. Tragically, about the same time as the fire, his one and only son died. Yet for two years this man, who was a Christian, joined hands with D.L. Moody to serve the homeless, to volunteer his time, to help those who were impoverished and grief-stricken who had been ruined by this fire.
After two years of volunteer work, this man decided it was time for a vacation, so he and his family were to accompany Moody to England for one of his evangelistic campaigns, and then they were to take a vacation together into Europe. The man was delayed by business, so he sent his wife and his daughters ahead on a ship. So they were sailing to England, and tragically, their ship collided with another ship, and after this collision it was only 20 minutes before the ship sank. Out of all the hundreds of people that were on that ship, only 47 people survived, and out of this man’s family, only his wife. His four daughters were all lost.
When his wife finally made it to England, she sent a telegram to her husband that said simply, “Saved alone.” This man, now grief-stricken himself, having lost much of his business two years before, his finances, his fortune, having already lost his son, now having lost his four daughters, sailed to England to join his wife. The ship captain showed him where it was that they believed that the ship had sunk, where his four daughters had been drowned.
When he finally arrived in England, this man met with D.L. Moody, and he said, “It is well; the will of God be done.”
The accounts vary as to when this man, Horatio Spafford, wrote the words, but he left behind one of the greatest hymns in the English language. It’s a hymn that many of us have probably thought of in these recent days, and I want to close with these words.
“When peace, like a river,
Attendeth my way;
When sorrows, like sea billows, roll;
Whatever my lot,
Thou hast taught me to say,
‘It is well, it is well
With my soul.’
“Though Satan should buffet,
Though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control:
That Christ hath regarded
My helpless estate
And hath shed his own blood
For my soul.
“My sin—oh, the bliss
Of this glorious thought—
My sin, not in part, but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross
And I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord,
O my soul!”
Then the final verse ends with this anticipation of hope for when Christ will come again. Listen to these words.
“And Lord, haste the day
When my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound
And the Lord shall descend;
Even so, it is well
With my soul.”
Is it well with your soul this evening as you consider the words of this passage, as you consider what Scripture has to say about peace? I hope it is, and if it’s not, I point you tonight to the cross of Jesus Christ, who shed his blood for sinners, and who gives us the gift of his Holy Spirit, and who can fill our hearts and our minds with joy and with peace in believing. “Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace in all circumstances and in every way. The Lord be with you all.” Let’s pray.
Our gracious Lord, we thank you that you are the Lord of peace. We thank you that you have secured peace with God for us through the atoning blood of the cross, that you have shed your blood for our souls, that our sins are nailed to the cross and we bear them no more. Lord, how we thank you for that glorious truth that secures our peace with God, our relationship with God.
We thank you, more than that, that we can also know the experience of peace with God in our hearts and in our lives. In these difficult times in which we’re living, we pray for all who are part of Redeemer Church, that they would know that experience of peace with God. And for all who hear this message, I pray, Lord, that through faith in Christ and through the ministry of your Holy Spirit and through the promises of your word and through rolling our burdens onto you in prayer, through faith, that we would know the peace of God that surpasses all understanding. May it be so, we pray in your glorious name, Amen.