This benediction or prayer comes from the end of a letter that the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica. He normally began and often ended his letters mentioning grace and peace. Here he emphasises peace in particular, adding ‘at all times in all ways’ – always and all ways! So what ways did he have in mind?
His concept of ‘peace’, as a Jew, would have been more all-encompassing than the way we often think about that word. He appears to have been echoing the traditional Jewish greeting ‘shalom’… ‘be with you’, which is about a wholesome fullness, not simply quiet stillness – everything as it should be, fully functional and running like clockwork, in perfect health and wellbeing. So it was very appropriate that the risen Jesus should greet His disciples with ‘“Peace… to you”’(John 20:19,21&24). Likewise, after spiritual restorations and physical healings He ended with ‘“Go in peace”’(Luke 7:50&8:48). The New Testament uses ‘eirene’, the Greek word for peace, and in reality Jesus might well have used the Aramaic equivalent, but whatever the language employed, Jews like Jesus and Paul would have had in mind this rich Hebrew ‘shalom’ when talking about peace. That’s perhaps partly why Paul expands on it here, for the benefit of his Greek speaking readers.
One thing that both Jesus and Paul would certainly have had in mind when talking about peace is the healing of salvation, as prophesied by Isaiah: ‘he was pierced for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought our peace was on him; and by his wounds we are healed’(Isaiah 53:5). This is the gospel or ‘“Good News of peace”’(Ephesians 6:15; Acts 10:36), which involves both the negative and positive aspects of peace, i.e. shelter from the consequences of our sin, combined with resurrection to ultimate shalom, ‘salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us’(1 Thessalonians 5:9-10), and was ‘raised from the dead… who delivers us from the wrath to come’(1 Thessalonians 1:10). Jesus was ‘delivered up for our trespasses, and… raised up for our justification’(Romans 4:25), so that ‘justified by faith, we have peace with God’(Romans 5:1). Therefore ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself’(2 Corinthians 5:19) by making ‘peace through the blood of his cross’(Colossians 1:20). It’s important to know this peace and not get caught unawares amongst those ‘saying, “Peace and Safety,”’(1 Thessalonians 5:3) when the opposite is on the horizon for those who ignore God’s offer of peace and reconciliation.
Paul, in his letter, had addressed some potentially unsettling issues regarding this wrath/peace horizon, so likely he desired their peace of mind in that, but perhaps also he was thinking about another peace. He’d chastened some of the Thessalonians, and would have hoped that produce ‘the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those… exercised thereby’(Hebrews 12:11) rather than create tension in the body of believers. Paul was always eager to promote ‘the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace… one body, and one Spirit’(Ephesians 4:3-4). Interestingly, the issue that required chastening was that some of the Thessalonians had adopted a lazy lifestyle, becoming unnecessarily dependant on others, so living an inappropriate form of idle peace. Paul was keen for them to learn a more wholesome fruitful peace, and so play a healthier role in the body of Christ.
Aside from this harmonious ‘peace… in one body’(Colossians 3:15), Paul likely further had in mind his teaching elsewhere regarding ‘as much as it is up to you, be at peace with all… overcome evil with good’(Romans 12:18-21). That would have been a very real issue for the Thessalonians, who were enduring ‘persecutions and… afflictions’(2 Thessalonians 1:4).
And so to the amazing potency of this peace, which need not be disturbed by persecutions, afflictions, or anything else that might trouble us, because ‘The Lord’ Jesus Christ, the ‘Counselor… Prince of Peace’(Isaiah 9:6) indwells us ‘with’ it. As He taught His disciples, ‘“I will pray to the Father… he will give you another Counselor… the Spirit… In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you… Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you… Don’t… be troubled”’(John 14:16-27), ‘“I have told you these things, that in me you may have peace… [although] In the world… oppression”’(John 16:33). So in an atmosphere of ‘prayer’(Philippians 4:6), indwelt by His Spirit of ‘peace’(Galatians 5:22; Romans 8:6), we can know this ‘peace of God, which surpasses all understanding’(Philippians 4:7), always, even into eternity.
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