Peace and Love: What Do They Really Mean?

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July 7 is “International Peace and Love Day.”  Who doesn’t want more “peace” and “love”?  To move toward that goal, however, we need to understand what “peace” and “love” really mean.

Love – A Self-Giving Commitment

Whenever “church people” support policies that are deemed to oppose certain “rights,” we hear the common refrain: “God is love.”  To be sure, the Bible says that precise thing: “God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them” (1 John 4:16). But what does that mean? More precisely, what is this “love” that is said to define God (and those who declare allegiance to Him)?

What Does the Bible Say About Love?

  • For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).
  • There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13).
  • Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice with injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

This is just a small sampling of what the Bible says about love, but one thing is clear: real love is not an emotion; it is an action.  Love means laying down your life, and being patient and kind. It means never giving up and enduring through every circumstance.

Peace – Healthy Relationships with Others

The biblical concept of “peace” also differs from common understandings. Most people think of “peace” in terms of “absence of conflict.”  We talk about “peace treaties” which formalize the end of a war. Neville Chamberlain proclaimed “peace for our time” in 1938, after making a deal with Hitler to avoid war. “Our time” lasted less than one year; Hitler invaded Poland on September 1, 1939.  Human attempts at peace are destined to be short-lived and less than complete, because human conflict is rooted in human selfishness and sin.

In the biblical sense, “peace” means “wholeness in relationship with God and humanity” –

  • “In one form or another the notions of wholeness, health, and completeness inform all the variants of the word [shalom].  Peace is not, then, simply a negative, the absence of war. Peace is a positive notion, a notion with its own content.” (Anchor Bible Dictionary, “Peace,” Vol. V, p 206).
  • “The word eirene (peace) appears in almost every writing of the New Testament. It describes an international calm and a relationship of goodwill between God and humans. Most frequently it describes a social reality, a state of reconciliation and wholeness among a group of people.” (Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol. V, p 207).

Human conflict – whether on the individual level or on the scale of nations – is based in selfish desire.  “What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them” (James 4:1-2a).

The Common Perception of Love

Needless to say, those who do not seek to follow biblical teaching have a different understanding of “love” and “peace.”  “Love” is often used as a substitute for “sexual relationships,” as in the use of the phrase “making love” to stand in for “having sex.” One phrase that seems to be popular on yard signs that I’ve seen is that “love is love.”  If you understand “love” as being exactly the same as “sex,” that statement is accurate; “sex is sex.”  (It’s also a tautology, but I digress.)

I think most people would agree that “love” is much broader than “sex.” I love my parents, my children, and my siblings. I love my friends, but I don’t want to have sex with them. To limit our understanding of “love” to “sex” cheapens the idea of love beyond recognition.

The common perception of “love” is that it is an emotion, a “feeling” that one has toward someone else. Again, that is an aspect of love, but it only goes so far. The real question is: what actions do I take because I “love” another person? How do I demonstrate my “love”?

Peace – More than Conflict Avoidance

As noted earlier, many people think of peace solely in terms of conflict avoidance. If no one is yelling at me, my life is “peaceful.”  Certainly, we’d much rather avoid conflict than experience it! Unfortunately, the further we go in avoiding conflict, the more emboldened are those who are willing to embrace it. (See the “Chamberlain vs. Hitler” reference above.)

That’s why it is important to understand “peace” in terms of wholeness – a healthy relationship with God and with each other. Of course, that raises a number of other issues.  First, what “God” are we to be at peace with? Christians would say, “the God revealed in the Bible, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Not everyone would accept that answer, which is one reason why “peace” is so hard to achieve.

Second, what sort of “healthy” or “whole” relationship are we talking about?  Again, Christians would point to Scripture to answer that question; those who do not accept the authority of the Bible look elsewhere.  Third, to what extent is each individual responsible for seeking or achieving this “peace”? Romans 12:18 (NASB) says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all people.

Peace and Love

So where does this leave us? First, I can’t tell others what they “have to do” in order to achieve peace. All I can do is explain for Christians, who accept the authority of Scripture, what the Bible says. That starts with me, of course. God calls me to love others as myself. Jesus told us to love our neighbor, and then shared the parable of the “Good Samaritan” to explain what that means.

The Peace of Christ

“But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23)

When Christians demonstrate real peace and love, people will recognize that here is something different. Not just different; appealing. After all, that’s what Jesus did.  He loved people the way he tells us to love them, loved us the way he tells us to love others. People were drawn to him – not because he didn’t care about their sin, but because they knew he had what they really wanted. He told his disciples, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching” (John 14:23, NIV). (By the way, part of his teaching was that he didn’t come to abolish Scripture, but to fulfill it. He also said that not even the smallest detail of God’s law would disappear until its purpose is achieved [Matthew 5:17-18].)

What about peace? Well, Jesus talked about that, too: “Peace I leave you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27, NIV).  This is a peace that the world cannot give, and that the word cannot take away. That peace only comes from a relationship with Jesus! Our relationship with him is grounded in his love – a love that loved us so much that he died for us. He gave too much for us to be whole to settle for something less. Just as a parent wants the absolute best for his or her child, so God wants the absolute best for us. But the difference is that he can make it happen!

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Written by: OchriO

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