In Colossians Paul admonished the Church to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts. Apparently, then, the peace of Christ is something different from plain ol’ peace.
When I think of Christ, I’m conscious of God’s forgiveness; the great love He extends to us so that we might be reconciled to Him; the sacrifice He, the Sinless One, paid in order that we might have peace with the Father.
When I think of forgiveness and an end to a broken relationship, some of Jesus’s stories about forgiveness come to mind. One such was about a certain servant who owed an outrageous debt to his master. He begged for more time to pay up, though in reality he could never meet his obligation though he worked his entire life to pay what he owed. His master generously forgave him the entire obligation.
The servant went out and saw another servant who happened to owe him a modest sum. He insisted that he be repaid. The debtor begged for more time, but the forgiven servant refused.
When his master heard about it, he had him punished.
Why? Because he hadn’t apprehended what forgiveness is all about. The reconciliation he experienced with his master should have filled him with such thankfulness, he would want to pay it forward and let others also experience this same kind of bond.
It’s a bond of peace. It’s the end of keeping accounts. No more Peter-ish keeping score: Did I already forgive him seven times? I am not about to forgive one more of his ____. You fill in the blank.
Paul’s entire admonition about peace says this:
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.
I’ve thought for some time now that the “and be thankful” part seems sort of out of place. But as I began to think about Jesus’s parable, it seems clear: when we are thankful for the forgiveness we received, we are willing to extend forgiveness to others—which is the means by which we appropriate peace with one another.
If we’re holding grudges, we aren’t at peace.
If we’re plotting how to get even, we aren’t at peace.
If we’re harboring resentments, we aren’t at peace.
If we’re paying back evil for evil, we aren’t at peace
Paul says we—believers in Jesus—have been called to peace. In fact that’s precisely what Jesus did:
A new commandment I give you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35)
Ah, but that’s love, not peace.
Have you ever tried to love someone you were holding a grudge against? Or plotting against, or resenting, or gossiping about or giving the cold shoulder to or the evil eye or whatever behavior you perceived they had given you? Those things are not loving. In truth, love is the gateway to peace in the same way that forgiveness is.
It makes sense. God’s forgiveness of us didn’t happen in a vacuum, separated from His love. Nor did his love and forgiveness fall short as a means to peace with Him. It’s a package deal. We love, we forgive, we live in peace to which we’ve been called.
We are one body, and a body needs to be at peace with itself or there are problems.
Peace is pretty important at Christmas. Relatives who don’t always hang out with each other or even see one another more than once a year, get together, and there can sometimes be tensions. We are tired and busy and many have been traveling and are living out of a suitcase.
We love Christmas, but it can still be stressful.
Enter love and forgiveness, then peace follows.