February 10, 2019
Norwalk First United Methodist Church
Fruits of the Spirit
5th Sunday after Epiphany
Today, we will look at the third fruit of the Fruits of the Spirit as given to us by Paul in Galatians 5:22-23. Remember, there are nine Fruits of the Spirit, but these first three, love, joy, and peace, can be grouped together as the Christian believer’s attitude toward God. Love for God, joy in God, and peace with God are aspects of the God-centered life. And so, today, I will focus on the last of those three, peace with God.
Already, we have learned a lot about God and about what our attitude toward God should be. We learned that God is love and that we owe our eternal lives to God’s love for us. And so if we abide in love, we abide in God and God abides in us. It was God’s love that saved us, so that is why we are to have a love for God.
But we have also learned about joy in God. Remember I said, our joy in life can only be complete when we have the joy of Jesus Christ in us. Our one purpose is to develop and maintain a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Therefore, our joy in Christ is the by-product of an obedient and faithful life to Jesus Christ.
And so today, we will discover a kind of peace that the Apostle Paul knew so well and that we can learn to have as well in our lives. That is peace with God. That is the everlasting peace that Paul had in his life. Will you pray with me?
A couple weeks before Christmas this past year, I had so many things going on that I wasn’t sure I would be able to get everything done. And when that happens, worry and anxiety start to set in. Now I am not asking you to feel sorry for me, however, when that week was over, I had a little pity party of my own for a few hours. I am just giving you an example of what we all have been through at different times in our lives.
Can you relate to that in any way? I’m sure many of you have had the same feeling. In fact, I have heard it from some of you from time to time. Things are spinning around you and all you want is a little peace. Most of the time, like many of the things I get myself into, I could say “no” and not have so much on my plate, but like many of you, I want to do things for other people, for this church, for my family, or to be helpful in some way. And then you may get like me, worried and anxious that everything will get done.
When I get myself into these predicaments, I have to remember Paul’s concluding words to the Thessalonian church in his second letter: May the Lord of peace Himself continually grant you peace in every circumstance…The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. (2 Thessalonians 3:16, 18). In order to have peace in my worldly life, I first need to remember to have peace with God in my spiritual life.
The gifted preacher and writer John MacArthur says this about peace: Peace is commonly defined as the sense of calm, tranquility, quietness, bliss, contentment, and well-being that we feel when everything is going the way we’d like it to go. That definition, however, is incomplete because that feeling can also be produced by a pill – or by alcohol, biofeedback, a nap, a generous inheritance, or even deliberate deception. The reassurance of a friend or someone you love whispering sweet nothings into your ear can also produce that kind of peace.
MacArthur goes on to write: That’s not the kind of peace Paul had in mind. Godly peace has nothing to do with human beings or human circumstances. In fact, it cannot be produced on a human level at all. Any peace that can is very fragile. It can be destroyed instantly by failure, doubt, fear, difficulty, guilt, shame, distress, regret, sorrow, the anxiety of making a wrong choice, the anticipation of being mistreated or victimized by someone, the uncertainty of the future, and any challenge to our position or possessions. And we experience these things daily.
The peace that God gives is not subject to the [fluctuations] of life. It is a spiritual peace; it is an attitude of heart and mind when we believe and thus know deep down that all is well between ourselves and God. Along with it is the assurance that He is lovingly in control of everything. MacArthur ends this by saying that peace comes when we as Christians…know for sure that our sins are forgiven, that God is concerned with our well-being, and that heaven is our destiny. God’s peace is our possession and privilege by divine right.
If we want to find true inner peace, I think we have to turn to that one source of truth in our daily lives, the one who has answers to our every need, the one who speaks to our every request…Dear Abby. Abby recently received a letter from a reader who wrote: “Dear Abby, I have found the secret to inner peace and I want to share it with all your readers. The secret is to finish the things you start. Today alone I finished two bags of potato chips, a chocolate pie, and a bottle of wine. I feel better already.”
Seriously, the one source that can speak peace into our lives is the Word of God. Turn with me once again to our scripture for today, Philippians 4:4-7. Paul had just addressed some individuals in the church at Philippi who were fighting with each other. He used that opportunity to give instructions to the whole church about peace with God. I think it was Paul’s assumption, that if each of us has peace with God, then we will be able to have peace with others and with our circumstances. Look at what he wrote in verses 4 and 5.
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near.” Let me state this again as I did last week. Our one purpose is to develop and maintain a personal relationship with God and with his son Jesus Christ. When we do, love for God and joy in God will flow abundantly from us to him. Paul says that here once again, “Rejoice in the Lord always.” But that love and joy not only flows in a vertical dimension with God, but it can also flow in a horizontal dimension with those around us.
Therefore, Paul says to the Philippian church, “Let your gentle spirit be known to all men.” In other words, the Lord is always near to us and sees all of our dealings with other people. In the spirit of being gracious, kind, joyful, and loving, we will at times need to put up gently with the unpleasantness that naturally comes in dealing “with all men and women”.
Paul had just dealt with members of the church who were in a dispute and had urged them to come to some kind of agreement and live in harmony with each other. Paul wanted those outside the church to see the effects the gospel could have on bringing peace to those inside the church. Our love for God and our joy in God should naturally bring peace with God and with our fellow human beings.
And so Paul continues with his instruction for bringing about peace with God. Be anxious for nothing. That is quite a commandment. We are not to have anxiety. We are not to have worry. We are not to have nervousness. We are not to have fretfulness and fear. No matter what our situation or circumstances, there is no need to be anxious.
After all, what benefits come from worrying? from being fretful? from being afraid? Absolutely nothing. Our worrying, our being fretful, our being fearful does not improve our circumstances in any manner. We can worry and fret but it will not bring about any positive changes in our situation.
Jesus made this point in Luke 12:25-26: And which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life’s span? If then you cannot do even a very little thing, why do you worry about other matters? What is Jesus saying? He is saying that we cannot prolong our life-span a single hour by worrying. A person cannot increase the length of his life at all beyond the time appointed for death. If we can’t do that, then how is worrying and being anxious going to change even the littlest of circumstances around us?
I think we all know the harm that worrying and being anxious can do. Many of us suffer from its symptoms. It has been proven that worrying and anxiousness are destructive to our physical health, heart disease, weakening of the immune system, gastro-intestinal diseases, migraines, ulcers, high blood pressure to name a few.
The story is told of a time when Death was walking toward a city when a man stopped him and asked, “What are you going to do?”
Death said, “I am going to that city to kill 10,000 people.”
The man said, “That is horrible!”
Death responded, “That’s the way it is; that is what I do.”
So the man ran all over the city, warning everyone of Death’s plan. At the end of the day he again met Death and complained to him: “You said you were going to kill 10,000 people, and yet 70,000 died.”
Death said, “I killed only ten thousand. Worry and fear killed the others.” Worry and fear are destructive to our physical health, but they can also be very destructive to our spiritual health.
Why? Because a mind that is occupied with worry and fear and distress is a mind that is not focused on the Lord. When we worry and fret, we lose sight of the Lord and His providential working in our lives. We lose focus on the Lord’s revealed will and then we are tempted to handle our circumstances and situations with our own wisdom and strength and not God’s. And when that happens, there is no longer any peace with God. Remember, love, joy, and peace require obedience to God and to his Word. Being anxious robs us of that obedience. Therefore, Paul says, be anxious for nothing.
How can we “be anxious for nothing” and have peace with God? The prescription seems to be simple: “in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” Paul is saying that Christians are not to be filled with anxiety. Instead they are to bring their problems and needs to the Lord with the confidence that he cares for them and his care is sufficient. And we are to do all that with thanksgiving, remembering how very gracious God has been to us.
I don’t know about your kids, but when mine were growing up they were always seeking as much as they could get from my wife and me. They would try to play one against the other. I think we all catch on to that rather quickly. Folks, an ungrateful child always seeks more from his parents without giving thanks for what they have already received. You and I are not to be ungrateful children with our Lord. When we petition God we are to also acknowledge and give him thanks for the blessings he has already given us.
Believers who carry their burdens to the Lord will find peace and rest in their spirits. This peace will stand at the door and guard our hearts and minds so that anxious care and worry cannot enter. It is a glorious peace from the Lord that unbelievers cannot find and cannot explain, and it is a peace that believers themselves cannot fully understand.
If you read on in this scripture, verses 8-10, you will also find that peace comes when we think differently and dwell on the things in our lives that are honorable, right, pure, lovely, good, excellent, and worthy of praise. Peace comes to our lives when we practice or do those things that we have learned about God and Jesus; when we do those things that Jesus did to help the last, the lost, and the least. Peace comes to our lives when we rejoice in the Lord greatly and show concern for those around us.
Peace with God surely comes when, in prayer, we thank him and count our past, present, and future blessings. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard [our] hearts and [our] minds in Jesus Christ.”
From the Gospel of John, chapter 14, Jesus said this, “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” (John 14:27).