November 6, 2022 • Life for Leaders
Scripture — 1 Thessalonians 5:23
May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Our hearts yearn for peace, not only the cessation of conflict or inner calm, but also peace that leads to justice, flourishing, and delight. Scripture reminds us that God is the God of peace, the God who gives us the gift of full-orbed peace through Christ. Thus, our longing for peace fuels our longing for God and God’s kingdom.
This devotion is part of the series: Encouragement from 1 Thessalonians.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:23, Paul and his co-writers offer what scholars call a “wish prayer” for the Christians in Thessalonica. Though in their actual prayers to God, Paul and his colleagues surely spoke directly to God, as in “God of peace, please sanctify the Thessalonians entirely,” in their letter they reported their prayer in the form of a wish, “May the God of peace sanctify you. . . .”
The phrase “God of peace” appears five times in the entire Bible, always near the very end of letters written by Paul (Romans 15:33; 16:20; Philippians 4:9; 1 Thessalonians 5:23); or based on Paul’s literary model (Hebrews 13:20). Three times there is a promise that the “God of Peace” will do something good in the lives of the letter recipients (“be with you” in Rom 15:33; “crush Satan” in Rom 16:20; “be with you” in Phil 4:9). Once in a letter by Paul and once in a letter influenced by Paul “God of peace” appears in a closing wish prayer (1 Thessalonians 5:23, “May the God of peace sanctify”; Heb 13:20-21, “May the God of peace make you complete”). For reasons we cannot ascertain with certainty, it seemed good to Paul and the author of Hebrews to make a strong connection between God and peace at the end of some letters.
The phrase “God of peace” could have various meanings. In the New Testament, the phrase might hint at something about God’s own nature, but it most likely identifies God as the source of peace. You might remember that in Ephesians 2:14 Paul says of Christ, “He is our peace.” But this statement isn’t only telling us something about Christ’s own nature. Rather, it also reflects the fact that from Christ comes the peace that abolishes hostility between people groups. In other words, Christ is both peace and peacemaker. When we experience peace, it is a gift from God.
When we talk about peace today, we tend to think of it mainly as either the absence of conflict or inner calm. Both realities are embraced by the biblical notion of peace – shalom in Hebrew – but they only begin to represent the richness of the biblical idea. A few weeks ago, I wrote a Life for Leaders devotion called “Peace is So Much More.” In that devotion, I quoted from a passage from theologian Cornelius Plantinga. Today I want to give you the whole quotation:
The webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight is what the Hebrew prophets call shalom. We call it peace, but it means far more than mere peace of mind or a cease-fire between enemies. In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight — a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom he delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be. (Cornelius Plantinga, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, p. 10).
When Paul and his co-writers speak of the “God of peace,” they’re saying, in effect, that “the way things ought to be” comes from God and God alone. God is the one who offers “universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight” through Jesus Christ.
There is something within us that longs for this quality of peace. Yes, we want to see conflicts cease. Yes, we want to feel inner peace. But, even more, we ache for a world “in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom he delights.” We long for the day when all creation will be “webbed together . . . in justice, fulfillment, and delight.”
To long for such things is surely evidence of our having been created in God’s own image, in the image of the God of peace. Though sin has tarnished that image, vestiges of our original goodness remain in us, such as the yearning for peace. The fact of this yearning reassures us of our divine origins. And it also reminds us that our desire for peace in all of its fullness will only be fulfilled in God. The more we long for peace, the more we need the God of peace to be present with us, transforming us and making us agents of God’s own peace in the world.
When you read the phrase “God of peace,” what comes to mind? What do you envision? What do you think? What do you feel?
What do you think of Plantinga’s definition of biblical peace (shalom)?
In what ways have you experienced God’s peace in your life?
In what ways would you like to experience God’s peace today? (This question is asking about where you need God’s peace in your personal life and where you would like to see God’s peace make a difference in the world.)
Take some time to reflect on that last question. Then, talk to God about your reflections. You might also wish to share with your small group or with a friend.
God of peace, you are indeed the source of all real peace. You are the one who brings justice, fulfillment, and delight. We can only flourish when we live in you. We can only experience true wholeness as you forgive us, heal us, and restore us.
We recognize, Lord, that complete peace will only come in the fullness of your kingdom. Thus we look forward to the day when your peace will cover the earth. In the meanwhile, you give us a foretaste of peace. You act through us to bring your justice and wholeness to our cities, churches, workplaces, families, and friendships. Thank you!
God of peace, grant me your peace today in all I think, do, say, and feel. May I be a peacemaker wherever I am. To you be all the glory. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the High Calling archive, hosted by the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Seeking Peace in a Peace-Hating World.
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.