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02.05.12 Fruit of the Spirit—Peace, James 3:13-18 Sermon Outline

by on February 6, 2012

Most wisdom literature offers advice based on mundane observations. James promises “heavenly wisdom.” Part of this divine wisdom is living in peace.

Summary Points

  • What is the nature of Spiritual peace?
  • Six helpful passages of Scripture
  • Some seeds to sow
  • Some weeds to pull
  • Three baby steps you can take right now
  • Questions for reflection and discussion

In Philippians 4:7, Paul promises that through prayer, “the peace of God which transcends understanding will guard our hearts and minds.” What is the nature of this peace? Peace that we can understand is simply the absence of conflict. But what is peace that transcends understanding? What is this peace that is a fruit of the Spirit?

Perhaps last week’s distinction between happiness and joy can help. There, we recognized that happiness is temporary and circumstantial because it depends on self-seeking pleasure. But joy, another of the fruit of the Spirit, is a sense of well-being despite circumstances. Joy is the result of participating in what God is doing in the world, and that activity is motivated by divine love—the first of the Spiritual fruit.

The Spiritual fruit of peace which transcends understanding is similar. It is motivated by divine love, which is self-sacrificing for the benefit of another. To use James’ words, this dependence on divine origins makes this “heavenly wisdom.” For Christians, what is divine or heavenly is revealed most fully in Christ who said, “blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be children of God” (Matthew 5:9).

Peacemaking is one of those activities that demonstrate how divine grace and human effort collaborate. Too often we think that these are diametrically opposed to one another. Some Bible passages, and the theological systems built upon them, appear to make this case. But others recognize that God has called us to participate in our own salvation by living according to grace, and one of the ways we do that is to make peace.

James instructs us to, “sow seeds of peace that we may reap a harvest of righteousness.” To help us know how to do this, I’ve identified a number of practices found in the Bible, and also some practices to avoid. Let’s call them “seeds to sow” and “weeds to pull.” They’re based on the following passages, which I encourage you to study and pray through on your own: James 3-4; Romans 12, 14; 1 Peter 3:8-22; Psalm 34; Galatians 5:13-26.

James says that those who live according to heavenly wisdom, “show it by their good life, by deeds done in humility.” So one way to cultivate peace is to serve others, even in small ways. Serving others generates good will, personal relationships, and community—all ingredients for living in peace.

James also identifies the source of so many of our fights and quarrels—it is pursuing our desires based on pleasure over God’s desires based on community. So a seed to sow in peace includes praying that we would be freed from our own self-centeredness and rather discern and embrace God’s desires. This is the central meaning of the third petition of the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy will be done.”

Paul exhorts us to seek fellowship with all of God’s people, not just the ones we like. It’s much easier to be peaceful with people who share our values and viewpoints. But the love of God generates a much more diverse community than simply people like we are. True Christian community is characterized by a peaceful co-existence between persons rich and poor, black and white, young and old, gay and straight, white and blue collar, men and women . . . Paul isn’t requiring us to like each other, or even to spend a majority of our time with people we don’t like. But Paul’s ethic doesn’t allow us to say, “if only there were fewer <blanks> around, our church would be better.” Instead, Paul urges us to get to know those “blanks.” They, too, are children of God, members of Christ’s body, and our brothers and sisters with whom we are called to live in peace.

Now for some of the weeds we must pull from the gardens of our churches. James specifically identifies the root causes of most of our non-peaceful existence: envy and selfish ambition. I am reminded of our reflections on the Seven Deadly Sins, particularly the sin of Envy. These aren’t weeds that come out with one pull—they will come out with disciplined prayer and practice. (Note that beginning in Lent this year, we will have a small group on spiritual disciplines—this will help.)

Both James and Paul exhort us to stop judging one another. James says when we judge someone, we’re actually judging the law. I suspect he’s referring to the law of love that Jesus identified as the highest commandment—to love God and to love others (Mark 12:28-31). When we judge others, we’re judging the law by saying we don’t need to obey it.

In Paul’s case, there were disputes in the church at Rome about secondary matters like when to worship and whether to eat food that had been sacrificed to idols. Paul urges restraint in judging, for, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17).

Attitudes and actions of vengeance are also antithetical to peace as a fruit of the Spirit. Here, Paul reminds us to “leave room for God’s wrath,” that it’s God’s job, not ours, to judge others’ behavior. God has given us Christ’s example and Spirit to be able to forgive others when they offend us. We can do that because we can trust God to bring justice.

Another weed to pull is attitudes of superiority and entitlement. Paul says we are not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought, but we are to honor others above ourselves. Here Paul attacks our attitudes around “rights.” Most of the time, when we invoke language of “rights,” it is motivated by our defensive individualism. “We have a right to this and we will not be denied.” Instead of such defensive individualism, the language of the Spirit is “service.” Being service oriented is a way to cultivate the Spiritual fruit of love, joy, and peace.

In conclusion, here are three things everyone can begin doing immediately to cultivate the Spiritual fruit of peace. First, control your tongue. Several of the passages listed above acknowledge the destructive power of an uncontrolled tongue. Try counting to five before responding. Try planning ahead if you’re going into a difficult conversation. Try just listening and not responding, promising you’ll respond later after you’ve had a chance to think things through. Whatever works for you, if you can control your tongue, the fruit of peace will follow.

Second, practice humility. The passages above call us to faith in the promise that if we will humble ourselves, God will lift us up. Here is a perfect illustration of divine grace and human effort working together. Humble people trust God and will facilitate peace in their communities and cultivate peace in their lives.

Finally, pray. But what are we to pray for? Four things: for God’s will, for our personal transformation, for others, and for our enemies. When we pray for these things, the Spiritual fruit of peace will enter our lives. God’s will will transform our wills to conform to his. God will show us the needs of others and prompt us to help them. God will work the miracle of forgiveness for our enemies into our lives and we will be able to live at peace with them.

Remember this instruction: “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech. They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” (1 Peter 3:10-12, quoting Psalm 34:12-16)

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  • Have you been relying “too much” on God’s grace, not doing your part in experiencing salvation? What is God calling you to do to live further into salvation?
  • Read the six passages included in this summary. What other seeds and weeds are included? Which ones are your next steps?
  • Who are some people you judge? Can you get to know someone from that group?
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