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THE WAY OF PEACE IN THE MIDST OF TENSION

By Dr Marion Ashton

 

The Way of Peace is Walked in the Power of the Holy Spirit

            One of the loveliest things that was said about the Lord Jesus just before He came into this world is recorded in Luke 1 v79. It says that He shall “guide our feet into the way of peace”. There is a “way of peace”. I used to think of peace as a ‘thingÌ“ which I could ask God to give me. “O God, give me your peace; send your peace into my heart”. But I think now that the more important thing to realise is that there is a way of peace or path of peace, and that if I want God’s peace I must learn to walk in that way.

            The best way for us to understand that way of peace is to see it illustrated in the life of the Lord Jesus. Nowhere else do we see the way of peace perfectly demonstrated. His life was lived in the midst of tension; it was not a quiet, sheltered life. He knew the tension of circumstances, the pressure of the demands of the crowds so that at times He did not have leisure to eat or sleep. He knew the antagonism of foes and of His own relatives. He knew the peculiar tensions connected with living with a group of people all of the same sex. He knew the stress of every kind of physical and mental suffering which culminated on the cross. And back of all this He had the utmost strength of the powers of darkness ranged against Him. Yet in the midst of all this He walked in perfect peace.

            As we look at the life of the Lord Jesus perhaps the greatest over-all principle that we see is that the way of peace is walked in the power of the Holy Spirit.

            After His baptism we read in Luke 4 v1, “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit for forty days in the wilderness, tempted by the devil.” Then in verse 14 “and Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee,” and again in verse 18 He said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me”. And so on through all His life He was full of the Spirit, He was led by the Spirit, He lived and worked in the power of the Spirit and it was evident that the Spirit of the Lord was upon Him, until at last it was through the eternal Spirit that He offered Himself without blemish to God. Hebrews 9 v14.

            Now if the way of peace is walked in the power of the Spirit it is not walked in the power of the flesh or of human effort. How very frequently young Christians having been born again of the Spirit, start to try to live their lives in the power of their own efforts, and it brings no peace; life becomes more and more of a striving, more and more laboured. I have heard it called the law of diminishing returns. To begin with there are certain results from a certain amount of effort, but as time goes on there is greater and greater effort and less and less results, until the place is reached where the Christian cries out in despair, “If this is the Christian life, I’m going to give it up.”

            If you want to know peace in the midst of tension you must learn the secret of a life lived in the power of the Spirit and not by your own efforts.

            Only the Holy Spirit Himself can teach you this secret; you may not even be sure whether you are living in the power of the Spirit or not, and so it may be a help to look at two things in the life of the Lord Jesus which are evidences of the fact that His life was lived in the power of the Spirit. These two things will be more and more evident in the life of any Christian who is learning in experience to live by the Spirit.

            (a) The life of the Lord Jesus was supernaturally natural. Often at the beginning of our Christian lives we put forth great efforts to produce an unnatural kind of life. The Lord Jesus was utterly natural, there was no affectation, no putting on of unnatural attitudes. He was at ease, He was natural, in the right sense of that word. I’m not using the word in the way that Paul used it when he spoke of the ‘natural’ man, I’m using it as we use it when we contrast it with the ‘affected’.

            Those Christians who try to walk in the power of human effort are affected, they have to ‘put it on’; those who have learnt to walk in the power of the Spirit are supernaturally natural, the life they live is the natural outcome of the inner life of the Spirit. We were made to be dominated by the Spirit of God, the whole mechanism of our being runs smoothly under the control of the Spirit. This is the reason why the Christian who is living in the power of the Spirit is walking in the way of peace. The way of peace for any machine to work is the way it was made to work. We were made to work naturally and peacefully under the power of the Spirit of God.

            It is possible to have a wrong idea as to what we mean when we talk about ‘selfÌ“, and ‘self’ needing to be crucified. We mean the principle of self-centredness not the essential personality. God has made each of us with a distinct personality and that is not to be crushed or put to death, it is to be set free by the Spirit of God, so that if I am living under the control of the Spirit I am free to be myself as God means me to be and this is the way of peace.

            (b) The Lord Jesus was utterly dependent on the Father. This complete dependence on the Father can be summed up in His own words: “I live by the Father” John 6 v57.

            It meant that He was in bondage to nothing and no one except the Father. When we learn to live our lives in the power of the Spirit we are increasingly freed from bondage to things and people, and become increasingly dependent on the Father alone. This is the way of peace, for it is so often just this bondage to things and people which takes away our peace. When I look at myself, especially as a young Christian, I see one in bondage to the opinions of others. My mind was not free, I was in bondage to the feeling that I must think and believe certain things because they were the right things for evangelical Christians to believe. I was not free in my habits as far as the Christian life was concerned. I wanted to conform to a pattern in the matter of Quiet Times, Bible reading, prayer, witnessing, and when I found I couldn’t keep to the pattern I lost my peace and felt frustrated and guilty. In these and other things I was terribly in bondage to the opinion of others. When I look at the Lord Jesus I see something entirely different. He was free from bondage to the opinions of others. His mind was free to be controlled by the Father alone. If you think of the religious creed of His day, full of formalism and traditionalism, it is wonderful to see how utterly free He was from bondage to it all, He was free to keep the formalities if it was the will of His Father, or to break with them if it was not. He was free to accept tradition or to break with it. Then think of His habits; there was order, but not bondage to order. No one looking at His life would get an impression of disorder. There was order in His prayer life, order in His eating and sleeping habits, but He was not in bondage to that order. He remained peaceful and serene when circumstances broke up His ordered life, cutting short time for sleep and for food and interrupting rest.

            So it is in a life lived in the power of the Spirit. Our minds and thoughts are free to be led by the Father and not to be moulded by what others think and say. There is not disorder, God is not a God of Confusion. There is order, but not bondage to order. We are dependent on the Father each moment, so when our ordered lives are broken up we do not react with resentment and frustration. We are free to be influenced by the opinions of others; but we are not in bondage to those opinions, because the Spirit sets us free to be finally dependent on the opinion of the Father alone.

            If the way of peace is walked in the power of the Spirit and not by our own effort, how does the transfer take place? If you have tried to live the Christian life by human effort and have found it impossible, how are you going to make the change and start to live in the power of the Spirit?

            I’d like you to look at Ezekiel 37 v1-10. In this vision of the valley of dry bones I think we get a perfect picture of the way that the transfer takes place.

            The Lord showed Ezekiel a valley full of dry bones and asked him the question, “Son of man, can these bones live?” Ezekiel’s reply was, “O Lord God, Thou knowest.” It seemed so impossible, so unlikely, that he couldn’t give an answer. Then the Lord told him to speak to the bones and to tell the bones to do one thing and one thing only; they were to “hear the Word of the Lord”. And the word of the Lord to them was, “Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.” They were to hear the Lord telling them that He would do something, He would cause breath to enter into them.

            The principle underlying all God’s dealings with us is this one of hearing the Word of the Lord. We are born again when we hear His Word to our hearts concerning our salvation, and all those who have found the secret of living and walking by the power of the Spirit have found it as a result of hearing the Lord say something to them.

            If you long to know this secret I suggest that you stop looking for some special kind of experience; get away quietly by yourself, take a verse such as Ezekiel 36 v27, “I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk. . . .“ Then meditate upon it until the Lord speaks it to the depths of your heart. This is something that He will do, not something you are to do. He will put His Spirit within you and cause you to walk. Many people have heard the Word of the Lord in this way through John 15, the parable of the vine and the branches, or through Luke 11 v13, “How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him.” It is as we hear Him telling us that the Christian life is lived by Him doing something in us by His Spirit, and not by our efforts, that we stop our own efforts and start to walk in the power of the Spirit.

            We have to remember that Ezekiel was prophesying of that which still lay in the future, that is Pentecost, the out-pouring of the Holy Spirit. To us, who have been born again by the Spirit, the Lord will say, “I have put my Spirit within you and He will cause you to walk.” All we need is to lay hold by faith of that which is ours, of that which is in us. A.J.Gordon said, “Not what we have, but what we know that we have by a conscious appropriating faith, determines our spiritual wealth.”

            In that passage in Ezekiel 37, Ezekiel was told to do another thing. In v9 the Lord said to him, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, ‘Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain that they may live.’” Ezekiel did this and as a result the breath came into them and they lived and stood on their feet.

            Perhaps there are some of you who do know the secret of living a life in the power of the Spirit, but you have friends who need your help in finding this secret. Perhaps this is a word to some who long to be able to help others in this way. You have done what Ezekiel was told to do; you have, in your own words, told them to hear the word of the Lord; is there anything else you can do? Yes there is. You can go away to your rooms and you can prophesy to the Breath, the mighty Spirit of God and you have the Lord’s permission to say, “Come, O Breath, breathe upon this slain that he/she may live.” God will answer that prayer of faith and you will see those you are seeking to help, learning to live and walk in the power of the Spirit.

 

The Way of Peace is the Way of the Cross

            We are seeing the way of peace in the life of the Lord Jesus, and we have seen that it is lived in the power of the Holy Spirit. Now we are going on to see that the way of peace is the way of the cross.

            As we see a little of what the way of the cross involves we will realise that we cannot walk it except in the power of the Holy Spirit.

            When ‘self’ is on the throne of our lives there can be no peace. The first thing we need is to have a vision of the cross as the place where the old self-centred ‘I’ is condemned to death. There must be an abdication of the throne, so that the Lord Jesus may take His rightful place.

            Once again we need to hear the Word of the Lord as we find it in such places as 2 Corinthians 5 v14-15, “We are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And He died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised”, or Galatians 2 v20, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

            Many Christians have entered into new life and peace through appropriation of this truth. For those who do long that selfÌ“ may be deposed and that Christ may reign, there is very much to learn from seeing the cross as a way of life, a ‘way’ which is the ‘way of peace’. If you go through the story of the crucifixion step by step you will see how the Lord Jesus illustrated the way of peace in His reactions to all the things that happened to Him.

            I want to think of some of the outstanding ways in which the Lord Jesus showed what is the way of peace as He went through the whole experience of the crucifixion.

            (a) The way of peace is one of absolute submission to the will of God. We see this particularly in Gethsemane. Here we see the battle raging between the mind and the emotions, His mind knowing what the will of God involved, His emotions crying out against that pathway, and peace coming, as, with deliberate choice, He chose the will of God. “Not my will but Thine be done.”

            This is the basic principle of the Christian life. The theme tune for every Christian ought to be, “Not my will but Thine be done”. We see the same principle illustrated in the story of the two houses which Jesus told at the end of the sermon on the mount, the house built on the rock and the house built on the  sand. The Lord Jesus Himself said that the man who builds on rock is the one who hears what He says, and does it; in other words, the one who is obedient to the will of God. When that principle has been made the foundation principle of a personality, that personality will stand up against all the storms and tempests of life; but if it is not, then the personality goes to pieces when the storms come.

            Our battles frequently lie between our minds and our emotions, and if we would know the way of peace we have got to learn to choose what our minds know to be the will of God, even if all our emotions are crying out against it. A Christian girl falls in love with a fellow who is not a Christian. He wants her to consent to marry him. Her mind, if it has been instructed by the Scriptures, knows that this is not God’s will. What is she going to do? It is an agonising situation, but many young women have learned that the way of peace is to make a deliberate choice to do the will of God even against all that the emotions are crying out for. There is no peace the other way. And when the choice is made and there is submission to God’s will, in time He brings the emotions also under control and the whole personality approves the choice made.

            (b) The path of peace is one of silence in face of accusation, misunderstanding, antagonism, aggression. “He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so He opened not His mouth” Isaiah 53 v7.

            The Lord Jesus never opened His mouth to defend Himself, He was silent in the face of all the accusations, all the antagonism, even when the sentence of death was given.

            You will not get far in Christian work without having some experience of being misunderstood or even accused, and of coming up against some kind of antagonism or aggression. You may have met it already. A tremendous lesson to learn is that the way of peace in the midst of this sort of tension is the way of silence. This is not an easy way, but it is the way of peace. We find so many reasons for answering the accusations, for defending ourselves, but we find no peace until we learn to follow in the steps of Him Who opened not His mouth.

            The accusations made against the Lord Jesus were entirely false, the sentence passed was unjust, yet He did not open His mouth; He was silent. Very frequently accusations made against us have some grain of truth in them, and even if they seem entirely, unjust we could furnish our accusers with worse things to say than the things they are saying if we told them all the truth we know about ourselves. How much more should we be silent!

            The way of self-defence is the way of unrest, the way of silence is the way of peace.   

            (c) The way of peace means refusal to wear any crown but a crown of thorns. To understand what I mean by that, you need to think about the significance of that crown of thorns which they placed on Jesus’ head. It was a mockery of a rightful claim. They were mocking at His claim to be a king. He was a king. He had the right to the throne of the universe. He had a right to be crowned with many crowns. They were making a mockery of that claim.

            If you think about the world, isn’t it true to say that every conflict is a conflict for crowns and thrones? The world seeks for ambition, prestige, position; it is always vying for some sort of crown or throne.

            This is true of nations. It is true in homes. Unfortunately it is often true in churches. Breakdown of peaceful relationships comes as a result of someone wanting a position, a crown, a throne which someone else has been given. I would be very surprised if the same is not true in a Bible College. In some form or other this seeking for a position, for a throne from which to rule, creeps in and disturbs the peace.

            The Lord Jesus accepted a crown which was a mockery, just to be laughed at. As I look at Him I learn that the way of peace is one of refusal to wear any crown except one which makes a mockery of any claim to be great, or important, or to have a right to any throne.

            I was thinking of this subject at the time that Dr.Billy Graham once came to England. Knowing that he himself had said that the thing he most fears is pride, I thought that we harm him and make the conflict harder for him if we make him a ‘wonderful’ person. We honour him as a man of God and one whom God is using, but there is a wrong way of exalting the man, which is like offering him a crown.

            I saw this matter emphasised also as I watched the funeral of Sir Winston Churchill on TV. I was much moved, from a patriotic point of view with the dignity and pageantry of that funeral procession. And then suddenly there came a great sense of the pitifulness of what was happening. From the world’s point of view this was the end of perhaps the most important man that our nation has known in this generation. The fact that I was seeing it on a TV screen accentuated the smallness of the figures. Here were a large number of tiny little people carrying this dead body of one of their most important men. This is the end of all worldly importance. 

             It is a thing to be laughed at that we should like to be thought important, isn’t it? And if people try to make us important and offer us crowns we should learn to laugh at ourselves, and see the mockery of it all.

            The way of peace is to treat ourselves as they treated Jesus and make a mockery of any claim to importance or position, to any crown other than a crown of thorns. 

            Some of you will be given positions of leadership in Christian work. When you are, you must learn that it will give you opportunity to serve, not to rule. The symbols of Christian leadership are not crowns and thrones, but a towel and a basin.

            (d) The way of the cross means knowing and feeling the sovereignty of God. Pilate said to Him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release You, and power to crucify You?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over Me unless it had been given you from above . . . John 19 v10-11.

            “For truly in this city there were gathered together against Thy holy servant Jesus, whom Thou didst anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Thy hand and Thy plan had predestined to take place” Acts 4 v27-28.

            I have deliberately chosen those words ‘knowing’ and ‘feeling’, because the sovereignty of God is known mentally by many Christians long before it really gets worked into their whole being and they ‘feel’ it with every fibre of their being.

            It is almost possible to divide people into two classes according to whether or not they really know that God is sovereign in their lives. There are those whose key word seems to be ‘against’ and others for whom it is ‘for’.

            Poor old Jacob was one of the first class. At the end of all the painful experiences of losing Joseph, then Simeon, then being threatened with the loss of Benjamin he cried out “All these things are against me.”

            Paul, on the other hand, had learned to say “All things work together for good to those who love God.”

            There are those who have a feeling that everything since birth has been against them. Heredity was against them - childhood circumstances were against them - their personality was against them - if they go out, the car is against them - the traffic is against them, and if they get to the mission field, the mission board is against them. They are always up against things. Of course if we want our own way we will find that everything is against us; but if we have chosen that God shall be sovereign in our lives then everything is for us.

            The first attitude produces endless frustration, and frustration is one of the greatest enemies of peace.

            The way of peace is the way of knowing at a deep level that God is sovereign and that everything that comes into our lives is ‘for’ us and not ‘against’.

            Even Satan cannot touch us without God’s permission. He complained to God that He had set a hedge about Job. God has set a hedge about each one of us, and Satan cannot get through it except God allows it, and if God allows it, it is for our good.

            Look at the things gathered against Jesus as He stood before Pilate. “Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel.” Now hear Him say, “You could have no power against Me except it were given you from above.” That is the way of peace.

            (e) The way of the cross means the way of forgiveness. And when they came to the place which is called The Skull, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right and one on the left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” Luke 23 v33-34.

            At the cross we see the greatness of the forgiving love of God. We see that the heart of God is a forgiving, reconciling, redeeming, justifying heart.

            Possibly the greatest enemy of peace is resentment. Hurt is not wrong. Jesus was hurt. But with us hurt so easily turns into resentment. Think of what they did to Him - the very things which we resent. They inflicted physical pain - they stripped Him - they fixed His hands and feet so that He was not free to do or to go - they ignored Him, mocked Him, derided Him and they exposed His weakness - rejected Him. Yet there was no trace of resentment. “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do”; that was His whole attitude.

            Why does hurt turn so easily to resentment? Because of self-centredness. Hurt plus self-centredness turns to self-pity and resentment. Hurt plus love turns to forgiveness and the ability to feel for others. How can I deal with the deep hurts of life? By looking at two things!

            Look at the end of resentment. We read that Herodias had a grudge against John the Baptist - that’s all, just a grudge, a bit of resentment - yet it ended in her having John beheaded. Resentment destroys, that’s the end result.

            Then look at Jesus and as you look He will enable you to forgive as He forgives.

            There are not only the deep hurts, we need to deal with all the little hurts of every-day life, taking them immediately to the Lord that He may take from them all trace of bitterness and resentment.

         This is the way of peace.