“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” (Philippians 4:8, NKJV)
The turmoil of unrest in our country and around the world impacts us in many ways. These things unsettle our thoughts, our emotions, and attack our faith. They give our adversary, the devil, an opening to infiltrate our hearts with evil thoughts, words, and deeds (1 Pet. 5:8). Scripture teaches us to meditate on good things – even when things around us are awfully bad. (Recall that Paul was imprisoned unjustly for more than two years when he wrote this exhortation.) The word translated “meditate” means “to take an inventory” (Strong, G3049). Rather than becoming immersed in the sinful venom and bile of worldly people, the gospel of Christ calls Christians to inventory our thought process and dwell on things that are 1) Noble (honest, honorable), 2) Just (innocent, equitable), 3) Pure (holy, clean), 4) Lovely (friendly towards others), 5) Of good report (of worthy reputation), 6) Have virtue (morally excellent), and 7) Praiseworthy (commendable). The God of peace guards our hearts with His peace as we trust Him and meditate on these heavenly things (Phil. 4:7, 9).
Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: (Hebrews 12:14, NKJV)
People pursue many things in life that are (to coin James’ phrase) here today and gone tomorrow (Jas. 4:14). Life on earth is temporary, but our existence does not end here. We are immortal beings, and our souls reach into the eternal realm (Matt. 10:28; Heb. 9:27). Therefore, we must pursue eternal things (2 Cor. 4:16-5:1). Peace and purity are among life’s highest pursuits. Peace with God and holiness (sanctification) of obtained in Christ (Isa. 9:6; Acts 3:13-19). Christians are called by Him to press forward for peace with all (as much as it depends on us, Rom. 12:18), and to have amiable tranquility among ourselves (Rom. 14:19; Heb. 13:1). Commenting on this passage, brother Dan King observed, “The church is forever at war with the world, but ought never to be at war with itself” (Truth Commentaries: The Book of Hebrews, 427). Our reason for actively running after peace and purity is that we may see the Lord. Our desire to gaze upon the Lord calls us to strengthen the weak and straighten the paths of others rather than hinder them (Heb. 12:12-13). This desire also urges us to shun profane endeavors (Heb. 12:15-17). Make peace and holiness your daily pursuit, and your treasures will last eternally (Matt. 6:19-21).
1 Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, 2 for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. (1 Timothy 2:1–2, NKJV)
Paul began a series of exhortations to Timothy with an appeal to pray “for all men.” Jesus had taught to “pray for those who spitefully use you” as an expression of loving your enemies (Lk. 6:27-28). That is not easy to do, but it is the very essence of loving our neighbor as ourselves. Since love focuses on others rather than itself, therein lies the answer to how we can faithfully do this. We need to pray for those who have rule and authority over us. The reasons are apparent (yet Paul reminds Timothy and us of them). Their decisions impact many lives, including Christians. God desires us to lead peaceful lives, flavored with godliness, and infused with reverence. Therefore, supplicate (entreaty) God for them. Solicit God on their behalf for truth, wisdom, and justice to guide them in the affairs of state. Petition the Ruler of rulers, interceding for them through earnest prayers and thoughtful thanks. Paul reminds us that God desires the salvation of all people (1 Tim. 2:3-4). Therefore, let us diligently pray for leaders (and all others) so that an atmosphere that enhances the cause of the gospel may prevail on the earth.
Cast out the scoffer, and contention will leave; Yes, strife and reproach will cease. (Proverbs 22:10, NKJV)
The scoffer introduces and produces contention and strife in relationships where there should be peace (for example, marriages, neighborhoods, churches). The scoffer mocks truth and refuses the correction wisdom offers, “A scoffer does not love one who corrects him, nor will he go to the wise” (Prov. 15:12). Pride is the trademark of the scoffer: “A proud and haughty man—‘Scoffer’ is his name; He acts with arrogant pride” (Prov. 21:24). Driven by the pride of self-righteousness, scoffers ridicule their spouse, their neighbor, their coworker, and their brethren in Christ – disrupting harmony with their poisonous disdain. The scoffer makes fun of others while satisfying ungodly lusts instead of doing the will of God (2 Pet. 3:3; Jude 18). The scoffer undermines peace and reconciliation by refusing to show mercy and forgiveness. Overconfidence, instead of compassion, denotes the scoffer (Eph. 4:31-32). To avoid this dreadful destroyer of peace, let us hear this warning and promise from God concerning the scoffer: “The curse of the Lord is on the house of the wicked, but He blesses the home of the just. Surely He scorns the scornful, but gives grace to the humble” (Prov. 3:33-34).
4 Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires. 5 Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! (James 3:4–5, NKJV)
Words are powerful. A fellow-Christian recently reminded me that one way God made us in His image is in our ability to communicate, to use words. God’s word is powerful, and so are our words. Small rudders maneuver great ships at the helmsman’s desire. A spark can engulf a forest in flames. Learning to control our tongues is about learning to control our hearts. Pride promotes the lust for power over others, and words are often the vehicle used to exert that power. “There is a generation—oh, how lofty are their eyes! And their eyelids are lifted up. There is a generation whose teeth are like swords, and whose fangs are like knives, to devour the poor from off the earth, and the needy from among men” (Prov. 30:13-14). Our words have great power and potential for both good and evil (Eph. 4:29-32). Pride prompts the destructive use of words (like gossip, profanity, and strife, Jas. 3:14-16). Just as surely as pride is the spark that kindles much self-seeking strife, humble purity of heart helps steer our words and our lives toward peaceful shores (Jas. 3:17-18).
4 There is a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God, The holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High. 5 God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved; God shall help her, just at the break of dawn. 6 The nations raged, the kingdoms were moved; He uttered His voice, the earth melted. 7 The Lord of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah” (Psalm 46:4–7, NKJV)
Continuing to regard God as “our refuge” in the face of raging enemies and uncertain times, the psalmist contrasts the roaring waves of disturbances that rush at God’s people with the peaceful tranquility of streams of water that sustain and refresh “the city of God” (Psa. 46:3-4). God is in the midst of this symbolic city, protecting and providing for His holy ones as surely as the dawn breaks on each a new day. God’s power is unmatched. He has but to speak, and the earth melts away. While the kingdoms of men rise and fall, the dwelling place of the Most High God never falters. Today, God’s dwelling place with His people is the church, the redeemed who are saved by the blood of the Lamb and who are at peace with God and man (Eph. 2:14-22). “Do not be afraid” and “let not your heart be troubled” are the constant refrains of the Son of God as He calls on souls to strengthen their faith in Him (Lk. 5:10; 8:50; 12:7, 32; Jno. 12:15; 14:1). As did Israel in the Old Testament, even so now, the “Israel of God” (the church) has a peaceful refuge in the God of Jacob (Gal. 6:16).
And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. (Colossians 3:15, NKJV)
The gospel calls us to peace with God and with others. Sin introduced conflict between man and God, producing spiritual death and consequentially, physical death (Gen. 2:17; 3:19; Rom. 5:12; 6:23). The angelic announcement at Christ’s birth (“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”) praised God for His goodwill toward humanity that brought peace between Himself and sinners through His Son (Lk. 2:14; Tit. 3:4-5). Jesus Christ “is our peace” (first with God, then with other sinners) – “For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one…” (Eph. 2:14). Being reconciled to God “in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity,” hostility with God is removed and replaced with harmonious tranquility “in one body” (the church). That is the peace the angels announced. That is the peace Christ’s death accomplished. That peace must now rule (govern) our hearts. Being at peace with God, we can successfully strive to “live peaceably with all men” (Rom. 12:18). Until then, sin rules the heart, infusing our marriages, families, nations, and the church with its selfishness, confusion, and every evil thing (Jas. 3:14-16). By contrast, “the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy” (Jas. 3:17). Thank God for His peace! Without Him, peace is unattainable.
22 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 23 Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, This is the way you shall bless the children of Israel. Say to them: 24 “The Lord bless you and keep you; 25 The Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; 26 The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.” (Numbers 6:22–26, NKJV)
This priestly blessing drew Israel’s attention to the presence of Jehovah and His providence over them. Israel was favored when the Lord God was with her, guarding the nation and being gracious to His people. As the sun warms the body, the face of the Lord looked mercifully in love and salvation upon the souls of His chosen ones (Psa. 27:1; 44:3). (But, the Lord’s face was turned against Israel when the nation sinned against Him, resulting in destruction and death, Deut. 31:17-18; Psa. 34:16.) This priestly blessing would remind the Israelites to keep their faith focused on the Lord God as their Provider, Protector, and Giver of peace. Surely these things have been written for our sake (1 Cor. 9:10; 10:11; Rom. 15:4). Christ’s church is the Israel of God, with Christians composing a royal priesthood (Gal. 6:16; 1 Pet. 2:9). The Lord shines down His eternal favors of grace and salvation to us, His children, compelling us to walk in the warm light of His truth (Jno. 8:12). We are “kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” and inherit a blessing when we are faithful to the Lord (1 Pet. 1:5; 3:8-12).
1 Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? 2 You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. (James 4:1–3, NKJV)
Is your life full of conflict with others? If so, you may be unaware of the war that is raging within you. Today’s passage says the desire for pleasure and personal satisfaction fuels our fights with others. Hedonism is “the belief that pleasure or happiness is the most important goal in life” (Merriam-Webster). This philosophy suggests a satisfying life is about fulfilling personal pleasures, desires, and sensual delights. Yet invariably, this leads to selfishness and ill treatment of others, not kindness and love. The pursuit of such worldly desires makes one an enemy of God (Jas. 4:4). By contrast, Christians are to “pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). James had just taught that “the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (Jas. 3:17). If you want peace with God and with others, then reject fulfilling your own desires as the true course to joy. A good dose of humility will help us win these battles in our war against the devil (Jas. 4:6-7).
17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. 18 Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:17–18, NKJV)
Just as the wisdom that is “earthly, sensual, and demonic” has identifiable traits (bitter envy, self-seeking, pride, lies, and confusion, Jas. 3:14-16), so does the wisdom from above. God-approved wisdom is marked by dignified purity, and so is “consecrated to the service and glory of God” (Lange). With God as its object, wisdom from above has a social character that reflects innocence toward men and women. This wisdom is peaceable (not warring, Jas. 4:1). It is gentle – mild, moderate, fair, and just in its judgments and treatment of others. Approved wisdom is “willing to yield,” it is easily entreated, “open to reason” (ESV). Wisdom hears all the evidence instead of entrenching itself without reason against it. It is full of mercy and it bears the impartial, genuine fruit of compassion. Because of its nature, heavenly wisdom plants the seeds of peace (not hostile confusion, Jas. 3:14-16), and so produces peace (Matt. 5:9). Let us pursue the wisdom that is from above and bear the fruit of righteousness.