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Peace, joy, and war

In the Bible reading series we’re using this year, one of our texts for the past week was Ephesians 6:10-20. If you don’t recognize the passage, it’s where Paul tells the Christians at Ephesus not once, but twice, to put on the full armor of God (v. 11,13). These words are part of a larger call to battle in what is a very militaristic passage. We’re to understand in no uncertain terms that there’s a war going on and we’re part of it. 

The other text was Philippians 4:2-9. There we’re told not once, but twice, to rejoice (v. 4).  We’re also comforted by hearing about the peace of God, which transcends all understanding,

guarding our hearts and minds (v. 7). Finally, we read about the God of peace being with us (v. 9). 

Put the two together and you have peace and joy in the midst of war. What kind of sense does that make? Perhaps this is why some people believe the Bible is nothing more than a collection of contradictory teachings. 

But in the Bible, as in life, things are not always what they appear to be.

Both of these passages were written by the same person theApostle Paul. Although he was accused of being not all there (see Acts 26:14), it’s clear that he was. 

So what are we to make of these diverse texts? 

To begin with, it should be noted that not only are they written by the same person, they are written at approximately the same time. Paul’s situation is that he is imprisoned in Rome.  Some Jewish unbelievers had been persecuting him and this resulted in his arrest (Acts 21). To avoid being killed in an ambush, Paul appealed to Caesar, and as a result, he was taken to Rome (Acts 25). It is from Rome that he writes Ephesians and Philippians. 
 
As someone imprisoned, it’s not difficult to understand how Paul could speak of believers as being in a war—but how can he speak of joy and peace? After all, he was not even sure he would get out of his imprisonment alive (Philippians 1:20)?  
The answer might surprise you.

The war Paul speaks of is unlike any other conflict. It is being waged not against other people, but against the spiritual forces of evil (Ephesians 6:12). Moreover, he knows how the war will endthe people of God will be victorious. Jesus spoke of the prince of this world (Satan), being condemned (John 16:11). That why He told His disciples that He had overcome the world and that though we would have trouble in the world, in Him we have peace (v. 33). 

Disciples fight in a spiritual war while being anchored in the joy and peace of God. It’s a paradox rather than a contradiction. We must not forget we’re in a war, but we must also remember the joy and peace that is ours because of the victory that belongs to those who belong to Jesus.
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