Let’s take a look at Paul’s statement, “Live in peace with one another.” (I Thessalonians 5:13b). In my Bible, this verse falls into a section titled, “Christian Conduct”. Here we find several quick “do this” and “don’t do that” sort of statements. To properly understand Paul’s meaning, I want to examine the word “peace”.
First, let me quickly dispel whatever wrong notions you may have of this particular word Paul has used. The Greek word translated here as “peace” is used only four times in the New Testament. This is not the peace of being reconciled with God in regards to our sin. This is not the inner peace and tranquility that comes from the Holy Spirit as a result of that reconciliation. This is not peace in the sense of the absence of civil wars or government armies marching into battle with each other.
The peace Paul speaks of here is peace with other individuals, not between governments. This peace means living in harmony and Paul’s statement is a warning against divisiveness, quarrelling and bickering. Furthermore, this is not a command to make peace with all men or at all cost. Paul here speaks of living in peace “with one another” – within the Body of believers, between those in Christ.
However, there are limits to seeking peace with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul’s next statement makes that quite clear – “We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly” (I Thessalonians 5:14a). Biblical living in peace is not about tolerance of sinful behavior. In fact, all of I Corinthians 5 rebukes believers for boasting of their tolerance of rather than the disciplining and correcting of an errant brother.
Such a “peace” is no peace at all, and is instead actually quite evil because it comes directly from Satan. To avoid confrontation and decide to not “rock the boat” is to fear men more than God. Furthermore, “the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith” (I Timothy 4:1). Therefore, Christians desperately need admonishing and rebuking when they are sinning to avoid such falling away from the faith!
Yet our goal is to “live in peace with one another”. Our Lord prayed for unity in His Church while He was here on earth (John 17). But neither Jesus nor Paul is proposing sinful compromises within the Body of believers for the sake of unity and peace. John 17:23 says, in part, “that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me”. It is our faithfulness to this teaching – “Live in peace with one another” – that we represent Christ to the world. As we grow in our unity with each other, we are perfected and matured into true Christ-likeness.
II Corinthians 13:11 “Finally, brethren, rejoice, be made complete, be comforted, be like-minded, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.”