We Long For Peace

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This message from President Robert B. Sloan, Jr. first appeared in the October 2015 issue of The Pillars magazine.
Dr. Robert Sloan filming the HBU certificate program,
“Understanding the Bible,” at LifeWay studios in Nashville, TN.
See the video at the bottom of the page for a preview. Dear Friends,

When things are difficult, does that mean the Lord is not with us, or that we are not in the Lord’s will? These are challenging days throughout the world, and in higher education as well.

I want to share some thoughts on the topic of the Lord’s will and how to think about His guidance when times are tough. It is common in human experience for us to look for and long for peace. Of course we should. Peace is the great shalom of God. It is the single word that describes the glorious restoration of heaven and earth, when God through Jesus Christ raises us from the dead, when the world is finally set in order again with God’s justice, and there is a new heaven and a new earth. We long for the day when “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14; Isaiah 11:9).

And, it is of course therefore quite natural for us as Christians, who believe strongly in that coming day when the Lord will restore all things under His power and kingship, to long for peace. We sometimes make a mistake, however, when we regard peace here and now, or psychological peace, or the absence of strife as an infallible sign of the will of God.

Please don’t misunderstand – certainly, God is going to establish one day His great peace, but that day is not fully come. We have to appreciate where we are in the divine story. Paul says in Philippians 3, when he longs for the day of resurrection, that he has “not… already obtained it…,” but he presses on.

He goes on to say, “… I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: We long for peace oct 19forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:11-14).

Click to tweet: “Peace is the great Shalom of God.”

@DrRobertBSloan To understand where we are right now with respect to this question of God’s guidance and God’s peace, we must understand where we are in God’s overarching scheme of history. We are still between the two great poles of God’s salvation. His triumph has begun through the death, resurrection, and enthronement of Jesus at God’s right hand. Even now, Christ is reigning, but that reign includes His work of conquering His enemies. The last enemy to be defeated – one which is still not yet fully defeated for anyone except Christ himself – is death (1 Corinthians 15:25-26).

So, it is vital to realize that while the great day of triumph has begun, it is not yet completed. Christ has been raised from the dead, to be sure, but the rest of the dead – all those who embrace Christ in trust and in obedience – will not be raised until the return of Christ, at which time there is the creation of a new heaven and a new earth, when death and corruption are finally defeated (1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 50-55) and the whole earth experiences the
glorious presence of God, “as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14).

This means that, though we are in Christ, though we have the gift of the Spirit, we nonetheless struggle. We are wrestling in a spiritual combat that involves forces and spirits that operate behind and within the present social
structures, and indeed even plague us as well, though we have the first fruits of the Spirit (see Romans 8:18-23; Ephesians 6:10-13).

I find 1 Corinthians 16:5-9 absolutely fascinating with regard to these kinds of questions. We long for peace, and we long for all conflicts to be over, but that’s not where we are at the current moment in God’s sovereign leading
of history.

Paul is in Ephesus when he writes 1 Corinthians. He has been planning to return to Corinth after traveling northward from Ephesus (in modern day Turkey), from there crossing the Aegean Sea westward into Macedonia and then coming south to Corinth. That has been his plan and intention, but now he wants the Corinthians to know that even though he is eager to come to Corinth, he intends to stay in Ephesus for some length of time yet. The fascinating phrase that he uses is in 16:8-9. He says, “I shall remain in Ephesus until Pentecost, because a door – a door that is wide and powerful with opportunity – has opened to me and there are many adversaries.”

Notice Paul’s precise language. He says a couple of things about the door of opportunity that is before him in Ephesus. He says it is both wide and powerful. But the fact that this door is wide and powerful, that he has great opportunities to preach and teach the gospel in Ephesus, is only one of the two reasons he gives for staying in Ephesus. The other reason is found at the end of verse 9. Paul is going to remain in Ephesus not only because he has a great opportunity but also because there are many adversaries.

We would have expected him to say something like “pray for me because there are adversaries,” or “I’m going to stay here because a wide door of opportunity has opened and the Lord has made it very easy for me to operate here.” But what he says is very different. He says that there is a wide and powerful opportunity to preach, AND there are many adversaries.

Precisely because there are adversaries, Paul will stay in Ephesus. We know from reading Acts 19 that Paul experiences great conflict while in Ephesus, and that, in fact, on another occasion he refers to his experience there
as “wrestling with wild beasts” (1 Corinthians 15:32). His time there was anything but peaceful. But the point for our purpose is to realize that the absence of opposition, the easy way, a time of unobstructed activity, is not the
criterion that Paul uses for divine leadership.

We long for peace, we long for the day when the great shalom of God will pervade all of human society and all of human relationships and indeed our own internal selves as well. That day of God’s triumph has started with the death and resurrection of the long-awaited Messiah and Son of God, but even now Jesus the enthroned Lord is reigning and, as the Lord of history, is working to conquer His enemies. We are still wrestling against the powers of darkness, and we have been commissioned to worship, to witness to the truth of God in Jesus Christ, and to be prepared to suffer for the cause of Christ.

The work we have been given to do as individuals, as families, and here at HBU is not without its challenges. But it is God’s work, and we are called to be faithful in it. At HBU we have a fabulous mission and vision, and we are
working to become a comprehensive, national university having a full range of student opportunities academically and socially – that’s why we not only plan to launch doctoral programs soon but we are also planning Division I athletics.

These achievements do not come without challenges. But precisely because it is God’s work, and because there is a great and powerful door of opportunity open to us to be a witness to Christ in the sphere of higher education in the world, and, indeed, because there is opposition, we will continue to do the Lord’s work.

We are grateful to God for your support, your prayers, and your encouragement.

Dr. Robert B. Sloan, Jr

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