The Peace (salaam) the World Longs For

 by Dr. Gordon Nickel

"Jesus, we praise you as the Prince of Peace! We thank you for the unique, complete and divine peace that only you can offer and achieve.
We repent for being so attracted to and subscribing to other models of peace, which are always illusions. Forgive us for shrinking back from acknowledging the price you paid for true peace for those you send us to in your name.
Strengthen and equip us, Lord, to know and represent you faithfully as the Prince of Peace."

"Salaam" is one of the nicest words to hear from Muslims. In many parts of the Muslim world, if we say "as- salaam 'laykum" ("Peace be upon you"), Muslims will answer back, "Wa 'laykum as-salaam" ("and upon you be peace").

"Salaam"("peace") has even become a greeting in non-Muslim cultures where there is a significant Muslim presence. During my "missionary kid" childhood in a village near Hyderabad, India, we used to greet both Hindus and Christians with "Salaam."

My Christian friend in Hyderabad today likes to tell audiences that "salaam 'laykum" is a biblical greeting on the basis of John 20:19 and Luke 10:5. I agree with him, but also wonder whether there is any significant difference between the "salaam"of Muslim greeting and the peace of the gospel.

The Bible gives a number of indications that not all concepts of "peace"are the same. One of the best known of these hints is in the promise of Jesus in John 14:27: "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. "The "peace" that the world gives does not measure up. Since Jesus seems to set apart his own peace in
this way, what is the particular peace that he gives?

This short article will explore the teaching on peace in the New Testament, and will seek to distinguish that peace from concepts which are false or inadequate. It is only the peace that Jesus gives which can satisfy the human heart. In order to make sure that true peace reaches the hearts of Muslims, we must make every effort to align our thoughts and actions with the New Testament teaching.

The gospel of peace

The Christian message is called "the gospel of peace" in Acts 10:36 and Eph 6:15. In the first of these passages, Peter described his preaching this way in the midst of his message to Cornelius. In the second passage, Paul lists "the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace" as one essential piece in the "full armor of God."

In his Caesarea sermon, Peter began with how God had anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit and power. Peter included in his message the good deeds of Jesus and his healing of the sick, his death on the cross, his resurrection from
the dead, and his appearance to chosen witnesses after he had risen. Peter explained that anyone who believes in Jesus receives forgiveness of sins through his name.

Why does Peter call this particular message the gospel of peace? A wide variety of materials in the New Testament answer this question. Central to the answer is the explanation of Paul that humans have peace with God "through our
Lord Jesus Christ"(Rom 5:1). At the very time that humans were powerless, sinners, and enemies of God, writes Paul, they were reconciled to God "through the death of his Son" (Rom 5:6, 8, 10).

The theme of reconciliation is further explained in 2 Cor 5. God "reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation" (2 Cor 5:18). The message we preach is that "God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them" (2 Cor 5:19). Peace between humans and God comes through the death of the one who knew no sin.

But there is more to the peace of the gospel. The death of Jesus brings reconciliation among people as well. "For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility" (Eph
2:14). Paul explains that the highest ethnic dividing wall of his day, the division between Jews and Gentiles, has been demolished by the cross. Jesus’ purpose was to reconcile the two groups to God and to each other,"thus making peace" (Eph 2:15).

Blossoming out of this peace with God and people accomplished on the cross is a style of human behavior to match.The Gospels tell us how Jesus taught and exemplified peace - "preached peace," as Paul describes it (Eph 2:17). The Epistles show us the implication for our behavior: "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone "(Rom 12:18). Living at peace with everyone often seems impossible, but in our weakness God helps us here as well. "Peace" is among the fruit of the Spirit that God wants to nurture in our lives. (Gal 5:22).

The meaning of peace in Islam

Gospel peace is clearly not what Muslims have in mind when they talk about peace. Most Muslims do not believe that Jesus died, never mind that his death brought reconciliation between God and humans. The Qur’an does not generally teach peace with those outside of the Muslim nation. And there is no teaching on a Holy Spirit which can help humans live a life pleasing to God. So what might Muslims mean when they use the word "peace" ?

In the classical formulations of Islam that we find in Islamic Law, "peace" is the state of affairs where Islamic powers are ruling and shariah has been established. The books of Islamic Law call this state of affairs Dar al-Islam, the "Abode of Islam." The territory outside of this sphere, the region where shariah has not been established, is described as Dar al-Harb ("Abode of War"), and is seen as potential territory for conquest.

Not all Muslims may be aware of this classical formulation, but this example illustrates the truth that not all concepts of peace match the peace of the gospel. A common understanding of "peace" in the West is the absence of war, or the absence of open conflict among people in a society. Some people even talk about the Pax Romana, a peace imposed by force from a military authority. But none of these concepts captures the peace of the gospel.

Peace through the blood of Jesus

The Bible itself suggests that there will be concepts of peace do not match true peace. A refrain in the book of Jeremiah "'Peace, peace,' they say, where there is no peace" (Jer 6:14, 8:11, cf. Ezek 13:10). "Prophets
and priests alike" deceive the people, Jeremiah proclaims. They are false prophets and false priests, who empty the word "peace" of any meaning by their hollow promises.

By contrast, the peace of the gospel is true, and it proves its authenticity by the great cost that Jesus paid in history. The peace that Jesus made is "through his blood, shed on the cross" (Col 1:20; Eph 2:13). The peace of the gospel
is neither the generic western concept, nor the concept in Islamic Law, nor the peace of the false prophets of Israel, rather centred in Jesus.

It is this gospel peace that we want to reach the life of every Muslim, and the ways in which we speak and act with Muslims must be carefully considered so that the peace offered by Jesus might reach the ones he loves.This is why
the ministry of field workers in Muslim contexts requires both guidance and parameters - for the sake of those to whom Jesus offers his peace.

The gospel of peace has spiritual power to save (Rom 1:16; 1 Cor 15:2). It is an essential part of the "armor of God." However, if the peace we preach is false or inadequate, we will not be able to stand against the "powers
of this dark world" (Eph 6:12).

What is Salaam?

The particular peace He gives

There is frequently an understanding of peace in society that is not the particular peace which Jesus gives. The peace of Jesus comes from his redemptive death on the cross.Without the death of Jesus, without his shed blood, there may
be a kind of peace, but it is not the peace which Jesus gives to his disciples.

If Christians leave out essential elements of the gospel in order to be seen as ‘peaceful’ by the society in which they live, they work against the peace that is particular to Jesus, and in fact become roadblocks for the peace of Jesus to reach those he loves.

In such a case, the gospel of peace must be preferred over the peace determined by society, for the sake of those to whom Jesus wants to give his peace.

If the priests and prophets of Israel were capable of proclaiming peace when there was no peace, is it possible for Christian leaders today to mistake the peace of this world for the peace of the gospel? If they should indeed do so,
would cooperation with such leaders serve the interests of gospel peace?

"My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives, do I give to you..."

If we want Muslims to experience that peace, it will not be through hiding or de-emphasizing the truths of the very gospel through which peace comes.

So... the next time we wish Muslims peace in the common Arabic greeting, might we invest in that greeting a prayer that they experience the peace of the gospel? There are many different concepts of peace, but it is only the peace that Jesus gives which fully satisfies the human heart. 

Dr. Gordon Nickel has his PhD in Islamics and serves as a Training Associate with Salaam.

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