In verse 5, Jesus says the first thing the disciples should do when going out in mission is say, “Peace to this house,” and then he uses the word “peace” again two more times.

What do you think of when you hear the word peace? Inner calm? The end of war? A person flashing a peace sign?

Peace was not an uncommon word in the vocabulary of Jesus. In the Beatitudes he says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matt. 5:9). And Jesus himself was prophesied as the coming “Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6) and as “our peace” (Mic. 5:4–5).

What is so significant about that word peace?

It is a derivative of the Hebrew word shalom. Shalom is still used by many Jews today as both a greeting and salutation, and it’s an incredibly comprehensive and beautiful word. Yet despite its significance, it is not a concept that many Christ followers are familiar with.

My own underappreciation of shalom became vividly clear the first time I heard it. I was at a conference on evangelism that was being hosted at Wheaton College, and an African American pastor was giving the opening address. His words immediately caught my attention. “I am all about evangelism, and I boldly share my faith each and every time God gives me the opportunity. But as much as I care about evangelism, I’m also convinced that getting people ‘saved’ should never be our starting point when we interact with people who are searching for God. Our starting point should be shalom. That’s one of the most important words in the entire Bible.”

I remember hearing that and immediately thinking, “One of the most important words in the entire Bible? That’s got to be an overstatement.” I was twenty-five years old and had already been working at Willow Creek for a while. I had grown up in a variety of different church backgrounds, and I couldn’t recall ever hearing the word shalom even one time. How could it possibly be one of the most important words in the Bible? And what did it have to do with evangelism?

He described shalom as a sweeping picture of comprehensive wholeness, a word that describes what the world would look like if it were under the reign of God. He said shalom represents the world at one—with God, with each other, and with creation. It represents harmony and flourishing across all domains—economic, social, racial, environmental, gender, and family peace.

He took us to one of the more famous passages about shalom in the Old Testament—Jeremiah 29. He said, “We know this passage for its famous ending—that God has a hope and great plan for our future. That’s a great verse, but we forget that like just about everything else in the Bible, it is built on the idea of shalom.”

Daniel Hill, John Ortberg, and Nancy Ortberg, 10:10: Life to the Fullest (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2014).

I have just completed a seven-part Bible Study called Ancient Words. It explores seven key Hebrew words we need to understand in order to really understand the gospel. This article is an excerpt from this Bible study. The Bible Study is available on Amazon. It is also avail as well as part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking subscription service.

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