Peace does not just happen. It needs to be created, built, maintained and nurtured.
Is Peacemaking A “Mission Impossible”?
Is Peace Really Possible?
The author of a recent newspaper editorial explained why he thought the United Nations was an expensive “white elephant” of no use to anybody. He went through a series of recent international conflicts to show how, in his opinion, the UN did nothing to help bring about peace. Whether or not we agree with his view, we all agree that peace is a very fragile state, and being a peacemaker is a very difficult task! If it is difficult to achieve peace among the nations of the world, parents know it is also difficult to keep peace among the children in a family. Unfortunately, we all know it is also hard to maintain peace among Christians.
What Peace Actually Is
The dictionary defines a peacemaker as, “one who makes peace, especially by settling disputes.” The operative word is “make.” Peace does not just happen. It needs to be created, built, maintained and nurtured. If peace is broken it needs to be restored, not just by getting rid of the hostility, but by actively building up a solid relationship between the estranged parties. In many modern languages, we have come to understand peace in negative terms, as the absence of strife. However, the ancient Hebrew word “shalom” carries a positive connotation of peace as wholeness, integrity, and contented activity. Peace exists, not because there isn’t war, but because there is fairness, respect and a healthy relationship.
The Trap Of False Peace
It is possible to think we live at peace with the believers in our fellowship, when in fact we live in a state of apathy. True, we have no bad relationship with them, but it would be truer to say we have little relationship with them at all! This is not a state of Christian peace! God twice cursed the priests and prophets of Israel for saying “peace, peace, when there (was) no peace” (Jer. 6:14; 8:11). Let us not be guilty of dressing the wounds of strife in our assembly as though they were not serious. Spiritual leaders in local churches need to take seriously the responsibility of encouraging active and healthy peace among believers. Let’s avoid a false or superficial peace. Cemeteries are very “peaceful” places, but there is no life there!
A Very Common Mistake
Jesus said, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother … a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household” (Mt. 10:34-36 niv). Also Jude 3 urges us to “contend for the faith that was once entrusted to the saints.” These verses are often misapplied by those who want to justify their rebellious and arrogant unwillingness to make peace with their brethren. But the context of Jesus’ words shows clearly that they are to be applied to those who are facing persecution from unbelievers due to their decision to follow Christ. Jesus never intended to turn a Christian son against his Christian father, or Christian brethren against one another! And even in our relations with non-Christians, God commands us to keep a clear conscience “so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander” (1 Pet. 3:16). Even when facing a rebellious heretic, we should disagree and explain why we cannot have fellowship with him in compassionate and humble terms, maintaining an open dialogue and peaceful attitude.
The Starting Point
The Bible makes it clear that in Christ we have been reconciled to God. Paul reminds us that “since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:1). And in Him, we have also been reconciled to one another: “For He himself is our peace, who has made the two (Jew and Gentile) one“ (Eph. 2:14). Our starting point must be our Lord. We need to appropriate the peace He has given us and make it a living reality. We need to experience peace with God in such a way that it results in peace with our brethren in Christ. We also need to show them that our Father “has called us to live in peace” (1 Cor. 7:15).
A Peacemaker Must Live At Peace
This is self-evident: If God is to use me to be a peacemaker, I must first live at peace myself. How can a “warrior” be a peacemaker? If I have offended someone, I must seek forgiveness and be reconciled again (Mt. 5:22-23). Even if I am not at fault, and someone else has offended me, the Lord Jesus commands me to take the initiative in seeking forgiveness (Mt. 18:15). “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Eph. 4:32). But even this is not enough: I must not only live at peace with others; God also calls me to become a peacemaker, helping to bring about peace between others.
Peacemaking Is Costly
Being a peacemaker is a very risky occupation: He who tries to separate two fighting men often gets wounded himself. He who tries to make peace between opposing sides, may easily become the next object of their malice or anger. No wonder there are few effective peacemakers in the world – and even in the Church. It takes lots of effort! But Paul commands us: “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification” (Rom. 14:19). “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy” (Heb. 12:14). Peacemaking requires time, emotional energy, and spiritual resources. Effective peacemaking is impossible without direct personal contact. Phone calls, letters, e-mail messages or even messages from the pulpit, are not the way to go about peacemaking! In Judges 22, we read the account of how a civil war was averted in Israel: personal contact, and meaningful dialogue were at the heart of the solution.
But Not Peace At Any Cost
Neville Chamberlain had the dubious honor of becoming the classical example of the impossibility of establishing peace at any cost. He tried to appease Hitler with more and more concessions for the sake of “peace for our time.” But it did not work! World War 2 broke out and shattered Chamberlain’s “peace.” Likewise today, peacemakers must avoid trying to obtain peace “at any cost.” It still doesn’t work! Instead, they should help bring about a peace based on fairness and truth. God is a God of righteousness. Doing good and building peace go hand in hand: “Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it” (Ps. 34:14). We cannot pursue true peace without pursuing righteousness, faith and love: “Pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Tim. 2:22).
An Important Warning
A necessary word of caution is in order: living out God’s righteousness, and seeking peace in harmony with God’s righteousness, is quite different from demanding peace based on my own human definition of righteousness. Perhaps I might insist on a pharisaic and outward form of holiness which exceeds what God’s Word states. Or perhaps I might be like the Sadducees, content to live a worldly sort of righteousness which doesn’t really agree with God’s Word. It is easy to become blinded to our own faults and think we are standing for God’s holiness when in fact we are stubbornly defending our own ideas! May God give us the grace to know the difference, and to pursue a lasting peace in accordance with His righteous character.
Necessary Conditions For Peace
Godly peacemakers know that for lasting peace to be made, there are some basic conditions which must be met. They themselves must fulfill them, but so must those they are helping. Indeed, one of the best ways peacemakers may help others is precisely by encouraging them to meet these five necessary conditions. These five conditions are: commitment, patience, respect, truthfulness, and forgiveness. Deep down, only the Holy Spirit can produce these qualities, so part of the peacemaker’s job is to pray earnestly to this end.
- Commitment: Our commitment to the peace process should be for the Lord’s sake. Even if we don’t feel like peacemaking, God wants it and commands us to pursue it!
- Patience: Peacemaking is like sowing seeds: “Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness” (Jas. 3:18). Those being counseled must be enjoined to patience.
- Respect: We will never succeed at peacemaking if we do not have respect and godly love for the other party. We must try to love as God has loved us, to consciously refuse to think badly of others and to give them the benefit of the doubt (1 Cor. 13:4-7).
- Truthfulness: We must endeavor to be utterly truthful, to mean what we say and say what we mean. We must avoid picking quarrels over the choice of words (2 Tim. 2:14). We must neither exaggerate nor minimize. We must avoid misquoting others or taking their statements out of context to force a different meaning.
- Forgiveness: Is there true willingness to forgive and forget? Once the conflict has been resolved, we must be willing to never again bring these issues up. We must “bury the hatchet” for good.
Some Specific Examples
Are there two brothers or sisters in your local church who have fallen out with each other? Paul wrote, “I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, loyal yoke-fellow, help these women” (Phil. 4:2-3). Today, when marriage and the family are being undermined, special attention needs to be given to the ministry of helping husbands and wives resolve conflicts, and establish healthy patterns of family behavior. Surely this is also a way of fulfilling the command: “Marriage should be honored by all” (Heb. 13:4). Perhaps you know of one family that avoids another, or of rivalries between brethren over petty (or not so petty) issues. Perhaps there is an incipient division between the older and the younger in your fellowship. There is never a work shortage for peacemakers! Be tactful but bold as you help others find God’s peace in their lives, and with one another.
What If Peace Is Impossible?
Paul seems to accept that sometimes peace will not be possible: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Rom. 12:18). But he makes clear that we must do our best! We need to keep the channels open from our side. Peacemakers must gently keep reminding both sides that reconciliation is indispensable. Jesus warned that he who does not forgive will not be forgiven (Mt. 6:15). If peace is not possible for the time being, let’s make sure that it is not due to our own negligence in seeking a solution. Let us never give up seeking to bring about godly peace! Only death may extinguish this hope.
The Peacemaker’s Reward
Our Lord Himself pronounced the peacemaker’s reward: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God” (Mt. 5:9). Now, I know we become sons of God though faith in the Lord Jesus and by receiving His forgiveness. But not all believers look or sound like sons of God. Being a peacemaker was a fundamental part of Jesus’ nature: He was the Son of God who came to reconcile the world to God. As we allow the Holy Spirit to form Jesus in us, His peacemaking character in us will prove to all that we are in fact sons of God. Then they will call us “Sons of God.”
How Does This Affect Me?
On the base of a statue in front of the UN headquarters in New York is this quote from Isaiah 2:4, which expresses their principal objective: “They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” Unfortunately we do not yet see peace between all nations – not even between all Christians! Actually, the first part of this verse expresses the prerequisite for such an outcome: “God will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples.” This will happen when the Lord returns in glory. Until then we have the privilege of learning to live as “sons of God,” His instruments to bring about peace on earth in whichever circles we move. Will we take up this challenge?
By Andrew Nunn
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA.