Sunday, September 10, 2006

Becoming a Peacemaker

Matthew 5:9 "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

What does it mean to be a peacemaker? First, biblical “peace” is not simply the absence of war or conflict; rather, it is an absence of war and conflict because of the presence of Christlikeness. Second, this verse does not say “blessed are the ‘peacekeepers.’” A peacekeeper wants to avoid conflict and keep the peace at all cost. A peacemaker, on the other hand, is willing to fight for genuine peace. A peacemaker never makes peace with sin.

Why should we be peacemakers? Someone who is a peacemaker reflects the character of God. In eternity among the persons of the Trinity, there was never any lack of peace between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. God the Father is called the “God of peace” (Hebrews 13:20). He created the world in peace, and even though His creatures have made war with Him, He will bring about peace once again. God the Son is called the “Prince of peace” (Isaiah 9:6). He came into the world in peace, with the angels announcing, “Peace on earth and good will to men.” Luke 2:14, and He went out of the world to leave a legacy of peace, saying, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give unto you” (John 14:27). God the Holy Spirit brings about “the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3) among believers. Peace is a fruit of the Spirit, which the Spirit powerfully works in everyone who belongs to Christ.

Jesus Christ is the great peacemaker. In John 17, Christ earnestly prayed for peace among believers (John 17:11, 21, 23). Hateful arguments and sinful divisions in churches among God’s own people can be incredibly destructive. That kind of division prevents us from moving toward the goal of the church, which is growing in Christlikeness, and defames God’s reputation. Therefore, out of love for His people and for the glory of the Father, Christ prayed to the Father that Christians would have peace. The most wonderful thing about this is that all of Christ’s prayers are answered. One day, in heaven there will be perfect peace among His followers as we all reflect His peace to one another.

Not only did Christ pray for peace. He died for peace. Colossians 1:19-20 says, “For it was the Father's good pleasure for all the fulness to dwell in Him, 20 and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.” Isn’t it ironic that mankind’s greatest act of war against God was God’s greatest act of peace? Out of hatred for Christ and for His message they hung Him on the cross and murdered Him. But, how does the cross make peace? The Bible says that the cross is a “propitiation,” or “wrath absorbing sacrifice.” Our angry sins of conflict with one another, of unloving words and jealousies toward one another provoke God’s righteous anger, and are foolish acts of war against a holy and all powerful God. But, on the cross, out of love in His heart, Jesus took our sins upon Him, and embraced all heaven’s wrath in order to make peace between God and everyone who believes in Him.

Does Christ’s peacemaking work soften your heart and make you want to be like Him? He died to win your heart, to make peace between you and God and to make a peacemaker out of you. Are you willing to die in order to make peace with your enemies? Are you willing to give up everything to make peace between others who are at war with each other? Will you lay down your life if that’s what it takes to make peace between your brothers and sisters in Christ? Are you willing to die to your reputation and friends in order to tell the lost about Christ and be an example of His love to them, so that they too can have peace with God?

What does peacemaking look like? It looks like making peace in your own broken relationships. Maybe there is someone you’ve offended, or someone who has offended you. Are you willing to go to that person and deal with the issue in order to make peace with them? I’m not talking about approaching that person in order to tell them how you are right and they are wrong. I’m talking about going to that person in humility, admitting your wrong, dying to your pride, and doing whatever it takes to make amends. Another way to be a peacemaker is to refuse to dwell on the sins and failings of others, and to choose to think about the good qualities in other people. If you’re inclined to see the best in others, you won’t start fights over their failings. One other way to have a peacemaking spirit is to have a habit of loving and being kind to one another, rather than fighting one another. If you have a habit of loving one another at home and in the church, then, you can overlook each other’s faults more easily. If everyone is used to living in a spirit of love and graciousness, then when someone sinfully acts in anger or frustration, then it will be easier to forgive them. But, if you don’t know and love each other, and a conflict comes up, it is harder to believe the best of someone.

The Bible says that if you are peacemaker God will call you “sons of God,” which means you have a right to all the privileges of a son of God, an heir to the throne of heaven, and the unwavering commitment of God the Father. Peacemakers belong to God. So, will you be a peacemaker?

9 comments:

  1. Tom,
    I appreciate your emphasis on peace as more than just an absence of conflict, but also a constructive work of reconciliation. However, I was wondering if you could elaborate on whether or not you see the Christian role as peacemaker as extending beyond the direct Christian community, or not? And why?
    I hope all is going well for you all. My seminary year has started and I'm settling in. I'm still dreaming in Spanish after my own little venture into peacemaking.
    Blessings,
    Amy

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  2. Amy, it's great to hear from you, and I'm glad to know that you're back safely from your work down south.

    In answer to your question, "yes," I see the Christian's peacemaking work as extending beyond the Christian community.

    The root and source of all peacelessness is sin. I believe that "sin" is transgression of the law of God (1 John 3:4). Therefore, the only ultimate solution to peacelessness the gospel of Jesus Christ. There can only be genuine peace among human beings when we are "in Christ," trusting in Him within the sphere of His kingdom and under His loving rule.

    So, peacemaking outside the Christian community must be fundamentally missional and evangelistic. It involves confronting sinful ideologies and patterns of life with the cross and resurrection of Christ by becoming Christ to others.

    What does that look like? It means that Christians should work as Christ worked to bring people into His kingdom, preaching Christ's message of reconciliation between God and human beings and among human beings for the glory of God.

    If you want more specifics, give me an example of what you're thinking of and I'll respond. Build a scenario of peacelessness beyond the Christian community and I'll try to respond with how Christians should interact with that scenario according to the framework I'm working with.

    I'm glad to hear that seminary has started up again for you and that you're doing well!

    Blessings and peace,
    Tom

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  3. You asked, “What does peacemaking look like?” In addition to your description of what Christian peacemaking looks like, I’d like to add some thoughts.

    Regarding peacemaking, the NT scriptures and the teachings of Christ reveal a standard that supersedes those of the OT scriptures.

    Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14) and Romans 12:17-21 and other passages make this clear. The modern church has ignored the full meaning of these scriptures. Followers of Christ are to use no violence against any other person. Governments are ordained to use violence in war and law-enforcement, but Christians cannot be yoked to these practices because we are citizens of a different kingdom and the law of Christ’s kingdom (Heb. 12:14) supersedes the laws of our temporal nation that may require that we use violence against others.

    It is impossible to be obedient to the Lord’s will as expressed in Heb. 12 and Rom. 12 and to serve in occupations that involve the intentional use of force.

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  4. Chris, greetings, and thank you for posting your thoughts.

    I don't believe that the moral teachings of Christ supercede the moral instructions of the OT, since I believe that the moral teachings of the OT Scriptures are the teachings of Christ (Luke 4:17-21; 24:27, 44-45; John 5:39, 40, 46; 2 Tim 3:15-1). Moses was a Christian who considered "the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt" (Heb 11:26). All of the OT believers were Christians, and they were certainly never permitted to do anything that Christ teaches is immoral.

    The Old Testament teaches that Old Testament Christians legitimately participated in wars. Abraham, a Christian man of faith, led a military expedition to rescue his cousin Lot (Gen 14:13-16). Joshua, the judges and David all engaged in warfare that was approved by God (Josh 6:2; Judg 3:9-11; 2 Sam 8). Then, an entire chapter of Deuteronomy 20 is devoted to instructions from God for conducting a battle.

    The New Testament affirms that God sanctioned many of the Old Testament wars and that the men who fought in them were men of faith. “…Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David . . . who by faith conquered kingdoms . . . escaped the edge of the sword . . . became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight” (Heb 11:32-34). John the Baptist instructed a group of Roman soldiers to use their authority justly (Lk 3:14), but he never told them that they shouldn’t be soldiers.

    Jesus Christ Himself is a great warrior King, who will lead a great war (Revelation 19:11-21).

    Therefore, Christians may serve in occupations that involve the intentional use of force, and they are indeed obligated to do so if that is their calling.

    However, while Christians may and should serve in just wars, they may not serve in unjust wars. And, in every war, Christians must seek peace and must always "make every effort" to live at peace with all men. However, sometimes, even after every effort is made, peace is impossible.

    Blessings,
    Tom

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  5. Hi Again Tom,

    I understand your view (I used to hold it). Reading the Sermon on the Mount and trying to see it outside of the filter of a systematic theology helped me to understand Christ's "you have heard...but I say to you" in a different way. In fact it links to and makes sense of Heb. 7:12 (For when there is a change of the priesthood, there must also be a change of the law).

    Finally, is your understanding of Heb. 12:14 that I can live "at peace with all men" while killing some?

    If so, is that really being honest with the meaning of the words of scrpiture?

    Blessings, Chris.

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  6. Tom,
    To extend the discussion... Can a Christian support sinful social and economic structures that promote victimization and other forms of "structural violence," and still claim to be living into the role of the Christian as peacemaker?
    When I was in Colombia, for example, I met many people who had been forced from their homes when their land had been taken over by various armed actors involved in their war. They were working for reparation, the restoration of the lands their families had held. In a way, the reforms they were working for were representative of the type of economic principles behind the laws of Jubilee - a recognition of the need to restore that which is taken from the marginalized through our economic systems. I would say that this, too, is an act of "peacemaking" because it works to establish "shalom," a society of holistic justice and mercy.
    However, there are many in Colombia who ignore the prophetic role of the church, who ignore our call to work for a holistic peacemaking, as I would see it. They preach an exclusively personal evangelization, that placates the victims by telling them to wait for a heavenly reward, without engaging the social manifestations of sinful humanity that they see in their daily lives.
    So, my question becomes, do you see "evangelization" as simply a work of converting individuals, or also participating in the process of a social redemption?

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  7. btw, Chris, It's always great to meet another pacifist!

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  8. Dear Amy,

    Thanks again for posting. Let me start off by saying that I'm not certain I understand all of your terminology. For example, I don't know what you mean by a "sinful social and economic structure," nor do I know what "structural violence" is. So, if you could elaborate on the meanings of those phrases in the context of your remarks, then I would be glad to respond as best I can.

    You asked, "Do you see "evangelization" as simply a work of converting individuals, or also participating in the process of a social redemption?"

    I believe that Christians should work for the betterment of society for the good of our neighbors. Christ told the parable of the good Samaritan, who was merciful to the man who was beaten. As Christians who want to emulate Christ, we ourselves must be good neighbors and show love and mercy to everyone around us. Part of that means seeking to reform social corruption and to establish morally upright/praiseworthy systems of government and economics (i.e., those which are in conformity with the inter-human being (human to human) principles of the moral law revealed in the Bible, summarized in the Decalogue).

    However, I would not call that by itself evangelism. It's a band aid at best. The root of pain and suffering is sin. Sin can only be truly suppressed by the Holy Spirit's sovereign regeneration of the individual, which causes a person to embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ revealed in the Bible alone. That message is that God is holy, that we are sinners who stand under judgment, but Christ died and rose again to remove the guilt of sin and to make sinners good, if only they will believe in Him. Nevertheless, it is good and loving for Christians to put band-aids on wounds. We should seek to alleviate the pain and suffering in society that is the result of the sins of others.

    I also believe that the social order will only be "redeemed" in any holistic or lasting sense in heaven. Because the mass of humanity is fallen and corrupt, any human system of government and economics will be corrupt and sinful at some level and to some degree. But that reality does not mean we should settle for corruption or that we shouldn't strive for a good (morally upright) social order.

    The Baptist Faith and Message, the confessional document of the Southern Baptist Convention has the following to say about the Christian and the Social Order:

    XV. The Christian and the Social Order. All Christians are under obligation to seek to make the will of Christ supreme in our own lives and in human society. Means and methods used for the improvement of society and the establishment of righteousness among men can be truly and permanently helpful only when they are rooted in the regeneration of the individual by the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ. In the spirit of Christ, Christians should oppose racism, every form of greed, selfishness, and vice, and all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality, and pornography. We should work to provide for the orphaned, the needy, the abused, the aged, the helpless, and the sick. We should speak on behalf of the unborn and contend for the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death. Every Christian should seek to bring industry, government, and society as a whole under the sway of the principles of righteousness, truth, and brotherly love. In order to promote these ends Christians should be ready to work with all men of good will in any good cause, always being careful to act in the spirit of love without compromising their loyalty to Christ and His truth.

    Exodus 20:3-17; Leviticus 6:2-5; Deuteronomy 10:12; 27:17; Psalm 101:5; Micah
    6:8; Zechariah 8:16; Matthew 5:13-16,43-48; 22:36-40; 25:35; Mark 1:29-34; 2:3ff.;
    10:21; Luke 4:18-21; 10:27-37; 20:25; John 15:12; 17:15; Romans 12-14; 1 Corinthians
    5:9-10; 6:1-7; 7:20-24; 10:23-11:1; Galatians 3:26-28; Ephesians 6:5-9; Colossians 3:12-
    17; 1 Thessalonians 3:12; Philemon; James 1:27; 2:8.

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  9. Hi Chris,

    I think it makes most sense to intepret Christ's, "you have heard...but I say to you" statements as corrections of Judaic misinterpretations of the Torah, especially in light of Matt 5:43, "You have heard that it was said . . . hate your enemy." Such a statement is never found in the Old Testament corpus. However, Jewish authorities did teach that it was appropriate to hate your neighbor. All Christ was doing in the Sermon on the Mount was re-asserting and clarifying the actual moral teachings of the OT over and against Judaism.

    Hebrews 7:12 (For when there is a change of the priesthood, there must also be a change of the law) taken in context seems to refer to the ceremonial law of the OT, since the writer to the Hebrews never suggests that any of God's moral laws have changed. The law is good (1 Tim 1:8) and the law is holy (Rom 7:12). "Whatever was written in earlier times, was written for our instruction" (Rom 15:4). 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says that all Scripture is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. How could the OT Scriptures be useful for "training in righteouness" if they immorally sanctioned warfare?

    Hebrews 12:14 says to "pursue" peace. Someone can pursue peace and yet fail in his pursuit. The "pursuit" of peace is what the verse teaches is necessarily included in the sanctification without which none will see the lord, but actual attainment of "peace" is not.

    I believe I am being honest with Scripture. I would argue that the only way to be honest with Scripture is to read it as a whole book (rather than as disconnected isolated books and pericopes) because God is its author (2 Tim 3:16; 2 Pet 1:21).

    Grace and peace to you,
    Tom

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