“Too long have I had my dwelling among those who hate peace. I am for peace, but when I speak, they are for war!” (Psalm 120:6-7)
“Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” (1 Peter 2:11)
If we were to stay glued to the major media broadcasts or the Internet all day, we might think everyone in the world is at war with someone else. Political parties fight along party lines, but even politicians within the same party seem to disagree more than they agree. Economic leaders argue about what’s happening in the global economy, while religious leaders and their followers also have fundamental disputes. In an article from the Internet one reporter commented on the many divisions that turn into all-out battles for survival: “The front lines in these…conflicts often follow boundaries that divide clans or castes, not countries. They lie along frontiers between ethnic or sectarian communities, even those dividing, for example, pastoralists from herders or the landed from the landless, from those who speak one dialect or language from neighbours who speak another… There is violence perpetrated against women by those who fear progress in the struggle for a more equitable distribution of power, status and wealth…Our world may not be racked by conventional conflicts between nation states of previous ages, but it is still a very violent place. The harsh reality may be that we should not be wondering why wars seem so intractable today, but why our time on this planet creates such intractable wars.” (1)
The Bible answers the philosophical question posed by Mr. Burke. “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.” (James 4:1-2) James goes on to explain in depth how our internal conflicts lead to external division, judgmentalness and trespassing God’s law. (See James 4:3-12.) The two verses today also reflect the reality that whatever we love in our hearts is what we will desire in our lives. The psalmist laments his time surrounded by those who hate peace and engage in war. Ironically, he has declared war against those who have rejected God and His peace, only seeking to make war themselves. This is because the world must be viewed upside-down from the way human logic sees it.
Today, when people refuse to work together to solve political problems, reject solutions to global warming, or insist on blaming the outrageous number of fatal shootings either on all people with guns or all people who hate them, are they not declaring war? But unlike people, God declares only just war on those who reject Him and His peace; He alone is righteously entitled to war and judge those who refuse to acknowledge Him as their Creator and the Holy Judge. The people whom the psalmist hated were those who hated God. Jesus sought all who would receive Him and rejected all who would not, being in a respective state of acrimony. “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:34-37)
Like the psalmist, we are to be at war against sin and hatred for the sake of hatred. When we align ourselves with Christ, we hate that which causes division for the sake of division and position. At the same time, though, we are at war with ourselves. “I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.” (Romans 7:23) What a conundrum! What a strange truth—that we who hate war should engage in battle against our flesh, Satan, and the values of the world—and only by doing so can we obtain the peace of God. As John Gill writes, our corrupt nature and lusts “…are enemies to the spiritual peace, comfort, and welfare of the soul.” (2)
Many commentators and translators believe that Psalm 120 may be a lament written by an Israelite living in exile in a country not his own, citing verse 5: “Woe to me, that I sojourn in Meshech, that I dwell among the tents of Kedar!” Like them, we are “sojourners and exiles” on this earth, commanded to be different than those surrounding us. Peter’s imperative in verse 11 is clear—we are to war against our lusts because they war against our souls. We are either at peace with God or peace with sin—we cannot do both at the same time, although we often try to convince ourselves that we can justify our ungodly desires, because of our corrupted thinking, when we reject biblical wisdom. “I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.” (Romans 7:23)
We have the psalmist’s example to help us remember that Christ has crucified the passions and desires of our flesh by His atonement when we belong to Him. (Galatians 5:24). We have Peter’s imperative to refrain from unbiblical thinking and desires that war against our souls. We are to fill our minds with the mind of Christ, actively working on our sanctification, as Paul urges in Philippians 2, verses 5-7 and 12. Will you say, like the psalmist, “I am for peace?” Will you “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires?” (Romans 13:14) Will you intentionally and proactively plan to do what is godly, leaving no room for that which is not, preparing for the inevitable war against your soul today?
(1) Burke, Jason, “Why is the World at War?,” The Observer World News Online, March 3, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/mar/04/why-is-world-at-war-syria-democratic-republic-congo-yemen-afghanistan-ukraine
(2) John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible, 1 Peter 2:11, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/1peter-2.html
February 26, 2019