I frequently listen to the “Politico” podcast on NPR-1 for political commentary, to keep up with the issues. The podcasts end with a segment called, “I can’t let it go.” The commentators talk about anything they can’t stop thinking about, long after it’s over. Today I can’t let go of the hatefulness that has infected the American culture. Why is there so much division and disunity in the name of entitlement, free speech, and who knows what else? In his Christian Peacemakers ministry, Ken Sandee exposes our natural inclination to fight or flee from conflict, rather than solve our differences through a biblical approach with personal conversations and gentle, gracious, loving humility and honesty. (1) We see the fight approach demonstrated daily and unfortunately encouraged in American society today. Then, we often react by running away. But why is there so much hate-making? Doesn’t God’s Word teach us that we are his blessed children, peacemakers who sow peace and encourage righteousness in a rebellious world?
In Matthew Chapter 5, we find Jesus proclaiming radical faith in his Sermon on the Mount, at a time when Israel had all but given up on the promised Messiah. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9) Christ’s reasoning and verbiage are unnatural to us. We are tempted to think that we can become his people by making peace with our fellow humans. Not so! We must look at this passage in the context of all of Christ’s teaching. “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” (John 7:38) Only the “sons” are true children of God whose hearts have been made new are blessed and able to be peacemakers. Even so, we are naturally inclined to give in to our sin nature as peace-breakers and hate-makers, to justify our self-righteous, prideful superiority and or acceptance. Only those who have been changed into humble, God-worshipping believers with the indwelling Holy Spirit can begin to overcome this natural inclination to fight for perceived self-preservation. What is our natural inclination when someone argues with us? Don’t we become defensive? Or seek revenge for the hurt? Do we naturally look at him with love and tenderness when attacked or threatened? Of course not, unless God in us is stronger than our emotions and our temptations to seek vengeance. When the Holy Spirit in us helps us stop and consider our response, we are blessed, as is our opponent.
God made peace with us when he regenerated us, gave us faith to trust Christ’s atonement; he adopted and justified us. Not guilty—what peace! Now we want to be at peace with others and are prayerfully glad to resist the fray of crazy emotional accusations and illogical arguments that have no good outcome. Peacemakers reflect and share God’s peace with others, not only spiritually, but emotionally, mentally, socially, and intellectually. We enter the fray with civilized, logical, calm arguments when we have something important to share. I have noticed that most respected theologians and commentators don’t rush to respond to outrageous, reactionary arguments. They take their time, which may be days, weeks, or months, to share their well-thought-out views calmly. “The peace-makers are happy. They love, and desire, and delight in peace; and study to be quiet. They keep the peace that it be not broken, and recover it when it is broken.” (1) We are called to be peacemakers in our marriages, families, workplaces, church, community, and world. A marriage picture illustrates the necessity of peace, and it’s challenges. “‘At the time of their wedding, a man and woman are like two planets which have been going around the sun at different speeds and in different orbits. Now they must travel in the same orbit at the same speed. For if they pursue the same path at different speeds, sooner or later there will be a planetary crash. The way to avoid such difficulties in the adjustment of husband and wife is to have prayer together every day, asking the Lord to keep both in the way of grace. It is also good for each to be willing to face weaknesses in self and to ask the other, ‘Is there something that I do that annoys you?’ and when the answer is given in love, it is a small matter for love to remove the annoyance.’ In the same way, we may work constantly as God’s peacemakers in all areas of our lives—in the community, at church, in the office, school, or store, and on the international scene if we have contact with that.” (2) Does this describe us? Or do we run away from trouble, in self-protective withdrawal?
Are you competitive? Do you enjoy watching competitive contests like those in sports, cooking shows, or the Olympics? I am inspired by people who strive to be the best they can be not by crushing their competition but by respectfully excelling in their skills and talents. As Christ’s peacemakers shouldn’t we excel in keeping peace and interceding to bring peace to others? Do you want a personal reason to keep the peace? How about Job 17:9, “Yet the righteous holds to his way, and he who has clean hands grows stronger and stronger?” But we who are living for God, through the power of the gospel no longer live for our own satisfaction. The apostle James makes a bold proclamation saying, “And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (James 3:19) Both Job and James understood that righteousness is the key to steadiness for believers. Having Christ’s righteousness, we practice peacemaking with others, to be stronger. When we make peace with others, we are planting seeds of peace that will produce a harvest of righteousness. Isn’t this farming picture striking? A farmer or gardener who plants grudgingly, without attention to the soil’s readiness, getting the seed planted with resentment probably won’t get a great harvest. Just so, if we go about our lives just to get through the day, avoiding certain people or circumstances because of potential conflicts, how can we expect others to appreciate God’s grace, power, or sovereignty? Does our self-serving isolationism glorify Jesus? “These verses [in James 3:13-18] show the difference between men’s pretending to be wise, and their being really so. He who thinks well, or he who talks well, is not wise in the sense of the Scripture, if he does not live and act well…Those who live in malice, envy, and contention, live in confusion; and are liable to be provoked and hurried to any evil work. Such wisdom comes not down from above, but springs up from earthly principles, acts on earthly motives, and is intent on serving earthly purposes.” (3)
Great news—we who are in Christ already have his Spirit to be his peacemakers. There is nothing we need do, besides practice, practice, practice. Conflict isn’t as scary when we practice working with it. The more we practice anything, the better we become. Do you think of yourself as a peacemaker? Why or why not? Why might it be hard to share the grace of peace with others? How can you plant righteousness peacefully in your family, church, workplace, or community? We’re not all cut out to be apologists or great theologians, but we have a mind that has the wisdom of Christ and a heart for his glory. “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” (John 15:7-8)
(1) Sandee, Ken, “Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict,” Baker Books, 2004.
(2) Henry, Matthew “Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary on the Bible,” Matthew 5:9, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhm/matthew-5.html
(3) Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Matthew 5:9 (quotation attributed to Donald Grey Barnhouse), Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
(4) Henry, Matthew “Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary on the Bible,” James 3:13-18, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhm/james-3.html