Imagine you are driving and about to enter a highway on an entrance ramp, where the maximum speed is 65 mph. This particular ramp ends quickly, dumping you into the right-hand lane on the road, with little time to yield to oncoming traffic. We know that some people don’t think to move out of that lane. Do you speed up, so you’re driving almost 65 mph when you’re on the highway or keep your speed down, in case there are people in your lane as you enter? According to traffic code, neither party has the right of way, so coming on at traffic speed is the safest way to work together when merging. However, there will be times when one car will have to make a rapid adjustment for the sake of both drivers and other traffic around them. Christians who are filled with the Spirit of God should engage with others with a foot on the gas of shalom, ready to merge. Unfortunately, we usually act like drivers on a highway to our destination, oblivious or uninterested in those trying to join with us. Or, if we’re the ones initiating a relationship, we may think we are entitled, expecting others to move out of our way. Some of us may even be reluctant to find a way to relate to others because we are less worthy rather than work together for true shalom.
In the book of Hebrews, the writer shares great doctrinal truths relating to the superiority of Jesus Christ. In Chapter 12 he applies the doctrines of our faith. “Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God.” (Hebrews 12:12-15a) Therefore—knowing that Jesus Christ and the gospel fulfills and is superior to Old Testament revelations—therefore, lift your hands, strengthen your knees, and walk in a straight line with a straight body, having been healed by Christ, and continuing to heal by sanctification. Throughout the book, the author has encouraged his audience to persevere because Christ has given them His Spirit, enabling them to stand up to their temptations and trials. In verses 12 and 13, he urges them to be stout and active in their Christian warfare, rather than be limp and vulnerable—to be the driver who knows how to drive and does it. In verse 15, he shares his heart for all people to obtain God’s grace through their witness and active, biblical lifestyles. But it’s verse 14 that has captured my attention today. They and we are to: “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” We are to put the peace pedal to the floor with our hands on the wheel of Christ’s holiness so we can all see God one day and see his work in our lives now. Believers will only have healthy relationships by assertively attending to them, struggling for the peace that we want from others. My goal here is for us to challenge ourselves in our sanctification, to gain greater peace and holiness, as witnesses for Christ. Paul uses similar language in Romans 14:19: “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” The peace we desire for ourselves is that which others also want. Meaningful connections with our community of faith are essential for our mutual progress in sanctification and perseverance in the faith.
Peace is joined to holiness in the passage because this isn’t just the lack of conflict we’re considering but gospel peace. “In this verse holiness refers to purity of life. It is provided by God…and guided by His discipline…but we must strive for it.” (1) “Holiness here does not design any particular branch of holiness, as chastity of the body and mind, but the whole of holiness, inward and outward…even perfect holiness, for though holiness is not perfect in this life, yet it will be in heaven.” (2) Unlike the Jews, who focused on ceremonial holiness and outward superiority, our holiness rests in our vulnerability and confessional attitude toward God. Jesus’s relationships and responses to persecution are our models of holy living. “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” 1 Peter 2:23 “He…continued entrusting both himself and those who mistreated him entirely to God, knowing that God is just and will make all things right in the end. Likewise believers, knowing that God judges justly, are able to forgive others and to entrust all judgment and vengeance to God. Every wrong deed in the universe will be either covered by the blood of Christ or repaid justly by God at the final judgment.” (3) Jesus’s self-defense included Scripture, biblical reasoning, honorable references to his Father, silence, submission to civil authorities, unearned love, restraint, continued vulnerability, prayer, and forgiveness. He “committed himself to him that judgeth righteously; he commended his Spirit, or soul, to God his Father, and committed his cause to him, to vindicate it in what way he should think fit, who he knew was the Judge of all the earth…which is an example, and an instruction to the saints to do so likewise…to leave their cause with their God, who will, in his own time, avenge the wrongs and injuries done them.” (4) Jesus did not wait for others to make peace with him, though he had the right to do so. He entered into diverse relationships as the source and keeper of true shalom.
The promise of seeing God when we strive for peace and holiness is glorious. We will see him face to face one day, but even today, we will see him in our mutually blessed friendships and Christian fellowship. As we become more like Christ in our sanctification, we will see him in our words, worship, prayers, deeds, and desires. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8) Who is the pure in heart? Although we know our lives and behavior aren’t pure, we do know that Jesus has purified our hearts through his imputation of righteousness and the cleansing of his sacrificial blood. The purity of our hearts shows up in our increasing patience, humility, mercy, and love for others. It is also demonstrated in our boldness to enter into gospel-centered, God-glorifying relationships. Being superficial, polite, and accommodating may be helpful, but it’s not enough if we are to be shalom-driven. Striving for peace begins with prayer for people with whom we have conflicts, or with whom we aren’t engaging deeply. Are you praying for your difficult relationships, unreasonable responses to issues, or annoyance over inconsequential matters? How does our personal sanctification and increasing holiness show itself? In what areas do you need to work for more holiness and purity of heart? Do we see Christ in our relationships, work, home life, service, and church ministry? Where can we apply the gospel more boldly and graciously? I want to merge with others for true shalom, how about you? “Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Hebrews 13:20-21)
(1) The Reformation Study Bible, Hebrews 12:14, Reformation Trust Publishing (Ligonier Ministries), Sanford, Fl., 2015.
(2) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Hebrews 12:14, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/hebrews-12.html
(3) English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, 1 Peter 2:23, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
(4) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” 1 Peter 2:23, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/1-peter.html
October 11, 2019