One of my most vivid memories about Africa is the time in 2011 when I was substituting in the first-grade classroom of the Rafiki Foundation classical Christian school in Ghana. The Ghanaian Civics course for young children wasn’t available, so I decided to use some Christian material very close to my heart. I had studied biblical peacemaking through Ken Sande’s books and seminars for a decade. (1) I had already purchased the children’s curriculum on leave, intending to use it somewhere. This was the perfect place and time, having led the teachers through the material the prior semester. Working on teams of missionaries, with staff teams of African teachers, or those in other roles, I was all too familiar with the conflicts that can cause chasms and alienation. The children’s Peacemaking materials were inviting and thorough. One day, as I was teaching a civic’s lesson, a Ghanaian Ministry of Education representative came to inspect our schools for accreditation renewal. But I wasn’t using the approved syllabus. After answering her questions and her observation, she said that all Ghanaian schools should have such instruction. Then she inquired if she could send her child to our school. What a relief! But that relief doesn’t compare with the comfort of having an interpersonal conflict reach complete or partial resolution. Let’s face it, Christians have conflicts. Those conflicts often lead to significant disappointment or resentment because Christians believe we shouldn’t have them, being followers of Jesus Christ. Denying that we have disagreements, Christian or otherwise, is contradicting the Bible’s consistent teaching about the sin nature of all people, which unfortunately colors every aspect of our relationships. If we weren’t sinners, God wouldn’t have taught us about the sacrificial system for the confession of sin or conflict in passages such as Matthew 18:15-20. But as God’s children, redeemed by the blood of Christ, we have Christ’s desire to be at peace with others—or at least we should. Christians are blessed to be peacemakers as Christ is, in his resurrection power, with the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Do we actively make peace with others?
Inheriting God’s Blessings
In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught his disciples, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9) “Those who bring about peace will be called children of God. Could anything be better than for God to acknowledge and recognize us as his children, and for us to call upon him as Father?…We can have no true taste of prosperity or blessing unless we experience God’s favour and fatherly love toward us. That, then, is what we must truly aim at—knowing God as Father and having the privilege of calling ourselves his children. Moreover we cannot attain this blessing, as Jesus Christ reminds us here, unless we are peace-makers. For God is rightly called the God of peace, and we must be like him, or else we do not belong to him, whatever we profess with our lips.” (2) “Now of such persons it is said, that they shall be called the children of God; that is, they are the children of God by adopting grace, which is made manifest in their regeneration; and that is evidenced by the fruits of it, of which this is one; they not only shall be, and more manifestly appear to be, the sons of God hereafter; but they are, and are known to be so now, by their peaceable disposition, which is wrought in them by the Spirit of God; whereby they become like to the God of peace, and to Christ, the great and only peacemaker, and so are truly sons of peace.” (3) Since we are believers—blessed to be peacemakers as Christ is, God’s children—it is reasonable for us to make peace with others actively.
The Source of All True Peace
At another time in his ministry, Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27) Jesus’s disciples were anxious and afraid about his upcoming departure. So Jesus instructed them to fix their hope on the peace that he gave them and that he would continue to give them through the Holy Spirit. As temporary residents in this conflicted world, we also need these instructions. Consider John Stott’s comments on Matthew 5:9: “It is clear beyond question throughout the teaching of Jesus and his apostles…that we are to actively ‘seek peace and pursue it’ (1 Peter 3:11), we are to ‘make every effort to live in peace with all men’ (Hebrews 12:14), and so far as it depends on us, we are to ‘live at peace with everyone’ (Romans 12:18). Peacemaking is a divine work. For peace means reconciliation and God is the author of peace and of reconciliation. Sure peace and true forgiveness are costly treasures. The same verb which is used in this beatitude of us is applied by the apostle Paul to what God has done through Christ. Through Christ God was pleased ‘to reconcile to himself all things…making peace though his blood, shed on the cross’ (Colossians 1:20)…All Christians, no matter what their ethnic background, have ‘access to the Father by one Spirit’ (v. 18). This truth promotes peace among Christians who have natural differences, and even antagonism.” (4)
Our Understanding of Peace is Too Small
“The expression peace (Hb. shalom) had a much richer connotation than the English word does since it conveyed not merely the absence of conflict and turmoil but also the notion of positive blessing, especially in terms of a right relationship with God.” (5) “When Jesus meets his disciples after the resurrection, he continually says to them, ‘Peace’ ( John 20:19, 21, 26 ). Under these circumstances it is obvious that the term ‘peace’ is extraordinarily full of meaning. What is this peace Jesus gives us? In order to understand Jesus’ words, we must reflect on the many facets of the crucial Hebrew term shalom, which lies behind the English word ‘peace.’ Shalom is one of the key words and images for salvation in the Bible. The Hebrew word refers most commonly to a person being uninjured and safe, whole and sound…Most fundamentally, Shalom mean reconciliation with God.…Shalom also means peace with others, peace between parties…[and] refers to socially just relationships between individuals and classes. Shalom consists of not only outward peacefulness—peace between parties—but also peace within…God gives ‘perfect peace’ (or shalom-shalom )—i.e., profound psychological and emotional peace—to those who steadfastly set their minds on him. The result of righteousness before God is ‘peace’; its effect will be ‘quietness and confidence forever’…God is reconciling all things to himself through Christ, and although he has not yet put everything right, those who believe the gospel enter into and experience this reconciliation.” (6)
Peacemaking is the Fruit of Peacefulness
In Africa, the teachers and children needed to understand that being peaceful is not the same as making peace with others. Matthew 5:9 “has been commonly misunderstood. It has been interpreted as meaning the ‘peaceful’, whereas a much strong sense is implied. A [person] might indeed be peaceful without being a peacemaker…To avoid ambiguity, we should stick to the text’s natural sense, which is that we should cultivate peace wherever we are. That means that we should begin first with ourselves. After all, how could any of us make peace and calm troubles and disputes when they occur, unless we lead by example? To be peacemakers, we must first and foremost be peaceable ourselves. We must learn to cultivate patience, and so to lay aside self-interest and reputation that we readily forgive the wrongs done to us. That, I believe, is how we can be peaceable. It is not enough for us to avoid giving people cause to injure or trouble us. We must do whatever we can to keep the peace among ourselves…even if it means suffering loss as a result tor surrendering some of our rights.” (7) “There is a difference between being a peacemaker and being conciliatory or appeasing. The words peace and appeasement are not synonymous. For the peace of God is not peace at any price. He made peace with us at immense cost, even at the price of the life-blood of his only Son. We too-though in lesser ways—will find peacemaking a costly enterprise…When we ourselves are involved in a quarrel, there will be either the pain of apologizing to the person we have injured or the pain of rebuking the person who has injured us.” (8) But oh, how we’ll be blessed! “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” (Isaiah 26:3) “Trust in the Lord for that peace, that portion, which will be for ever…those who trust in God shall not only find in him, but shall receive from him strength that will carry them to that blessedness which is for ever. Let us then acknowledge him in all our ways, and rely on him in all trials.” (9)
Related Scripture: Numbers 6:24–26; 25:12; Judges 21:13; Psalms 72:7; 85:8; Isaiah 32:17-18; Haggai 2:4-9; Romans 8:15; 14:19; Galatians 3:26; Ephesians 2:11-22; Colossians 1:21-23; James 3:18; 1 John 3:1.
- See https://rw360.org/biblical-peacemaking/
- Calvin, John, Sermons on the Beatitudes, pp. 53-56, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2006.
- Gill, John, John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible, Matthew 5:9, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/matthew-5.html
- Stott, John, The Beatitudes—Developing Spiritual Character, pp. 46-50, InterVarsity Press, 1998.
- English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, John 14:27, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
- NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible, eBook, Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
- Calvin, Ibid.
- Stott, Ibid.
- Henry, Matthew, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Bible, Isaiah 26:3, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhn/Isaiah-26.html
September 15, 2022