Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 5:9a “Blessed are the peacemakers:. . .”
These words surely exploded like a bombshell among their first hearers. The Jews, hating their Roman masters, believed and hoped Messiah would come as a warlord, slaughtering the legionnaires. Israel craved blood, a war to the bitter end.
If honest with ourselves, we realize things have not changed much. Today’s listener to these words of Jesus is still too much enamored with controversy. Life surrounds us with quarreling, arguments, conflicts, disagreements, and we find ourselves doing very little to reconcile opposing parties. As Christians, our duty is to help people live in peace, to establish right relationships, and to settle differences.
To love peace is not enough; we have to make it. War has to be waged, and peace has to be waged. Requiring effort, initiative, and sacrifice, peacemaking isn’t for sissies or the faint of heart. Please consider four precautions for peacemakers.
Peacemaking takes time. Time is a precious commodity of trade in our day. No one can effectively serve God apart from a willingness to sacrifice some of their time. Many lives are too filled with clutter to spend time doing what really matters.
Peacemaking can be a thankless task. When Moses separated two fighters, his reward was scorn, “Who made thee a prince and a judge over us?” (EX 2:14).
Peacemaking can be dangerous. One often receives blows from both sides. After a nasty divorce thirty years ago, my dad stepped between his brother and his ex-brother-in-law, and took to his body a fisted blow the former intended for the latter. We must be willing to go through struggles and suffer abuse to reach peace.
Peacemaking can backfire. “He that passeth by, and meddleth with strife belonging not to him, is like one that taketh a dog by the ears” (PR 26:17). We are not to be crusaders, involving ourselves in every conflict. Often we need to leave well enough alone, but at other times our non-involvement allows hidden pressures to build which will someday erupt in a violent explosion. With God’s help, be wise.
Having considered the four precautions for peacemakers, we press ahead to ponder procedures for peacemaking. First, peacemaking begins within self. Loving peace is not enough, but is the absolutely essential first step. Peacemakers must inwardly love, desire, and delight in peace. We cannot convey to others what we do not possess. I too eagerly enjoy boxing matches, football games, political wrangling, arguing at Baptist conventions, bombing Saddam Hussein. We often like the aggressive too much. Before we can promote peace, we must love peace, as did Cato. Once the Roman Civil War broke out, pitting his friends Caesar and Pompey against one another, Cato was so heartbroken that he never laughed out loud again.
Second, peacemaking flows from self. Before we can help others make peace between themselves, we must be sure we are doing all we can to make peace between others and our own self. The peace we inwardly love must radiate itself into all of our own personal dealings, and saturate all our relationships with others.
If peace between ourself and another is threatened, be “slow to speak” (James 1:19). Peacemakers have huge arsenals of unsaid words, words they felt like saying, but left unspoken. In the moment of anger, if the words we want to spew forth are as profound as we deem them, they will still be worth saying an hour later. If we do have to speak, talk gently, “A soft answer turneth away wrath” (PR 15:1).
If peace between ourself and another is broken, never cease trying to mend it. If we ever give up, finally steeling ourselves and declaring we will never say, “I’m sorry,” we have a long way to go before becoming peacemakers. “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men” (RM 12:18). Peacemaking will not always succeed, peace can be impossible, but let none of the blame be ours.
Since Jesus initiated our reconciliation to God, we must ever be looking for new ways to initiate reconciliation with others. Always be going out of our way to find innovative methods to re-create peace. Watch for opportunities. Try to continue those courtesies we practiced before the split. Send birthday and Christmas cards. If things go wrong for our opponents, relieve them. “If thine enemy hunger, feed him” (RM 12:20). Be ever willing to humble self and, if given any chance at all, to approach the other person. Send signals that say you are approachable. Keep the door open. Let people know they can come talk to you at any moment.
Be extra cautious in dealing with unbelievers. As we confront a culture becoming increasingly antagonistic to us, we must be “wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (MT 10:16). We must find the happy medium between apathy and rage. We sometimes incline to apathy, and are tempted to be selfish, to care only about believers, and to ignore the problems in the culture. Watching my beloved society crumble is painful, especially when people are scoffing the spiritual, their only hope. The hurt causes me sometimes to want to throw up my hands and quit, to let the culture sink into oblivion. We must fight this temptation to do nothing, to wash our hands of society. Let us remember our mission–to be salt, light, and leaven in the world, to bring about a more wholesome, fulfilling, and purer state of humanity.
For saints, apathy is no option. We cannot do nothing, we have to do something. To honor God and help sinners, we must speak to our culture, and not be quiet about sin. However, as we oppose things contrary to God and His Word, let us avoid the extreme of rage. Be militants against sin, peacemakers toward sinners. Jesus spoke sharply as a prophet, yet was the greatest peacemaker ever. Avoid bigotry and intemperate zeal. When the disciples wanted to call down fire from heaven to destroy a Samaritan village, Jesus “turned, and rebuked them” (LK 9:55).
We conservative Christians often lose our influence because we are more quarrelsome and combative than we are conciliatory. Sometimes our method, not our message, offends. Believers have to be extra sensitive in this area because Christianity is by its very nature an intolerant faith. Claiming to be the only true religion, it carries in its own essence the probability of provoking disagreement.
Our Master said, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came 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 man’s enemies will be the members of his household. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (MT 10:34-37 NAS).
Extra caution in peacemaking with the world is needed, not only due to the divisive nature of Christianity, but also because we care so much about the cause. Since it is to us as dear as life itself, a truth lost people do not understand, we are ever in danger of throwing into the fray too much of ourselves, our unrighteous wrath as well as our appropriate responses. In spiritual matters, the possibility for argument is always near the surface, apt to erupt. Thus, as peacemakers, try extra hard not to stir up strife and emotions, not to raise the ire and resentment in others.