Article Apr 25, 2016

Fighting to be a peacemaker

World War I was not good to the world. No one wanted anything like that to happen again. So in 1928, leaders from the United States and 14 other countries, including France and Germany, gathered in Paris to sign the Kellogg-Briand Treaty renouncing war and calling on nations to resolve disputes through pacifist means.

In his statement from the east room of the White House in July 1929, President Herbert Hoover announced, "I dare predict that the influence of the Treaty for the Renunciation of War will be felt in a large proportion on all future international acts.” Within just 12 years, every nation that signed the Kellogg-Briand Treaty was engaged in World War II.

Declaring peace—and even desiring peace—are much easier than achieving peace.

The fight to make peace

Few of us are asked to ratify international peace treaties, but all of us understand the challenge of strained relationships. At times, we find ourselves in the middle of the conflict. At other times, we are on the outside looking in. Either way, the faithful Christian has a responsibility to make peace, but making peace often requires more of a fight than we first expect.

When Jesus said, “The peacemakers are blessed, for they will be called sons of God” (Matt. 5:9), he was not encouraging us to play the pacifist by sweeping problems under the proverbial rug. That is the work of peacekeeping, not peacemaking. Peacekeeping appeases the loudest, rudest voice in the room just to quiet an argument. Peacekeeping settles for injustices because the work of justice is simply too much trouble.

God condemned that kind of triviality when he said, “They have treated My people’s brokenness superficially, claiming, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace” (Jer. 6:14). Declaring peace is easier than making it.

Our first conflict

Perhaps the reason for that is the personal nature of war and peace. Our first conflict is not with the people around us but with the God who created us. He loves us, but our sin is an offense against God and puts a distance between him and us. Although we may try to close the gap, the only way to make things right is to completely remove the offense.

We talk about making peace with God, but he never expects us to make peace with him. Instead, through Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, he removed our sin and replaced it with his righteousness. Therefore, it is by grace through faith that our offense is removed and reconciliation with God is achieved. We do not make things right. Instead, we can have peace with God because Jesus did the essential work of reconciliation on our behalf.

And the peace we have with God then produces the peace of God in the hearts of his people. Notice these words from the apostle Paul, “Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7). These were not trite words meant to minimize a problem. Paul wrote them from a prison cell to believers who were facing pressure and persecution of their own.

When we have peace with God, the peace of God defends us against fear. And the peace of God shows us how to thank him in everything because we know that nothing can separate us from the love of God ever again.

The pursuit of peace with man

It is from this place of reconciliation with God that believers do the work of true peacemaking in the world. Christians are the benefactors of God’s mercy, which gives us a ministry of mercy to others. We understand that human conflict is not primarily ethical, political or relational. Instead, it is theological. So real peacemaking invites others to the same cross of Christ that rescued us.

Again, Paul wrote, “Everything is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” (2 Cor. 5:18) While relational conflict is a glaring apologetic of the universal need for the gospel, the peacemaker does the work of the evangelist by personally testifying to the peace of God found in Jesus his Son.  

When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the Sunday before his crucifixion, he visited the temple court where he found vendors selling temple sacrifices for ridiculous profits. He turned their tables over and threw them out as he said, “It is written, My house will be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves” (Luke 19:46).

Sometimes we interpret this moment as Jesus’ temper tantrum, perhaps to justify our own propensity to outbursts of anger. But Jesus did not throw a temper tantrum. Instead, he confronted the sinful actions of people who were hurting others by making it harder for them to know and worship God.

Everyone else had spent years living with the abuse and looking the other way. But peacemakers cannot look the other way. Just as Jesus disrupted the business of these vendors, peacemakers roll up our sleeves and take action on behalf of hurting people.

Jesus knew peacemaking would cost him, but peace was worth it. We do not step into the conflict because we are offended. We act because people need to hear the good news that God loves them, Jesus died for them, and they can have peace with God forever.

So peacemakers are not bullies looking for a fight, but neither are peacemakers appeasers who sit back while injustice oppresses the weak or discourages the fallen. Peacemakers speak the truth in love and then act with courageous mercy to make peace where there is no peace.

Some people suggest that Jesus is an anti-war pacifist. That is not true. Jesus is anti-death. He waged war on sin so that we could have life. And when Jesus said peacemakers are “sons of God,” he was saying, “As followers of Jesus, this is our family business. This is who we are, and this is what we do together for the glory of the Father.”  So, more than merely declaring peace, let’s fight to make peace around us.