a peacemaking series: reflections, confessions, and confrontations
#3: the new testament imperative
Luke’s birth narrative tells us the angels declared “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” Once again we see the peacemaking initiative of God, who has sent his Son to reconcile humanity through his life, death, and resurrection. That angel scene has often been misunderstood to mean “Peace on earth” as if somehow humans could bring about the peaceful kingdom of God on earth through the ethical teachings of Jesus and good social works alone. There are definite social implications of the gospel, but the core idea is that Christ came to bring relational and eternal peace between sinners and God. Having said that, what are some the relational and social implications? Just a few passages:
Matt. 5:9 – “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called sons of God,” Matt. 5:9. We looked at the meaning of this in the first article of the series. Peacemakers are those who intentionally work at making peace with and among others – they create conditions of peace. By doing so they will be called sons of God because they reflect the character of God, who is a God of peace.
Rom. 12:14-21 – “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary:
‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
There is not a whole lot of commentary needed on this passage; it is pretty self-explanatory (and convicting). A few observations:
-- Blessing others, returning good for evil, doing right, and striving to live at peace with others are my choice.
-- From a human perspective everything called for here is counter-intuitive and certainly counter-cultural.
-- Even when wronged I may have to give up my “right” for fairness and restitution and leave long-term and certainly ultimate justice to God. That doesn’t mean I don’t oppose injustice or that the authorities don’t deal with injustice, but I have to keep my selfish concerns under check.
Hebrews 12:14 and 1 Peter 3:8-11 both give similar imperatives. It is my responsibility to seek, as much as possible, to live at peace with others, returning good for evil, and actually seeking and pursuing peace if I love life and want to see good days.
Galatians 3:28 and Ephesians 2:11-22 deal with what scholar Donald Guthrie calls “some of the deepest social divides in human history,” that between Jews and Gentiles. If the gospel of Jesus Christ could overcome that divide, then it should be able to overcome all other social divides. Peacemaking, reconciliation, and returning good for evil are not to be limited by language, culture, ethnicity, or race. Much more on this in the next article.
Finally, Revelation 5:9 gives us a glimpse of the results of God’s mission of redemption: there will be those “from every tribe and language and people and nation” who have been made “a kingdom and priests to serve our God.” The mission of God from the beginning – through the Old Testament and the nation of Israel, from the incarnation of the Son, his life, death, and resurrection, through the current work of the Holy Spirit in and through the church – has been to redeem, reconcile, and make peace with those from every group on earth. Not all will believe, but all will be represented.
What conclusions can we draw from this brief New Testament overview?
1. God is the initiator of Peace. The familiar John 3:16 verse emphasizes God’s initiative when it states that God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, the Prince of Peace, to be the means of reconciliation and peace with the Father.
2. Jesus, therefore, is the supreme peacemaker. His crucifixion and resurrection established the grounds for peace with God. Before that his life reflected peacemaking, his teaching focused on peacemaking, and the gospel about him is the greatest peacemaking message of all time.
3. Peace is not appeasement, peace at all costs, or passive pacifism. In fact, in Matt. 10:34-37 Jesus seems to contradict what the angels stated at his birth. What he is pointing out, however, is that his mission of peacemaking and reconciliation will necessarily and inevitably upset the status quo. Choosing to follow him may mean a lack of peace in the household and in the community. His peace is not at any price, but is a peace that is just, that is based on his righteousness, and was made possible by his violent death.
4. All this talk of peace does lead to ethical implications and demands:
a. Our witness is about sharing in word and deed the gospel of peace with God. Apart from this, all and everyone are lost.
b. We are to live at peace with others as much as it is possible. This acknowledges the reality that we will have enemies (Jesus had them!) and will not get along with everyone, even within the family and at church.
c. Consequently, my intentional peacemaking efforts must include those in my “family,” the church and those outside my church family. Yes, this can be hard.
d. This peacemaking effort, both as a witness and an ethical demand, transcends cultural boundaries. Based on God’s mission to the nations, the first hints of the universality of the gospel in the Gospels, and the specific barrier destroying passages in Galatians and Ephesians, we have a Bible, as Christopher Wright puts it, “. . .which glories in diversity and celebrates multiple human cultures, the Bible which builds its most elevated theological claims on utterly particular and sometimes very local events, the Bible which sees everything in relational, not abstract terms . . . .”
e. Intentional peacemaking means, furthermore,there may be times when I have to give up my “rights.” Paul asks the questions in 1 Cor. 6, “Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?” instead of seeking one’s rights against a brother in the court of law. Similarly, Peter speaks in 1 Pet. 2 about doing good deeds when wronged and accused falsely. I am not saying our “God-given, constitutionally-guaranteed” rights are to be surrendered lightly, but there is something about being willing to sacrifice personally for the sake of peace. (Yes, there is a tension to be held with point #3 above. This will be explored further in a future article).
f. Bottom line, if I am a follower of Christ, I have no choice! I cannot choose an ethic of convenience. I must work at being ethically consistent, especially in the demanding task of relational and social peacemaking.
“Peacemaking across cultural lines”
“A radical model for peacemaking”
“ Peacemaking and a messy history”