Series: Blessed are the Peacemakers, by Rosie Moore.
“Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God (Matt 5:9)
Most of us are not born peacemakers, but becoming a skilled peacemaker is not an optional extra in the Christian life. In my own case, even minor conflicts stress me out and I tend to seek out escape routes and eject buttons to avoid having to deal with unpleasant people or situations! But pretending that a problem does not exist and trying to carry on as though nothing has happened only delays the inevitable blow-up. It also breeds bitterness. As the Holy Spirit works in my life, I am learning to become a more skilled peacemaker, because Christ commands it and equips his followers to do it (Matt 18:15-18; Gal 6:1). Peace-making is the overflow of a heart that is at peace with God (1 Thess 5:13; Eph 4:3). We are called to peace in our relationships with one another.
The High Priest, Eli, favoured the ‘escape’ response to conflict when he refused to deal with his sons’ sin. His denial led to disaster for his entire family and the nation of Israel (1 Sam 2:22-25). The escape response may lead you to quit your job, leave your school, divorce your spouse, cut off a relationship, or refuse to communicate rather than work through a conflict. A person who repeatedly avoids or denies conflict is often bitter. Bitterness is retained anger that nurses hurts and broods over past offences, real or imagined. Bitterness is a destructive sin which is one of Satan’s favourite tools for destroying unity in churches, families and other relationships (Eph 4:26-27; Heb 12:15). “Escape” is the first pit that many of us fall into when conflict arises. It is a futile attempt to protect ourselves from pain and discomfort.
The second pit is to ‘attack’ the person who has opposed or thwarted us. People with an attack response generally use force or intimidation to inflict pain on others, including hurtful words, untrue accusations, angry insults, mocking, name-calling and gossip. Malice longs to make the other person look foolish or to crush him or her emotionally (Eph 4:31). This person typically minimises their sinful outbursts, calling it ‘venting’.
An attacker cares more about getting their own way, winning the argument and defending themselves, than about restoring the relationship or glorifying God. James 4:1-3 reminds us that attacking our opponent is a sure sign that an idol is ruling our heart. The message is, “Either get in line with what I want, or you will suffer.” ‘Attack’ is a natural but dangerous response to conflict. It is the enemy of peace-making and healthy relationships.
Enormous harm is done to our Christian witness and to relationships when we habitually choose the escape or attack responses to conflict. These responses may be the only patterns we have seen in our own families, but they are carnal and unbiblical. Deep hurt, messy lawsuits, physical abuse, seething hatred, harsh accusations, bitterness and broken relationships inevitably ensue. Even if we do not physically try to kill a person, we are guilty of murder in God’s eyes if we nurse anger or contempt in our hearts towards others (1 John 3:15; Matt 5:21-22).
Called to peace.
But as children of God who have been reconciled to our Father through Christ’s death and resurrection, we are called to deal with conflict in a Biblical way that is radically different from our natural instincts and the way the world fights. God calls us to be agents of reconciliation in the power of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor 5:16-21). In Ken Sande’s words, we are called to be peacemakers— not peace fakers or peace breakers! We are called to genuine peace.
In Romans 12:14-21, Paul challenges us with the serious commitment needed to become a peacemaker, especially in the face of wrong treatment: Bless those who persecute us. Be tender and compassionate. Commit to living in harmony. Do not be proud. Meet your enemy’s need. Overcome evil with good. Move from seeking vengeance to finding ways to do good. “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Rom 12:18). While we actively pursue peace with a person who wrongs us, we continue to entrust the offender to God’s perfect justice and mercy. Peacemaking is an act of profound trust in God. It is also an act of obedience in defiance of our instincts to escape, avoid or attack.
Over and over again in Scripture, God commands us to seek and pursue genuine peace when we face disputes, especially with other Christians. We are called to seek the welfare of our community; to pursue mutual upbuilding; to aim for restoration and agreement; to allow Christ’s peace to rule our hearts; to strive for peace and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Ps 34:14; Jer 29:7; Rom 14:19; 1 Cor 7:15; 2 Cor 13:11; Col 3:15; 1 Thess 5:13; Heb 12:14). This is not an easy task, but if God has called us to peace, He has also promised to provide everything we need to become skilled peacemakers (2 Peter 1:3-9).
Conversely, God is not pleased with a contentious or quarrelsome spirit: “As charcoal to embers and as wood to fire, so is a contentious person for kindling strife” (Prov 26:21). “The greedy stir up conflict, but those who trust in the Lord will prosper” (Prov 28:25). “An angry person stirs up conflict, and a hot-tempered person commits many sins” (Prov 29:22).
There are three great reasons to grow in our peacemaking skills. The first reason is that it comes with a promise of blessing.
Blessed are the peacemakers.
God promises to bless peacemakers, “for they will be called sons of God” (Prov 12:20; Matt 5:9). Blessed means more than fickle happiness. It is the state of those who are in Christ’s kingdom, living for Jesus and his eternal kingdom values. Blessed peacemakers experience God’s favour, hope and joy regardless of their situation. The Psalmist writes, “Consider the blameless, observe the upright; a future awaits those who seek peace” (Ps 37:37). God is pleased with our efforts at peacemaking, even if our opponent is unwilling to repent and resolve the conflict.
James reminds us that peace-making is the path to living wisely in God’s world. It is a process that, in time, will yield a harvest of righteousness in our own lives. Often this harvest spills over to the family and broader community of the peacemaker: “The wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness (James 3:17-18).
Peacemakers are Christlike.
The second reason to become a peacemaker is that it makes us more like Christ. Jesus’ whole mission, from birth to death, was a mission of peace-making (Luke 1:79; Isa 2:4).
“The Prince of Peace” laid down his life so that we could experience peace with God, peace with one another and peace within ourselves (Col 1:19-20; Rom 5:1-2). And so, as new creatures in Christ, peace and unity are essential to our Christian witness (John 17:1-19). A pattern of unresolved conflicts and broken relationships do not reflect well on Jesus’ saving work on the cross. In fact, they bring the gospel into disrepute.
And so, for a Christian, regardless of our tendencies, temperaments or cultures, a conflict is not a crisis to avoid, nor a reason to retaliate, nor an excuse to shift blame or become defensive. Rather, conflict is an opportunity to put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts (Rom 14:13). It is an opportunity to showcase the gospel and obey Christ’s command to love one another as He has loved us (1 John 3:10, 23). Peacemaking is what distinguishes God’s children from the unredeemed world.
Conflict is a stewardship.
The third reason to become a peacemaker is because it provides an opportunity to faithfully steward whatever God has given us. No conflict is an accident. In every conflict lies a choice. We can choose to follow the ways of the world and our flesh, selfishness, pride or lust for power. Or we can choose to faithfully steward our conflict by obeying God’s Word, by reflecting the humility and love of Jesus, our King.
No matter how messy or adversarial, conflict always provides an opportunity to glorify God, serve other people and grow in Christlikeness (Rom 8:28-29). This is God’s purpose for every conflict. We see this opportunity in Christ’s words to His disciples in the Sermon on the Mount:
“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:27-36).
Similarly, Paul’s acid test of whether we are walking by the Spirit or the flesh is seen in our response to inter-personal conflict. His letter to the carnal Galatian Christians is sobering, as it goes to the heart of whether we belong to the kingdom of God:
“The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other (Gal 5:19-26).
If God calls us to steward every conflict, we must ask ourselves, “How can I please God and strive for peace with this person who is opposing me?” Peace isn’t always possible, but God is pleased with our efforts as agents of reconciliation (Rom 12:18).
Conflict provides an opportunity to show the love and power of Jesus in our lives. It is an opportunity to see, confess and forsake our heart idols, which may be contributing to the quarrel (James 4:1-2). It is an opportunity to remove our own logs so that we can see clearly to confront someone else (Matt 7:1-6).
Conflict is an opportunity for us to gently correct and restore a Christian brother or sister caught in sin (Gal 6:1; Matt 18:15). It is an opportunity to be as merciful and forgiving to others as God is to us (Matt 18:21-35). Forgiveness is hard, but it is the way to peace and reconciliation.
As Jesus said to his disciples, “So watch yourselves. If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.” The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” (Luke 17:3-5).
The core issue in conflict is not what we want or feel, but what God wants and the best way to pursue it. God calls us to steward every conflict by pursuing peace in His prescribed way. Many times we will discover that right actions lead to right feelings.
Join us next week as we look at “Practices of a Peacemaker.” We will look at the specific practices and processes that God has prescribed in Scripture to make peace.