The Peacemaker Challenge

When you’re insulted
respond with compassion,
listening first,
speaking with insight
into the roots 
of that person’s distress.
Not that it’s easy.
Not that it’s normal.

Take self off-center,
then humbly reach out
to crush the hard walls
that maintain division.
Be like your Savior, 
the great Prince of Peace:
who purchased our peace 
by giving himself on the cross!


 
Peacemaking is the last of the characteristics of a blessed follower of Christ to be listed in the beatitudes. That makes sense, because all the others build up to it. If the Jesus-follower has recognized their need for rescue, their imperfections and sins, and has hungered and thirsted for righteousness, then that person can mature to the point of being merciful, of having an undivided and pure heart, and of becoming increasingly like their Lord, the Prince of Peace. Now the focus is on finding a way to promote peace – not being an appeaser, but a peacemaker.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. (Matt. 5:9 NIV)

This not a picture of someone who is passive, reluctant to make any waves, just ready to do whatever it takes to live in a calm space.  That would be someone “milquetoast,” not someone who is gently self-controlled but strong (that was what we discovered is true about being “meek”). The hunger for what is right means that the peacemaker desires to see justice in a situation as well as accomplished in himself. To be like Jesus means to be a reconciler, willing to pay the cost of pursuing righteous peace. Because it does come with a price. Jesus “paid it all” to make it possible for us to be reconciled with God, in conformity with his plan:

. . . through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Col. 1:20 NIV)

As we take up our cross, to follow him, we need to consider how what we do is our honoring to our Father, living life as much as possible like our “Older Brother,” the Lord Jesus. He desires to bring people into harmony with God, but also with each other.

Let’s consider the flow of teaching in these verses:

Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. (Ps. 34:14 NIV)
Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. (2 Tim. 2:22 NIV)

Righteousness, faith, love and peace are to be what we pursue. Finding the way to apply this in a real-life situation requires prayer, listening to the Guide, and courage.

There were several times when we had to figure out how to do this in a different culture, in northern Côte d’Ivoire. Their way of bringing about reconciliation taught us a lot. 

One time, when Glenn was a field leader, a missionary woman heard that a rumor was circulating that she was secretly practicing occult arts! As the story was traced to its source, Glenn applied what we had learned from trusted local sources about how to proceed. He brought the accusers together with the missionary, in the same room but on opposite sides of his chair. He asked the missionary to share her astonishment at the accusation, then asked the nationals to explain their point of view. They said that she was single, and spent too much time alone in her home; a solitary lifestyle like that pointed to sorcery. She explained her fatigue after the long hours she put into her professional work, always interacting with many people, and how much she then needed rest and time for refreshment. As each side talked, they looked at Glenn, answered his question and spoke to him. He encouraged more sharing from each side, and once things were clearer the emotional heat cooled down and they began to talk to each other directly. Reconciliation happened.

This is even harder to do when a person is your personal adversary, maybe even someone you have been close to, and you need to do what is possible to achieve peace with them. I confess that this takes much courage for me, my natural tendency being hyper-sensitivity. But as I’ve learned to reach out and ask for the opportunity to talk in a safe environment, I’ve seen the Lord work to bring harmony with deeper understanding of each other. Sometimes that safe environment includes other people we both trust. Sometimes it is just one-on-one. 

When it’s been attempted again and again but without progress, then we need to learn to look for ways to build mutual respect in other dimensions. When the adversary is a brother or sister in the believing community this is particularly necessary. Compare these two reports of Jesus’ teaching on being the “salt of the earth”:

"You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. (Matt. 5:13 NIV)
   (The  NET note on “thrown away” says that it is a warning about a disciple who ceased to follow him!)
"Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other." (Mk. 9:50 NIV)

Building peace with each other in the Beloved Community is one of the key challenges in this era of intensely emotional divisions here in the United States. Different interpretations of political and social justice issues are literally tearing church communities and even families apart. How can we obey our Lord and keep our “salty” flavor healthy, being at peace with each other?

We must be humble, and search our own hearts and minds for ways in which we are judging others without listening to them, and understanding what has brought them to this point. We also need to respond to criticism or insult as Jesus did, not responding with insult but with peaceful explanation. This is not appeasement, but “bearing with one another” with love while being truthful.

Jesus knew that his responses would not always be accepted. Instead, in his last months of ministry they resulted in the adversaries beginning to conspire to arrest him. But in spite of their hostility he answered honestly, using questions (Mat 21.24-27) or stories (Mat 21.28-41) to express his answer more powerfully. And in that same exchange, he finished by being very clear about the point he was making, using the Scriptures (Mat 21.42-45).

Speaking to Jews who wanted to kill him but were trying to hide their scheme and trip him up by asking him questions, Jesus answered truthfully, referring to the Scriptures and to his own determination to glorify God and not lie { John 8.46-58}. This confirms that when what the adversary is saying is against the truth and not in line with God’s teaching, it is right to state the truth and clarify one’s position. Nevertheless, Jesus did not hurl insults at them; he kept trying to help them understand who he was, and why he held the position that they resented.

Being a peacemaker requires being filled with the Spirit, letting him guide and produce his fruit in us. Because yes: peace is something that comes from the transformation that the Spirit accomplishes. Paul makes this clear:

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. 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. (Gal. 5:19 NIV)

If we demonstrate those first acts that stem from broken humanity – yes, things like fomenting discord through anger and selfish ambition, etc. – we are not acting like citizens of the kingdom of God. The warning is severe for those whose behavior is like that: they will not inherit the kingdom of God.
 
When the Spirit is the one acting in and through us, the atmosphere is entirely different. With gentle kindness, demonstrating love and putting up with each other, we are actually showing that we are children of God, practicing what pleases our Older Brother and Master, the Prince of Peace. Let us each take note and pursue peace!

Published by Linnea Boese

After spending most of my life in Africa, as the child of missionaries then in missions with my husband, I am now retired and free to use my time to write! I am working on publishing poetry and on writing an autobiography. There have been many adventures, challenges and wonderful blessings along the way -- lots to share!

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