From my earliest of memories, probably like this for all boys, war and guns and fighting were a seemingly natural part of my life. Cowboys and Indians, Cops and Robbers, and War were regular games we played. The Duke Boys shooting explosive arrows, GI Joe fighting Cobra, and who could forget the A-Team beating up bad guys!
It was awesome...
But something happens when you grow up. The action movies and the crime dramas are understood to be fiction, but we eventually face the reality that war and death have human faces attached. We are no longer talking about a game where someone has multiple lives and will regenerate. We are not talking about play guns and mouthing machine gun fire...we are talking about real, live human beings.
Men and woman and children. Families. Some who go to work in the morning and never make it home because a bomb drops. Others die because the resources needed to live have been completely decimated.
In preparing for this message, I wanted to gain a better perspective on war and the damage it has caused. War is defined as an active conflict that has claimed more than 1,000 lives, and of the past 3,400 years, humans have been at peace for only 268 of them. There are currently 33 active wars in our world. Over 100 million people were killed in wars in the twentieth century.
In World War Two two-thirds of those killed were civilians; by the beginning of the 1990s civilian deaths approached 90 per cent of the total casualty rate with 3 out of 4 fatalities being women and children. In the wars of the last decade, more children are killed than soldiers.
These are just war statistics and do not include crime and violence statistics that would also remind us of our need for peace.
The Christian’s Dilemma
For us as Christians, living in America, we are faced with a dilemma. We are called to be people who seek after peace. Matthew 5:9 says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” For over 300 years, from the time of the Apostle Paul until Constantine, the Church was against all military violence. Pacifist is what we would call it.
But with Constantine things changed. Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. Pastors and church leaders were given high standing in civil government. Because of this the Christian faith made some changes. Liturgy were cleaned up to be respectable for all citizens. Membership policies were relaxed. And leaders soon learned to stay on the good side of the emperor meant not rocking the boat...so they offered more and more support and blessing of military action and troops.
We are heirs to those changes, and we live in one of the most militarized cultures in the world. Ever other dollar we pay in federal taxes goes toward current or past military costs. More is spent each year on war, weaponry, and military than the combined earnings of 50% of the world’s population.
Since the Vietnam War, speaking out and supporting peace, voicing a dissent against war, is often viewed as unAmerican and not supporting our troops. When polled, between 65 and 85 percent of the American public will support military action when it begins, and 77% of evangelical Christians supported of the war in Iraq.
So we live in this tension. We know what the Bible says about peace. We would love to have peace in our world...to see war and conflict end. But we also know there are some evil people out there willing to do horrible things, and the reality is sometimes someone need to stop them.
So we wrestle with what peace look like on a global scale. Christians differ greatly. There are some who are extreme pacifist and refuse any and all retaliation and military service. There are others who ascribe to the Just War Theory. And there are others who hold views no different from the world around us. People fall all over the spectrum continually balancing Jesus’ command to be peacemakers and the reality of the fallen world in which we live.
We all have a role to play in creating peace for our world, but most of us don’t deal with this aspect on a regular basis. So we vote. We get involved in the ministries and causes that support peace. We lift our voice to be heard to find peace and make war a last resort.
But even more practical, when it comes to peace, is our call to be peacemakers with our neighbors, our family, our church family, our co-workers. That is where we really learn what it means to be peacemakers. Most of us will never be directly involved with making peace on a national level. We will not sit in talks with world leaders trying to end a conflict. We will not have the opportunity to cast a vote that really stems the tide of a war.
But we will face down someone who intent on starting an argument with us. We will have that family member who seems to start a fight with us every chance they get because they know exactly which buttons to push. There will be that person in our church or small group who’s views just irritate us to the point of very much disliking them.
Our search for peace, our call to be peacemakers, will mostly be played out in our interpersonal relationships with those we come in contact with on a regular basis.
What is Peace?
We know what Matthew 5:9 says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
But in our personal relationships we wrestle with that. Does being a peacemaker mean we just ignore it? Does it mean we just let that person getting away with it so we don’t make any waves? Does it mean we remain quiet while continue spouting off...because if we said something there would be an argument?
The Greek word for peace is Eireinei it is connected to the Hebrew word Shalom, which you have probably heard. The root of the word means totality or completeness. But there are additional nuances the Bible gives to the word. These nuances include fulfillment, completion, maturity, soundness, wholeness (both individual and communal), community, harmony, tranquility, security, well-being, welfare, friendship, agreement, success, and prosperity.
You see peace is so much more than just an absence of conflict. It is this all consuming, complete tranquility and security between us and God and between us and our fellow human beings. Peace is wholeness for both you and I on an individual level, and you and I as we live in community together.
Shalom became a standard greeting for Israelites because in wishing shalom to another person you were praying a blessing for God to bring wholeness to their physical, emotional, psychological, relational, and spiritual lives. This was more than just a standard greeting, it was a prayer for the person being greeting.
When most of us think of peace, we think of an absence of conflict. If war stops...there is peace. If gangs don’t shoot each other...there is peace. If one country no longer bombs another country...there is peace. We speak in terms of “keeping the peace.” Someone once asked, “Can’t we all just get along?”
And the answer is “No!” we can’t all just get along because the problem is much deeper than just removing the conflict. Biblical peace is deeper than that. It is shalom. It is not the absence of conflict. It is the the presence of justice. It is the presence of wholeness in people’s physical, emotional, psychological, relational, and spiritual lives.
I hate confrontation, and will do almost anything I can to avoid it. I begin to sweat, my heart beats faster, I get this nervous and unsettled feeling, and I get this strong desire to run away. But some things need to be dealt with; because when I avoid the confrontation I only postpone the problem, and most likely have made things worse. I think I am keeping peace because I am keeping down the conflict, but I am actually undermining true peace by removing tension so true peace can take place.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reminds us of this when he said, "The Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice."
It isn’t those who are actively fighting against a cause that are the most dangerous. The most dangerous people are those who just want things to settle down and go away, and, in the name of peace, actually subvert true peace and make things worse.
So What does that mean for us? How do we, on a practical level, promote peace?
Romans 14:19, “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.”
Make every effort. This requires effort. It requires work, and will not come easily.
In fact, Romans 14 reminds us...
If we want Peace, we often have to give up our rights.
This may sound like a direct contradiction to what I just said about keeping quiet, wanting things to just settle down, and having a lack of tension rather than having peace.
But let’s be honest, How often do our personal wants and our rights get in the way of true peace? More often than not conflict arises not because we are seeking justice or defending truth, but because we simply want things our own way.
Romans 14 is a treatise on living in community with others and not demanding our own way...Listen to what Paul says...
Romans 14:1, “Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters.”
Romans 14:7-9, “For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.
Romans 14:13, “Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.
Romans 14:15, “If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died.
We do it because we Love those whom Jesus loves.
Romans 14:21, “ It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.”
The Roman church was facing conflict between the Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians and who eats and drinks what and what days should be commemorated over others. They are fighting and judging and condemning each other. And Paul orders then to stop.
Paul reminds them these conflicts arise from non-eternal things, unimportant things. Things, that in the long run, don’t have any real significance. And if they are merely personal opinion, if they are questions of what a person should or should not drink, what days a person should honor...then peace is our responsibility.
Paul is willing to bring conflict in pursuit of justice, in pursuit of things that matter and have eternal consequences: defining the Gospel, helping people grow in the faith, etc. But when it comes to things of personal opinion, Paul says peace becomes our responsibility.
And so often we would rather be right than live in peace.
When I got married, someone pulled me aside and said, “There will come a time in your marriage when you and Lori will get in a big fight. Years later you won’t even remember what it was about because it isn’t all that important anyway. But in that moment you are making a decision to fight to be right or to be happy.”
So much conflict happens in our world not because we are fighting for justice or defending truth, but because we want things the way WE WANT things.
The Church and Christians have been notoriously bad at this. We see ourselves as having the Truth. Often, though, we have our understanding of the Truth combined with a lot of personal opinion, and we are often not disciplined enough to know the difference between what is Truth and what is our opinion.
Often, in order to find true peace, we have to give up our right to be right. We have to know what really matters and what is worth taking a stand for and bringing conflict.
This is not easy..
Peace Requires Love
We have harped on this over and over and over again throughout this series so I’m not going to spend much time here.
When we love God and we love others...it changes how we interact with them. We want peace. Love is the very foundation upon which peace is built and maintained. So when Jesus says, “Love your neighbor...” and “Love your enemies...” He is doing so because all the other Fruit of the Spirit is built on our ability to love. So when we love, we are seeking peace, we are being patient and kind. We work hard to maintain self-control.
Peace requires humility
Paul says in Ephesians 4:2-3, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
We are going to be looking at patience, kindness, goodness, and gentleness as part of the Fruit of the Spirit and our grow series. But humility means we understand what is important, and we understand our place in that.
When we are humble, we don’t have to have our way all the time. It doesn’t mean we are less than because we have given that need to be right...it means we are humble.
When we are humble we are willing to give up things that don’t matter for the things that really mater. In Philippians 2, Paul reminds us that Jesus led the way in this way of life. So we can give up up our right to express our opinion, our right to argue it out, our right to be right because we LOVE the other person and have a higher purpose in mind.
Humility is a necessary part of this peace.
Peace requires forgiveness
Matthew 18:21-22, “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”
We have to be willing to both give forgiveness and ask for forgiveness. Jesus’ reply to Peter does not just mean allowing the person to hurt us over and over and we keep forgiving them. Often it is just one offense that keeps coming to our mind over and over, and every time we recall the pain of that offense...we have to forgive them all over again.
At it’s deepest level Peace requires forgiveness.
Peace requires we walk in step with the Holy Spirit
Galatians 5:21 says, “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”
Peace is difficult...giving up our rights, loving neighbors and enemies, having humility in a world that seeks its own way, learning to forgive and seek forgiveness from those who have caused us pain...the only way to really accomplish this is to depend up Jesus and walk in step with the Holy Spirit.
I love this quote from Vatican II
“Earthly peace which arises from love of neighbor symbolizes and results from the peace of Christ which radiates from God the Father. For by the cross the incarnate Son, the prince of peace reconciled all men with God. By thus restoring all men to the unity of one people and one body, He slew hatred in His own flesh; and, after being lifted on high by His resurrection, He poured forth the spirit of love into the hearts of men.
For this reason, all Christians are urgently summoned to do in love what the truth requires, and to join with all true peacemakers in pleading for peace and bringing it about.”
Our ability to be peacemakers...to live the life that establishes and encourages peace...is based solely on our connection to Jesus Christ and our ability to live the Spirit-filled life. We need the power of Christ at work in our lives.
When we are faced with the co-worker who wants to argue...when we have that relative that is pushing all the right buttons...when someone provokes an argument by insulting us...that is when we need to Holy Spirit...when we need to pay attention to the still small voice of the Holy Spirit leading us and guiding us...showing us the way to peace.
It does not mean being a pushover. It does not mean we never stand up for anything. On the contrary...we learn to stand up for the things that matter.
In the Vineyard we talk about the concept of the already and the not yet; meaning that because of Jesus and the Holy Spirit’s work in our world God has offered us a taste of the Kingdom right now, in our everyday lives...but it isn’t complete. Things in our world are still broken and sinful...but one day...one day Jesus will return and set all things right. True peace and justice will reign.
So we work toward peace in our world. We start in our everyday relationships because as we seek peace here and now...we are helping build the Kingdom that will come when Jesus returns.