Making Peace in the Midst of Conflict
February 22, 2004 | Brian Bill
Conflict is everywhere, isn’t it? In a classic Winston Churchill comeback, Lady Astor once said, “If you were my husband, I’d put poison in your coffee.” Churchill responded with his cutting wit: “If you were my wife, I’d drink it.” We laugh at this sarcasm, but it reveals that all of us are predisposed to conflict. In fact, some of us have clashed with so many people, that we don’t really know how to live peaceably with others. I’ve known some individuals over the years that never seem happy unless they are fighting with someone.
A young daughter was working so diligently on her homework that her father became curious and asked her what she was doing. She looked up at her dad and replied, “I’m writing a report on how to bring peace to the world.” The father smiled and said, “Isn’t that a pretty big order for a little girl?” The girl continued writing as she answered, “Oh, no. Don’t worry. There are three of us in the class working on it.”
It’s easy to be naïve about peace, because it is in fact, very elusive in our church, in our relationships, in our culture, and in the world today. I recently heard about a group of people who were walking across America on a mission of peace. Unfortunately, they couldn’t get along and divided into two groups in Arkansas! That reminds me of what one person said about Christians who quarrel: “Where two or three come together in Jesus’ name…there will eventually be conflict.”
The fact that the lack of peace is so pervasive is really nothing new. We can trace it all the way back to the book of Genesis. Humans have been at war with God ever since Adam and Eve sinned. And, beginning with the conflict between Cain and Abel, which eventually led to one brother killing the other, we have been in a bombastic battle with our brothers and sisters up till now.
In the midst of this continuous conflict and incessant strife, Jesus speaks some stunning words in Matthew 5:9: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” The Message paraphrase puts it this way: “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.” We are to be pure before God, as we learned last week, and this beatitude challenges us to be at peace with others. Let me remind you that Jesus is not listing some optional ideas or preaching a sermon with some suggestions we might want to consider. These eight beatitudes are meant to describe the disciple of Christ and set forth the blessings that come to those who follow Him wholeheartedly.
The Bible is a book of peace as the word “peace” appears over 400 times in Scripture, with many other indirect references. Hebrews 13:20 refers to God as the “God of peace” and because this is part of His very character, He wants His people to be marked by peace as well. Isaiah 9:6 describes Jesus as the “Prince of peace.”
Before we go much further, let’s describe what biblical peace is not:
- Peace is not merely the absence of activity. We often use the phrase “peace and quiet” to refer to our need to slow down.
- Peace is more than the absence of hostility. The biblical concept is much deeper than just not having conflict.
- Peace is not just getting away from reality. While we go on vacation to get away from it all, the Bible offers peace right where we are.
Peace is not the absence of something bad
Peace is not the absence of something bad; rather it is the presence of something good. In the Old Testament, the word peace is shalom and is a state of wholeness and harmony that is intended to resonate in all relationships. When used as a greeting, shalom was a wish for outward freedom from disturbance as well as an inward sense of well-being. To a people constantly harassed by enemies, peace was the premiere blessing. In Numbers 6:24-26, God gave Moses these words to use when blessing His people: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace.” Every one of Paul’s thirteen letters begins with a greeting of peace. Some of them end with it as well.
3 Types of People
As we consider this beatitude of peace, Phil Morgan suggests that there are three types of people:
We live in a world of peace-breakers. Did you know that in all the years of recorded history, the world has been at peace just 8% of the time? Over that period, 8000 treaties have been made and broken. Someone perceptively quipped, “Peace is that glorious moment in history when everyone stops to reload.”
Those who break peace in the church often cause trouble and division. The Bible has strong words in Romans 16:17-18: “I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.” God’s heart is revealed in Psalm 133:1: “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity.” Now, before you start pointing your finger at someone else, each of us needs to examine our own hearts. It’s certainly possible to be a peace-breaker without even knowing it.
One area we all need to consider is the use of our tongues. Ephesians 4:29-31: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” When Paul is writing to the church at Corinth, he expresses his concern about what he may find when he comes for a visit in 2 Corinthians 12:20: “I fear that there may be quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder.”
Many years ago, Psychology Today (October, 1983) posed an intriguing question: “If you could push a button and thereby eliminate any person with no repercussions to yourself, would you do it?” Sixty percent of those responding answered yes. One man posited an even better question, “If such a device were invented, would anyone live to tell about it?”
Friend, have you been pushing any buttons lately? Are you a peace-breaker? Do you bring people together or pull them apart? It’s always easier to create conflict than it is to promote peace.
It’s interesting that Jesus is not calling us to be peace-keepers, but peace-makers. Some of us are predisposed to have peace at any cost in an effort to avoid conflict with someone. Often this is just pretend peace, as tensions go underground and come back again because they were never dealt with. Phil Morgan writes, “If things are not resolved, then that peace you’re trying so very hard to maintain by avoiding the issues will get harder and harder to keep. Eventually there will come a total breakdown in the relationship…it can die while everything on the surface looks peaceful.” Ephesians 4:25 challenges the peace-fakers among us, “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.”
It’s much easier to either break the peace or fake the peace than it is to make peace in the midst of conflict. When Jesus pronounced a blessing upon peacemakers, He used a very strong word for “maker.” It literally means “to do” or “to create.” Friends, peace must be actively made because it never happens by chance. Left to ourselves, we drift toward divisiveness. Peacemaking is messy work and is often resented. Peace must be pursued until we have it, and then guarded so we don’t lose it. A peacemaker does what it takes to establish and maintain peace. Instead of escalating conflict, this person works to extinguish tension and usher in peace. Warren Wiersbe has said, “Hatred looks for a victim, while love seeks a victory. The man of war throws stones, and the peacemaker builds a bridge out of those stones.”
A brief biblical survey helps us see that there are at least 12 principles that describe both the importance of harmony and the hard work involved in promoting peace.
- Peace must be pursued. Psalm 34:14: “Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” Romans 14:19: “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.” Ephesians 4:3: “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” 1 Thessalonians 5:13: “…Live in peace with one another.”
- Being a peacemaker can be lonely. Psalm 120:6-7: “Too long have I lived among those who hate peace. I am a man of peace; but when I speak, they are for war.”
- Peace must be prayed for. Psalm 122:6-8: “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: ‘May those who love you be secure. May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels.’ For the sake of my brothers and friends, I will say, ‘Peace be within you.’”
- The promoter of peace finds joy. Proverbs 12:20: “There is deceit in the hearts of those who plot evil, but joy for those who promote peace.”
- Pleasing God is a prerequisite for peace. Proverbs 16:7: “When a man’s ways are pleasing to the LORD, he makes even his enemies live at peace with him.”
- Those who bring peace have beautiful feet. Isaiah 52:7: “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace…”
- Jesus gives peace unlike any other. John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives…”
- Churches grow during times of peace. Acts 9:31: “Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord.”
- We must do everything possible to live at peace. Romans 12:18: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
- Peace is a directive from the God of peace. 1 Corinthians 7:15: “God has called us to live in peace.” 2 Corinthians 13:11: “…be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.” Colossians 3:15: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace…”
- Righteousness is rewarded to peacemakers. James 3:18: “Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.”
- Jesus is the model for peace. Ephesians 2:14-17: “For He himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility…His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace…He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.” Interestingly, the phrase “making peace” is also found in our beatitude for today.
Rewards for Peacemakers
In 1781, Benjamin Franklin wrote to John Adams, “‘Blessed are the peacemakers’ is, I suppose, for another world. In this world they are frequently cursed.” While it’s extremely difficult to be a peacemaker, there are at least two rewards.
First, we are blessed when we make peace. God applauds and approves those who do what it takes to make peace where there are problems. Martin Lloyd Jones asks the question, “Why are peacemakers blessed? The answer is…because they are so unlike everyone else…they are the people who stand out as being different from the rest of the world.”
Second, this beatitude ends with an intriguing phrase, “…for they will be called sons of God.” The word “called” means to be officially designated as holding a particular rank or office like when a chairman is named, or a captain is chosen, or a spokesman is designated. It also means, “to become” or “owned.” “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be owned as the children of God.” What Jesus is saying here is that peacemakers will be known and recognized as what they really are – children of God. A peacemaker has the bestowed title of being a child of the Prince of Peace. The phrase, “sons of God,” refers to a family relationship in which the son takes his father’s name and becomes heir to the father’s fortune. When the Bible uses the term, “son of” someone, that person is “of” their father, and therefore resemble him. It often bears the meaning, “partaker of the character of.”
Growing up I loved it when people would say, “You’re just like your dad.” In fact, that’s one of the biggest compliments I can receive to this day, because I love my dad and have always wanted to be as kind, considerate, gentle, and giving as he is. One of my best experiences was when I worked in the factory where my dad worked during a couple summers when I was in college. Employees would come up to me and ask, “You’re John Bill’s kid, right?” I’d always smile and say, “Yep, he’s my dad.” That was a tremendous tribute because evidently people saw something in me that reminded them of my father. Likewise, when you practice and promote peace, a watching world will come up to you and ask, “Are you a son of God? Are you a daughter of God?” Peacemakers bear a family resemblance and reflect something of the Heavenly Father’s character.
Friend, when you make peace, you partner with God in spreading peace, and you demonstrate to a watching world that you are a son or a daughter of the King
In his commentary on this passage, Hendriksen writes, “It’s a designation of high honor and dignity, showing that by promoting peace, they have entered into the very sphere of the Father’s own activity. They are his co-workers” (“The Gospel of Matthew,” page 279). Friend, when you make peace, you partner with God in spreading peace, and you demonstrate to a watching world that you are a son or a daughter of the King. In addition, you enjoy the full benefits of being in His family. If you want to resemble God, be a peacemaker.
We can talk a lot about the importance of peacemaking, but until we put peace into practice, it’s just words. Let me list 4 action steps.
1. Make sure you’re at peace with God.
If you have not yet put your faith in Christ, the Bible says that you are at war with God (Ephesians 2:3). It’s time to have a peace conference with the Prince of Peace. There is no way to have the peace of God until you know the God of peace.
Years ago, Admiral Nelson won a battle at sea against the French. The French Admiral came before him to surrender. He was dressed in his full regalia, with medals pinned to his shoulder, and his sword hanging by his side. He reached out his hand to Lord Nelson as if they were now friends. Lord Nelson just stepped back and said, “Your sword first.” Friend, you can’t just come up and shake Jesus’ hand without laying down your sword. You must surrender.
I like what Haddon Robinson said, “No peace will exist between nations until peace reigns in each country. And no country will have peace unless peace resides in each community. And no community will have peace unless peace dwells within its people. And no people will have peace unless they surrender to the Prince of Peace.”
2. Lead others to be at peace with God.
Ephesians 6:15 refers to believers having their feet fitted with “the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.” 2 Corinthians 5:18 says that we have been given the ministry of reconciliation as if God were making His appeal through us to others.
3. Be at peace with those around you.
Do you need to make things right with someone today? Anyone you need to forgive? Do you need to ask for forgiveness from someone? Don’t be like Lucy who said to Charlie Brown, “I hate everything and I hate everybody and I hate the whole wide world.” Charlie says, “I thought you had inner peace.” To which Lucy replies, “I do, but I have outer obnoxiousness.”
4. Help others who are in conflict.
How can God use you to build bridges between people who are in conflict? Peace is hard to make and even harder to keep. It’s usually easier to walk away from a problem instead of getting involved in someone else’s difficulty. Be like Francis of Assisi, who prayed, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon.”
Will you say a good word when you hear juicy gossip? Will you work for peace when there is conflict? Will you seek a solution when you come across an argument? Will you calm the waters instead of stirring them up? Chuck Swindoll writes, “Peacemakers release tension, they don’t intensify it…they strive for resolution.”
The Peacemaker’s Pledge
It’s a pretty big order to bring peace to the world, but each of us can make a difference if we will pledge to be peacemakers right where we are. I wonder what would happen if an entire church would make a public commitment to Biblical Conflict Resolution? This pledge is adapted from Ken Sande’s very helpful book entitled, “The Peacemaker”.
As people reconciled to God by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we believe that we are called to respond to conflict in a way that is remarkably different from the way the world deals with conflict (Matthew 5:9; Luke 6:27-36; Galatians 5:19-26). We also believe that conflict provides opportunities to glorify God, serve other people, and grow to be like Christ (Romans 8:28-29; 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1; James 1:2-4). Therefore, in response to God’s love and in reliance on his grace, we commit ourselves to respond to conflict according to the following principles:
Glorify God — Instead of focusing on our own desires or dwelling on what others may do, we will rejoice in the Lord and bring him praise by depending on his forgiveness, wisdom, power, and love, as we seek to faithfully obey his commands and maintain a loving, merciful, and forgiving attitude (Psalm 37:1-6; Mark 11:25; John 14:15; Romans 12:17-21; 1 Corinthians 10:31; Philippians 4:2-9; Colossians 3:1-4; James 3:17-18, 4:1-3; 1 Peter 2:12).
Get the Log out of Your Own Eye — Instead of blaming others for a conflict or resisting correction, we will trust in God’s mercy and take responsibility for our own contribution to conflicts—confessing our sins to those we have wronged, asking God to help us change any attitudes and habits that lead to conflict, and seeking to repair any harm we have caused (Proverbs 28:13; Matthew 7:3-5; Luke 19:8; Colossians 3:5-14; 1 John 1:8-9).
Gently Restore — Instead of pretending that conflict doesn’t exist or talking about others behind their backs, we will overlook minor offenses or we will talk personally and graciously with those whose offenses seem too serious to overlook, seeking to restore them rather than condemn them. When a conflict with a Christian brother or sister cannot be resolved in private, we will ask others in the body of Christ to help us settle the matter in a biblical manner (Proverbs 19:11; Matthew 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 6:1-8; Galatians 6:1-2; Ephesians 4:29; 2 Timothy 2:24-26; James 5:9).
Go and be reconciled — Instead of accepting premature compromise or allowing relationships to wither, we will actively pursue genuine peace and reconciliation—forgiving others as God, for Christ’s sake, has forgiven us, and seeking just and mutually beneficial solutions to our differences (Matthew 5:23-24, 6:12, 7:12; Ephesians 4:1-3, 32; Philippians 2:3-4)
By God’s grace, we will apply these principles as a matter of stewardship, realizing that conflict is an assignment, not an accident. We will remember that success in God’s eyes is not a matter of specific results, but of faithful, dependent obedience. And we will pray that our service as peacemakers will bring praise to our Lord and lead others to know His infinite love (Matthew 25:14-21; John 13:34-35; Romans 12:18; 1 Peter 2:19, 4:19).
Having Faith to Forbear
Telemachus was a monk who lived in the 4th century who sensed that God wanted him to go to Rome. When he arrived in the city, people were thronging in the streets. He asked why everyone was so excited and was told that this was the day that the gladiators would be fighting and killing each other in the coliseum. He thought to himself, “Four centuries after Christ and they are still killing each other, for enjoyment?”
He ran to the coliseum and heard the gladiators shouting, “Hail to Caesar, we die for Caesar” and he thought, “this isn’t right.” He jumped over the railing and went out into the middle of the field, got between two gladiators, held up his hands and said, “In the name of Christ, forbear.” The crowd protested and began to shout, “Run him through. Run him through.”
A gladiator came over and hit him in the stomach with the back of his sword. It sent him sprawling in the sand. He got up and ran back and again said, “In the name of Christ, forbear.” The crowd continued to chant, “Run him through.” One gladiator came over and plunged his sword through the little monk’s stomach and he fell into the sand, which began to turn crimson with his blood. One last time he gasped out, “In the name of Christ forbear.”
A hush came over the 80,000 people in the coliseum. Soon a man stood and left, then another and then more, and within minutes all 80,000 had emptied out of the arena. It was the last known gladiatorial contest in the history of Rome.
Jesus died on a cruel rugged cross to make peace for us. His blood was shed so that we might know the meaning of eternal peace. In order to be identified as a child of God, we should be willing to do no less.
Closing Benediction: 2 Thessalonians 3:16: “Now may the God of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.”