Called to Be Peacemakers
Contrary to the popular conception of the Messiah among Jews in the 1st century, Jesus did not come to take up his sword in order to defeat his enemies. He came in order to serve and ultimately die for his enemies. “Unlike the other kingdom-announcers of his time . . . Jesus declared that the way to the kingdom was the way of peace, the way of love, the way of the cross. Fighting the battle of the kingdom with the enemy’s weapons meant that one had already lost it in principle, and would soon lose it, and lose it terribly, in practice.”1
Peacemaking was central to Jesus’ ministry. He was often crossing boundaries and barriers in order to bring reconciliation and peace to those others thought should be left on the outside. In John 4 Jesus crossed boundaries of race, sex, and “morality” in order to bring reconciliation to an immoral woman and her village.
Jews and Samaritans did not having dealings with each other (John 4:9) and holy men did not engage strange women in conversation, especially if it was known that the woman had had five husbands and was currently with another man. But none of that stopped Jesus. He overcame all these barriers in order to show her who the Messiah was, in order to show her who he was. His simple act of ignoring the man-made barriers brought salvation to this immoral Samaritan woman as well as to many in her village. He reached out in love to those others considered an enemy.
“Blessed are the peacemakers” (Matt 5:9). Having seen God’s work to bring peace in Jesus Christ to his people it is no surprise that he would call us to be like him in working to make peace with others. The peacemakers are blessed because “they shall be called sons of God (Matt 5:9). They will be called sons of God because they will be seen to be children who bear his likeness.
One of the most difficult commands of he Sermon on the Mount is the call to love our enemies.
43 You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matt 5:43-48).
Just as peacemakers are called sons of God, so also those who love their enemies are “sons of your Father who is in heaven” (v. 45). This helps us better understand what it means to be a peacemaker. We do not just seek peace with those we are close to (family and friends); we must also seek peace with those who hate us and do evil to us. Ultimately this command is rooted in the nature of God. We must love our enemies and be perfect just as God loves his enemies (us!) and is perfect.
We are called to seek the peace of our enemies just as God seeks the peace of his enemies. We value all life just as God values all life. In his sermon to the Athenians Paul reminds us that in a sense we are all children of God. He emphasized the commonality between all people, which is rooted in creation, when he said, “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place… he is actually not far from each one of us… we are indeed his offspring” (Acts 17:26, 27, 28).
God shows he values all life by sending Jesus to be “the propitiation for our sins and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 4:4). To be a peacemaker as God is we too must value all life. “All life is valued, even the lives of our enemies, because God has valued them. The risk of so valuing life can only be taken on the basis of the resurrection of Jesus as God’s decisive eschatological act. For through Jesus’ resurrection we see God’s peace as a present reality. . . Through this crucified but resurrected savior we see that God offers to all the possibility of living in peace by the power of forgiveness.”2 We are able to seek peace, even with enemies, because we have peace.
God is a peacemaker and he calls us to be peacemakers as well. Our theology of God as peacemaker carries with it the explicit ethical call to be peacemakers. As Stanley Hauerwas argues, ethics is not just something we do after we have figured out theology, but it is part of theology. “I think in many ways the separation of ethics from theology has had unfortunate consequences. Ethics is but one aspect of the theological task… If theological convictions are meant to construe the world – that is, if they have the character of practical discourse – then ethics is involved at the beginning, not the end, of theology.”3 Our theologizing about peacemaking should always be connected with actually making peace. And of course, our actual peacemaking must always be connected with our theology of God as peacemaker.
The New Testament is full of commands to be at peace with others. “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Rom 12:18). “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (Rom 14:19). “Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you” (2 Cor 13:11). It is one of the clearest commands of the New Testament and yet one of the most avoided. How often do Christians have conflict in the church and then rather than make peace they just find a new church? How often does someone offend another and rather than make peace he ignores the offense only for it to resurface later in the forms of anger and bitterness? Or to put the question another way, how many times have we seen someone walk out of a worship service in order to be reconciled to his brother before he offers his gifts to God (Matt 5:23-24)?
Jesus prayed that his disciples would live in unity so that the world would know that he was sent from God (John 17:21). Yet we often fail to live out this unity because we are unwilling to humble ourselves in order to seek peace with each other. Lack of humility is our greatest problem. We do not like to confront our own hearts to see the sin that remains. We are much more fixated on the sins of others. But Jesus made clear that until we have dealt with our sins (the log in our eye) we are unable to deal with the sins of another (the speck in his eye) (Matt 7:1-5).
Peacemaking requires humility and it must be rooted in the gospel. We can only be peacemakers when we live in the freedom given by God when we are ourselves at peace. We are able to love our enemies because God first loved us. “Love of our enemies is not recompensing love, that returns what it has received. It is creative love. Anyone who repays evil with good has stopped just reacting. He is creating something new. Love of an enemy presupposes the sovereignty which springs from one’s own liberation from enmity.”4
When speaking of our spiritual armor Paul says, “as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace . . .” (Eph 6:15). It is the gospel of peace that enables us to run. We must be experiencing ourselves the peace of the gospel if we want to be effective in proclaiming the kingdom of God through the gospel of peace to others.
Because we have experienced the gospel of peace in our own lives we are able to reach out to others, even those different than us, in order to preach peace to them. We are able to follow Christ in making peace with those of other communities (i.e. the Samaritan woman in John 4). Jesus said to his disciples, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21). Jesus was sent as a peacemaker. So are we.
1. N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996), 595.
2. Stanley Hauerwas, The Peaceable Kingdom: A Primer in Christian Ethics (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1983), 88-89.
3. Hauerwas, The Peaceable Kingdom, 54.
4. Jürgen Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ: Christology in Messianic Dimensions. (trans. Margaret Kohl; San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1990), 132, emphasis his.
Posts in this Series:
Peace (shalom) in the Old Testament
Created in Peace and the Consequence of Sin
The Gospel of Peace and the Death of Jesus Christ
Peace with God
Peace with Others
Peace in Creation and the Cosmos
Excursus – Is Peace an Attribute of God?
Called to Be Peacemakers
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