I wrote earlier this month about the recent tempest in a Tall cup surrounding Starbucks’ new plain holiday cups. I won’t reproduce it all here. Suffice it to say the reaction was overblown and unproductive. I hope we’ve put a lid on it.
Now I have to make a confession. I know some of you will be disappointed. What can I say? I don’t usually do it. I decided I would stop earlier this year. But on Thursday the lure of good coffee and good friends was too tempting. +++I went to Starbucks.
I won’t be making a habit of it. There are good reasons why one might want to avoid handing over money to the company. It’s no stranger to controversy. Most egregious is its support for Planned Parenthood. Sadly, it will be hard to avoid doing business with someone that doesn’t, but I’m completely in favor of voting with our dollars when we can.
There’s a difference between choosing where to spend our money and engaging in the very kind of bullying we decry when it’s done by the anti-religionists. I’m nearly blind, so maybe I just didn’t’ see them, but I’m pretty sure they didn’t have manger scenes on their cups before, so I think we should cool this off before we burn ourselves.
This little brouhaha just serves as a sign for us that maybe we need to think about how we are conducting ourselves in the face of mounting pressure from our own society and around the world. How should we respond to the persecution Jesus Himself told us we should expect? Is there a time when we should fight? This isn’t’ about Christmas. This is about following Christ. What will we do when they really start coming for us? This is petty stuff. If we can’t handle this is a Christ like manner, we certainly won’t do so under real threat. I think something He said might give us a clue.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. 10 Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:9-12 NASB)
What comes to your mind when you hear the word, peacemaker? Two very different images come to mine. The first is that of a mediator. I imagine someone who steps in and resolves conflicts; someone who knows how to get people to settle their differences; a diplomat. The second and seemingly opposite image is of a revolver. Where I picked up this little tidbit I don’t remember, but I looked it up and sure enough there’s a pistol, the Colt Single Action Army Revolver, that was dubbed the Peacemaker. Sometimes that’s what it takes.
What we want to know is what Jesus meant. The Greek word that we translate as peacemaker only appears twice in the Bible. In the form used here, it was typically applied to the Roman emperors who enforced peace. This led St. Augustine to give us the concept of just war from a Christian point of view. If we are protecting peace or punishing wickedness, we may engage in violence. Paul’s letter to the Romans (Ch. 13) provides further justification for this view, but the verses around Matthew 5:9 suggest that isn’t what Jesus is saying to us here. For more insight, let’s look at the other place where a similar form of our word appears.
and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross… (Col 1:20 NASB)
This is the foremost way in which we are to be peacemakers. We are His representatives, carrying the message of the cross into every situation. Wherever we find ourselves, we should be asking how Jesus can be brought into it. Whatever human problem we face, Jesus provides the answer. Without Him, there is no hope. He made peace between us and the Father by His sacrifice. His is the example we follow.
Within the single verse (Matt. 5:9) is both our mission and our heritage. Our mission is to share His peace wherever we go. His promise to us is that we will be called God’s children. He will always be the firstborn with all of the rights and respect due His position, but we are called heirs with Him. That’s a staggering concept. Even though it’s right there in the scripture and you can read it below, I find myself a little reluctant to say it. It seems presumptuous to even think it. But with this priceless gift there is an expectation.
14 For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. 15 For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. (Romans 8:14-17)
Time and practicality impose limits on how much I choose to quote, but I urge you to read at least the chapter from which this is taken. It will provide greater depth to the point I’m making. The key is in verse 14. We must be led by the Holy Spirit. In the verses prior we learn that it is a choice we make. We choose to deny our lusts. We choose to turn our focus to God. We choose to learn to hear from Him and to walk with Him. The reward is a closeness that allows us to call out like the beloved children we are, “Daddy!” We don’t have to do it alone. In fact, we can’t. But he made us a promise before He left.
26 “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” (John 14:26-27)
The Holy Spirit is the source of our peace. That peace can guide us as we make decisions. When it’s not there, we need to be asking why. As we fulfil our mission, we must have the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Without it, we will be at best inefficient and at worst harmful to His cause.
Now comes the hard part. Our calling involves suffering. We see it in the persecution Jesus speaks of in Matthew 5:10-11 and in the self-denial implied by Romans 8:17. We’re going to be rejected. Jesus was. What will be our response? We might become angry at the injustice of our treatment. We might want to do something about it. Sometimes maybe we should, but we should always be checking our motivations. Pride, revenge, and jealousy have no place. If we are motivated by love, then we are more likely to be doing what He would want us to do.
How do we live this out? What does it mean to be a peacemaker? It means all of the above. We should endeavor to quell conflict. We should defend conditions that promote peace and resist evil. Most of all we should seek to bring His peace to every person in every place in every situation.
We are told to pursue peace. This is active. The implication is that peace can be elusive. We are not peaceful by nature and our world shows it. One doesn’t have to pursue something that is easily found. One doesn’t pursue anything by doing nothing. To pursue peace is to actively participate in bringing it about. It starts with us. Look at how Peter says it as he then moves into a discussion of suffering as believers.
8 To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; 9 not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing. 10 For,
“THE ONE WHO DESIRES LIFE, TO LOVE AND SEE GOOD DAYS,
MUST KEEP HIS TONGUE FROM EVIL AND HIS LIPS FROM SPEAKING DECEIT.
11 “HE MUST TURN AWAY FROM EVIL AND DO GOOD;
HE MUST SEEK PEACE AND PURSUE IT. (1 Peter 3:8-11 NASB)
When we look for the source of conflict, a good place to check is within our own hearts. Why do we say and do the things we do? Why do people offend us? What is the reasoning, or lack thereof, behind our reaction to the people around us?
13 Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. 18 And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:13-18)
We may also be motivated by fear from a threat real or imagined. Natural fear is not a bad thing. God gave it to us to protect us. We get into trouble when we allow it to control us. We become paralyzed into inactivity, or we react to the threat in a way that is disproportionate to its gravity. Neither reaction is likely to produce a peaceful outcome.
When is it appropriate to pursue peace through violence? You might have heard reference to Jesus’ words in the Garden when he was arrested and Peter started slashing, “all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword. (Matt 26:52.) Was He saying that the sword is never appropriate? A little confusion on Peter’s part might be understandable. Just a little while before this Jesus had said, “…whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one.” (Luke 22:36.) If one should never use a sword, or a gun in modern times, why would Jesus say such a thing?
Consider the context of the incident in the garden. Jesus has already told them what is to happen. There is a time for fighting, but this wasn’t it. I may be taking some inappropriate license here, but Jesus might have said, “if you respond to every provocation with violence, you will die a violent death. Besides I don’t need you to defend me. If I want out of this, all I have to do is ask and my Father will show them some real shock and awe! But that would make a lie of everything He has said up to now.”
There is a lesson here about fighting by God’s rules. When we go outside of His will, we invite catastrophe. Sometimes the right move is to endure the wrong for the greater good. But piece at any price is no peace at all. There is a time to fight. The challenge, for which we need the Holy Spirit’s guidance, is to know when and how.
As it relates to taking up arms, God has provided the authority and the commission to do just that in pursuit of justice. That is what government is for. If only it would stick to that. Paul writes, “… it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.” (Romans 13:4) Evil must be resisted. If peaceful means are available they are clearly preferable, but we only compound the evil when we allow it to go unchecked.
Peace is always the goal, but it is not always reachable. A few verses back in Romans we read, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” (Romans 12:18) There are times when it will not be possible. We ought always to seek it, but we also need to be prepared when we can’t find it. Start back at the beginning of chapter 12 for some good advice on how to maintain it, especially in personal relationships.
We are most effective peacemakers when we carry the peace of Jesus to those who do not yet have it. There is no other path to true peace. Without the change that He brings to our lives, our efforts will always fail. They fail because we are selfish. We end up pursuing our own interests at the expense of others. We can even do this in the name of peace. It makes us feel good when we think we’re doing good, so the good becomes corrupted. Our pursuit of peace must always be rooted in the One who gives it. The pursuit of holiness is part of the pursuit of peace.
Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. (Hebrews 12:14)
In 2 Corinthians 5:20, Paul writes of himself and the other apostles as ambassadors. This is a roll we all have when we commit ourselves to Him. Just as ambassadors of nations seek to maintain peaceful relationships between those nations, we seek to establish peace on behalf of our king, Jesus. The world has been at war with its Creator from the time of Adam until now. He could decide the issue at any time. He created us with a word. It would take no more than that for us to cease existence. It is His right to do so and it would be just, but He desired peace. So He sent Jesus to do what only He could do. He paid the reparations for our rebellion. He cleared the war debt with one selfless act. Our job is to make the offer of piece that He already sealed. There’s no negotiation. There are no secret deals. The transaction is simple: His life in exchange for ours. We can either accept His offer or remain in exile for eternity.
When we understand our mission, “What would Jesus do?” becomes more than a faddish slogan. It becomes the question we should be asking ourselves all the time. Jesus always called sin what it is, but He reserved his harshest words for the religious leaders who knew better. I think we would find Him the same today. I think He would tell us to put our own house in order and get about the business He put us here to do.
Because whatever the question, Jesus is the answer. As we draw toward the end, we’re told things are going to get worse. We can expect persecution. We can expect rejection. We can expect the state of the world to continue declining. But we cannot cease doing what we have been ordered to do. I wonder. Would Moslem terrorists be shooting us in our own country if we had been more diligently sharing Jesus in theirs? Maybe, but we’ll never know. Would atheists in our schools, courts, military and government be systematically erasing the slightest hint of Christianity if our country had remained faithful to the principles that brought it into existence? Would we be in fear of our own government if we had not believed the lie that God has no place there? Would our jails be full and our streets unsafe if we had not abandoned the family that God ordained? There are practical things that must be done to meet the challenges we face, but they will all fail unless hearts are changed. Hearts are only changed by Jesus.
So as you go about your life this season and beyond, remember why you’re here. Be a peacemaker. Defend it when necessary. Spread it everywhere you go. You represent Jesus. He was rejected. We will be too, but never lose sight of the goal. He’s not just the reason for the season. He’s the reason for everything!