If you have worked with children in any capacity, perhaps you can picture this scene: Two children come screaming to you, fighting over a particular toy. Each insists that he had it first and that the other took it from him. The solution appears simple: Remove the toy so that neither child has it. Perhaps even separate the children and congratulate yourself on restoring peace.
But have you? Or have you just sent two children off, each to his own corner, like the deceitful allies of Edom, plotting revenge while pretending peace (see Obadiah 7)? Have you actually created peace or simply postponed conflict?
Peace, biblically speaking, is far more than the absence of conflict. Most of us naturally want to avoid conflict and can find ways to do so. But true peace goes much deeper. As Doug Hershey observes, true peace “speaks of completeness, fullness, or a type of wholeness that encourages you to give back.” It is because we have peace with God that we are driven to make peace with others—to give back what we have received.
As I was recently digging into Judges 12:8–15, which details the judgeships of three minor Israelite judges, it stood out to me that Ibzan of Bethlehem was an intentional peacemaker. He assumed his position of authority following the death of Jephthah, whose last recorded act was one of division. Jephthah turned Israelites against Israelites, with 42,000 Ephraimites falling to the sword of their own countrymen. With the nation on the brink of civil war, Ibzan stepped in with strategic marriage alliances to restore peace to a divided people. If the author’s arrangement of material is intentional—and we must assume that it is—it seems that his efforts truly brought peace to Israel, for the record of Abdon’s judgeship, just three verses later, brims with peace and prosperity.
Jesus pronounced a particular blessing on peacemakers but being a peacemaker does come naturally. Peace is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22–23) and requires Spirit-given power. We are instructed to cultivate peace in the church (Romans 12:18), but how? What is required to be a peacemaker? Let me suggest a few things.
First, peacemakers pray perseveringly. If peace is a fruit of the Spirit, we cannot manufacture it in our own strength. We need divine strength in order to make peace. Given that we have received peace from God, we must prayerfully persevere in our quest to become peacemakers. God’s strength is available through prayer. Christians are called to be ministers of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:16–21) but this requires divine grace.
Second, peacemakers honour humbly That is, they strive to outdo one another in showing honour (Romans 5:10). They do not presume on others’ viewpoints or motives. They don’t judge with growing bitterness, while refusing to have difficult conversations to resolve the issue. They know how to treat others—older men as fathers; younger men as brothers; older women and mothers; younger women as sisters (1 Timothy 5:1–2)—and treat accordingly.
Third, peacemakers confront confidently—that is, confident of God’s ability to produce humility and repentance in the lives of sinning Christians. Confronting sin is not always easy and does not always produce immediate results. Jesus indicated that he had not come to bring peace but a sword (Matthew 10:34–36). Sometimes, commitment to Christ means that peace is not possible—at least until there is a shared commitment to the truth. Sin creates disharmony and sometimes the only way to restore peace is to confront sin and call for repentance.
We must aim for restoration of relationships (2 Corinthians 13:11), but this requires us to correct each other. Knowing our own propensity to deception, we will do so humbly and respectfully, but boldly, realising that we cannot always avoid difficult confrontations if we will pursue peace in the church.
A few cautions are necessary at this point.
When we engage in humble rebuke, we must do so having checked our motivation. Does our rebuke have restoration as its aim or do we just want to unload on the person we are rebuking? Do we just want to prove that we are right and they are wrong? Do we merely want to show them how badly they have messed up? If there is no genuine desire to see sin corrected and relationship restored, rebuke is a futile task.
When we engage in humble rebuke, we must be careful of making unwarranted assumptions. We can easily craft all sorts of explanations as to why the person has acted as they have, but we must recognise that we are notoriously ill motive readers. If we assume the worst about the person we are confronting, our rebuke is not humble and will likely prove ineffective.
When we engage in humble rebuke, we must go directly to the person we intend to humbly rebuke. We may not engage in gossip. We may not slander the person to others or hide backbiting beneath the veneer of a prayer request. Such actions do not further peace but create conflict.
Jesus invites us into peacemaking. It is not an easy task (which is why so many seem to avoid it!) but we cannot neglect the calling if we will be obedient to Christ. Happily, as we seek to make peace with others, we can do so knowing that we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1) and that the God of peace is with us as we seek to walk in obedience to him (Romans 15:33).