We were made for, and long for, peace
I am praying peace for you and your family these days as we are in the midst of a series on 8 keys to a happier life, a blessed life, each of the eight keys straight from Jesus. The one we come to this week is all about peace.
“Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.”
There has always been a great need for peacemakers, and this era is no exception. When someone is not a peacefaker (one who tries to avoid all conflict) nor a peacebreaker but a peacemaker, they stand out. It brightens the room. It lightens burdens. It smooths out the bumps in marriage and at work. When you commit to being a peacemaker, you show that you really are a child of God. Those who know you see and feel the reality of Jesus in your life. The gospel becomes credible.
Peace in politics
I came across a powerful example of this from the political realm recently. Yes, peacemakers in politics. At the end of a public debate, the Democratic and Republican candidates for a state house seat asked the moderator for a few extra minutes. No one knew why they were asking. Even the moderator had no idea what their request was about.
The competing candidates repositioned themselves, and then Lucy Rogers, the Democrat, pulled out a cello, while Zac Mayo, the Republican, opened a case and picked up his guitar. And together they played a song that challenges our normal ways of treating those we disagree with. It so surprised everyone in attendance that after the debate, throughout their town residents began posting yard signs for both candidates! True story. Blessed are the peacemakers.
Steve Hartman, “Political rivals stun voters with unexpected duet” CBS News: The Uplift (10-19-18)
Peace in your relationships
Let’s talk today about how to become a peacemaker in your home, at your job, and in our church. The apostle Peter was there when Jesus said this, that God blesses those who are peacemakers. Years later, as Peter sat down to write to the early church at a time when they were stressed and were being publicly maligned, here’s what Peter urged. This is how to become a peacemaker:
“Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.”
1 Peter 3:8-9
The blessing that Jesus promised come to those who repay enemy-making words, actions, and attitudes with peacemaking practices. And so in the couple of verses that follow, Peter lays out three peacemaking practices, three ways to position yourself for blessing in an era that is not particularly marked by peace. Here’s what Peter says:
“Whoever would love life
and see good days
must keep their tongue from evil
and their lips from deceitful speech.
They must turn from evil and do good;
they must seek peace and pursue it.
1 Peter 3:10-11
In this brief imperative, Peter tells us three practices that promote peace; three habits that bring happiness.
I want you to benefit from today’s message, so I’m asking you right now to grab a pen and paper and rate yourself on each of these three practices as we go through them.
Ready? Let’s jump in. Three peacemaking practices; three habits that are going to bring greater happiness to you and those you live, work, and play alongside. Here’s the first.
- I think carefully about what I say & post.
We often forget how powerful our words are—whether to build people up or demolish them, wound them. We live in an era like the prophet Isaiah did when 2,700 years ago he confessed, “My mouth speaks sinful words. And I live among people who speak sinful words.” (Isa. 6:5)
We’re quick to speak and react, we’re slow to listen and learn. To become peacemakers means we need to change; we need to be different from the norm. We need to be weird in a good way, weird like Jesus, weird like Peter lays out here: keeping our tongue from evil and our lips from deceitful speech. The echo there—tongues and lips—is Hebrew poetry for emphasis. Our equivalent would be something like, “Watch your mouth! Really watch your mouth!”
These days the greater danger is what we say online. Online, it’s too easy to forget there’s a real person reading what you type, and written communication is impossible to accurately discern intended tone. So to be a peacemaker these days means, hold way back on what you post. Take a hard step back from the knee-jerk-reaction nature of online discourse.
What social media is really good at
One of the most helpful insights I came across recently is the observation that social scientists have finally figured out the one thing social media is really good at. You know what it is? Uniting people…against. Rallying people, but always against. Against sells. Against gets your blood pumping and your mind racing. Against gets you to react. For…just isn’t as titillating. But for…is what we are called to.
When others are amping up, we’re called to bring the peace of Christ into that relationship. For online arguments, peacemaking is best accomplished by taking it offline. Don’t argue online. Just don’t. break the rage cycle. Break the adrenaline cycle. Break the cycle of immediate response.
And in its place, wait for a good time for face to face conversation. Wait till the heat of the moment has cooled off.
My words matter deeply
Steve May points out that we forget how important our words are. On average we speak about twenty-five thousand words every day. That would be about fifty pages in print daily, which in a single week is about the length of a full novel. In a week!
Over the course of a lifetime, our words spoken and written take up about a fifth of your life, two of every ten hours spent saying something. Here’s the challenge: is what I’m saying and posting promoting anger or peace? Faith or fear? Taking what I say and share in a week, a month, a year, am I a peacemaker? Are my words positioning me and those around me for greater blessing and happiness, or just run-of-the-mill division and arguments? “Blessed are the peacemakers,” Jesus says, “for they will be called children of God.” They’ll stand out. They’ll shine like a city on a hill. And others will be drawn to see how awesome Jesus is, that he can give us this level of self-control!
The proverbs say it so starkly:
“Those who guard what they say guard their lives.
But those who speak without thinking will be destroyed.” Prov. 13:3
“The words of the reckless pierce like swords,
but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Prov.12:18
“A person’s wisdom yields patience;
it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.” Proverbs 19:11
“Too much talk leads to sin.
Be sensible and keep your mouth shut.” Prov. 10:19 NLT
Here’s what they’re saying: Peacemakers know when to hold their tongue. Peacemakers choose to forgive and forget, just as God in Christ has chosen to do the same for us. By the power of the Holy Spirit—and only by His power—we can overlook minor offenses. We don’t have to come back at every insult or slight.
Peacemakers drew me to Jesus
This is what drew me to Jesus: a coworker who was an encourager, and an exchange student who used her words to build others up. Metro NY isn’t known as a place marked by peacemaking, and so those two stood out. They were wonderfully different. And that difference…drew me to Christ. God wants to do the same in you, for the sake of those around you: bringing peace to your family, bringing peace to the people where you work, and bringing peace to fellow members of yChurch. Your words matter, both what you say and what you write.
Go ahead and rate yourself on this first peacemaking practice: 1 to 10, I think carefully about what I say & post. One if you don’t give it a thought before you start talking or typing, ten if you deliberately lean on the Lord for self-control in what you say and post. Give yourself a score next to this first practice.
How did you do on the first one? For me, I need to consciously ask the Lord to help me let it go when I hear or read something that provokes. I have definitely regretted reacting. I’ve never regretted waiting. Let’s keep moving. The second peacemaking practice that Peter urges is…
- I act generously toward those who resist Christ.
1 Peter 3:10 says we “must turn from evil and do good.” We’re to turn away from doing evil, but we’re not to turn away from people who are doing evil. That’s the way of Jesus. And that’s what the Pharisees and Sadducees got so wrong. Peacemakers actively do good for those who oppose them or oppose our faith. Here’s how Paul advised the Christians in Rome:
“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone…
‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Romans 12:18, 20-21
Disrupting the argument by practicing peacemaking
Before grad school I participated in a series of peaceful pro-life protests in NY. One summer day in Manhattan, I took a different tack. I filled a cooler with cold drinks and took a subway to where two sides were on opposite sides of the street. Neither side was going to persuade the others, and it was hot. So I walked up to the pro-choice protesters and asked who’d like a cold drink. Got some confused looks, skepticism about which side I was on. I just said, “Look, it’s hot and I’ve got cold drinks. Grab one.”
When they were done, I walked across the street and offered the same thing to the pro-life protestors. Now both sides were confused. But at least they were all hydrated.
Following Jesus is a 3rd way altogether
Jerry Sittser calls this “The Third Way,” that the way of living that Jesus modeled and that the apostles adopted and passed on to the early church is not the typical either/or, enemy-making way of the world. It’s a whole new way. It’s a third way where when everyone else is acting on only two choices, peacemakers make a third choice. You choose to act generously toward those who don’t share our faith, toward those whose views you don’t agree with.
And Peter cites one of the proverbs to explain what can happen when you adopt this peacemaking practice: the whole ‘burning coals on the head’ image is a graphic way of saying when you and someone else are at loggerheads and you choose to act with compassion and generosity toward them, it’s disarming. It opens the door for the other person to see and feel if they’ve been unreasonable or unkind. It’s a picture of personal conviction coming not because you blasted them, but because doing good to them surprises them.
Peacemaking when spat upon
An old friend of mine is Gene Boldman. Gene was an ex-boxer and an alcoholic with a bad temper. Not a combination that makes for peace. Then he got saved. And so knowing his temper, Gene prayed, “Lord, when I’m tempted to use my fists, make my arms like water.” God answered that prayer.
Here’s one of Gene’s stories. He was handing out gospel pamphlets on the streets of Manhattan one day when a guy who looked at his pamphlet got so mad, he got in Gene’s face, shouting at him, and in a final act of provocation, spat directly into Gene’s face.
They were standing so close that the spit ran down Gene’s nose and dripped onto that man’s shoe. Quick as lightning, Gene whipped out a handkerchief and stooped to clean the spit off the other man’s shoe.
It completely disarmed him. Took the rage right out of him. The guy asked, “I spit in your face and you clean if off my shoe? What is this?!” Gene led him to faith in Christ on the spot.
The power of peacemaking practices
Don’t for a second think your kindness in the face of rudeness or opposition isn’t powerful. Jesus’ hospitality broke hearts wide open, such that people who never imagined that religion was for them discovered the love of God breaking through. I firmly believe God wants to do the same through us.
As we see better days ahead coming out of the pandemic, hospitality is going to be a golden opportunity to be a peacemaker among those who know you. And whatever credibility Christians as a named group may suffer from recent years, God has you where you are to bring credibility to the good news of Jesus, by how you reach out hospitably like Jesus to the people he’s placed you among.
How are you doing on this one? Rate yourself. One to ten, I act generously toward those who resist Christ. Maybe you’ve gotten too caught up in politics and have put walls up. It’s time to anticipate welcoming those who think differently to your table. Take a moment to rate yourself.
Okay, one more. The third peacemaking practice Peter urges is…
- I think well of those who think differently than I do.
1 Peter 3:10 concludes with this: we must seek peace and pursue it. We are to be active, not reactive; active, not passive. To be a peacemaker is not to avoid conflict at all costs. It is to seek peace, to pursue the relationship and to pursue the other person’s reconciliation with God. It doesn’t always work. It is always worth it.
This is what it will take for us to fulfill the command to your neighbor as yourself: we must seek peace and pursue it.
Peter doesn’t say it’s easy to live at peace with everyone. He does say it’s necessary. Paul adds in Romans 12 writing, If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Everyone. It’s not always possible, but we’re to try our best. This is one of the things that should set Christians apart—that unlike society at large, we don’t get caught up in enemy-making. We become peacemakers, faithfully representing the Prince of Peace, Jesus.
Peace with others begins with how you think of them
Thinking well of people we don’t agree with calls for emotional maturity. It’s the ability to say, “I know what I believe and why. And so even if this person disagrees with me on any given issue, I’m going to believe the best about them. I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt that their stance comes from their experiences. We don’t have to think alike for me to like them!”
Can you see how this alone can carry us far in friendships? Just thinking well of those who think differently than you on any given issue.
The most challenging example I know of someone who exemplifies this is Tim Keller. Tim lives and works in NYC—again, I love NYC but it’s not a place known for peacemaking. But Tim has set an amazing example. Scott Sauls worked with Tim for five years, and describes what he’s seen and heard, writing, “Tim is the best example I have ever seen of someone who consistently covers with the gospel. Never once did I see Tim tearing another person down to their face, on the Internet, or through gossip. Instead, he seemed to assume the good in people. He talked about how being forgiven and affirmed by Jesus frees us for this—for “catching people doing good” instead of looking for things to criticize or be offended by.
Even when someone had done wrong or been in error, Tim would respond with humble restraint and self-reflection instead of venting negativity and criticism. As the grace of God does, [Tim] covered people’s flaws and sins. Sometimes he covered my flaws and sins. He did this because that’s what grace does; it reminds us that in Jesus we are shielded and protected from the worst things about ourselves. Because Jesus shields us like this, we should of all people be zealous to restore reputations versus destroying reputations, to protect a good name versus calling someone a name, to shut down gossip versus feeding gossip, to restore broken relationships versus begrudging broken people.
Scott Sauls, Befriend (Tyndale, 2016), page 48
There’s someone who think well and speaks well of those who think differently than he does. This is going to be a key part of Tim Keller’s legacy—that he was a peacemaker in an often peace-breaking era.
How are you doing on this one? Do you think well of those whom you disagree with, seeking peace and pursuing it? Rate yourself, one to ten.
Looking back at the scores you gave yourself, let me pray for you. I’ve scored myself, too, and so I’d like to pray for all of us, that by the power of the Holy Spirit, by the same power that raised Jesus from the dead, the Lord will change us and make us his peacemakers; that he will bless us and make us a blessing in this much-needed way. Would you pray with me right now? Let’s pray.
Lord, we pray as David does in Psalm 139, search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.
Empower us, we pray, to think more carefully before we speak or post. Set a guard over our lips. When it is time to speak, we ask, anoint our words with grace and wisdom.
Empower us, we pray, to act generously toward those who resist us or our faith. When we take offense or feel rage boiling up, we ask you to grant us supernatural self-control. Fill us with Christlike love for those who don’t act loving towards us, that we may be children of God.
And empower us, Lord, to think well of those with whom we disagree. Grant us appropriate humility. Grow in us empathy and curiosity and a teachable spirit.
Bottom line, Lord, is we’re asking you to make us peacemakers when it matters, when it’s put to the test. We ask believing that you can do this, and we ask confident that this is your good, pleasing, and perfect will. Hear our prayer, Lord, and be glorified through your people. We ask all this in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen!