Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
(Matthew 5:8, NASB)
I hate to say that there are parts of Scripture that I like more than others. I suppose it might be more accurate to say that there are parts of Scripture that I favor more than others. The stories and ideas that speak to me most draw me in, while other parts do not receive the same focus. For years I was fascinated by Genesis. I still consider it the Bible's soap opera, filled with enough betrayal, love affairs, and scandal to give Days of our Lives a run for its money. For a while I couldn't get out of Hebrews. The way the author tied together the Old Testament and New Testament kept me turning back to its thirteen chapters. Most recently I have been captivated (no pun intended) by the Israelite's escape to freedom, what we call the Exodus. However, the Beatitudes do not get this same attention from me. I have often turned to Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, but those first few verses in Matthew 5 get moved past quickly.
Yesterday was the first Sunday we met on our church campus for three months. Everything about it was different - the format, the expectations, and thanks to a flood in our sanctuary even the location. Yes, for the first time that I can ever recall, we held our Sunday morning service al fresco. When I was a teenager we held our Easter sunrise service outside, but the main service was always held in the sanctuary. Even in the late 1980s, when our sanctuary received a significant remodel, services were held inside - sometimes with blankets because it was cold and there were no windows, but always in the sanctuary.
To grossly oversimplify what my pastor taught: We are not called to be peace-experiencers, we are called to be peace-makers. There are four common expressions of peace making:
- We make peace with God.
- We make peace with others.
- We help others make peace with others.
- We help others make peace with God.
I won't reiterate the details of his sermon, but if it becomes available on our church's YouTube page, I will link it here.
As I thought about what I heard, I wondered what practical actions make peace? In other words, how do I actually make peace in all or some of the above capacities?
Walk in Peace
I cannot overlook the fact that peace is an attribute of God; Scripture makes that clear when it says, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit" (Galatians 5:22-25). I was recently reminded that fruit does not exist for the the tree that produces it, but it does exist to grow new plants and to nourish the animals that eat from it. Similarly, I do not experience the fruit of the Spirit for my own benefit. It is for those around me. If we are believers, people of the Spirit, we should walk in the Spirit, and that includes walking in peace. Another passage that has often drawn me in is the book of Malachi. How can you not be intrigued by a prophet whose message from God was that He'd rather we shut the doors of the temple than perform useless rituals. I believe that before the quarantine, but after three months of doing "church at home" I understand it a little more. For three months I have had few, if any, questions about why the cups at the church coffee bar are a certain size, why the bulletin does or does not have particular information, or why we don't host a certain event. I still believe that corporate church body has a special place in ministry, but I'm learning so many things were useless fires.
Later in Malachi we read about the job of the priests. We read "true instruction was in his mouth and unrighteousness was not found on his lips; he walked with Me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many back from iniquity" (2:6). As a priesthood of believers, I believe we are also called to speak truth and not wickedness. When we walk in peace with God, many will follow.
Have you ever noticed that words have meaning in Scripture? There may no better example than Genesis 25 when Jacob tricks his father into giving him the blessing that was intended for his brother. When Esau learns that he has been tricked (again!) by his brother, he asks his father if there is a way to make things right. I feel bad for Esau. Sure, he hadn't made the best decisions, but he was duped by Jacob. We might have found ourselves advocating for Esaus. Isn't there any way for Isaac to take back the words he spoke over Jacob? We understand the circumstances and the deceit (this is some of that classic Genesis scandal I mentioned earlier), but there would be no blessing for Esau. What had been spoken would stand. I too need to remember that my words aren't "just words" as if they have lesser meaning than other action.
In Malachi we see also the power of words, and the prophet goes so far as to say that the priests "have wearied the Lord with [their] words" (2:17). They preached a wrong gospel, saying that God was happy with evildoers. This is a just one point in a long list of grievances against the priests, but again it shows that our words matter because the represent our hearts. As Jesus would say it, "his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart" (Luke 6:45). So when mouth speaks defensively it reveals the state of my heart. When my tongue is patient, it reveals something too. It is equally important to remember that silence can be the loudest message we speak.
Make Peace an Offering
We sometimes get tripped up in the word offering. Among believers today, the word is mostly used for the money we give to our local house of worship. In the Old Testament, there were offerings given for many reasons. When I think of offerings, I think of the sin offering because that tends to get talked about more, but the peace offering was distinctly different (you can read about all the offerings in Leviticus 1-7). The peace offering was voluntary and was given when someone fulfilled a vow, when they wanted to give thanks to God for a special blessing, or just because. It could be given by an individual or collectively. The peace offering is unique in that it is the only offering in which the giver, and his friends or family, ate the offering.
There is no one application of a peace offering that would fit everyone's life. We all live in different communities and are presented with unique opportunities. I do not know what your day will look like tomorrow. I don't even know what my day will look like tomorrow. However, I know I will be presented with opportunities to make peace, perhaps even situations when I don't want to make peace. I pray that God will give me the wisdom to see these moments and that He will give me the strength to make peace when I don't want to. Not for me. Not for the other person. May the peace I make be an offering back to the God of peace.