It seems that peace in this world today is elusive.
Yet the call to Christians today is the same as it always was. Matthew 5: 9 says we are called to be peacemakers. First Peter 3: 11 tells us to “seek peace and pursue it.”
In Chapter 12 of John Stott’s book The Cross of Christ, his call for peace is preeminent. If we are to live “under the cross” every aspect of our lives is to be shaped by the cross, including our conduct in relation to others and this includes that problematic group of people that we all seem to have: our enemies.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven” [Matthew 5: 43-45].
That seems to be such a high bar, especially in this world today when love and peace do not seem to be uppermost on most people’s minds. It may seem to be hyperbole, but the prevailing response to differing opinions today is often anger resulting in conflict, attack, and disparagement of others with different viewpoints.
Yet Stott says being a “peacemaker” is essential for living a “true” life devoted to “love and justice which characterized the wisdom of God in the cross” . He points to three places where peace should be foremost: the church, the family and the Christian’s life.
Let’s summarize what Stott says about the church because of all places, one would think that love and peace should reign there, but sadly that is not always the case. Detractors of the church can find multiple examples of Christians not exhibiting love and peace with their fellow Christians. When a brother or sister have a sin problem that becomes public, self-righteous gossips appear within the church [quick to judge and spread their opinions]. When a contentious issue outside the church becomes a discussion within the church, people pick sides and go into attack mode against differing opinions. The objective is to demolish differing views. When a pastor makes a mistake and needs grace, support and restoration, the most common response seems to be a quick demand for resignation [no grace, no support and no effort at restoration]. The New Testament is clear about the need for love and peace regarding differences in the church. “Jesus Himself made it abundantly plain that the object of discipline (within the church) was not to humiliate, let alone to alienate, the person concerned, but rather to reclaim him or her” [Stott, 290; see also Matthew 18: 15-17]. In my opinion, when contentious issues arise within a church, intelligent discussion should happen (everyone involved should gather factual information, after careful thought, everyone involved can express their views in a respectful manner, everyone should know that changing other people’s minds is not the goal but understanding other views is the goal even if those views differ from yours [and you don’t intend to alter your personal viewpoint). It may be needless to say but nonbelievers bolster their reasons for nonbelief when they see Christians who are unable to exhibit love and peace in their “own house.” Why would they want to become members of a hypocritical institution called “the church,” people who say one thing and then do another.
An additional area where love and peace should reign is the home. Christian parents should want their attitude toward their children to be marked by the cross. Stott writes “Love is the indispensable atmosphere within which children grow into emotional maturity. Yet this is not the soft, unprincipled love that spoils the children, but the ‘holy love’ that seeks their highest welfare, whatever the cost [Stott, 289]. Christian familial love does not eliminate discipline because the loving parent knows that the goal of parenting should be the highest good in the child. I know this phrase is too simple but Stott writes “Justice without mercy is too strict, and mercy without justice too lenient.” Children know about justice and mercy because they know when they do wrong and they know they deserve punishment. Parents have the job of setting boundaries and children know they need them, we all need them. Again love and justice comes from God and parents should know how to love the family and how to mete out deserved punishment.
Lastly, the Christian’s struggle with love and peace is the bedrock from which the two aforementioned areas are built. What am I to do if it is impossible to live at peace with someone who is unwilling to live at peace with me? What did Christ do when confronted by hostile forces that meant Him harm. Jesus was the “world’s preeminent peacemaker.” Stott writes “when He [God] determined on reconciliation with us, His ‘enemies’ who had rebelled against Him, He ‘made peace’ through the blood of Christ’s cross” .
What must we do? I agree one hundred percent that it begins with listening. Stott calls this listening “sustained, painstaking listening to both sides.” When I used to teach listening skills I often drew a distinction between listening with an open mind and listening with an empty gun chamber. A poor listener is not processing another’s message with the aim of understanding as much as they are preparing to “fire back” a rebuttal in order to win what they see as a debate. It takes effort to sympathize with others, much less empathize with others. It takes effort to understand the language that has led to misunderstanding.
If understanding occurs and responsibility for misunderstanding is accepted, it is hard to apologize to others, for today no one seems to want to accept blame. If others have done wrong, it is equally uncomfortable to have to rebuke another, for that risks destroying relationships, anger and further recrimination. Again we can turn to the Bible for guidance in these matters. Jesus said “If your brother sins, rebuke him and if he repents forgive him.”
Stott comments “The incentive to peace-making is love, but it degenerates into appeasement whenever justice is ignored. To forgive and to ask for forgiveness are both costly exercises.” My belief is that the idea of peace and loving one another is a cornerstone of our faith. Easy to do? No, but essential for our ability to stay true to God . “All authentic Christian peace-making exhibits the love and justice—and so the pain—of the cross” .
Our new pastor at my church inspires us all with the last words he says after he prays his benediction. He raises his arms toward God and the cross that hangs from our ceiling and he utters these words: “Go in peace.”
Easy to do? No, but essential…