"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. " - Matthew 5:9 ESV
"The mere absence of war is not peace." - John F. Kennedy
When asked to define peace, most people will give an answer that equates more or less to something like, "a world without conflict, suffering or violence". Yet, in a reading at the close of the beatitudes in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:9-12), we are forced (once again--as we have been throughout our study of the beatitudes) to take a deeper look at what it truly means to be a peacemaker as a follower of Christ. In light of the verses that follow verse 9, it can appear at first glance to be an outright contradiction. How can he possibly expect us to make when we are being attacked and slandered? Intuition tells us to fight; in some cases, run. This sounds more like surrender--like giving up. But as we shall see, it is all about priority; how true peace is accomplished, how it transforms us, and how we are to strive or contend for it in this world.
Peace with God
If a person truly wishes to have any sort of real peace in the world, he must first be able to answer this question:
"What must I do to escape the wrath of a holy and righteous God?"
As it says in Scripture,
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. - Romans 5:1-11 ESV
Martin Luther comments on these verses:
“With ‘peace’ the Apostle here means that peace of which all prophets speak, namely, spiritual peace, as he indicates this by the phrase ‘peace with God’. This peace consists properly in an appeased conscience and in confidence in God, just as conversely the lack of peace means spiritual anxiety, a disturbed conscience and a mistrust over against God.”
As we can see from the text, peace has a much deeper connotation than just the absence of violence. It is the relenting of an angry God against worthy sinners. Through the person and redeeming work of Jesus Christ, God no longer seeks to destroy us and clears our conscience and hearts of sin. It is only through the repentance of sin and faith in Christ that we are saved from the wrath, as God himself initiates reconciliation with sinful man by offering up his own son as a propitiation (turning away) of his anger against us (1 John 4: 9-10). Without this perfect peace, we should seek peace no further, for it would be utterly meaningless and vain in its end. It will serve only as an act of futility, due to the interference of self-interest, greed, and evil (James 4: 1-3).
Like Father, Like Sons
We read from our key text that we find peace with God by becoming "sons of God". As we are made sons through Christ, we must then begin to take on the attribute of peace that has been granted to us. God himself is a God of peace (Romans 15:33; 1 Corinthians 14:33) and we are to become like him, seeking to reconcile ourselves, by his grace, to the rest of the world:
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. - Romans 12:14-21 ESV
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. - Philippians 4:4-7 ESV
Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. – Colossians 4:5-6 ESV
It should be noted that the outpouring of our peace with God is an active one. We should strive for peace with the rest of the world, first and foremost, through sharing the Gospel. This will definitely be a difficult task. We will have to fight for this peace; at times, the price will be costly.
“Nothing can give perfect peace of conscience with God but what can make atonement for sin. And whoever attempts it in any other way but by virtue of that atonement will never attain it, in this world or hereafter.” - John Owen
Soli Deo Gloria,