peacemaking


I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom; preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.

2 Timothy 4: 1, 2

This is Paul’s direction for Timothy as a pastor and a teacher of God’s Word. It is also a set of directions that anyone who serves the church in a similar capacity today should take to heart. Yet, those are not the only people who Paul is speaking to across all of this time. The Apostle’s words ring out clearly and with great authority to all of us who know Christ and for all of the Lord’s church today. We may not stand before a large audience in a formal setting and speak words of truth and life that come directly out of God’s Word, but we will have many opportunities to share that holy word’s love, grace, and truth with others. The life that we live may be oriented around earning a living by doing work that seems far afield from that of the church; however, the Lord is certainly present in the places where we do go. This day of the week, part of the calendar, or season of life could be one wherein spiritual things seem remote and secondary to the rest of life; yet, today might just be the one wherein a soul in need of a Savior is standing before us awaiting those life-saving words and the touch of Christ’s love.

None of us are Timothy, and no one that we will meet is Paul. They were great men that lived long ago and who gave us a model and a pattern to follow as we walk through life with Christ. Paul, under the guidance and the direction of the Holy Spirit, also wrote out explanations and instructions that are useful to us in understanding our relationship with God and the way that this relationship is lived out in the world. Paul was faced daily with a world that was more hostile to the gospel of Christ than it was open and receptive. He knew that his life on this earth was nearing its end. He was also aware of the glory that was to be his in the presence of Christ when those last few days here were completed. Still, Paul remained focused upon the task at hand. Hostility did not stop him. Human failures and frailty were troubling but even the abandonment of friends could not cause him to experience defeat. Paul’s example is one for us to follow. In fact, we should be prepared for the eventuality of a loss of friends and associates as we stand for the truth of God’s Word in the face of a world that discounts its validity.

That does not mean that we should be angry or harsh in the way that we engage with others. Even in his very trying circumstances, Paul was more inclined to pour out grace, forgiveness, and encouragement than he was to cast blame and reproach. We too can be voices of reconciliation and restoration in our corner of the universe. As we recognize the fact that Christ is the only true and authorized judge of the human soul, we can extend the hand of friendship to people who have been hostile toward us and about Christ. Reaching out in friendship can be done as we also share the truth of the gospel that is the source of the grace, love, and confidence that we require in order to enter into such counter-intuitive acts as these. A life that is lived as a follower of Christ is one that is carried out as a preacher of God’s Word. This is done through the way that we conduct ourselves in private and in public, and the word is demonstrated by the attitudes that we hold toward others and about the issues of life. Christ is with us in all places, over the entire course of life, in all situations and circumstances, and He is Lord of each and every season that we experience in our journey.   

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Jesus therefore said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent me, I also send you.”

John 20: 21

The presence of the living Christ in our world can be highly disturbing. He asks for a lot, and He isn’t really willing to compromise on the things that He wants from people, ether. So, it almost seems like a paradox that these were the first words He said to His disciples after He left the tomb and appeared among them. Now Christ was certainly wishing for them to be at ease and to realize and understand that the person who stood among them was the same Jesus that they had known and loved and who had loved them over the last few years, but I think that Christ had much more in mind than just that reassurance. He wanted them to embrace the fact that they were called to continue His work of bringing the reconciling love and grace of God to and into the world. So, the disciples were to go out and to bring the essential message of peace between people and God and, thus, that of peace among people in our world.

Jesus knew that bringing peace was never going to be an easy task, for it requires hard work and dedication to the purpose at hand. It is a relentless process, for there is an enormous amount of energy in our world that is dedicated to creating turmoil, separation, and animosity. People tend toward self-protection and fear of others, and these are emotions that run so deep within us as to be almost fundamental to who and to what we are. Our own natures tend toward the troubled, self-protective, and fearful sides of behavior. Still, Christ wants His deep-seated peace to rule our hearts and minds so that we will interact with others with the clear headed inner calm of Christ. When we do this, we can make a difference in our homes, neighborhoods, and communities, and that difference will be a tangible expression of Christ’s love.

With this eternal peace well settled on us, we can speak the hard truths of God’s Word and still be heard as compassionate. When we interact with others, the peace in our hearts will help to filter out our human defenses and it will allow a true dialogue to begin. The peace of Christ is something to accept and it is something to diligently seek after, for as humans, we just don’t naturally settle in peaceful places. Yet, in response to our tendency Jesus says, “Peace be with you.” True peace is not something that is created by treaties, by force, or by governments. True peace is the result of individual people who choose to believe Christ and who are willing to set aside their worldly human responses and thinking in order to allow the Holy Spirit the opportunityto transform our hearts and minds into ones that more accurately reflect God’s intent in creation; thus, Christ sends us into our world as committed peace makers. 

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

2 Timothy 3: 14, 15

Paul begins this section of his letter with this statement, “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.” (3:1)  The author is making it quite clear to Timothy and to anyone else who would read this letter that the various struggles that they would encounter both in the community at large and especially in and around that of faith were the result of the tension that exists between a dying worldly set of values and its way of living life and the redeemed order that comes as a result of Christ’s sacrifice upon the cross and His work in setting right all that has been corrupted by sin. The reality of this conflict is a primary reason for followers of Christ to be well grounded in the truths of Scripture and to hold onto them with a tenacity that comes from the deepest parts of our beings.

We can speculate regarding who it is that Paul is referencing when he talks about the teacher that has so well equipped Timothy for living out his faith in Christ, but the real and the best answer to that query is to say that God, through the work of the Spirit, is that teacher. This is true for each of us who know Christ, too. The Spirit instructs and empowers people to grasp and to communicate the gospel, and He also illuminates the deeper meanings and the living application found within God’s Word. Timothy’s mother was a person whose faith was well known; so, he was raised in a home where Christ was taught and was also lived out by way of example. His childhood was the literal beginning of his relationship with God, but even if that is not the situation in my life or in yours, the same raising up from childhood can occur for us. As we come to know Christ, we are new born into life from death, and so, we are launched forth into living as newly birthed infants in the sense of our spiritual lives and in all of living that is connected to this redeemed reality.

Yet, we cannot and should not remain in this infant state for long. Life is complex and there will be many challenges to our faith that will come along during the journey that we are on. These are times that demand maturity in thinking and soundness in judgement. These times of difficulty will place many situations before Christ’s followers wherein we will be called upon to weigh in on what is right, just, and loving. There will be people watching us to see what we say and how we act when we are confronted by the current issues that are being hotly contested in our world. These are times when the positions that we hold may often be unpopular; so, they need to be ones that are founded in the eternal truths of God’s Word. Still, of even greater importance than the truth that we cling to will be the manner in which we hold our beliefs and express them to those who do not agree with us. Jesus loves people, and He especially loves those who disagree with the reality of His gospel of grace. As His people, we too are called upon by Christ to love the people that we encounter, and so, the Spirit will guide us into encountering them with the love of Christ and the truth of His redeeming word as our calling card and the seal of our relationship with God.  

Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them.

Hebrews 13: 9

For people in the early days of the church, the topic of food, the way that it was handled and prepared, and even the manner in which it was eaten was important. If they came from a Jewish background, as many in the church did, then they had always lived under the guidance and the compulsion of the Law of Moses. If they came to Christ after living as a part of the gentile world, they had not been handling foods and selecting them based upon those standards and principles, and this was a mark of differentiation and thus one of division between the Jews and the gentiles. Yet, at the center of following Christ is unity in the Spirit, and thus, unity in the way that life is lived and the conduct of our days. Things that divide or that separate Christ’s people from each other are to be considered carefully and with great suspicion.

The use of foods as an example of this sort of thing was truly pertinent to the days at hand when Hebrews was written. Today there might be other issues and concerns that strike more closely to the heart of unity or rather that enter into heart of the division or separation of people who follow Christ. I am not speaking about core and foundational teachings such as the deity of Christ, the virgin birth, the existence of heaven and hell, or Jesus’ death and resurrection. Still, there are many issues that we can and do allow to disrupt the fellowship of people of faith in Christ. These teachings or ways of thinking are diverse in that they can force people to seek out divergent paths in our journeys as Christians, and they are strange in that when they are made important or even central to a specific group of people they divide us in ways that are unnatural to God and that are outside of God’s desire and intent to bring all of His people together in the unity of the Spirit and in the expression and proclamation of Christ in our world.

In all of life, we need grace. This is the Godly quality that is poured over each of us as we seek to enter into a relationship with God through Christ. We are granted a form of grace that brings about acceptance when we deserve rejection, that embraces us in love as we have earned animosity and separation, that proclaims us righteous despite the sinful nature of much that we think, say, and do. This is the grace that was made perfect and complete by Jesus on His cross of torture and pain and that was given full birth with Christ’s resurrection and victorious rule over all of creation. Now, it is this same grace that provides us with the wisdom, understanding, and love that is required for us to enter into relationships with other followers of Christ without regard for the issues and the concerns that might otherwise keep us distant and separated from each other. Christ’s grace gives His people the strength that we need in order to live outside of the worldly constraints that build barriers between people as grace becomes a gift that we can grant to one another in the name of the one who gave it to us, Jesus Christ.  

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.

Galatians 6: 1

The thoughts contained here are very broad on the one hand, and they are rather exclusive or limited on the other. When he says, “If anyone” and “any transgression,” Paul is aiming at a wide spread and highly diverse target. Within the family of faith, many people will get caught up in transgressions at some time or other. We all sin and do truly fall short of the glory of our calling in Christ. Much of the time we catch ourselves, or perhaps stated more accurately, the Holy Spirit within prompts us to recognize the wrong that we are perpetrating against Christ and His holy church through our thoughts, words, and actions. Then repentance, often self-confession, and working on restoration of relationships that have been harmed or damaged is the course of action that we follow. Some of the time, this is a big process, but most of the time, it is something that just happens in the general living out of our days.

However, there are other times when the sin in our lives can be either too great or too subtle to be handled on our own. These situations can be very challenging for others in the body of Christ as we are left with a difficult task that involves discernment and that can lead to confrontation, which is almost never something that we enjoy doing. Yet, God does call upon us to be honest and direct with each other, and we are to engage with people in the area of the sin that we observe in their lives. Any and all of this sort of action requires that we be prayerful in discerning the truth of the situation and also in our approach to a brother or a sister who we believe to be engaging in such sinful living. This is all to be done in a spirit of restoration and with Christ’s grace setting the tone and the nature of our approach to the person with whom we are engaging. The message that we deliver should be one of love, care, and concern for the person and for their relationship with Christ and with His body.

All of this is to be done with a spirit of gentleness. This means that we are careful to remain non-judgmental in the process of calling out that which the Spirit has revealed and that God’s Word has described as sin in the person’s conduct of life. We need to be careful in all of this to keep our own egos under control and to eliminate the contemplation of owning the outcome of these conversations. Christ is the one who is acting in these situations, and we are doing what we are called to do by Him as brought forth by the Spirit and in His Word. This is where Paul warns us to be careful, for it is easy to become angry, frustrated, or judgmental during the process of engaging with someone regarding sin in their life. Thus, there is the restrictive concept expressed in the text whereby Paul instructs us to do any of this sort of thing with the guidance of the Spirit. So, when we are told that “those who are spiritual” should be the ones who confront sin in the body, I think that Paul is saying that any of us in Christ can do this, but that each and every instance of such engagement needs to be done with prayer and with the guidance of the Spirit of Christ. 

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

Matthew 5: 23, 24

The various forms of offerings that we give to God are a sign of our trust of Him and of our love for Him. They are an important part of the way that followers of Christ live in that we are surrendering the sure thing of wealth or assets that we have in hand today for the prospect that God will grant to us all that we will need to sustain us tomorrow. Yet, Jesus is saying that there are things that come along in the course of living out our days that are more significant than the way that we express our love, trust, and honor to God through our acts of sacrificial giving. Jesus tells us that the relationships that we have with people are of even greater significance to Him than is the way that we engage in acts of trust through giving in our worship of the Lord.

In fact, I believe that God would see the act of working toward peace and understanding with other people as being one of the most important forms of worship in which we can engage. Christ should make a difference in the way that we deal with other people, and His presence in us should grant to each of His people the grace, mercy, and confidence to engage in acts of reconciliation with diminished regard for the relational or emotional risk that might seem to be connected to those acts of sacrificial engagement with a person with whom we are in a state of disagreement or dispute. I understand that there is risk involved in stepping across the barriers that we construct to keep ourselves separated and insulated from people when we are at odds with them; yet, Christ stepped over the divide between God and humanity to live among and to dwell with us in order to do the greatest of all acts of reconciliation.

Therefore, as we follow Christ, we too should step over the walls of animosity that are put up in our relationships in order to engage in doing the great work of bringing people back into relationship with ourselves and into fellowship with the Lord. This directive to be reconciled sounds simple on the surface, but we all know that it is anything but easy to do. Life is challenging and issues between people are frequently complex; still, in Christ, we have the Spirit to guide our steps and to provide the words of healing to our speech. We also have time to give to the endeavor, for according to Jesus, this sort of effort is of greater significance and has a higher priority than any other thing that we might feel the need to accomplish. Christ desires for us to get our human relationships in order as an act of deep worship to God, and He is with us for every step of whatever process is required for the completion of these acts of holy reconciliation.  

Behold, his soul is puffed up, it is not upright within him,

   but the righteous shall live by faith.

Habakkuk 2: 4

The prophet was looking ahead into a future that would hold many challenges for people who follow God. There were powers in the world that were to be feared, and these nations had rulers that were greedy, prone to the use of extreme violence, and looking out toward other nations with an eye focused on conquest. The world was not a calm or a safe place, and many of the leaders of both the religious and the secular aspects of the nation of Judah were uncertain about how they should respond to all of these threats and the potential for threats that were so visible just beyond the horizon of sight and time. In this verse, Habakkuk is probably referring to the rising world power of Babylon and specifically to its king. It is his soul that is “puffed up;” so, the soul of the nation is also one that is defined by greed and arrogance to the degree that it has become self-important and operates outside of God’s guidance and righteousness.

This king is the sort of bright and shining star in the arena of politics that draws people into his sphere of influence. It is easy to see the success and to be taken in by the charm of power when it seems to be able to overcome many of the perceived ills of the world. In the days of the prophet, the great power in the world was Assyria, and their rule was accomplished through brutal violence and by virtue of a practice of bring about the total destruction of those that opposed them. Babylon was the rising nation to the east, and its approach to power seemed far more enlightened and compatible with achieving the peaceful outworking of a lasting and a beneficial relationship. Even if the king of Babylon was devoted to other gods and despite the fact that the nation was likely to seek to dominate others just as all of its predecessors had done, many of God’s people were drawn to the power, wealth, and accomplishment that they saw portrayed as an outward image. So, they were willing to look only upon the surface and not probe too deeply into the heart and the soul of the man.

This is Habakkuk’s warning. God’s people need to dwell in the realm of the deep. We must look beyond the glitter and the surface charms into the heart of the leader, and this is something that none of us are capable of doing without the involvement of the Holy Spirit in the process of searching and considering what and who are true, just, and righteous. These sorts of times are ones wherein our faith is truly tested. These are days when we are called upon by God to defy what might be common choice and popular courses of action in order to seek out God’s will in matters of civil governance and rule. This approach to making personal decisions and to seeking to inform and to influence the decisions of others may place a follower of Christ in a position of opposition to others who speak of the same relationship with God as we possess. Although we must remain loving and respectful in all thoughts and expressions of our beliefs, we also need to be bold as was Habakkuk in speaking out when we see wrong being perpetrated and as we see people heading into the trap of following power and dominion as if they were the marks of God’s blessing and His seal of authority.  

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