Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Chasing Peace

Come, you children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the LORD.
Who is the man who desires life,
And loves many days, that he may see good?
Keep your tongue from evil,
And your lips from speaking deceit.
Depart from evil and do good;
Seek peace and pursue it.
The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous,
And His ears are open to their cry.
The face of the LORD is against those who do evil,
To cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.
(Psalms 34:11-16 NKJV, emphasis mine, JB)

Note the reference to chasing (pursuing) peace in line eight. I have indicated it with bold type. A large part of this passage is quoted in the New Testament:

Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing. For "He who would love life And see good days, Let him refrain his tongue from evil, And his lips from speaking deceit. Let him turn away from evil and do good; Let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, And His ears are open to their prayers; But the face of the LORD is against those who do evil." And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you are blessed.… (1 Peter 3:8-14 NKJV, emphasis mine, JB)

Verse 13-14, beginning “and who is he…,” is of particular interest. It seems that Peter is saying, “If always seeking peace causes you to suffer, what can another human really do to you? They cannot cause you ultimate harm. Therefore, you don’t have to worry. You can pursue peace, and leave the consequences to God.” Now, it takes faith to take Peter at his word. We are reminded of Jesus’ statement:

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28 NKJV)

Which reminds us of the apostles’ statement:

And the apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith." (Luke 17:5 NKJV)

Yes Lord, we need more faith to accept Your word. We look at those about us, and let them form our attitudes, instead of looking only to You. Forgive us, and please mercifully help us.

In this context of pursuing peace, likely the passage that comes the most readily to mind is the seventh Beatitude:

Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God. (Matthew 5:9 NKJV)

I understand that “sons of God” can not only mean “children of God,” but can also mean “like God.” Thus, we are like God when we are peacemakers. Surely, we all desire to be like God. So, while we are constantly at war with the devil, we should just as constantly pursue/make peace with God and with one another.

I can think of at least three areas in which the position of “peacemaker” is open and begging to be filled.

Peace with God. The Peacemaker par excellence is Jesus. He bought peace, not with the blood of others, but with His own blood.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, … so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, (Ephesians 2:13-15 NKJV, emphasis mine, JB)

I wish we could learn from Jesus to produce peace by giving instead of attempting to produce peace by fighting. Give yourself to God and to your neighbor. It is the only way you will ever have peace. It is not the way of man, but it is the way of God. It takes a strong person with a healthy self-image to seek peace in this manner. Are you up to it?

Personal Peace with Others. Peacemaking involves friendmaking. How do you make a friend? Usually, by meeting some need they have. You meet their need to be taken seriously, to have a trusted someone they can talk to, to have a physical need provided, or something else that is important to them. In a word – you serve them.

… through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Galatians 5:13-14 NKJV)

If you are trying to help someone, you may be less aware of any perceived hurt they have directed toward you. If you are helping someone, it should be obvious that they would be less likely to try and hurt you. Of course there will be exceptions, but surely that is generally true. The more you are looking outward the less you are looking inward. The less you are looking inward, the less likely you are to be offended/hurt. The less you feel hurt, the more likely you are to look outward – and serve. So, the cycle is complete, and it spins around giving/serving – like, guess who, Jesus.

Collective Peace with Others. This section involves the Christian and civil government. Most Christians vote and most Christians pray for the civil government. Some Christians even serve in the civil government. I have two sons who do so. We are not isolated from the civil government.

I feel it would be absurd to argue that the scriptures I have cited and the points that I have made above would apply only to individuals and not to the civil government. If a Christian is to pursue peace by being a peacemaker, should not the civil government do the same? I would certainly think so.

I am a strong supporter of our military. I believe, along with our brothers the British, that we have the best military in the world – and I am glad that we do. However, we must keep in mind that our military does not make foreign policy, they enforce it (when ordered to do so by their civilian political handlers, that is, the civil government). Thus, one may be an opponent of a foreign war, while at the same time continuing strong support for our military forces.

If you will look back through history and examine human warfare, I believe you will find few wars that can be Biblically justified. I think there may be some justifiable, but that they would be in the minority. As you know the Bible gives the reason for war:

Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. (James 4:1-3 NKJV)

Most wars are caused by two things: greed and arrogance. I am a lay student of the American Civil War. I have an ancestor who fought in it (43rd Mississippi Infantry CSA). It was caused by greed and arrogance on both sides. Are we Christians or not? Let us not encourage greed and arrogance.

Let us “seek peace and pursue it” thus becoming blessed peacemakers. The weak cannot do this. They will Zombie-like bow down at the altar of the opinions of others. You must be an independent thinker, by letting Christ control your thoughts. Your decisions must not be driven by the thoughts and actions of others.

Let us pray privately and publically for our men and women in the armed forces. We have two relatives of members where I preach who are currently serving overseas. Let us continue to pray fervently for them. May we pray for their physical safety, for their emotional health, and that they may soon be able to return to their families. May I suggest that using phrases like “fighting for our freedom” in our public prayers could be taken as an endorsement of the political decision to wage a particular war. I suggest that we keep politics out of the church by praying for peace and the safety of our soldiers, and leave it at that. Let us not endorse every action of the civil government, with phrases we use in holy worship, simply because they are the civil government. If I were writing this about abortion or homosexuality, I would probably get numerous “amen’s” here. I hope our feelings are as strong about the seventh Beatitude as they are about those two issues. Prayfully consider your feelings, as I shall mine. May God bless the U.S.A. May we all believe and obey all the commands of the Lord Jesus Christ.

My soul has dwelt too long With one who hates peace.
I am for peace; But when I speak, they are for war.
(Psalms 120:6-7 NKJV)

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