In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told his listeners, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God" (Matthew 5:9). Small wonder, since God is a God of peace (Philippians 4:9; Romans 15:33; 1 Thessalonians 5:23), and Jesus the Messiah fulfilled the Old Testament expectations of the Prince of Peace.
God’s children, then, would reflect their parent and be peacemakers. Yet peace is in drastically short supply. Just watch the television news. Inner peace, peace between and among families and communities, peace among nations is all preciously rare. The whole history of humanity has been described as a history driven by war. The last century has the dubious distinction of being the bloodiest of all. Small wonder, either, that the apostle Paul wrote of the human condition, "the way of peace they do not know" (Romans 3:17).
Peace within and among church congregations can also be strained and tested and broken. This is in spite of Paul’s lofty instructions to the church to "make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:3), and to "let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace" (Colossians 3:15).
We know that the ideal of the church is to be the redeemed, unified community of Christ, living and sharing the gospel, which is a gospel of peace. We also know that the reality is sometimes quite different. Lesslie Newbigin points out that Jesus never wrote a book himself. Rather, he established a community. This was his legacy. The greatest hermeneutic of the gospel, Newbigin says, is a spiritual community that seeks to live by the gospel. A lack of peace in the church does not just harm the church—it harms the gospel witness and message.
How, then, do we have and make peace? The answer cannot be exhausted in a library of articles, but let’s consider the following essential concepts from Ephesians 2:11-22, a key New Testament passage on peace. Speaking of Christ Jesus (v. 13) Paul says emphatically that "he himself is our peace" (v. 14). Christ is the perfect peacemaker. He not only gives us peace, but our peace is—only—in and through him.
Both Testaments affirm that peace is not merely the absence of fighting and conflict. Biblically, peace is a holistic term that is relational and encompasses all of life. It is a comprehensive term describing salvation and fellowship with God. Through Jesus Christ, we have peace, access, closeness and fellowship with the Father. But peace in Christ doesn’t stop there. In Christ, we also have peace with one another.
Through the cross, in breaking down the old covenant barriers between Jews and Gentiles, Jesus made the two into one. "His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God" (verses 15-16). He did not turn Gentiles into Jews, or Jews into Gentiles, but rather in himself made a new creation—new in time and quality or essence.
This new person is in fact a community creation—the new creation of the spiritual community of the church, which is the spiritual temple where God dwells through the Spirit. This is a peace, a fellowship, that transcends race, culture, opinion or even doctrinal understanding and discernment. Like truth, it is more relational and personal than propositional. It is found in the person and work of Christ, not in our debates and arguments about him. It is lived in a holistic, all-of-life way, in fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
What might that look like? Many things, but one snapshot is Romans 15:7, "Accept one another, then, just as Christ has accepted you, in order to bring praise to God." This is not a shrug of the shoulders and a plaintive "why can’t we all get along?" It’s not a glib peace at any price—it’s peace at the ultimate price, the price of the cross. It’s peace in and through Jesus Christ. It’s a willingness to seek and pursue peace. It’s an openness to ask ourselves honestly, are we a peacemaker, or a peace-taker, peace-breaker and troublemaker?
Embracing this peace in Christ changes everything—including how we see and interact with one another. It’s taking seriously our elder brother’s call to act like and do the work of the Father—who is the God of peace. What a blessing peacemakers truly are.
By John McLean, Ambassador College of Christian Ministry program director.