What is it we work for the most in this life? For what do we plan and strive? What do we consider our life’s greatest pursuit? Perhaps we’re trying to be successful at work, trying to get that next kudos, striving for that next promotion. We may simply be working for the money. We might work to win arguments, wanting others to see our way, not understanding why others don’t want to see things the way I do. We might be working to protect others from harm. We might be fighting to protect liberties and freedoms as we see them. We might pursue the best sale we can find, or we could simply be working to put the next meal on the table.
Some of these pursuits are more noble than others. Some are born of greater necessity than others. I’d like to encourage us, though, to look at something else, something we think we value but often shunt aside for these other reasons, something we let get lost in the shuffle of our lives, and something upon which Jesus and His disciples placed a heavy emphasis. We should all be working for peace.
Peace and the New Testament Christian
The story of peace under the New Covenant finds its roots in the Old. In speaking of God’s new kingdom in Isaiah 2:4, the prophet says that those who come to His mountain of worship will craft their implements of war into those of agriculture. He says they will no longer seek war between physical kingdoms and that they will learn war no more. Then, near the end of Jesus’ ministry in John 14:27, Jesus says to His disciples that He leaves them peace, and that this peace is beyond anything we can obtain in this word.
New Testament writers go on to emphasize peace time and again in their writings. In Romans 8:6 tells us that setting our minds on spiritual things brings forth life and peace, and Romans 14:9 tells us to pursue things that make for peace. In Ephesians 2:17, Paul says Jesus’ gospel is one of peace, and, in chapter 4:3 of the same book, we are told to be eager to maintain peace. II Timothy 2:22 also tells us to pursue peace as much as we would righteousness, faith, and love. Finally, I Peter 3:11 tells us to seek and pursue peace.
Despite the divisive nature God’s word can have (see Matthew 10:34), we cannot discount the fact that we are supposed to be peaceful and peaceable people. We serve the God of peace. We follow after the King of Peace (Hebrews 7:2). Just as we are to emulate God’s holiness, I believe we should be demonstrating His peace in our attitudes and in our conduct.
The Work of Peace
Peace is not something that is inactive. It is more than simply laying our physical and metaphorical arms down. Peace takes work. It takes effort. We’ve seen verbs in the previous verses such as “pursue,” “strive for,” “seek,” and “maintain.” It takes sustained effort to do these things. Contrary to popular punditry, peace takes effort. Take a look at Hebrews 12:14, the verse starts with “Follow peace” (NKJV), but the Greek word translates as “follow” there is διώκω (diṓkō), meaning to strive after, to pursue. Quite literally, the word could be translated, “to flee toward.” We are supposed to be actively fleeing toward peace.
The easy road is to attack to dehumanize, to engage, to argue, to express ourselves loudly or inconsiderately, to threaten, to slander in email or on the Internet, to let anger usurp reason. It takes little effort to release our bottled up energies and spend them on causes or arguments that do nothing to promote peace or the word of God. These negative outlets of our energy are not helping. Instead, we should be dedicating our energies to working for peace. It’s easy to retaliate when we feel wronged or affronted, but, as Mohandas Gandhi might say, “An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.” If we seek to correct violence with violence, where will the cycle end? It’s one thing to learn not to hit; it’s entirely another to learn not to hit back.
Harder is to swallow our injured pride and move on. Harder still is living peaceably toward those with whom we feel animosity. This is not a passive exercise. The peace of God requires active engagement. Remember the points Jesus was making during the sermon on the mount in Luke 6:27-36. Do we think those are hypotheticals? Do we think there are situations in which these do not apply?
Also, keep in mind the parable of the good Samaritan. Think of the nasty political, racial, cultural, and religious divisions that are in the world today. Think of a name that makes your stomach turn. Think of a group that always makes your blood boil, always makes you want to shout at the TV, or post angry Facebook updates. That’s how many Jews and Samaritans felt toward each other, but the Samaritan shelves those prejudices to meekly practice peace. When things get tough, the tough get meek. And it takes a tough person to get meek because being meek in our culture is tough work.
What Will You Work For?
We sometimes sing a song called “Instruments of Your Peace,” but do we really man it? The song invokes God’s love to overcome hatred, and I don’t think it only means when hatred is directed toward you or me. In it we sing of putting away pride and prejudice, of shelving personal judgments, of bearing the grief and trials of others. We’re good at being peaceful towards those who agree with us in all things, but what of those that don’t? Can we put away our judgments, our prejudices, and our pride to share the peace of God with them.
We’ve studied before that we must go to the extreme in our faith, in our love, and in our obedience to God’s word. We must feel no differently toward peace. We should be aggressively peaceful. Strive for peace. Pursue peace. Maintain peace. Seek after peace. Work for peace. In all things, let our lives be characterized by peacefulness, and let all who meet us see us as a peaceable people. It takes effort. It takes work. It takes a tough sense of inner security and balance, but we can characterize our lives with peace.