Humility & Peace

There is one vital ingredient if we are to have unity and peace: humility. We desperately need humility in our lives and in our congregations if we are to work for peace, and, if there is one congregation we can point to as needing humility above all else, that is the congregation at Corinth in the New Testament.

Here is a congregation where factions split behind various leaders and figureheads. Some promote celibacy while others live in sexual sin, calling it freedom in Christ. Some abuse the Lord’s Memorial. Those with spiritual gifts seem to vie for prominence and attention during worship, behaving disruptively to gain attention. There are even those who deny the resurrection.

Five times in his first letter to this book, Paul calls for humility: I Corinthians 4:6, chapter 4:18, chapter 4:19, chapter 5:2, and I Corinthians 13 then explains Christian love, a love that is not boastful but humble. The heart of Corinth’s problem is one of pride or arrogance. These are dangers Paul would reinforce with Timothy in I Timothy 3:6 and 6:4 as well as in II Timothy 3:1. Paul obviously sees humility as an essential ingredient in our Christian lives, especially if we are to live peacefully with one another and our God.

Pride and Separation

Pride and arrogance keeps us from our true selves. Proverbs 16:18 warns that pride leads to a fall. Why? Because we blind ourselves to our own limitations. Proverbs 14:16 warns against arrogant recklessness born of overconfidence. Galatians 6:3 tells us we deceive ourselves when we think we are better than we are. In short, we fail to see ourselves the way God sees us, and the way we measure ourselves differs from the way God measures us.

Pride also keeps us from one another. Galatians 6:2 calls on us to bear each other’s burdens. How can I do that if I’m too full of myself? Romans 12:3, after telling us to avoid conformity with this world and encouraging us to live sacrificially, begins an entire passage about service through humility. We should not esteem ourselves above our brethren. Verse 16 calls for harmony, asking us to put others first without conceit. I Peter 5:5 tells us to clothe ourselves in humility, and in Matthew 18:2-4, after the apostles had been arguing over who was the greatest, Jesus calls on His followers to have childlike humility if they would be great in God’s kingdom.

Finally, a lack of humility keeps us away from God. Proverbs 8:13 tells us God hates pride and arrogance. Chapter 21:4 calls haughtiness sin. James 4:10 tells us God lifts up the humble, and I Peter 5:5-6 says much the same thing, reminding us that God resists the proud. Think about the sermon on the mount in Matthew 5; in verse 3, Jesus blesses the poor in spirit, those who have been emptied of self. Once we empty ourselves of pride, we make room for God in our lives.

Conclusion

In Job 1:1, we are told Job was a perfect, upright man, and, in verse 8, God calls Job His servant. Chapter 2:3 repeats this assertion that Job is God’s humble servant, fearing God and turning from evil. Can God say the same about any of us? After chapter upon chapter of Job’s friends tearing him down, we come to Job 31:35 where Job declares His innocence before God. He becomes proud in God’s eyes, and God responds in chapter 38-39, putting Job in his place. Chapter 40:3-5 then records Job’s humbled response. Now, if righteous Job could not be prideful before God, how can we lift ourselves up in arrogance?

In humility, we can see ourselves as God sees us. Humility allows us to serve one another, and it is humility that will draw us nearer to God. As little children, we need to empty ourselves of self-interest and all arrogance, coming to him in meekness and humility so He will draw nearer to us.

lesson by Tim Smelser

Unity and Peace Among the Brethren

We need to strive for the attitude and the relationship of a close family in our local congregations, a family that is loving, encouraging, and eager to do the work of the Lord. We need to be a place where we respect and love one another and where every member of Christ’s body feels welcomed and needed. These bonds of our Christian family should be even stronger than those of our physical family.

Disunity in the Family of God

We have, in our culture, a passion for dramatics and sensationalism. When working with one another, though, we have to avoid this temptation. Proverbs 17:9 warns us against spreading troubles and rumors, causing separation among the brethren. Instead, we should seek love and forgiveness with each other. The harm caused by rumors can take a lifetime to undo. Proverbs 17:14 calls strife and contention like water released from a dam. Our foolish arguments can become uncontrollable; feelings escalate and devastation follows, all based on personal interpretations or second- or third-hand accounts of events.

In Proverbs 26:17, we are warned from meddling in someone else’s quarrels, in inserting ourselves into others’ business. We hear one side of a situation in progress, and we try to make judgments based on few facts. We want to get our two cents in without seeing that those two cents were poorly spent. There is a big difference between encouragement and meddling, and Proverbs 26:20 tells us that depriving a fire of wood quenches it.

Proverbs 26:21 and Proverbs 15:18 both warn us against stirring up strife, against serving self at the expense of others. Proverbs 25:18-20 also tells us to be trustworthy in our interactions with others. When we manipulate or spin information, we undermine our trustworthiness as much as if we simply outright lied. Proverbs 22:14 addresses insincere flattery, empty words meant to get somebody on your side, being a “yes-man.” We practice deceit when we assign motives to actions that we don’t truly understand, when we voice agreement without commitment.

Conclusion

For a family to remain functional and cohesive, we need to deal with each other honestly and selflessly. We need to show wisdom and calm in our interactions with each other. Proverbs 16:7 tells us we should be at peace with God first. Then we can have peace with one another. Proverbs 15:8 encourages us to exercise self-control. Proverbs 18:13 reminds us to be slow to respond and quick to hear.

Proverbs 20:3 asks us to avoid starting quarrels with each other, and Proverbs 15:1-2 reminds us to answer with love and gentleness when disagreements do arise. Proverbs 10:19 advises us to be people of few words, to avoid talking ourselves into a hole. Finally, Proverbs 10:12 emphasizes the importance of love. That should be at the center of our relationships with one another. Whether building up or rebuking, love should be the motivation of our actions.

The blessings we have in the relationships born of our Christian family are valuable beyond words. Let’s be careful to keep those relationships intact and maintain peace and unity among our Christian family.

lesson by Mark Ritter

Will Work for Peace

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.

Second Mile Thinking

Say you are driving your dream car (let’s say a two-seater sports car) and stopped at a stoplight, where you see three people standing in a torrential downpour. One is an elderly lady having chest pains, your best friend who saved your life in college, and you dream girl or guy. This is not a scenario unique to me; it comes from various job applications, and one answer went this way: “I would let my best friend drive the elderly lady to the hospital while I stood in the rain with the girl/guy of my dreams.”

Inconveniencing self is a concept to which we are not easily attuned. Very few applicants who see this question think to give up the car. We limit our own options based on things we view as nonnegotiable. Of course, we would remain driving the two-seater. Therefore, we think we can only help one in this scenario. We don’t see how a bit of self-sacrifice creates a better solution.

Going An Extra Mile

Matthew 5:38-45 embodies second mile living. In this sermon on the mount, Jesus encourages His audience and us to be merciful, even to those who would wrong us. Jesus says to go above and beyond in our service and grace toward others. He tells us to exceed expectations, and the reason is found in verse 45 – that we may reflect the nature of our Heavenly Father.

What if God did not have a second mile way of thinking? How would He have viewed Creation? How would He view our shortcomings and rebellions? Where would the plan of salvation be? Remember Romans 5, reminding us that God loved us when we were most unlovable and then gives of Himself sacrificially to stand in our place. Also be mindful of II Peter 3:9, describing God’s patience, His desire for all to repent and turn to Him in time. I John 1:9 tells us of God’s faithful forgiveness, and chapter 2:1 speaks of our Advocate when we do fall into sin. God has gone the second mile in providing us mercy, grace, and forgiveness.

Luke 5:54, Luke 6:36, I Peter 5:10, I Peter 2:3 – these  passages speak to the Lord’s goodness, His graciousness, His mercy, His forgiveness. Where does He draw His line? Where does He say, “Enough is enough?” When does He decide we are unforgivable, beyond hope, or not worth the effort? God goes above and beyond in His mercy toward us. How can we do any less in the mercy we show to our fellow man?

Living God’s Word

James 2:8 calls on us to fulfill the royal law to love each other as ourselves, and he reminds us, in verse 13, that mercy will be deprived of those who live mercilessly. James then goes on to remind us that acknowledging such qualities in God means nothing if we do not live it. Jude 22 reminds us that mercy saves. We are to be merciful as God is merciful (Luke 6:36 again). Then, in Ephesians 4:25-32, Paul tells us to be as forgiving as God is.

Colossians 3:13 tells us to forebear with each other, again reminding us of the forgiveness we should embody. II Timothy 2:24 calls on us to be gentle, avoiding strife with others. Romans 14:19 calls us peace makers and peace keepers. Paul calls on us to pursue peace by calling us followers of it. These verses are not here as filler. They tell us how God views us and how we, in turn, should view others.

Conclusion

This begins by removing selfishness from our minds. Those Romans soldiers expected a commoner to carry their pack one mile. Jesus says to do the unexpected and go two. He calls on us to remove self as a priority, to put others first, to embody mercy and forgiveness, to live peacefully with those around us. How often should we go this second mile? In speaking of forgiveness, Jesus says to Peter that our well of forgiveness should be bottomless in Matthew 18:22. Our reservoir or selflessness and patience should be as deep.

lesson by Tim Smelser

The Tao of Christ

We don’t often study world religions and philosophies in our Bible studies and classes, and, often when we do, we study these faiths merely to disprove them. We are dismissive of the belief systems around us. I believe, however, that we can learn a great deal about ourselves when we look at these faiths openly and honestly. In Ecclesiastes 3:11, the Preacher passingly remarks that God “has put eternity into man’s heart.” I take this to mean that God has placed an awareness of the divine nature in man, enabling us to be aware of the divine even before we experience it.

If we truly believe the entirety of our world is the result of the efforts of one divine being, then the ancient faiths of this world can be seen as reflections of His divine nature. They are expressions of man wishing to experience the eternity in his heart and trying to touch the divine. Therefore, just as the Hebrew writer tells us we can see shadows of Christ in the workings of the Old Testament, I believe we can see God’s nature reflected in the ancient faiths of our world. One of these ancient faiths is the East Asian philosophical tradition of Taoism.

Taoism: Some Background

The central text of Taoism is a collection of writings called the Tao Te Ching, which can be translated loosely as the Way of Virtue. A more literal translation might be The Book of the Virtuous Way. It’s difficult to fully appreciate East Asian culture – particularly that of China – without having some understanding of the Tao Te Ching, for the text influences Chinese religion, art, and philosophy in fundamental ways. It is very much to them as the Christian Bible is to Western European culture.

The text is some 2600 years old, dating back to around 500 BCE. There is some debate surrounding this date for numerous reasons, mostly due to the ambiguity of its author or authors. The book is attributed to a man named Lao Tzu, translated Old Master or Ancient Child, who served as the Imperial Archivist under the Chou Dynasty and was possibly a contemporary to Confucius. Some debate surrounds whether or not Lao Tzu actually existed or if he is a mythological figure who embodies a collection of writers, both male and female.

The Tao and Christ

In many ways, Christ is the Christian Tao Te Ching. He is our Book of the Virtuous Way. The teachings of His and His apostles lay out the case that He is the essence of Tao.

  • Tao, the Way. Chapter 21 of the Tao Te Ching says, “The greatest virtue is to follow the Way and only the Way.” In John 14:5-6, Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the light…” He claims to be the path to experiencing the divine. He is our Divine Way.
  • Te, Virtue. Chapter 60 of the Tao says, “Guide the world with Tao, and evil will not be a problem; not that it will not be around, but it will not find an opening.” Jesus says much the same thing in Matthew 5:43-48: Evil is in this world, but the spiritual person has no room for it in their life. Christ is our example of virtue.
  • Ching, the Book. Chapter 1 of the Tao says, “Tao existed before words or names, before heaven and earth, before the ten thousand things. It is the unlimited father and mother of all living things.” John 1:1-5 shares how all things were created through the Word, and John 1:14 then claims that Christ is that word. You might also recall Peter, in John 6:68, saying Jesus contains the words of eternal life. He is our Book of Life.

To the Christian, Christ is our Tao. His are the footsteps we should follow after if our way is to be one of virtue.

Christian Tao

What then is the Tao of Christ? The way, or the path, that we walk should align with the path He has set before us. We should walk in His footsteps in our lives as spiritual individuals. Here are just three parallels between Tao and Christ’s Way.

  • Humility. The Tao Te Ching chapter 7 teaches “…the wise person puts himself last, and thereby finds himself first,” and Matthew 20:28 records Jesus saying He came to serve rather than be served.  Prior to this, in verse 16, Jesus is recorded as saying the last will be first. Furthermore Tao 40 reads that “Reservation is the action of Tao. Quietness is how it functions,” and we see Jesus facing injustice and mockery silently in Matthew 27:11-31. Jesus’ Way is one of humility and quietness.
  • Contentment. Tao 80 teaches, “Let people’s responsibilities be few…Let them be content with their clothes, satisfied with their homes, and take pleasure in their customs.” Jesus’ teachings on contentment are similar in Matthew 6:25-34. Also Tao 9 says, “Amass possessions, establish possessions, display your pride: Soon enough disaster will drive you to your knees.” Does Jesus not warn as much in Luke 12:13-21? Luke 9:58 reveals that Jesus claims no home as His own, but He goes about His work as the embodiment of contentment rather than ambition.
  • Peace. Tao 43 reads: “The soft overcomes the hard in the world as a gentle rider controls a galloping horse.” Isn’t this similar to how Jesus says we should answer enmity in Matthew 5:43-48? In chapter 31, the Tao teaches, “A person of Tao values peace and quiet…His enemies are his enemies second, his own brothers and sisters first.” Do we not see this epitomized in Jesus’ life when the mob comes to get him in John 18, and Jesus heals one attacked by Peter. By His life, Jesus shows us He is the Prince of Peace.

Conclusion

Taoism is an ancient tradition of philosophy and spirituality that curiously mirrors teachings found in our own faith. Had we the time, we could more closely examine the Taoist canon and compare it to the writings in Proverbs, in Ecclesiastes, and in the epistles along with the examples we see in the life of Christ. Taoism is sometimes criticized as being “The Art of Doing Nothing,” but I think it is more accurately described as “The Art of Self Control.”

As Christians, our lives are to be epitomized by self-control and restraint. The central key to living in peace and harmony with others, in living contentedly, and in living humbly before man and God is the simple quality of self-control. Sometimes, such restraint may seem foolish as does the word of God in I Corinthians 1:18-25 or in the Tao chapter 41: “When a wise person hears Tao, he practices it diligently…When an inferior person hears Tao, he roars with laughter.” We are not conformed to this world, but rather we are seeking to conform to the divine nature of Christ. That journey begins with a principle the Taoist understands well: self control.

Killing the Hostility

And might reconcile them both in one body unto God through the cross, having slain the enmity thereby (Ephesians 2:16).

If there is one thing we can trust about human beings, it is that they can always find a reason to build a barrier between themselves and their fellow men. There is never a lack of potential reasons why we will not like them.

Think about it for a moment. How many times have we – and/or people we may know – have used some issue or matter as a justification for a snap judgment to keep another person at arm’s length? It might have involved features that are not anyone’s choice – race, ethnicity, culture of origin, class, or place of birth. Or maybe it was about a matter of choice – political preference, language, present geographical location, sports team affiliation, religion, and so on and so forth. In the world, if a reason can be found to dislike someone, odds are it will be found and exploited. It may very well be that the person who is so quickly judged might be a wonderful person and someone worth knowing and befriending, but alas, the wall has been built.

Jesus of Nazareth has the reputation for being a pacifist. In reality, He was more concerned with the spiritual conflict for souls than He was with the vicissitudes of political power (cf. Luke 19:10, John 18:36-37). But it is true that Jesus preached and lived the message of loving enemies and praying for persecutors (cf. Matthew 5:43-44, Luke 6:27-28, 23:34).

There are excellent reasons for this, and they are summed up in the work that Jesus accomplished on the cross. Normally, when the work of Jesus on the cross is considered, we speak of it in terms of atonement for sin, and such is true (cf. Romans 5:5-11). Yet more is going on when Jesus is on the cross than just the shedding of blood that will lead to the forgiveness of the believer.

In the first century one of the great divisions involved the distinction between Jew and Gentile. The Jews believed that they were God’s uniquely chosen people, and therefore despised all others who did not share in that benefit (cf. Acts 10-11). Most of the Gentiles considered the Jews to be rather odd and eccentric with all of their idiosyncrasies. Jews, therefore, did not like Gentiles, and Gentiles really did not like Jews, either.

When Jesus is on the cross, He breaks down that barrier between Jew and Gentile by fulfilling and setting aside the Law of Moses (Ephesians 2:14-16). By fulfilling and setting aside that which led to the barrier, He was able to reconcile both groups to God and to make peace. Jesus was able, through the cross, to kill the most insipid problem among men.

Jesus, the meek and gentle, the Author of Life, killed? Paul reveals that He did kill something – the enmity, or hostility, that exists among different people.

It is a startling execution, and it is ironically accomplished as He is Himself being killed. His killing allows Him to kill the one impulse that leads to that wall building.

This is very significant. The reason behind all that wall building is that we – and/or others – are trying to find ways to keep others out, however consciously or unconsciously we do so. But Jesus is trying to find ways to bring people together. He was able, through the cross, to annihilate one of the strongest prejudices that existed in the first century. And even to this day the cross has the power to annihilate all sorts of divisions that exist among mankind.

Race? Class? Ethnicity? Language? We are to all be one in Jesus Christ, no matter how different we are in these regards (Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11). Politics? Sports team affiliation? Geography? All mere trifles in eternity’s view, and it is to our eternal shame if we allow any of these things to meaningfully divide us from our fellow man!

The cross is not to be a symbol of division or wall-building, but a symbol of reconciliation. It is the means by which a man is reconciled to his God (Romans 5:5-11). It is also the means by which men are reconciled to one another (Ephesians 2:14-19). It is where hostility and enmity are killed – enmity between God and man and enmity between man and man. When enmity and hostility are killed, peace can prevail.

There will always be justifications for division, but such things are not from the Father, but are of the world (cf. Galatians 5:19-21, 1 John 2:15-17). It is the way of Jesus to be reconciled to God and to one another through the cross and humble obedience to God. Let us tear down the walls we build against other people, seek ways of loving them and showing them compassion, reflect Christ, and serve Him!

lesson by Ethan R. Longhenry