Peace on Earth
AFBC 2007 12 30
Luke 2: 8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields near by, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests.”
Notice that last verse. The translation "peace, good will toward men" and even worse, the misquotation "peace to men of good will" seem to suggest to some degree that the peace in question originates among us--that if we only try hard enough we can achieve "peace in our time." However, as the better NIV rendering puts it, the "good will" or "favour", or if we are to use the more common word, "grace" originates not from among us, but solely from God himself. That is, the import of the verse is that God makes peace with those to who he extends his grace, and this accords with the strong message given elsewhere in the New Testament.
2Timothy 1: 8 So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, 9 who has saved us and called us to a holy life--not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.…
It is also abundantly clear in the New Testament that the peace in question is principally a peace declared first by God (i.e. we didn't take the initiative):
1Co 1:3 (and many such) Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
John 14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.
That God would be the one declaring peace is necessary, for we who rebelled against him had no means to do so, no way to come to him and make peace. Our sin, guilt, and the just punishment God decrees for the sinner meant there could only be enmity between us and God, unless he took the initiative.
Ro 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
Ro 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
And, he has done this. Malachi prophesied:
Malachi 2: 4 ... I have sent you this admonition so that my covenant with Levi may continue,” says the LORD Almighty. 5 “My covenant was with him, a covenant of life and peace, and I gave them to him; this called for reverence and he revered me and stood in awe of my name. 6 True instruction was in his mouth and nothing false was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and turned many from sin.
That is, the one to come was pictured in Levi, but would be the true high priest who would walk in peace with the father. And indeed, He sent his Son Jesus to be our Christ, our saviour, our high priest of peace and the one in whose sacrifice we can and must trust if we are ever to join him in peace with the father.
Ro 5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
Ephesians 2: 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.
Why was this necessary? Because one of the first consequences of sin is estrangement from God and from each other. Note for instance part of the curse spoken to the woman in the garden:
Genesis 3: 16 Your desire will be to be over your husband, and he will rule over you.
Later, the Old Testament Levitical laws taught that there had to be a sin offering before there could be a peace offering. Jesus is this offering, made before the father and found acceptable to him that our sin might be permanently covered, and our peace might be permanently fashioned.
Le 3:1 “‘If someone’s offering is a fellowship (or peace) offering, and he offers an animal from the herd, whether male or female, he is to present before the LORD an animal without defect.
Hebrews 10:22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.
Make no mistake. There is no such peace outside Christ.
Ac 4:12 Salvation is found in no-one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.
As with other attributes of the nature, character, and actions of God (such as love and forgiveness), those in whom the Holy Spirit has begun a work should gradually develop the same framework of thinking and doing as the Father himself. God is the peace maker, the peacekeeper. Consequently, his followers are characterized by this as well.
Jas 3:17 ... the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.
Philipians 4:7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Ro 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Some well-known passages contrast the way we were (and the way the world still is) to the way God means us to be.
Ga 5:19 The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
Notice how much of that passage contrasting the acts of the sinful nature and the fruit of the Spirit have to do with the strife inherent in the sinful man and woman, as contrasted with the peace God inserts into the character of his people by His Spirit.
The New Testament goes on from this point in our discipling to encourage us in such things, that is, to take the seed of peace put into our hearts by the Holy Spirit and grow it in our relationships with others, particularly within the Church.
Such peace is connected with other virtues and admonitions, making them a seamless whole:
- with thankfulness
Col 3:15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.
- with encouraging one another
1Corinthians 5: 11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
-with respecting Church leaders
1Corinthians 5:12 Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. 13 Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other.
- with moral purity
2Pe 3:14 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.
- with appropriate behaviour in worship
1Co 14:33 For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.
- with unity in the Church
Ephesians 4:3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
- with refraining from evil actions and speech so that we might gain a blessing; that is, the approval of God
1Peter 3: 8 Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. 9 Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. 10 For, “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech. 11 He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it.
- with all relationships, not only with believers, and with holiness
Hebrews 12:14 Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no-one will see the Lord.
Now of course, there is another side to every coin. If Christ came to make peace, why is there strife? World leaders are assassinated, armies move to crush other nations, leaders filled with hate attempt genocide, individuals commit crimes of appalling violence, and there is no peace anywhere. The scriptures tell us the answer. We can understand why there is no peace in the world. It is at war with God, and knows nothing else, so it us at war both with all that is good, and with itself. It hates Jesus, rejects him as the Christ, and won't have peace with God through him, so it has nothing but conflict, war, and strife.
However, some of this extends into God's church at times also, and for this reason, the scriptures contain both warnings against strife among God's people, and more specific admonitions to not simply give intellectual assent to the idea of peace, but to act peacefully. There are old Testament proverbs on the matter:
Pr 17:14 Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam; so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out.
Pr 17:19 He who loves a quarrel loves sin;
Pr 26:20 Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down.
And there are New Testament directives as well:
2Ti 2:24 And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.
Titus 3:1 Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, 2 to slander no-one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility towards all men. 3 At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. 4 But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. 8 This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.
There are even explanations of why some people are of a mind to quarrel:
Jas 4:2 You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God.
In addition, there are special blessings for those who would attempt the making of peace among those who are in strife:
Mt 5:9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
Jas 3:18 Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.
Keep in mind, however, that just as the majority of humankind refuse the offer of God to make peace with him, so the refuse attempts to make peace with one another. Moreover, earning a blessing by being a peacemaker is one of the more difficult tasks a person can attempt. Both parties are likely to turn on and abuse the peacemaker, for the one in strife, you see, is always right, and usually refuses to be rebuked, corrected, or brought to a middle ground with the other party. It is the way of the world to be angry, to hold grudges, even to hate. Christians cannot, must not, do not behave so.
1Corinthians 13:1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
So important is this matter that the scriptures use it as an acid test of whether a person actually is a Christian as they claim to be. We are told, first of all that an insincere love is evil.
Ro 12:9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.
But John is even more pointed, bluntly informing us that a person who hates other Christians is not a Christian.
1Jo 4:20 If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.
We need therefore to take very careful assessment of the state of our souls on this issue. If there is no peace between us and Christians, if we cannot forgive, if we do not love God's people, we must repent of such evil. If the rot goes further, if strife with God's people characterizes our lives, if we hold grudges against believers for years, if we cannot conceive of compromise or apology, much less of the other person being in the right, if we grudgingly apologize for things we’ve said, but go on saying them, then we are not ourselves Christians, but pagans, still in need of salvation.
1 Corinthians 6:1 If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints? 2 Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? 3 Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! 4 Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, appoint as judges even men of little account in the church! 5 I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? 6 But instead, one brother goes to law against another--and this in front of unbelievers! 7 The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? 8 Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers. 9 Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God?
Notice that the context for Paul to go on and list various sorts of behaviour whose wicked practitioners will not inherit the kingdom of God (such as homosexuals and thieves) is a discussion of those who are busy disputing matters with Christians before courts of law. A lack of love, a lack of peace with Christians is the wickedness that generates this outburst of Paul's.
It was quarrelling and strife in Israel that disgusted God and resulted in rebukes from the prophets that their religion, including their fasts, was false..
Isaiah 58:4 Your fasting ends in quarrelling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.
Habbakuk 1:3 Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds.
Malachi 2:16 “I hate divorce,” says the LORD God of Israel, “and I hate a man’s covering himself with violence as well as with his garment,” says the LORD Almighty. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith.
God has not changed. He condemned the world of Noah's day in Genesis 6 for its violence: 12 God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. 13 So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth.
Later, events recorded by the prophet Nehemiah provide a good example of the sharp division between those of this world and the people of God. When God’s people would do a work for him (in this case, building the wall of Jerusalem), the world around rose up in violent opposition, and Satan stirred up dissensions among them. All this strife had to be overcome before the work could be properly undertaken and completed. This illustrates the need for the Church to be vigilant in its efforts to keep peace with God and his people in order to be unified for the doing of his work.
The judgement against the world and its violence is repeated through Paul in describing the state the world was in at his time:
Ro 1:29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practise them.
Finally, in condemning false teachers in the Church, God incidentally gives us one way to identify them:
1Ti 6:3 If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, 4 he is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions 5 and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.
In other words, those who deliberately create dissension and division in the church should be regarded as false teachers. They are bringing in the ways of the world, not teaching of the God of Peace. By the way, that passage ends with the antidote for all such false teachings and the strife they bring: 6 But godliness with contentment is great gain.
How does a Christian behave when there is a dispute? Well, the passage we read earlier from 1 Corinthians indicates that if it is just over things--the sort of argument that might involve law, you should rather be wronged than disturb the peace of God in your heart or others. Even if it is a matter of sin, the scriptures oblige us to go to the other and try to settle, and most certainly not to burn up the phone lines engaging in sinful gossip by reciting that other person's supposed sins to third parties, thus creating factions and divisions in the church.
Matt 18:15 “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. 16 But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’
Indeed, deliberate divisiveness is one of the few sins serious enough to require a person be dismissed from the fellowship of believers.
Tit 3:10 Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him.
"But," you may argue, "what about Christ's words about bringing strife?"
Mt 10:34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn “‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law-- 36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ 37 “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38 and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.
Quite so. But the previous two verses are:
32 “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.
which make it clear that the divisions Christ's gospel produces are not among believers, but between those who do acknowledge him and those who do not.
As Ga 3:28 has it on the one hand: There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. and as Jas 4:4 puts it on the other: You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred towards God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.
In other words, though all believers stand on the same spiritual ground and are profoundly united in Christ, there can never be much in common between Christians and the world.
Lu 21:17 All men will hate you because of me.
Mt 6:24 “No-one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.
And that last bit about money is an example, not the sum total of the teaching. More generally, the world cannot love us because it lacks the God-given capability and is in any case serving another master. Likewise, we cannot love the world and still claim to love God. It’s one or the other. Again, we have an acid test. If peace with God’s people is a sign that we are also at peace with him and one of his, then the world’s hostility is a sign that we are not part of the world.
- Disputes, strife, fights, wars are due to sin. Those who are not at peace with God cannot be at peace with one another. Jeremiah 6:14 ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace. And, why not? Because they are looking in the wrong place.
- The only solution is repentance. The person in the world who has never known Christ can only learn what peace is by meeting the God of peace, trusting in Christ for salvation and receiving his grace and peace.
- God's people have Christ in them, and therefore demonstrate his character, including his peace.
- If supposed Christians sin by not being peaceable, forgiving, and loving toward each other, it is because they are out of fellowship with God--either partially and temporarily, in which case they can restore peace by repenting of their wickedness, or because they are not really Christians at all.
What is the bottom line? This world can never understand peace or have it. Moreover, if we are either at peace with this world or in strife with believers our souls are in dire danger, for we are thereby giving evidence that we do not belong to Christ.
Our only true peace is in Christ. It involves repentance, forgiveness, and the receiving of his grace--the first consequence of which is peace, first of all with him. Out of this flows enmity with the world but peace with other believers. Of what strife and dissension do you need to repent today? If you are still at war with God, or friendly with the world, come to Jesus and find true peace in him. If you have a dispute with a fellow believer, what better time than the dawn of a new year to make peace as the Lord commands, thereby demonstrating that you belong to Him, and not to Satan, the enemy of peace.
Luke 2:14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests.”