Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Couple of Caveats on Peacemaking


Last Sunday, as we studied the seventh beatitude, Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.  An important question to consider is this: In our roles as peacemakers, should we pursue peace at all costs?  I think the biblical answer is 'no.'  There are at least two caveats to our mandate to pursue peace.  
The first caveat is demonstrated by what could appear to be a contradiction in the book of Matthew.  On Sunday, we noted that God is our model for peacemaking.  He is the quintessential peacemaker.  Through Christ, He has reconciled us to Himself, and He calls us to be peacemakers by taking His gospel to the lost and by making peace in interpersonal conflicts.
However, in Matthew 10:34-36, Jesus says, "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.  And a person's enemies will be those of his own household…”
 
Wow.  It sounds like Jesus is doing the exact opposite of what he says a true disciple should do.  It sounds like He believes He came to bring conflict rather than reconciliation.  How do we explain this apparent contradiction? 
As always, context is king.  In Matthew 10, Jesus is preparing to send his disciples out on their own for the first time.  He is warning them about the persecution that awaits them, encouraging them to have no fear.  And in vv32-33, He says, “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”  Jesus’ desire is for the disciples to maintain their devotion to Him in the face of certain persecution.  If they deny Him, He will deny them. 
Keeping that in mind, now let’s read again vv34-36, but this time continuing through v39:
  34 "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.
 36 And a person's enemies will be those of his own household.
 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.
 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
Now that we have framed Jesus’ statement, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword,” we can see clearly that Jesus does not mean that He came to just cause random strife and familial disharmony.  The context shows that the subject at hand is the decision that everyone must make – "how serious is my devotion to Christ?"  Jesus explains that for the true disciple that devotion must be ultimate.  vv37-39 can be used to interpret vv34-36.  When Jesus says, “I have come to set a man against his father,” v37 indicates we should understand Him to mean that the true disciple must love Christ more than father or mother.  Discipleship is a line in the sand.  It has been the experience of many throughout the history of the church that the decision to follow Christ has meant being disowned by loved ones.  If put in a situation to have to choose between one’s family or following Christ, the true disciple will choose Christ.  And that decision will mean alienation from family and a lack of peace in one’s closest earthly relationships.
So if we were to try to reconcile the seventh beatitude with this passage in Matthew 10, we could say that the true disciple will pursue peace with all men, but not at the expense of his devotion to Christ.  Christ came to reconcile men to God, but only those who surrender completely to Him.
Another caveat that we should note is that the true disciple will pursue peace with all men, but not at the expense of sound doctrine.  Church history is replete with examples of those who with grand intentions downplayed doctrinal distinctives for the sake of unity, but always with disastrous results. 
It may seem counterintuitive to many, but the Bible teaches that commitment to sound doctrine is not a barrier to peace and unity in the church, but rather is vital to it.  On Sunday, we read a few verses from Ephesians 4:
  1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,
 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,
 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
 4 There is one body and one Spirit--just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call--
 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism,
 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
This is a clear call to peace and unity in the church.  Based on what we see in many mainline denominations today, we might expect Paul to then go on to write, “and the way to achieve this unity is to not get bent out of shape over doctrine. Doctrine divides.”
But this is nothing like what we actually find in Ephesians 4.  Rather, Paul immediately writes about the function of spiritual gifts in the church, particularly those gifts that major on doctrinal teaching:
  11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers,
 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,
 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 
Notice that those tasked with teaching in the body do so for equipping the saints for ministry so that body will become mature in Christ, with the result that they will not be carried about by false doctrine.  In other words, the peace and unity to which we have been called in the church is not accomplished in spite of sound doctrine, but because of it.
We are called to be peacemakers, but we must do so without compromising those things that are essential to our faith, which include total devotion to Christ and sound doctrine.
Posted by Greg Birdwell

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