Saturday, February 2, 2013

Living at Peace with Others

Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another. Romans 14:19 

As we look at the world today we see that all around us there is turmoil. In the middle east, here in the United States there is political agitation, economically there is unrest. We really should expect this lack of peace in a world that has rejected the Prince of Peace! But what is even more alarming is the lack of peace in the Church, the body of Christ. It seems where ever we turn we hear of problems among the Lord's people. What is interesting to keep in mind is that the word problem is not in the Bible. The Bible doesn't look at these difficulties among fellow Christians as problems, it refers to these things as sins or weakness. 

I found it instructive to notice that most, if not all the general letters to the church appeal to us to be at peace. We know that Peace begins with God and that the only way we can enjoy peace with God is through the finished work of Christ, "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God" (Romans 5:1-2). But once we have peace with God, as His children we are instructed to "imitate Him" (Eph. 5:1) and pursue peace. Living peacefully with others is a fundamental premise of Christianity. Paul commanded it to every assembly he wrote to in one form or another. He begins most of his letter with "Grace and Peace." 

In writing to those at Rome Paul instructed them how to be more than conquers in Christ and exhorted them Romans 12:18, "If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men." To those at Corinth he admonished for having a competitive spirit and taught them not to divide the church or to seek prominence. The saints in Galatia were told to teach the same thing and not to bite and devour one another because of their ethnicity. In Ephesus Paul said, "I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with long suffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." Even the young Believers at Thessalonica were told not to let their doubts divide them. 

Listen to some of the other letters in the New Testament on this subject: 
Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord" (Hebrews 12:14). 

"For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace" (James 3:16-18). 

"Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless" (2 Peter 3:14). 

But you, beloved, remember the words which were spoken before by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ: how they told you that there would be mockers in the last time who would walk according to their own ungodly lusts. These are sensual persons, who cause divisions, not having the Spirit (Jude 17-19). 

In Matthew 5:9 the Lord Jesus declared, "Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God." Why is this idea of pursuing peace so important? I would suggest that it is so important to the Lord because that is within His nature! Six times in the New Testament God is referred as "the God of Peace" (Romans 15:33, 16:20, 1 Cor. 14:33, Phil. 4;9, Heb. 13:20, 1 Thess. 5:23). And each time the context is different and the application of this title would be different as well. 

In 2 Thessalonians 3:16 the Lord Jesus, who is the Prince of peace (Is. 9:6), is called the "Lord of Peace." He is our peace and is the One who has made peace and preaches peace through His church today (Eph. 2:14-17). The very presence of the Spirit of God in us produces peace according Galatians 5:22-23 "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law." But there are things that do grieve and quench the Spirit. "Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God." All the things in the list there in Galatians are obstacles to peace. When these things were present in Corinth, Paul told them they were not spiritual. Listen to what he said in 1 Corinthians 3:1-4, "And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not carnal?" It is very hard for us to experience peace if we are occupied with ourselves, our problems, our point of view or even others people! What ever we are occupied with is what we will pursue. 

As Christians we are commanded to actively pursue peace. It is important for us to realize that peace is more than simply the absence of conflict. Peace has with it the thought of rest, quietness and harmony. What is interesting is that these are all conditions of the heart and Matthew 6:21 reminds us "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." What ever our treasure is, what ever it is that we are actively pursuing displays where are heart is! Paul reminds us that true peace requires work! "Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with offense" (Romans 14:19-20). In Ephesians 4:1-3 he says, "to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with long suffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." Peter adds, "Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless" (2 Pet. 3:14). We are to be diligent, which means to work to the point of exhaustion and sweat, at pursing peace! In fact it is interesting that we are to be just as diligent pursing peace and preserving the outward expression of unity of the Spirit as we are to "being diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Tim. 2:15). 

Pursuing peace may require a change of behavior. 2 Timothy 2:22 challenges me to "Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart." If we are going to enjoy this peace we must not pursue a self centered life! Living in peace also requires discipline. Listen to what Hebrews 12:9-15 says, "Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us,and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness.Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed.Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled" 

In order for peace to be enjoyed in any group of people there must be order to prevent rivalry. Whether it is in the home, at work or in the church there must be a framework to follow. In thinking of the local assembly, Paul emphasizes this in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 when he writes, "And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves." 

Some practice "peace at any price" and sweep things under the rug. They think if they ignore conflict it will go away. But the command to live at peace with others has two exceptions. Both of them found in Romans 12:18 "If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men." If it is possible is the first exception. It is not always possible to live in peace. David wanted peace with King Saul but he never really had it. The second exception seen in this verse is, as much as depends on you. There are times when the other person refuses to live in peace and scripture reminds us that, "a brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city" (Proverbs 18:19). But we can't let these exceptions hinder our pursuit of peace! If both sides of the conflict refuse to yield, both have sinned. If I have the attitude "that brother is so hard to get along with" what I actually might be meaning is that "he refuses to admit that I'm right." How do we reconcile such a situation? Paul address this very thing in Philippians 2:1-4, "Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others." If the love of God has truly had an impact on my heart then I am not going to seek and insist on my own way, because love "does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil (1 Cor. 13:5). There may be times when peace requires distance such as in the case of Paul and Barnabas in Acts 15. They had had a severe disagreement and went separate ways. But later Scripture seems to indicate that there was not a lingering animosity built up toward one another. It would seem that peace was pursued rather than letting bitterness grow. 

The world is looking on the church today? What are they seeing? The world is watching you and your local assembly? What are they seeing? Do they see you pursuing peace? The Lord Jesus said, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). He also challenged us when He said, "Salt is good, but if the salt loses its flavor, how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace with one another” (Mark 9:50). 

May we heed Paul's final word to those at Corinth, "Finally, brethren, farewell. Become complete. Be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you" (2 Cor. 13:11).


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