God’s Priorities for His Churches: Peace (5)
Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord… Hebrews 12.14
“Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword.” Matthew 10.34
Let the saints be joyful in glory;
Let them sing aloud on their beds.
Let the high praises of God be in their mouth,
And a two-edged sword in their hand… Psalm 149.5, 6
Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Acts 2.37
A mission of peace
We are considering why peace must be a high priority of any healthy, growing church. Peace is what Jesus came to bring to the world, as the angels reported to the shepherds on the night of His birth. Peace is what Jesus has left to us, a peace that goes far beyond any peace the world might give, and makes us safe in the favor of God, at rest in our souls, and ready for good works of peace and love. And as the writer of Hebrews explains, peace is what we must make every effort to bring to and maintain with all people.
The Church is God’s agent of peace to the world. We are to pray for and seek the peace of those communities in which the Lord has placed us, and thus to help the world realize the wondrous blessing of Jesus and His peace.
But Jesus Himself declared that He did not come to the earth to bring peace. He came to bring a sword. The sword disrupts, divides, destroys, and subjects. This is what Jesus came to do. He came to disrupt the settled status quo of a world in rebellion against God. He came to divide people from one another by calling out a people to live in truth, grace, and peace as a holy people to the Lord. He came to destroy the dominion of the devil and inaugurate a realm of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. And He came to subject all the enemies of God to His liberating, enlightening, empowering, and transforming rule.
And He does this by wielding the two-edged sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (Heb. 4.12; Eph. 6.17). That Word, faithfully wielded, cuts to the heart of lost sinners and opens their souls to the Good News of peace that Jesus embodies, and His people know and declare.
The mission of every local church is a mission of peace. But the peace of Jesus, which He calls us to pursue with all men, must come at the point of the Sword of God’s Word. Any peace which does not come by this means is false and fleeting and cannot lead to the peace that passes understanding and guards the heart and mind in Christ Jesus.
Havens of peace
Most local churches today sincerely aspire to be havens of peace. They want people to feel safe and accepted, to find friends and wholesome activities and diversions. Churches may not use the language of peace in seeking to attract people to them, but the promise of peace is implicit in all they do. This is surely a laudable objective for any church.
But are we seeking the peace of Jesus in the way Jesus exemplified and taught?
Do our churches push people beyond their own comfort zones, insisting that they embrace disciplined lives of bearing the cross of Jesus in daily service of love? Do they challenge people to forego mundane comforts in order to devote more time, attention, and energy to growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord? Most churches have set aside or simply ignore the Law of God and its relentless demands that we become a holy people, as our Father in heaven is holy. Churches these days tend to overlook all but the grossest or most scandalous of sins, practicing a tolerance and patience with their members, even to the point of having few if any expectations for their sanctification. And we don’t push the Gospel at our neighbors, for we do not want to seem like we’re judging them, and we know how troubling and disturbing the claims of Christ can be. Let them see us as a people of peace – love, tolerance, forgiveness, acceptance, and a welcoming spirit – and they may find the Prince of Peace in our midst.
In our churches today we want people to know peace. We don’t want them to be troubled by anything we might say or require. We don’t insist they embrace lives of repentance, sacrifice, good works, or witness; instead, we encourage them to make friends and find a niche where they can feel right at home in our congregation.
And in all these ways of our desiring to be havens of peace for our members and attenders, we are betraying our missionof peace by offering a peace based on changeable circumstances and conditions, rather than a peace that is attained by the Sword of God’s Word and grounded in a deep and transforming relationship with the living Christ.
Peace and the Sword
The way to the peace God wants us to know is at the point of the Sword of God’s Word. God’s people have been given that Sword to bear against the world of sin, whether personal, cultural, institutional, moral, or social. We must bear that Sword against our own souls, first of all and continuously. We will not know the peace of Jesus unless the Sword of God’s Word penetrates to the depths of our souls, carving space for Jesus to be planted and to grow, eradicating all remaining sin, cauterizing the wounds of doubt and unbelief.
But we must also wield this Sword against the sins we find in one another and in our world. We must not blink at sin, like skittish bird dogs passing by the very prey for which they have been trained. The way to the peace of Jesus is by the Sword of the Spirit, as we wield it for the overthrow of sin and the healing of the nations.
To the Church is the privilege and blessing of peace, the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ! But to us also is the mission of peace, peace which can only be gained as we faithfully wield the Sword of the Word of God upon and into all aspects of life, for the glory of Christ and His Kingdom.
How can you realize your vision?
It’s one thing to get excited about serving the Lord, or taking on a new project, or longing to grow in Jesus and His Kingdom. It’s another thing to get busy at pursuing such high callings. A simple plan can get you off the dime and moving in the direction of greater fruitfulness for the Lord. Watch this brief videothat features “A Template for Planning.” Download the PDF and use it to number your days and discern the Lord’s work for all the visions and projects of your life.
Prayer for Revival: A Jonathan Edwards Reader
“What sort of peace is it that Jesus asks them to pronounce upon entering each house? And what kind of peace is it of which the angels sing, ‘Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace’? And if Jesus came not to bring peace, why did all the prophets publish peace as good news? Because this more than anything is peace: when the disease is removed. This is peace: when the cancer is cut away. Only with such radical surgery is it possible for heaven to be reunited to earth.”
- John Chrysostom, The Gospel of Matthew Homily 35.1
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T. M. Moore
Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, quotes from Church fathers are from The Ancient Christian Commentary Series (InterVarsity Press).