“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 12:18
What follows is an adaptation of a sermon preached by Rev. Andrew Cammenga, pastor of Escondido CRC, CA.
Peace. The first time “peace” is mentioned in the Bible is in Genesis 15:15. God is speaking to His friend Abraham, and talks about how He intends to bless him, how Abraham will die in old age and go to his fathers in peace. What a wonderful blessing!
How different from the last time the word peace is found. In Revelation 6:4, where the second seal is opened and a fiery red horse appears, its rider, we are told, is given power to take peace away! What an awful judgment!
And in between these two references, the word “peace” appears over 270 times in the NIV translation. One of those times is the command we find here in Romans 12:18: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
That really hits home today doesn’t it! For some it hits home because coming to church was anything but peaceful; there was crabbing and arguing and fighting (or perhaps stony silence which certainly is not indicative of peace!). For others the subject may hit home because of a neighbor or family member. For many of us it hits home in connection with the lack of peace in our denomination.
So we listen to this Word of God with renewed interest because His will is that “if it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” In other words, we must be peacemakers.
ITS SUPREME IMPORTANCE
All God’s commands are important
We must realize that this is an important command of God. That shouldn’t surprise you. After all, there are NO unimportant commands of God. I have to repeat that: there are no unimportant commands of God! I’m sometimes amazed at what I hear in our present situation. People will say, “I can live with women in office, I don’t concur, it won’t happen here, but the day we ordain a homosexual that’s where I draw the line.”
But my friend, God draws the lines. And when God draws the lines, we are not to color outside the lines that God draws. It’s a very arrogant thing to somehow think that we are allowed to determine what commands of God we will obey and which we will determine are not a matter of salvation. Obedience is always a matter of salvation. To break one law is to break them all. So for our salvation, for our eternal welfare we must remember to do all that God commands (Deuteronomy 28:15).
And in that connection, being a peacemaker is no less important than loving our neighbor or keeping the Sabbath, or maintaining the infallibility of the Word.
Sons of God are peacemakers
There is more. Listen to the testimony of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says: “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God.” “Sons of God.” Of course! Our father is the God of peace.
The message that I bring each Sunday is a message of peace with God, the message that the angels announced at the birth of Christ: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace!”
Maybe it’s that peace or lack of it that brought you here this morning. You lack peace with God; your life is in turmoil and your heart accuses you; your conscience attacks. You have no peace with God. Then my friend you have come to the right place because Jesus Christ is the one who makes peace between us and God. The Bible says, that while we were enemies, God. was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself…making peace. Jesus did that on the cross. He made peace by taking our sins, by bearing God’s wrath and punishment that was due us. The things that make for war between us and God he removes! Jesus is the only way to peace. Confess your sins to God; believe and rejoice that Jesus took your sin and hell so that you might have peace with God.
I said that the message God has given me is a message of peace. That’s how our service began, remember? I greeted you in the name of God with these words: “Grace to you and peace.” We have just talked about having peace with God through faith in Jesus Christ. And having done that we will experience the fruit of the Spirit which is “love, joy and peace…”
And the service will end with a word of peace: “The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you, the Lord lift his countenance upon you and give you peace!”
So it is no wonder that peacemakers shall be called “sons of God.” They reflect His image! He is the great peacemaker.
God hates those who stir up strife.
And if that wasn’t enough to remind us of the importance of being a peacemaker, I remind you about how often the Bible associates sin with dissension (peacelessness). In Proverbs it tells us that hatred. stirs up dissension, that a hot-tempered man stirs up dissension, that a perverse and greedy man stirs up dissension.
It reminds us that God hates those who stir up dissension, who are “anti-peace.” In Proverbs 6 we read: “There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.” So we see the extreme importance of this command.
But if being a peacemaker is so important, what is peace? What does a peacemaker do? What kind of peacemaking does God seek and honor?
ITS ESSENTIAL CHARACTER
What peace is
To understand this peacemaking business we first must look at the verses that surround this command. Paul is especially speaking here about our personal relationships. He speaks about “… not being proud…or conceited” and “willing to associate with people of low position” (16); and of “not repaying evil for evil” (17).
You know what God is talking about here, don’t you children? How quickly we repay evil for evil. Our little brother or sister does something mean to us and we do something mean back. And all of a sudden we have fights. That’s not being a peacemaker, is it? God doesn’t want you to fight; He wants you to be a peacemaker, not to get mad, not to get even. And you don’t have to worry about how these things will turn out. God will take care of you; He will bless you for being a peacemaker.
Verse 17b goes on: “Be careful to do what is right.” That also leads to peace, doesn’t it? When we know and do our duty as husbands and wives and children; when we do what is right, that makes for peace, for harmony.
It brings us to a little deeper meaning of this word “peace.” Peace that the Bible speaks about is not so much the absence of war as it is a state of harmony, of calm, of tranquility. Peace is a state of order. We could even say of law and order. That’s probably why a policeman is also known as a “peace officer.”
The opposite of peace is conflict, anxiety, lawlessness and disharmony.
What a peacemaker does
So on that basis, a peacemaker is one who helps people find rest and safety,who helps resolve conflict and bring harmony. That means of course, that a peacemaker doesn’t simply close his or her eyes to what is wrong. In Romans 16:20 we read that: “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” That’s how God makes peace. That’s how a “peace officer” sometimes makes peace: he uses deadly force! Sometimes peace is made by removing the culprit, the lawbreaker, from society.
What I am saying is that being a peacemaker is not simply condoning what is going on and saying, “Well folks, you are just going to have to put up with it, you are going to have to learn to live with it.” Peacemaking is not mere passivity.
Paul gives us a good example of this in I Corinthians 14 where he speaks about the “God of peace.” Remember the situation? Paul is dealing with abuses in worship. Everyone was doing his own thing in worship: speaking in tongues, hymns and prophecies were all going on at the same time. And then we read in verse 31: “For you all can prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. The spirits of the prophets are subject to the control of prophets, for God is not a God of disorder but of peace.” So here we see Paul condemning disorder so that there might be real harmony (peace).
Summing it up
So obviously, when it comes to personal matters, a peacemaker is not quarrelsome is not concerned about his own welfare, ease and comfort. He can easily him the cheek.
But a peacemaker is also concerned with the peace and welfare of others, desiring to facilitate reconciliation, to help maintain agreements—“law and order,” if you will.
And then there are a number of ways to achieve peace and be a peacemaker. Sometimes that is done with encouragement, other times with compromise, and still other times with force or discipline.
A parent, for example, is a peacemaker when she explains to her children about love and sharing and doing what is right. But she is also a peacemaker when she removes the child with the disruptive behavior with a long timeout in the bedroom.
Officebearers in a church are often called to be peacemakers. Sometimes that takes the form of a wise compromise. We often do that in a building program; we compromise; we can’t all getor have what we want.
But officebearers in the church may not always suggest compromise. There are things that are non-negotiable, and those who insist on compromise of those things are a threat to peace! Again we go back to I Corinthians 14. Paul rebukes those who are disruptive in worship. He doesn’t advocate acceptance; he doesn’t accuse the offended ones of straining at gnats because the chaotic worship was contrary to the very character of God.
We see the same thing in Romans 16:17 where Paul says: “I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them.” Those who digress from the Word of God, those who advocate things contrary to God’s Word, are the ones who cause division (peacelessness) in the church.
In that situation a peacemaker keeps himself (and those he is responsible for) away from them…because their disobedience brings about division and lack of peace and ultimately judgment. And that’s ,“That Proverbs 22:10 advocates: if you want peace, ‘drive out the mocker.’” (A mocker is one who makes light of the things of God and a peacemaker in that situation must drive him out.)
So peacemaking is not peace at any price. It is not covering up reality. It is not saying peace, peace, when there is no peace. (That’s the work of false prophets!)
That’s why the Bible says: “If it is possible” live at peace with all men. Sometimes it’s not possible. That’s what Jesus suggested too. Sometimes we are a little surprised about that; the Bible speaks about Jesus being the “Prince of Peace.” But Jesus said, “I did not come to bring peace but the sword.” How does that all fit in?
Well, if we look at that passage in Matthew 10, we find the rest of that quotation: “I came not to bring peace but the sword. I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household. Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me…” (Matthew 10:34–37).
There are members of this church that understand that very clearly because they became Christians and their parents were Jews or Mormons and that created division in the family. Jesus, in that case, didn’t come to bring peace but, He brought a sword. He brought family division. Other families have been members of good Baptist or Pentecostal churches. But they joined this church because they believed it was more faithful to the entire revelation of God. And that brought division (sword) within their family. It wasn’t that they were not Christians there at the other church, but they said: “Look, that is not how I understand the Scriptures and I have to be faithful to my Lord.” And that faithfulness to the Lord brought division within the family.
In such a case you may not be able to live in peace. Peace may not be possible if it means compromising the things of the Lord. “As much as you are able be at peace” but nothing is more important than my relationship to the Lord, than obedience to Him, than peace with Him.
And that gets us into the last part of this message on peacemaking: The demanding nature of being a peacemaker.
ITS DEMANDING NATURE
Peacemaking requires great courage
First, it takes tremendous courage to be a peacemaker if, for the sake of Christ, you must bring division in a family. It takes tremendous courage if, as a peacemaker, no compromise is possible and you drive out the mocker—especially if that mocker is someone you know and love.
I think about a mother some years back who (like Abraham) had to drive out a child from her family. The oldest child was creating such unrest and dissension and, as such, was a mocker of the things of God. She was beginning to affect the other children. So finally the mother had to say, “Out! And don’t come back until you come back in the Lord.” The mother received all kinds of static for that. You know the kind: she was hardheaded, brutal, loveless, harsh. But she had to do what she had to do for peace in the family.
It took courage for Paul to confront Peter face to face at the church in Galatia. That took courage because Peter was a prince in the church, respected and honored, a pillar. Paul was a late-comer. It took courage to do this but it had to be done for peace in the church.
But leaders in the church have always needed to have the courage of peacemakers. Listen to Paul’s instructions to the leaders of the church. “Avoid foolish controversies; warn a divisive person once (and remember a divisive person in Paul’s mind is one who strays from the teaching they were handed down). Warn a divisive person once, and then a second time, and after that have nothing to do with him” (Titus 3).
That takes courage, especially if that person is someone we know and love. Who of us likes to confront and finally to drive away someone we love?! Who likes to be ridiculed as rigid, harsh, pushy when we do that? But that’s what will happen today if you don’t conform, if you won’t compromise on matters of principle. People will brand you as a trouble maker rather than a peacemaker.
In that connection it is interesting that after Jesus says: “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God,” He says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness…”!
So peacemaking takes courage.
Peacemaking requires humility
In Philippians 2 we read: “Make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests but also to the interests of others.”
That’s what Paul was also referring to in Romans: “Do not repay evil for evil.” For the sake of peace, to stop an argument, to keep a relationship, a peacemaker will take abuse, will make sacrifices, and will forget about his or her own rights.
And what a beautiful thing it is when that happens! When you see a child give up a toy; when you see a spouse bite her lip; when you see someone go the extra mile to calm troubled waters. Indeed, blessed are such peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God! Peacemaking takes wisdom Remember the story of Solomon and the two mothers who were fighting over the one baby. How amazed the people were with his wise solution and how that solution brought peace.
We have at least one lawyer in the audience this morning—what tremendous wisdom it takes to bring warring parties together instead of to court. What wisdom it takes to know when to quit, when to keep silent, what behavior we mayor may not accept. It takes tremendous wisdom to be a peacemaker.
In the life of Abraham we see the courage, the gentleness and the wisdom of a true peacemaker. When it came to his personal welfare, he was extremely humble and generous with Lot. It wasn’t going well with their hired hands. So he said to Lot, “You choose; if you go to the left, I’ll go to the right. Take your pick!” What a peacemaker! What humility!
But when Ishmael mocks Isaac (the covenant child), when God’s Word and promises are being challenged, then peacemaking takes another direction: Abraham “casts out the bond woman and her child!” He “drives out the mocker and has peace!”
God says: “As far as it depends on you, be at peace.” Make sure you have the courage of a peacemaker. Make sure you have the humility of a peacemaker. Pray that you have the wisdom to know the difference.
Rev. Cammenga is the pastor of the Christian Reformed Church in Escondido, CA.