The idea of peace permeates the Bible. The book opens and closes with peace.
When God originally created man and woman and put them in the garden, it was a garden of peace. Then came the fall and peace was interrupted, both peace with God and peace between men. Then at the cross, Jesus came and brought peace to the heart. Someday Jesus will return and establish a kingdom of peace, and in the new heaven and new earth we will enjoy eternal peace. So really, the story of redemption is the story of peace: peace forfeited, peace regained in the heart, peace regained on the earth, and finally peace regained in the eternal state.
The only reason there is presently no peace is because there is a major conflict going on in the world that can be summarized this way: Man is at war with God. That’s the problem, and that has been the problem since Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden.
In a world marked by conflict, the ministry of peacemaking is an indispensable one. Learning about peace and how to spread it is critical. And this is the ministry Jesus’s followers have:
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. (Matthew 5:9)
The blessed are agents of peace. We have the responsibility to bring peace to troubled hearts — to bring peace where otherwise there would be only conflict. God didn’t give this responsibility to politicians, or to statesmen, or to diplomats, or to judges. He didn’t give it to presidents or Nobel Peace Prize winners. He didn’t give it to the United Nations. He gave it to Christians.
All other peacemakers have ultimately been failures. The United Nations came into existence in 1945 in the aftermath of World War II as an agent for world peace. Since that time, there has not been one single day of peace in the world. The world is filled with never-ending upheavals, in spite of the UN’s motto, “To have succeeding generations be free from the scourge of war.”
There is no international peace. There is no national peace. There is no personal peace, either. Mental health problems and anguish strike scores of people. Families are rocked by conflict and divorce. And it all arises from the fact that there is no peace in the heart of mankind. All of the world’s external conflicts reflect our inner wickedness and rebellion.
The world that fallen man creates is a world without peace. It’s a world of chaos. It’s a world of conflict. It’s a world of trouble. It’s a world of shattered dreams and hopes and broken relationships. Peacemakers are desperately needed, and they can’t come from the world, because the world is full of hearts that have no peace.
So God offers the world peacemakers who are His own sons. And if you’re a believer, you are included in that group. And what sort of peace are we called to make?
For many people, peace is defined as the absence of conflict. But if that was the case, a cemetery would be the most peaceful place on earth. God’s definition of peace is not the absence of conflict, but the presence of goodness, blessing and wholeness.
When two Jewish people meet, they say, “Shalom.” They don’t mean to say, “May you have no more wars,” but rather, “May you enjoy the full satisfaction and tranquility that God brings.” Peace is a creative force producing goodness and well-being. It is the presence of aggressive goodness.
Peacemaking isn’t just calling a truce. So much of worldly peace is only the evasion of the issue. You’ve probably experienced this in a relationship before: an uneasy peace produced by the fact that you’re just keeping your mouth shut, because you know war will break out if you say anything. That’s a very dangerous situation because you’re only letting the real issue hide itself and break out into greater conflict later.
God never tells us to live in a superficial tranquility. He never lets us be comfortable evading issues just to “keep the peace.” He never allows us to avoid confronting sin for the sake of some superficial truce. Biblical peace conquers error and confronts sin in pursuit of true peace. Biblical peace is the peace that exists after a struggle has been resolved.
This is how Jesus made peace. Jesus was the greatest peacemaker to ever walk this earth. He came into the world to offer peace with God. And at the same time, He disturbed the population of Israel so deeply that they turned against Him and executed Him. He said of His ministry, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword” (Matthew 10:34).
Before peace can come, the sword has to fall. Jesus was saying this: If you’re in the house of unbelievers and you’re a believer, as soon as you say, “I have committed my life to the Messiah, Jesus Christ,” you’re going to have some instantaneous conflict.
The confrontation is necessary. The unmasking of sin is necessary. The message of the saving gospel of Jesus Christ must be given, even if it brings division, because the only peace that will satisfy God is that peace that comes after confrontation.
We do not abandon truth. We do not abandon doctrine. We do not abandon conviction. We do not abandon principle. We do not cry peace where there is no real peace. Just living your godly life in your home or your school or your work environment is a disruptive reality, because you’re confronting the sin of the people around you. But this confrontation will bring real peace to those who repent and believe the gospel.
The Christian who enters conflict for the truth, willingly combating error, confronting lies, pointing out heresy, is not a warmonger. He is a true peacemaker, because he is working toward the only peace that God recognizes. He seeks a peace that demands truth.
And who is the source of this peace?
Because mankind has no peace within itself, it must come from the outside — from the God of peace (1 Corinthians 14:33). All true peace has Him as its source. Peace resides in God as an essential part of His nature. When God came into the world as a man, this is what the angels announced:
Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased. (Luke 2:14)
It is by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that sinners can enjoy peace with God (Colossians 1:20). You can’t have peace in your heart or anywhere else until you know the God of peace through the peacemaker, Jesus Christ.
And those who do know Him have become ambassadors of this peace. We are the spiritual peace corps. We are the only peacemakers on the face of the earth. And those who hear our message and believe it understand that we are the peacemakers, and they join us to become part of the peace corps.
The blessing we receive by being peacemakers is a great privilege: the right to be called sons of God. By spreading peace, we reflect the very character of God and demonstrate the fact that we are His children.
When you see someone’s child, you think, “Ah, I know whose son that is. He bears a resemblance to his father.” In the same way, peacemakers resemble their spiritual Father, the God of peace. What a tremendous honor — that God gives us the ability to reflect His character as sons and bring His peace to a troubled world!
But of course, being this sort of peacemaker in the world will put us in the path of conflict and persecution. We will talk more about that next time.
This blog post is based on Dr. MacArthur’s sermon “The Only Way to Happiness: Be a Peacemaker,” originally preached in 1998.