We Must Pursue
Peace and Holiness Not Easily Obtained
Being a child of God does not insulate us from pain and sorrow. His love for us means that he will test our faith and purify our love for him. He will teach us to walk by faith. He will bring sufficient hardship into our lives so that we keep looking unto Jesus and like him learn obedience through suffering. In this context of running the race, looking to Jesus, and enduring God’s discipline, we are told to pursue or hunt for peace and holiness. Hard circumstances are not a reason to draw back from obeying the Lord but a powerful incentive to seek his strength with more than usual fervency. And since we are commanded to pursue these two things, the implication is that they are not easily obtained – especially during times of persecution, for then we want to lash out at our tormentors. We can lose our self-control and become angry or fearful. The Lord does not use the more common word for “seeking,” but the intense word that is sometimes translated “persecute.” The idea is an active, rigorous search and pursuit, like a hunt for game. So, while the world hunted down and persecuted these believers for their steadfast faith in God, they were to hunt for peace and holiness.
Worthy of Pursuit
Already we see a great distinction in the way of life between believers and unbelievers, as well as in their responses to trouble. God calls us to seek peace with everyone and live consecrated to him no matter what we are going through. The world says that if you are having a hard time, then your anger and meanness and personal excesses are excused. It is understandable if you turn to strong drink or drugs to forget your problems. This makes you a hero in the world’s eyes, for it looks for any excuse to justify sinning against God. The greater the rebellion in the name of self-discovery and authenticity, the more heroic you will be judged. A man is angry and turns to drugs because his father beat him, or his wife left him, or he was unloved as a child. Then, the rest of his life, he can play the victim card. Our society has become so totally driven by blaming others and refusing to face up to one’s own sins that we need this contextual reminder that being tormented by evil men does not give us leave to treat them badly. We must turn the other cheek and do them good. Jesus Christ is the center of our ethics and our ethos, our way of life, and pleasing him by learning to obey his word determines everything for us. He is worthy to be served in the worst circumstances imaginable. While his enemies nailed him to the tree and threw dice at his feet, he made propitiation for the sins of the world and forgave them. He did not speak angry words to his tormentors but kept silent and made his soul an offering for sin. Hunting after peace and holiness is the most honorable, challenging, and meaningful quest we can ever undertake, for it is the way of Jesus.
The Pursuit of Peace
With All Men
Peace is the heart of his saving work. He is “our peace,” objectively and legally and immovably, because he brought in everlasting righteousness by his obedience unto death (Dan. 9:24; Eph. 2:14). The chastisement of our peace was laid upon him, the blood price of our peace with God (Isa. 53:5). He is the “Prince of peace” because his reign does not advance primarily through a bloody sword but through subduing our hearts to peace with God and with each other. If we are looking unto Jesus, calling upon him and seeking to be like him, his peacemaking nature will rub off on us by the inner sanctifying of the Spirit. One cannot know Jesus as peace with God through righteousness and remain indifferent to peace with others through righteous relationships governed by God’s word. This is the reason that the first injunction after speaking of God’s discipline of the cross is to pursue peace with all men. Of course believers are to live in peace with each other. Two Christians, whatever their differences on external matters such as political philosophy, share a fundamental peace with God through common faith in Jesus Christ. They must seek peace with each, and Christ in them will be seeking peace, unless something is terribly amiss with one or both.
“All men” goes much farther, for it includes the realm of our separation from the world in its rebellion against God. Even so, our separation unto God does not free us from the duties of peace, for peace with men is really the most practical fruit of the gospel believed and practiced. Thus, “as much as it depends upon us, we are to live in peace with all men” (Rom. 12:8). Others may hate us, lie against our characters, and blaspheme our Lord, even as they did these things directly to our Savior, but he loved, forgave, and went about doing good, even to his enemies (Acts 10:38). A remarkable truth about a Christian’s attitude and relationship with others is that he does not treat others as they treat him. He does not get his feelings about them from their feelings about him. No longer do we judge men after the flesh; we know men as they are in their relation to Christ and endeavor to bring them into the closest possible contact with his transforming power by the way we relate to them, especially if they hate and mistreat us.
This kind of peace is not passivity, and the Lord is the best teacher on this point. He was very bold in confronting enemies of God’s truth and in doing righteousness, such as ridding his temple from worldly corruptions. At the same time, he readily forgave insults, did good to those who hated him, and actively promoted good relations as far as he could do so. Hunting for peace as our Savior did, to take a modern example, helps us navigate through the thorny issue of the mass migrations that are occurring, the effects of which we feel daily. The cause of this disruption is undoubtedly evil, but the Christian can seek peace in two ways, both of which are inseparable from righteousness. First, pursuing peace means that there must be righteousness in upholding existing laws, for to be a secure nation requires clear boundaries and rules for entry and citizenship. It is not unloving for a believer to appreciate and keep the laws of his land regulating immigrants; it is not loving to throw open one’s borders without ascertaining the character and purposes of someone entering a country – unless one has the wish to kill one’s own nation and introduce social chaos.
Second, at a personal level, we seek peace with all men, including those who look and speak differently from us. This does not mean jettisoning our gospel convictions, any more than it would in relations between persons of the same race but of very different religious persuasions. Pursuing peace means that we see God’s broader kingdom purposes in exposing men and women to the gospel of his Son and in punishing those who have made areas of the world unlivable by their economic and military programs. We cannot solve anything. Could Jesus solve the cross? He had to endure the injustice so that he could satisfy divine justice and obtain our righteousness. Along the way, he calmly surrendered himself into the hands of sinners, forgave from the cross, and thus saved the world through his seeking and obtaining of peace through his righteousness. Thus, we must treat our new neighbors as peaceably as possible, seek their good even if they do not seek ours, and in this way seek peace through righteousness in a bad situation.
Peace Pursuit Requirements
Here we should perhaps pause and ask what is necessary in order to hunt diligently for peace with all men. At the very least, there must be gospel humility and love in us that does not keep accounts of wrongs suffered or demand satisfaction for every offense. No one at the foot of the cross asked Jesus’ forgiveness, but he prayed to his Father for specific and perhaps universal mercy – God loved the world (John 3:16), but the world killed the Son of God. Had Jesus not forgiven the world, no one could be saved! Is not the lack of peace in our homes and broader society the failure to practice this gospel love and mercy of our Savior? He is the center of a truly healing and righteous ethic. His kingdom law is far more than a code of conduct; he is the personal embodiment of obedience to the law, and we must see how he treated men and sought peace with them and with God before we can have a clue about this hunt.
Peace also requires that we have his spirit and practice of “going about doing good” (Acts 10:38). Peace in our human relations is kind, harmless, proactively positive and a beneficial attitude toward others. It extends to our words and actions, but the heart of peace is goodwill toward others. We are thus commanded in Galatians 6:10 to “do good to all men, especially unto them that are of the household of faith.” Our goodness is universal in its desire and willingness to help and show the love of God in Christ. It is specific and preferential toward fellow-Christians, whatever their nationality may be, and for this we must not apologize. But we must not allow this preference to quench the gospel spirit of usefulness to our neighbors that is part of the doing good. Jesus did not go about as a do-gooder or merely have good intentions. Good intentions without righteousness have accomplished a great amount of evil in our land, for “good” is not defined by man but by God in his word. Men do not know what is in their best interests unless they are governed by God’s word, in which alone we find light and understanding. Jesus was actually useful to people, and in our places of business, neighborhoods, and families, we would enjoy much greater peace among ourselves if we were more committed to being truly useful to others. This is very much against the “serve me and bow to my whims” spirit that prevails as a poison cloud over our land. As Christians, we make peace, as our Lord did, by doing good and serving others (Matt. 20:28).
Obstacles to Peace
Satan is a great enemy to peace that is based upon righteousness. He will be happy for a peace based upon mutual toleration of sin or the establishment of a regime of lawlessness and rebellion against God’s law. He is also a murderer, so he is contented for men to be at each other’s throats, suspicious of motives, inspired by revenge, and ready to take up the slightest offense (John 8:44). In our hunt or fervent pursuit for peace, his malevolence must be kept in mind, for he is an enemy to peace. We shall have to resist him with the weapons God has provided (Eph. 6:10-18). And because he hates men and would kill us all by igniting continual conflicts, we should expect that most of the world’s wars are fought at his suggestion and instigation, for they are typically not based upon the pursuit of God’s righteous kingdom but are carried on in the pursuit of very narrow self and national interests that are not self-defensive. In these wars, we see man’s ambition for himself, his thirst for conquest and domination, and all that is depraved and satanic in our fallen nature – let us crush everyone that prevents us from getting what we want. Our own leaders would do well to assess more fully their motives and the day of reckoning that is coming for all who take up arms against others without an explicit justification to take life based upon the undisputed will of God.
There are other obstacles to peace, more local obstacles that we more commonly face. There is the sad reality of our depravity and resulting selfishness that loves to be and to be thought right at all costs and that often compels us to pursue disputes when we should simply yield. It is often better to make peace than to be right, when first principles are not at stake and when it is a matter of personal preference. But most of us seek our own interests and then equate those interests with God’s will, which would be farcical were it not so typical. This in turn fills us with unrealistic expectations in our human relations so that we confuse what is actually possible in this world with what we would like to be. Yes, it would be nice if all believers and then all men agreed all the time, that we all respected one another’s opinions and were willing to learn from one another. This is not usually the case, but our pursuit of peace does not require this but simply the personal and community commitment that we shall love our neighbor as ourselves, do him good as we are able, and always extend mercy to him. We are not commanded to obtain peace at any cost, but to pursue peace as far as it depends upon us.
Perhaps the greatest impediment to the pursuit and actual establishment of peace is the same squabble that infected the twelve in the upper room. Who among us shall be greatest? We are so ambitious to be recognized. This comes in different forms. Some do not want the recognition of leadership but of sympathy, or having the last word, or respect for their opinions. Can you imagine that satanic hideousness of that squabble, that night, arguing over who would be greatest, when the Son of God was about to be nailed to the cross for our sins? It is stomach churning, but it is the same today in the church whenever believers refuse to think the best of each other, push the other forward, and refuse to think of others as better than themselves. Our Lord silenced their squabbling and crushed their pride with a directive and rule for his kingdom that must to this very moment effect an utter transformation in most Christian lives and churches, were it followed absolutely and prayerfully. “He that would be great among you, let him become the servant of all” (Matt. 20:26; Luke 22:26). Pride is the greatest obstacle to peace. This is because pride of position, of recognition, of possession, these would gobble up the whole world. Pride is the mortal enemy of peace, which is the reason that Satan is the leading sower of discord. It is the reason that if we are to pursue peace, we must be like our Lord Jesus and give ourselves to serving one another and preferring others to ourselves.
World Hatred Challenges Peace
Peace is misunderstood, abused, and set on an impotent foundation of human initiative and feeling unless we see the truth about God and about ourselves. When our Savior takes us out of the kingdom of darkness, we are more than willing to be at peace; he calls us the “quiet of the land” (Ps. 35:10). As we grow in Christ, we rejoice more and more in God’s great love and mercy. We want to tell others and live out mercy and goodness ourselves, so that our lives will be a living sacrifice to our Savior. Then, we face what at first seems like an immovable wall. The world hates us for the very reason that we love it: our faith in Jesus Christ and pursuit of “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost” (Rom. 14:17). The world speaks of these, of course, but on its own terms and without any reference to God, submission to his word, or faith in Jesus Christ. And then we clash and learn that our Lord’s words were no exaggeration, when he said that the world will hate us because it hated him first (John 15:18).
Our conflict with the world is dangerous, but not in the way we think. It is dangerous not because there is any real threat to Christ’s kingdom and church or even to ourselves (Matt. 10:28). The danger is that under pressure, we will try to make our peace with the world on the world’s terms. The danger is that we will be tempted to think that the gospel is too narrow, or that God’s truth need not be followed so closely that it offends others. And then, the church begins consulting her feelings rather than God’s word. She consults the public opinion of blind men rather than the light of eternal truth. Compromise is followed as an attractive way to peace, but then truth and peace are equally lost (Isa 57:21). Peace can never be obtained on a foundation of lies. When there is a great deal of talk about peace, be sure to ask the most important question – but is there righteousness? Is there obedience to God’s revealed truth, for in the absence of this, any peace is but a pretense and surrender to the devil.
There is, however, another danger. When the devil is marching and human societies are torn apart by suspicion and hatred, it is easy for Christians to forget their identity. They become hate-filled and vicious in their language. Say to them, “Jesus said to love your enemies and do them good,” and they will either huff and puff at you, as if you are uninitiated fool, or they will make some excuse as to why in this case such love and goodness is impossible, unjustified, a fool’s errand. I suspect that these Hebrew believers were also tempted in this direction. The fires of persecution were raging again. This kind of agitation easily tempts us to be offended or outraged by “pursue peace with all men.” But, the responses come quickly and furiously, you do not understand how evil they are, or what they are trying to do to us, or the bigger picture. You are such a simpleton. Tell that to the Lord Jesus when he hung upon the cross and forgave his enemies. Of course his kingdom ethic will strike us as odd, but this is because it strikes at the root of our pride and fears. Trust me, he says. Pursue peace with all men, as far as you are able, even when they are trying to kill you. There are other duties, such self-defense, but we hardly need encouragement to this. What we need is to show the power of the risen Savior and forgive our enemies and do them good and turn the other cheek. These are important ways that we submit to our Father’s discipline, show that we are his children, and imitate our blessed Savior. May he give us this heavenly and peaceful wisdom (James 3:18)!