On Wednesday, I attended the Remembrance Day service at the school. We heard “In Flanders Fields” read, heard the senior choir sing and heard from a war veteran. On Friday, many of you had a day off and perhaps some of you attended services or watched them on TV. This week, we have been reminded of war and have thought about how peace has come to us. What does the Bible have to say about war and peace?
Sometimes we have conflicts, not on the international scene, but in our own lives. We discover that our neighbour is building his fence 2 feet onto our property. A friend ignores us or hurts us. What does the Bible have to say about personal conflicts and peace?
Our EMC Confession Of Faith summarizes our understanding of the Biblical teaching when it says:
“We believe in the life of peace. We are called to walk in the steps of the Lamb of God, the Prince of Peace. Everything about His life, His teachings and His redemptive death on the cross, summons us to a life of non-violence.
As non-resistant Christians, we cannot support war, whether as officers, soldiers, combatants or non-combatants, or direct financial contributions.
Instead of taking up arms, we should do whatever we can to lessen human distress and suffering, even at the risk of our own lives. In all circumstances, we should be peacemakers and ministers of reconciliation (Isaiah 53:3-9; Matthew 5-7; 28:18-20; John 18:36; Romans 12:13; Philippians 2:3-4; Colossians 2:14-15; Hebrews 1:1-2; 2:14; I Peter 2:9, 20-23).
In this confession, we declare that we believe that a part of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus is to be a person of peace. Why do we believe this? What does this mean in life?
In the book The Power of the Lamb John E. Toews says, “Jesus is the center of the Christian faith. Everything before him points to him, and everything after him flows from him. Jesus is the measuring stick for Christian thinking and action. Therefore, Christian peace teaching and witness must be anchored in Jesus.”
As we look at the life and teaching of Jesus, we do indeed see that He was the Prince of Peace.
The teaching of Jesus included peace teaching. Several of the things which he said in the Sermon on the Mount were teachings calling his followers to a life of peace.
In Matthew 5:7 we read “blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” When we show mercy, Jesus says that we will be shown mercy. Although it it is true that if you are nice, others will be nice to you, it is more likely that it means that if we show mercy, God will show mercy to us.
In Matthew 5:9, we read, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” Being a peacemaker follows after the pattern of Jesus who came to this earth for this very purpose of making peace. When we are peace makers, we are like God and so peacemakers will be called sons of God. The emphasis in this passage is on “making” peace. A peacemaker is a person who actually makes peace, who comes between angry and fighting people in order to make peace. It is a person who seeks to bring Shalom. Shalom is the Hebrew word for peace and means so much more than absence of conflict. It means wholeness and is concerned for the well-being of another person.
Another passage which also comes out of the Sermon on the Mount is Matthew 5:38-42 in which Jesus instructs us to set “aside the law of retaliation.”
The natural tendency of human beings who want to both seek justice and punish people who do wrong is to really hurt someone who has hurt us. We see the unlimited retaliation of Lamech in Genesis 4:23 when he says, “I have killed a man for wounding me.”
When God established a relationship with Israel, he commanded them to limit retaliation to eye for eye and tooth for tooth. In the giving of the law, he said to them in Exodus 21:23,24, “But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot…”
Jesus raises this to a new level when He says, “don’t pay back the evil-doer.” In other words, don’t retaliate at all. He then gives four examples in which this was to be practiced. They come from four areas of life. He says that in interpersonal relationships “don’t resist the insult of a backhanded slap in the face. Turn the other cheek.” In the area of law he teaches his disciples the “surrender of everything rather than insistence on legal rights.” In Jewish law, a coat could not be taken because it was needed to keep warm at night, but Jesus says, give it up anyway. In the area of politics he encourages the “acceptance of a draft into temporary military service. Most Jews refused such requests and often even felt justified in abusing the soldiers. Jesus teaches a different way. In the world of business, Jesus says, “give money instead of lending it when a loan is requested.” One writer says, “More difficult instructions could hardly have been given by Jesus in first century Palestine.”
Following this call not to retaliate, Jesus raises the standards for disciples even further in Matthew 5:43-48. In this passage, he teaches that his disciples must love their enemies. In teaching this, he pointed out that this is how God acts. God does not distinguish between good and bad people in giving the good gifts of sun and rain. So when we love our enemies, we are acting like God is acting. He points out further that as disciples, this is unusual behaviour compared to the rest of the world. If we only love those who love us, he says, then we are no different than anyone else. If we love our enemies, then we are like God and that is what we are to be as His disciples. Loving enemies means many things, but the one thing he mentions in this passage is that it means that we pray for them.
But Jesus did not only teach peace. He also is the perfect model of what he taught. In one way of looking at things, we may suggest that Jesus was anything but a peacemaker, but was rather a warrior. He came as a conqueror to defeat the powers of sin, death and evil. The Bible even uses this kind of language in speaking about what Jesus accomplished. In one encounter with a demon possessed man, the evil spirit cried out, “Have you come to destroy us?” That is exactly what Jesus came to do. In Luke 10:18 Jesus comments, “I saw Satan fall like lightening from heaven.” The work of Jesus was to come and destroy evil and the evil one. Colossians 2:15 describes that victory when it says, “having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” But two questions need to be asked about Jesus as a warrior – What were the methods of his battle? and What are the implications of that victory for us now?
The verse in Colossians 2:15 tells us the method that Jesus used to bring about the victory over sin. He did not gather an army and fight. Rather, he died. He gained victory through the cross. The peaceful means Jesus used, the radically different strategy of gaining victory for the kingdom of God are demonstrated in his whole life and particularly in his death. To Pilate he said, in John 18:36, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews.” The method of Jesus is seen once again in Matthew 26:52. When one of the disciples began to use his sword Jesus replied, “Put your sword back in its place…for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.”
Philippians speaks volumes about the method Jesus chose to bring victory. There we learn that He humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross. Through the cross, through accepting suffering, through being willing to die, Jesus gained the victory. This is a much different strategy for victory than we are used to and was the most effective method ever for actually gaining a lasting and eternal peace.
For the present, Jesus has called us to live by the same strategy for victory. We are a special people, as I Peter 2:9 says and we are called to live under His leadership and example. Commenting on Luke 10:18 one writer says, “Jesus victorious war with demonic forces means peace has been won. Jesus teaches his followers to live in peace and to be peacemakers.” I Peter 2:20-23 also encourages us to take up the method of willingness to suffer and die, in order to follow the example of what Jesus has done for us. There we read, “…if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.”
How could Jesus suffer and die without retaliation? He trusted God. He trusted God’s plan. He trusted God’s justice. He trusted God’s eternal rule. That is why we are called to follow in the same path.
This is the way of Jesus and these are the teachings of Jesus. It is evident that they have some radical implications, but what are those implications. It is quite evident that not everyone agrees with what the implications might be. There have been four different ways in which people have responded to this teaching and example of Jesus.
There are those who spiritualise these teachings and suggest that they have to do with peace with God and with one on one relationships. They would say they have nothing to do with our relationships to systems and issues. People who do that would agree that Jesus made peace and that we need to accept what he has done so that we can be at peace with him. They would agree that we should be peace loving people in relationships, but they would not necessarily agree that we should apply this in legal relationships or in our functioning as citizens of the earthly kingdom.
There are others who would apply this to the present time and insist on making peace in the world. They would be strong advocates of applying this to all of society, but they would understand that as we cleanse evil out of society by peaceful means, God’s reign of peace in personal and social relationships become possible.
Still others dismiss these things as belonging to another era. They believe that the world system must be violently overthrown and once it is, then God can bring in his kingdom of peace. They would relegate these teachings to that future time.
The other way of looking at these teachings is that this represents the expected behaviour of members of the new kingdom which Jesus has established. It is the kingdom of God that is now present among the people of God indwelt by the Spirit of God. It is the kingdom of God that is not only present now, but is coming. In this kingdom, the teaching and example of Jesus is to be lived in all relationships.
It is very clear that our Confession of Faith puts us squarely in this fourth way of interpretation. When it says, “As non-resistant Christians, we cannot support war, whether as officers, soldiers, combatants or non-combatants, or direct financial contributions. Instead of taking up arms, we should do whatever we can to lessen human distress and suffering, even at the risk of our own lives. In all circumstances, we should be peacemakers and ministers of reconciliation.” It is clear that we believe that the practice of the teachings of Jesus are to be lived in daily life.
And so we are expected to live according to this standard. What does that mean in our relationships? Myron Augsburger says, “Only the disciple who has been born of the Spirit, who knows the enabling grace of Christ, can live by this standard.”
Living the life of peace means that in all our relationships we do not retaliate and we do not seek revenge. It means that we are willing to suffer loss rather than pay back the one who has hurt us.
Jesus establishes the teaching for his disciples and Paul, the apostle, picks up on it in Romans 12:18-20 when he says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
This teaching of Jesus is not intended as a surrender, but rather the method of operation for those who want to gain victory in the kingdom of God. This is a strategy for peacemaking, for radical living in this world according to the principles of the eternal kingdom according to the example of Jesus.
The example of Jesus, the way of the cross teaches us, “We don’t have to live, we can die.” This teaching reminds us that because we trust in God we can take a loss rather than fight or demand justice. “only the person who places his confidence entirely in God can learn to renounce his own security and encounter his neighbour openly.”
The other day the speaker at the Remembrance Day service said, “we served to make this a land of peace.” Do we agree with that? Is war the way to peace or has Jesus shown us a different way? Has his example not taught us that sacrifice and willingness to die are the way to peace?
Even if we would agree that peace can be made by war, there is still another question. Is this how Jesus has called us as Christians to make peace? Then we ask, “Can we participate in war to make peace?”
Our confession says that we do not. There are some among us who have had to make that decision and have decided not to go to war, but instead to be conscientious objectors. They have served in alternative service and have perhaps even suffered mocking in order to stand by what Jesus teaches.
Our confession lists a bunch of practical ways in which we do not participate in war when it says “whether as officers, soldiers, combatants or non-combatants, or direct financial contributions.” The application of this is not all that clear. On the one hand, we are to obey our government and on the other, we believe that we cannot go to war. How far can we go in obeying our government without going to war. I know of some who have been willing to go into the medical corps. I wonder if there are any here who have gone to the extent of withholding the portion of their taxes that go to the military. What we need to do is discuss together how Jesus teaching is to be lived out in practical terms. I said at the beginning of our study of the confession of faith that the confession is a work in progress. The Bible is absolute, but the confession is what we have agreed together about what the Bible says. We need to keep working at that agreement and it’s application.
For myself, I have never had to actually make a decision on this, but I have thought it through and have come to the conclusion that I could never put myself in a place in which I would need to kill someone. I like the saying I have seen sometimes, “Let the Christians of the world agree that they will not kill each other.” On the other hand, it does not violate my conscience to pay all of my taxes even if some of them go to the military.
Following this teaching also means that we are to love our enemy. This teaching has some practical implications.
It has implications to the national context in which we live. Very specifically, it means that we must be careful not only not to brush all Muslims with the same brush and think that they are all terrorists. It also means what one writer says “The command to love the enemy is a command not to get sucked into nationalistic hatred of the enemy.”
It has even more profound implications for our relationships to one another. The hardest thing in the world is to do something kind for someone who has hurt you and who hates you. To love our enemies means that we do it anyway. The kindness may mean something as simple as talking to them and greeting them instead of ignoring them. What about other enemies – militants promoting the agenda that homosexual practice is OK; those who persecute, ignore or put down Christians? Can we also love these “enemies.”
As we have noted earlier, loving our enemies also means that we pray for them. Do you pray for the followers of Mohammed? Do you pray for your personal enemies?
Remember that as we have said before, this is friendship evangelism. It is not an abdication, but God’s strategy. He loved us when we were still enemies and transformed us into friends by his love. We are called to do the same.
Finally, it means to be peacemakers. One writer says, “In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus calls his disciples to be peacemakers. A peacemaker is a Christian who makes peace between fighting people, who rejects revenge and retaliation, who loves the enemy, who proclaims peace in his or her missionary activity and message.”
Not only are we called to accept suffering and refuse to retaliate. We are called to enter into situations of conflict and be those who seek to make peace in those conflicts. This means first of all in any situation in which someone hates us, we take the initiative to make peace. It means furthermore, that we help others make peace. I have to confess that I have shied away from this because it is a scary thing. The best way to get bitten is to step into the middle of a dogfight. Yet, there are good ways of doing this. Can we learn? Can we be peacemakers?
This way of living is so radical that there is a danger that some of you will dismiss it as impractical and irrelevant. I invite you to take the words of Jesus seriously.
There was a man who was very wealthy. He had much land, wonderful gardens and a beautiful estate. He was also a very gracious person.
He came to know a young couple who had nothing. They were absolutely destitute and he had pity on them and decided to help them get started. He gave them a good garden and land to cultivate and all they needed to start up a great farm including all the machinery and seed that was necessary. At first they were very thankful and began with joy and energy to develop the land he had given them. After a while, however, things changed. They began to take the gift for granted. Perhaps it was out of guilt or shame, but they turned against the one who had been their benefactor and even began to hate him. They quit working the land and even began doing things to destroy the garden they had been given. They did not want help from the one who had helped them and wanted nothing to do with him. One day one of the generous man’s family came to see the couple because he had heard about what they had done and how they felt. He wanted to reconcile, but they were so angry that they actually killed the one who came.
This man had been so generous to this couple and had helped them far beyond the initial gift. It had cost him much to help them. He had every right to expect much better treatment from them than he received, and could have taken their land away and sought justice for all the harm they had done. But he did not do that. He absorbed the loss and did not hold it against them. He did all he could to renew friendship with them.
Have you ever heard of such a story before? It is God’s story in His relationship with us and is the reason why we are also called to live in the same way of being peacemakers.
It is not a human story, it is a God story and I like the quote I have mentioned earlier by Myron Augsburger, “Only the disciple who has been born of the Spirit, who knows the enabling grace of Christ, can live by this standard.”
Therefore, by the grace of God, let us try to live in this way.