At the turn of the 20th century, a man named Alfred was one of the preeminent scientists and entrepreneurs of his day. He made his fortune by inventing and refining explosives—his most famous invention being dynamite. Alfred’s intention was that these explosives be used for constructive purposes, like building highways and laying foundations for buildings. But soon their value for warfare became evident, and most of Alfred’s money was made by selling his material and devices to the military. Toward the end of his life, Alfred began to ponder his legacy to humankind. While his inventions were meant for good and had been used for good—it was also true that his inventions had equipped armies of the world to deliver new and improved forms of death and destruction. This was NOT how Alfred wanted to be remembered. So, he rewrote his will and used the bulk of his fortune to establish a series of international awards to be given each year to scientists, thinkers, and leaders—-people who had made a remarkable contribution to the betterment of humankind.
You’ve no doubt guessed—but that man’s name was Alfred Nobel, and the most famous of the awards he funded is given every year to the person or persons, “…who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between the nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies, and for the promotion of peace.” We call it the Nobel Peace Prize, and it is one of the highest honors bestowed on a human being.
The first Nobel Peace Prize went to Jean Henry Dunant, a Swiss man who helped to found the International Red Cross and the Geneva Convention, in 1901. Other winners include Woodrow Wilson who was the leading architect behind the League of Nations. If you remember your history you know that the goal of the League was to ensure world peace after the slaughter of millions of people in the First World War. Theodore Roosevelt got the prize for his work in helping end the Russo-Japanese war. Other winners include, Mother Teresa, Albert Schweitzer, Lech Walesa, and Nelson Mandela.
I encourage you to go to the Nobel website and read through the names of all the winners of this coveted peace prize. It’s a very impressive list! Each of these individuals has used his or her mind, talents, and influence to advance the cause of world peace and the betterment of humankind. But I want to warn you. After reading through that list, one unsettling fact remains: with all the wonderful things these amazing individuals have accomplished—we are no closer to world peace today—than we were when Nobel set up his peace prize 116 years ago. The world is just as violent, volatile, and frightening as ever—IF NOT MORE SO. Peace continues to be the most elusive of all human ambitions. And that brings us to our next “Flight Lesson.” Take your Bibles and turn once again to Matthew chapter 5. Follow along as I read verse 9.
“Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called sons of God.”
Now—like the other beatitudes we’ve studied up to this point, I think these words in verse 9 would have sounded radical in Jesus’ day. As we discussed a few sermons back, the Jewish people were struggling under the offensive domination of Rome. I’m sure the heartfelt desire of every Jew listening to Jesus that day was to FIGHT Rome—not to make peace with it. I mean, the only PEACE the Jews wanted was one that would come after a WAR in which the Romans were totally crushed! This was their fondest dream. It was their great hope.
So, as they heard Jesus make this statement that day they must have thought, “Does this guy know about the taxes the Romans impose on us—taxes that keep us on the brink of poverty? Does He know that King Herod Archelaus—that puppet ruler appointed by the Romans—slaughtered 3,000 Jews at a Passover celebration recently? Has He heard about how the Roman governor Pilate massacred Jews on the temple mount and desecrated the temple by mixing their blood with the sacrifices they were offering?” Then they would have thought: “Well—OF COURSE HE KNOWS ALL THIS! EVERY ONE DOES! So how can He possibly say, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers?’ Surely, we just heard a sermon-blooper. Surely, He meant to say, ‘Blessed are the war-mongers!’” My point is this was a radical, counter-cultural statement for Jesus to make that day.
And, you know, the truth is these words of our Lord sound just as radical in our day and age. Sure, we aren’t domineered by the Romans—but the threat of conflict surrounds us all the time, doesn’t it? And I’m not just talking about Islamic terrorism or war with North Korea. Every day, every-day-people and situations try our patience—and if we’re not careful, these situations can easily become volatile and explode into conflict—robbing us of what little peace we enjoy in this fallen world.
I mean, think about it! We have disagreements between family members. We have disagreements with our co-workers. We have disagreements with friends and neighbors. And even though it pains us to admit it, many times we even have disagreements with our brothers and sisters in Christ. In fact, I’m ashamed to say it but it’s true that Christians are well-known for their tendency to fight among themselves. As someone once put it, “Where two or three are gathered together in Jesus’ name—there will eventually be conflict.”
And—have you noticed how whenever we find ourselves embroiled in a conflict—have you ever noticed how in times like these our sinful human nature kicks in? In these times, our sinful side says, “Don’t let people run over you! Win the argument! Come out on top! If someone is nasty to you, dish it right back! Don’t get mad—get even! Don’t make peace—make war—and WIN IT!”
Did you hear about the encounter on an airline this week in which a plus size woman found her seat on the plane and noticed the man next to her responding with his body language—in a way that made it obvious that he was very unhappy to be seated next to someone her size? She saw him pick up his phone and start texting a friend. She saw that he was swapping “fat jokes” about her back and forth with a friend. So, she got her phone out and—unbeknownst to him, videoed his “text conversation.” Three hours later—as they were about to land, she confronted him with it. He denied it all—denied texting bad things about her—and that’s when she had him where she wanted him! She pulled out her phone and showed him his texts. He apologized—saying he was drunk at the time—but then he went on to say she was wrong to sit in an aisle seat near an exit area—that with her size she would block the exit for others. She kept videoing—and was featured on the morning talk shows the next day. I mean, she really showed him! You go girl!
Now—whereas I certainly sympathize with her side—my response—our response—shows that we are predisposed not to peace but rather to conflict. I mean, be honest, how many of you thought, “Great idea to video his texting! Way to give it to that fat-ophobic numbyhead! I need to remember that tactic! Smart phones can come in handy!” Well, the fact that we admire this poor girl’s conflict smarts indicates our “bent” toward conflict. Thanks to this aspect of our sinful nature, we like to fight—and win. Maybe it’s one of the ways we deal with being fallen. If we can win a fight—if we can judge someone else wrong—then we feel a little better about ourselves.
John Burke (pastor of Gateway Church in Austin, Texas) writes: “I watch the news and condemn those ‘idiotic people’ who do such things. Most reality TV shows are full of people I can judge as sinful, ignorant, stupid, arrogant, or childish. I get in my car and drive and find a host of inept drivers who should have flunked their driving test—and I throw in a little condemnation on our Department of Public Safety for good measure! At the store, I complain to myself about the lack of organization that makes it impossible to find what I’m looking for, all the while being tortured with Muzak—who picks that music anyway? I stand in the shortest line, which I judge is way too long because—‘LOOK PEOPLE—it says ’10 items or less,’ and I count more than that in three of your baskets—what’s wrong with you people?’ And why can’t that teenage checker—what IS she wearing?—focus and work so we can get out of here? Judging is our favorite pastime. Judging makes us feel good because it puts us in a better light than others.”
His point is—we like to be right. We like to win! And sadly, this tendency we have to judge—to embrace conflict—is nothing new. It began with Adam and Eve’s blaming each other—and even blaming God when they broke His ONE law—and it continued with the conflict between Cain and Abel which resulted in the first murder. The sad fact is mankind has been embroiled in one conflict after another ever since.
The Society of International Law in London reports that during the last four millennia there have been only 268 years of peace. That’s less than seven percent of the time! In the last two millennia alone, there have been over 15,000 known wars. In that same time period over 8,000 peace treaties have been made and broken. And do you remember the motto that the United Nations—the “sequel” to the League of Nations stared by Woodrow Wilson—do you remember the motto the U. N. adopted at its founding? Here it is: “To have succeeding generations free from the scourge of war.” Well the truth is this was just a “U. N, pipe dream” because since the day it was founded in 1945 there has not been one single day of peace on this war-torn earth. No generation has been free from the scourge of war. All this caused an insightful cynic to say, “Peace is that glorious moment in history when everyone stops to reload.” In fact—as movies like Independence Day show—probably the only time mankind would stop fighting each other—would be to unite and fight aliens who came to invade earth. Conflict is all around us in big and little ways and the fact is most of us respond in ways that only make matters worse.
Let’s review those “WAYS.” There are basically three of them.
(1) First, there are those people who BREAK peace.
These are the guys and gals who seem to go out of their way to break down relationships. They just love to cause trouble and division. They tend to be opinionated and judgmental. They are deliberately confrontive people who seem to think their spiritual gift is to disagree with everyone about everything. And their main tool is the tongue! They use this slippery appendage to gossip and slander on the phone or in conversations—many of them in church hallways—or they use carefully crafted e-mails or other social media tools to tear down and cause division. And, I know this may offend any peace-breakers who are present this morning but the fact is peace-breakers are pawns of the devil. If you’re a peace-breaker then you are someone Satan moves around, attempting to destroy the good things God is doing.
And—unfortunately I’ve known many peace-breakers in my life. I’ve known marriages, and families, and even entire churches that were split by this kind of individual. How about you? Do you know any peace-breakers at the moment? Well, the Bible has strong words to address this shortcoming. First, let me read you a verse that attacks the peace-breaker’s favorite WEAPON.
Ephesians 4:29-31 says, “Do not let ANY unwholesome talk come out of your MOUTHS but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs—that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God with Whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.”
Now, “unwholesome talk” does not necessarily refer to curse words—but rather to words that tear down peace rather than build it up. Listen to these words from Romans 16:17-18 where Paul tells us how to deal with peace-breakers. He 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. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.”
And, before we go pointing the finger of blame, each of us should examine our own hearts—and tongues—because if the truth were told I’m sure we’d all have to admit that there were times we have all been peace-breakers because as I alluded to earlier, our “bent,”—our selfish tendency is to BREAK peace instead of to MAKE it. We would rather be “right.” We’d rather “win” than make peace even if that means hurting other people in the process.
Many years ago Psychology Today (October, 1983) posed an intriguing question, “If you could push a button and thereby eliminate any person with no repercussions to yourself, would you do it?” Sixty percent of those responding said, “YES.” One man posited an even better question, “If such a device were invented, would anyone live to tell about it?” Have you been pushing any buttons lately? Are you a peace-breaker? Do you bring people together or do you pull them apart? Remember, it’s always easier to create conflict than it is to promote peace.
(2) A second response to conflict is seen in those people who FAKE peace.
I’m referring to individuals who prefer PEACE over THE TRUTH. Peace-fakers foolishly, ignorantly, see peace as simply the absence of any kind of argument or discord. They will go to any lengths to avoid any kind of conflict, confrontation, or unrest and in doing so they settle for a counterfeit peace that is based on avoiding the real issues. Whereas peace-breakers love to use their tongues—peace-FAKERS love to make TRUCES. And, the fact is truce-making is not what Jesus is talking about in this beatitude. You see, a truce is a cessation of fighting that is imposed from the outside—and that’s not peace. Let me put it this way. You can’t “keep” a peace that isn’t there in the first place. You can’t sweep disagreements under the “relational rug” and call that peace. No—a genuine peace-maker is much more than a maker of truces. A peacemaker is someone who actually discovers the origin of the conflict, and finds a way to resolve it and helps the parties restore a proper, loving relationship. A peace maker is someone who strives to actually MAKE or CONSTRUCT peace. John MacArthur rightly says, “A truce just says you don’t shoot for a while. Peace comes when the truth is known, the issue is settled, and the parties embrace each other.”
So, if you have had a disagreement with a spouse or a child or a friend or co-worker or family member or church member—and have just agreed to stop fighting—well, don’t congratulate yourself on your accomplishment. All you have is a truce—you haven’t obeyed our Lord’s command because you haven’t MADE peace. You know, in peace-faking people think they are being NOBLE, but in reality, they are making a bad choice. You see, if left ignored, whatever has caused tension in a relationship, will come back again. Without resolution, there is no peace—nor is there a real relationship. Some people say they’ve had ten years’ experience in marriage, but in reality, they had one year repeated ten times because they never properly resolved the conflicts of the first twelve months. They never talked them through. They’ve just had a ten-year-truce. What a waste of potential marital bliss!
Phil Morgan writes, “If things are not resolved then that peace you’ve been trying so very hard to maintain by avoiding the issues will get harder and harder to keep. Eventually there will come a total breakdown in the relationships. Relationships can die while everything on the surface looks peaceful.”
The truth is, peace at any price is a form of deception, which the father of all lies, LOVES. Satan is tickled pink when, in the name of “peace,” we maintain the status quo and never really honestly relate to one another. Ephesians 4:25 challenges the peace-fakers among us when it says, “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are members of one body.”
So, there are people who BREAK peace and people who FAKE peace—-and then finally some people respond to conflict and tension in that they:
(3) MAKE Peace.
These people are precious because peace MUST be actively, intentionally made. It never happens by chance. No, when left to ourselves we lean toward divisiveness—so a peace-maker goes against the flow. He or she does what it takes to establish and maintain REAL peace. Warren Wiersbe says, “Hatred looks for a victim, while love seeks a victory. The man of war throws stones and the peacemaker builds a bridge out of those stones.”
And please listen to my next sentence. It’s very important. Peace-making requires divine power. REAL peace, LASTING peace is impossible to “make” without God’s help. I mean, you can’t make what you don’t have. You can’t spread peace if you’re at war inside. And the only way to have inner peace is to make your peace with God through faith in Jesus Christ. You see our Holy God is the source of ALL genuine, lasting peace. As He tells us repeatedly in His written Word He is a peace-loving, peace-making God.
I don’t know about you but I see this particular facet of God’s character as I read through the Bible chronologically every year. I mean, from the beginning of our reading on January 1 when we look at the familiar story of how Adam and Eve fell into sin and their relationship with God was fractured—from that moment on the Bible is the historical record of God reaching out to man, wooing him back into fellowship with Him, climaxed with the sending of His only Son to die for our sins. God’s strategy—His plan—has always been to bring about a just and lasting peace between rebel man and Himself and then between man and man.
In the first chapter of Colossians the Apostle Paul talks about this and says that due to our sin we were once alienated from God. Our sinful nature and actions made us the enemies of our Holy God. But God sent Jesus into the world to die for our sins and in so doing RECONCILE all things to Himself. In dying on that Roman cross Jesus paid for our offenses so that we could come home to God. Romans 5:1 says, “Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through the Lord Jesus Christ.” And the fact is we must each experience the peace of God through faith in Jesus in order to soar toward Christlikeness. Only when the Prince of Peace lives inside us do we have the power to counteract our sinful tendency toward conflict such that we become peacemakers.
Hadden Robinson rightly says, “No peace will exist between nations until peace reigns in each country. And no country will have peace until peace dwells with the people. And no people will have peace until they surrender to the Prince of Peace.” Philip Keller, himself a shepherd and author of the classic book A Shepherd Looks at the 23rd Psalm, writes, “Hundreds of times I have watched an old, austere ewe walk up to a younger one which might have been feeding contentedly or resting quietly in some sheltered spot. She would arch her neck, tilt her head, dilate her eyes and approach the other with a stiff-legged gait. All of this was saying in unmistakable terms, ‘MOVE OVER! OUT OF MY WAY! GIVE GROUND OR ELSE!’ And if the other ewe did not immediately leap to her feet in self-defense, she would be butted unmercifully. Or, if she did rise to accept the challenge, one or two strong bumps would soon send her scurrying for safety. But one point that always interested me very much was that whenever I came into view and my presence attracted their attention—the sheep quickly forgot their foolish rivalries and stopped their fighting. The shepherd’s presence made all the difference in their behavior.”
Well, in a similar way it is the Shepherd’s presence living in us that enables us to “make peace.” Only those who have first tasted peace with God at the cross of Christ and then die to self and let Jesus live through them, can become true peacemakers.
In his book, Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis puts it this way. “A car is made to run on petrol (gasoline), and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the ‘fuel’ our spirits were designed to burn, or the ‘food’ our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy on our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us happiness and PEACE apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.” As Lewis so creatively puts it—we can’t be peacemakers on our own strength.
Well, how do we go about obeying this COMMAND? And by the way, that’s what it is! In each of these FLIGHT LESSONS Jesus is listing the attitudes that any Christ-follower MUST embrace if they are to soar. So how do we embrace it? Now, I despise easy formulas just as much as you do. But I want to answer this question by giving you five things to remember that will help you obey Jesus’ command here and be a peace maker. I’ve borrowed this from Rick Warren who has taken the word PEACE and made it into an acronym—to remind us of five biblical steps we can take in an effort to restore fractured relationships—five aspects of MAKING peace. Here’s the first. When you find yourself at enmity with someone, first ask for God’s help and then:
(1) PLAN a peace conference.
In Matthew 5:23-24 Jesus said, “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” In other words, our Lord says, “Don’t wait for the other person to make the first move. You take the initiative!” In Matthew 18 Jesus says it again. In times of conflict, it doesn’t matter if you’re the offended or the offender, you make the first move. Schedule a face-to-face meeting. Jesus says, “Go and be reconciled to your brother.” He doesn’t say, “Write them a letter. List your grievances. Send an e-mail. Pick up the phone.” No—He says GO TO THE PERSON because the most satisfying solution is coming face to face with that person to work out your differences. Remember peace doesn’t just happen. It is made—and if conflict is ignored things just get worse. This is why in verse 25. Jesus says, “Settle matters QUICKLY with your adversary.”
(2) EMPATHIZE with the feelings of others.
Answer this question. When I’m upset, who am I most likely thinking about? Me! My feelings! My hurts! My rights! Well, in Philippians 2:4, Paul says this is backwards thinking. He says, “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
Now, Paul is not saying that your interests are irrelevant or unimportant. No—he’s saying, “Have an equal concern for the feelings and needs of others, not just yourself.” Stephen Covey, in his book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, has a principle that says, “Seek first to understand and then to be understood.” And, that’s good advice, because to make peace happen we have to try to see the situation from the other side’s perspective.
(3) ATTACK the problem, not the person!
Friends, we can’t focus on fixing the PROBLEM and fixing the BLAME at the same time. I mean, if you go to a peace conference thinking, “I’m really going to give that person a piece of my mind! I’m going to punish them for what they did to me!” Well, if you go to a “peace conference” with that mind set, forget it! You’re wasting your time. You’re going to do more harm than good. Remember, in Proverbs 15:1 Solomon said, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Translation: “Engage your mind before you engage your mouth!” So calmly deal with the issues.
(4) COOPERATE as much as possible.
In other words, be a bridge-builder, not a bridge tear-er-downer! In Romans 12:18 Paul says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Implied in this passage is the reality that you won’t always be able to resolve your conflicts with others. Some people thrive on arguments. They’re quarrelsome. Some people refuse to settle for a solution that everyone can be happy with; they have to win, you have to lose, even if it means compromising the truth. But Paul says, “You me more mature than that. You hold out the olive branch.” Don’t sacrifice the truth…but cooperate as much as possible in an attempt to make peace.
(5) EMPHASIZE reconciliation, not retaliation.
To reconcile means to make an effort to repair and reestablish a broken relationship. To retaliate means to “get even” and “hurt back.” Again, in Matthew 5 our Lord said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.”
You know—the youngest person ever to win the NOBEL PEACE prize was Martin Luther King Jr. and in my opinion, he deserved it—because he is someone who embrace this flight lesson. During the Civil Rights Movement of the 60’s when marchers put their bodies on the line before sheriffs with night-sticks, fire hoses, and snarling German shepherds—King never wavered from his commitment of bringing about change through non-violent confrontation. He didn’t believe in retaliation. As riots broke out in places like Los Angeles, Detroit, Chicago, and Harlem, King traveled from city to city trying to cool tempers–and reminding demonstrators that nothing good could come from violence. Against all odds, against all instincts of self-preservation, he stayed true to this principle of peacemaking.
Well, where do you think he learned that? Where did he get the power to restrain himself? This came from His relationship with his Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace—MY Savior and Lord Who, “…took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows—was pierced for our transgressions…crushed for our iniquities; The punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth.”
Now, when we learn to practice these five steps—when we learn to be peace-MAKERS—Jesus promises a wonderful thing. We will be known as sons and daughters of God. When we help bring people together who have been estranged—when we make peace between men—and especially when we make peace between men and God by leading them to Christ, —well that is the most Christlike thing to do. And it marks us as God’s children. So, let me ask—how are your relationships with others at the moment? As we’ve studied this verse about peacemaking, has the Holy Spirit been nudging you in your spirit about a rupture in a relationship with your spouse, a family member, one of your children—a work associate, a neighbor, or someone in the church?
- How much sleep have you lost this last week because you couldn’t get it off your mind?
- How much time have you wasted stewing over it?
- Are you running from something you need to get settled?
- Are you hoping it will just disappear?
- Is there any problem in a relationship that you have that could not be solved by allowing the peace of Christ to prevail?
Well if so, would you pray the prayer St. Francis of Assisi with me?
“Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is doubt, faith. Where there is despair, hope. Where there is darkness, light. Where there is sadness, joy. O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console. To be understood, as to understand. To be loved, as to love. For it is in giving we receive. It is in pardoning that we are pardoned. It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”