Since we have the peace that flows from God’s love in Christ, we desire peace with others and for others.
Aaron H. Goetzinger
The scene was horrific, but I can only try to imagine it since I heard about it secondhand. What I struggle to understand is the agony parents would feel when they saw their son’s blood watering the ground. Would any parent ever dream it? What started as a sibling rivalry ended in death and, more than that, murder. Cain envied Abel, and that envy grew into anger which then grew into hatred. Conflict was crouching at Cain’s door. It desired Cain, and he did not resist.
It’s difficult for many of us to see ourselves in this account. If we identify with either of the two brothers, we most likely identify with Abel. He was the good guy. He happily gave an offering to God, and God accepted it. We like to see ourselves in that kind of positive light. But the lesson is that after the fall into sin, when people live together, conflict results.
Though I have not murdered my brother, the lesson of Genesis chapter 4 has proven itself to be true right up to today. The lesson applies to all of us. We all innately desire to live in community with one another, yet the problem is that our communities are made up of sinful people. Conflict crouches at each one of our doors.
“Fine!” a wife shouts. “Fine!” a husband screams as he slams the door behind himself.
A father retorts, “You need to do your job and give my daughter more playing time!”—all while wagging his finger in the coach’s face.
“IF YOU’RE ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE, YOU’RE THE PROBLEM!” With this line the woman puts the icing on her vitriolic Facebook post and sends it.
We are heirs of the same problems that have plagued human culture and community since the days of Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel. Even in a group of like-minded individuals, strife and conflict will rise. This is precisely why the apostle Paul needed to give this reminder to Christians: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).
Peace does not take sides
Conflict is a question of sides. Are you a millennial or not? Did you vote for President Trump or not? Are you on the side of right, or are you on the side of wrong? Are you us or are you them? However, contrasted against such a binary view of life, Paul calls on us to live at peace. He does not take sides. Rather, peace looks for common ground and defuses conflict.
Paul takes a wide sweeping view of peace because the peace that Christians have been granted takes no sides. When Paul opened his letter to the Romans, he said “To all in Rome who are loved by God . . . Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 1:7). At the end of Romans, he gave this blessing, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him” (Romans 15:13). Then he closed by saying, “The peace of God be with you all. Amen.” (Romans 15:33).
Christians in Rome all had the peace that flows from God’s love in Christ. Our entire relationship with God has changed. A relationship that was once marked by animosity and hostility is now marked by a declaration of peace (Romans 5:1). Our minds, since they are no longer controlled by sin and death, are filled with life and peace (Romans 8:6). Just as the peace of God takes no sides, it also ushers in wide sweeping change in each of us. We desire peace with others, even in difficult relationships.
Peace is not weakness
Some may wonder if we become pushovers or if there is a certain weakness in peace making. The cynic may snarl, “Well, if you want peace, prepare for war”—as if we become losers when we seek to keep the peace. This is a very worldly view of peace and conflict.
When the disciples were worried about Jesus’ future, he assured them, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives” (John 14:27). Similarly, Jesus assured them that though they may experience strife and trouble the peace that he provides between sinners and the Father transcends and overcomes this world (John 16:33).
Jesus says these things because the peace we enjoy with God can never be taken from us. The peace we have with God is sealed in his blood. Though what your spouse says or does may hurt you deeply, those words cannot impact the peace you have with God. Though someone from a different generation annoys you, they cannot influence the everlasting peace Jesus gives to you. Though you disagree with someone from the opposite side of the aisle, their political statements do not change your standing with God.
Paul understands fully the kind of world in which we live. Christians live in a tense relationship with the world. In Romans chapter 3, Paul says one piece of evidence of sin in the lives of sinners is their lack of understanding of real peace. Later in chapter 12,
Paul acknowledges that Christians will be faced with persecution and evil. This is why he says in verse 18 that we are to live in peace “if it is possible.”
At the same time Paul is not letting us off the hook. He says, “As far as it depends on you.” Though we live in an evil world that fails to understand real peace we are to bless persecutors and not repay evil with evil. We are to live peaceful lives and seek to negotiate peace as much as we are able. Part of that task means we are to share the peace we have because of our Savior with those still trapped in a world of hostility and conflict.
As Christians we are in this world, but we are not of this world. We are salt. We are different from the world. We have peace within. This eternal peace is carried with us in our everyday lives. When Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9), he is encouraging us to “live at peace with everyone.” We are always Christians and peacemakers before we are defined by our own generation, politics, or nationality.
We have the peace that changes our relationship with our God. We have the peace that now fills us and changes us. We have the peace that helps us to see other people less as a threat and more as those who need peace. We have the peace that causes us to understand that the peace of God is not one of sides, but is for all people.
Aaron Goetzinger is pastor at Redemption, Watertown, New York.
This is the final article in a 12-part series about Christian love in action and how we can be salt in this world.
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Author: Aaron H. Goetzinger
Volume 105, Number 6
Issue: June 2018
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