The word “peace” has several facets of meaning. For one thing, it means:
- Tranquility — like a boat sailing on a calm sea
- Harmony — like a song in which all the chords blend together in agreement
- Absence of strife — like two people walking hand-in-hand along a country road
The Scriptures are full of admonitions to live peaceably with each other:
- Hebrews 12:14 — “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.”
- Ephesians 4:3 — “Endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
- Romans 12:16 — “Be of the same mind one toward another” — or as the NIV says it, “Live in harmony with one another.”
One of the biggest sources of stress in life has to do with our relationships with other people. Getting along well with another person requires effort on our part, especially when the other person does things that irritate us. That includes family members in the home, teachers in the classroom, people where we work, and even our brothers and sisters in the church.
Life would probably be worse if we were stranded completely alone somewhere on an isolated island. Having people around us at least keeps us from getting lonely, but then, when we associate with other people, there are multitudes of occasions for conflict.
- each of us is a unique personality
- our experiences and tastes and convictions and viewpoints differ
- sometimes people bother us, disagree with us, criticize us — and we end up in conflict and controversy with each other.
According to an ancient forest folktale, two porcupines in northern Canada huddled together to get warm — but their quills pricked each other — and so they moved apart. Before long they were shivering, and so the two porcupines moved close again. But the new scene had the same ending: they soon moved apart again the second time. The lesson is this: They needed each other, but they kept needling each other!! That’s how it often is with fellow Christians in our congregations.
You may have heard the little jingle:
To dwell above, with saints we love,
That will be grace and glory;
To live below with the saints we know —
That’s another story!
We want to look at: 1) Biblical examples of conflict; 2) Practical rules for making peace; 3) Some final admonitions related to peace-making.
1. Biblical Examples of Conflict
In the early church there were a number of times when people “needled” each other. Paul referred to the Galatians as biting and devouring one another (Galatians 5:15). He exhorted the Philippians to “do all things without murmurings and disputings” (Philippians 2:14). The Apostle James rebuked the Christians scattered abroad — “From whence come wars and fightings among you?” (James 4:1).
a) Friction over the distribution of food (Acts 6:1-7)
In Acts 6, shortly after Pentecost — at a time when the church was prospering numerically, there was some real evidence of friction occurring already among the new believers in Christ in New Testament times.
Among those who were converted, there were Jews who grew up in Palestine — and there were also Jews who lived outside the land of Canaan.
- those who lived in Palestine spoke Hebrew
- those who lived outside of Palestine, for the most part, spoke Greek
Early in the life of the church, the Greek-speaking Jews murmured against the Hebrew-speaking Jews (Acts 6:1) — and claimed that their widows (the Greek-speaking widows) were being neglected.
- both groups were Jewish in background
- both groups worshiped Jehovah God
- both were now Christians, and were seeking to be loyal to Christ —but they were in conflict with each other.
Both groups had widows that needed help, and the Apostles had devoted much time to providing material aid for them. I’m sure they tried to be fair in the distribution, and there was no intent to neglect a certain group — but it is easy for people to imagine that they are being slighted — and that seems to have been the case in the early church at Jerusalem.
Some church leaders might have glossed over the complaint — but not the Apostles. They sensed that a fire was smoldering — and so they talked about it, and they acted to get help with the task of distribution — and seven deacons were chosen.
It is of interest to note that all seven men chosen, were men who had Greek names: Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas (Acts 6:5). This was a generous act of peace-making.
The Apostles said to the Greek-speaking Jews: “You think that your widows are being neglected; and so we have chosen seven Greek-speaking men to help with the daily distribution; in this way, surely you are bound to get your fair share!”
That’s going the second mile!
b) Clashes between church co-workers
Paul and Barnabas had a disagreement over whether or not to take Mark with them on another Missionary Journey. Paul was inclined to be firm, while Barnabas preferred to be tender — and the sharp contention caused a split between the two spiritual giants!
Paul had suggested that he and Barnabas should again visit the churches they had established on the First Missionary Journey — and Barnabas agreed, but he wanted to take Mark along with them. The mention of Mark’s name raised a “red flag” in Paul’s mind — because Mark had been along before, and when the going became difficult, he went back home (Acts 13:5,13).
Barnabas thought that Mark had learned his lesson, and that he should have another chance. Paul insisted that they needed a reliable person who could stand up under persecution and hardship. Acts 15:39 says that the contention between Paul and Barnabas was “sharp.” (The word “sharp” indicates that this was not a mere mild difference of opinion — but a fierce emotional altercation.)
Possibly one of the two men could have given in — but Barnabas would not give up his nephew (Mark was his sister’s son), and Paul would not give up his convictions (about Mark’s lack of dedication) — and so the two went their separate ways.
The important thing in any difference of opinion — is to be charitable toward those with whom we disagree. And even though the contention between Paul and Barnabas was “sharp” — there were no nasty fights and ongoing bitter feelings. Paul later spoke kindly about Barnabas (1 Corinthians 9:6), and he spoke kindly of Mark (2 Timothy 4:11).
c) Division because of neutral matters (Romans 14:1-10)
There were some in the early church who gave undue attention to small petty issues (debatable matters) — items that were neutral and without eternal significance. In New Testament times, the conflicts usually centered around observing special days, and eating certain kinds of food.
There are many issues that fit the category of neutral matters today:
- some genuine Christians, for example, hold complete faith in the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ — but think that Jesus died on Thursday instead of Friday, and they make much ado about it!
- others wait eagerly for the return of our Lord Jesus (they believe sincerely in His Second Coming) — but they don’t see the chart of end-time events in the same order that many Bible teachers do.
- or some Christian parents send their children to public school, or to a Christian Day School; others strongly insist on home-schooling — when actually, there are good arguments for all three options.
Other neutral matters center on:
- the age at which children/youth should be baptized and received into church membership
- whether or not to use one or more of the more recent translations of the Bible
- the lavish celebrations that occur during holidays such as New Year’s Eve
God gives instructions about these kinds of things in the early part of Romans 14, where two groups of people are described — the strong and the weak:
The “weak brother” is not the kind of person we might suppose him to be:
- he is not one who easily falls into temptation
- he is not one who finds it difficult to lead in public prayer
- he is not one who has had more than his share of troubles
The “weak” brother is one who has many scruples; he is a stickler for paying much attention to neutral matters.
The Bible says (Romans 14:1) — that we are to “receive” the weaker brother (with all his scruples):
- count him as a brother
- don’t argue with him just because he has some viewpoints that differ from yours
- accept him without trying to settle all his petty differences
There’s a difference between “weakness” and “wickedness:”
The wicked person openly disobeys the Scriptures (even clear mandates of the Bible). That’s wickedness!
The weak person is one who holds many misgivings about debatable neutral matters.
Romans 14:3 says that those who are stronger should not despise (reject) the weak, nor should the weak person judge (harshly condemn) the strong. The chapter later explains (verse 6) that both groups may be trying honestly to do the will of God — and the Lord will receive both!
This does not mean that we should compromise with regard to clear doctrinal beliefs. The instructions in Romans 14 have nothing to do with doctrinal heresy or with immoral behavior.
- we are not to accept infant baptism as valid
- we are not to lay aside feet-washing as unnecessary
- we are not to tolerate two people of the opposite sex who are living together without the commitment of marriage
- we must not consider laying aside the requirement of long hair and the head-covering for sisters
In the early church there was friction over the distribution of food (Acts 6); clashes between church co-workers (Acts 15); and division because of differences of opinion over debatable issues (Romans 14).
2. Practical Rules for Making Peace
Getting along peaceably with others is a skill that can be learned. There are a few basic rules that should help us “follow the things that make for peace.”
a) Resolve to be humble in attitude
The Bible says, “All of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility” (1 Peter 5:5). We must meet hostile people with an overflowing spirit of good will, seeking to become tender, teachable, childlike, and humble — determined to live peaceably with all persons — even those who have a cantankerous disposition.
More than twenty times the New Testament commands us to show an outgoing kindness and generosity.
b) Pray that God will bring change
God wants us to get along with each other. He urges Christians to be at peace with each other (2 Corinthians 13:11). Romans 12:18 says we should “live peaceably” with all persons. In Matthew 5:9 Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Romans 14:19 instructs us to “follow after things which make for peace.”
We should specifically pray, asking the Lord to help us find ways for getting along better with family members, with the boss at work, with obnoxious people, and with other persons in the church. It may seem at times as if our persistence in prayer is not making any difference, but God is able to change attitudes, and to alter behavior — and He often does it in response to our prayers.
c) Try to see the other person’s point of view
Every person is a unique individual, and some people have personalities that differ from ours. We get into trouble when we expect other people to be just like we are. Our fingerprints are not alike. Our likes and dislikes are varied (some like foods that are bland and simple; others like them tart and spicy). And yet, in spite of these differences, God has a place for all of us.
When Jesus chose the Twelve, He chose men of differing temperaments. Peter was outspoken; two were called “sons of thunder;” Andrew was a quiet man; Thomas was a doubter; Simon had even been a Zealot. Yet each had a significant part to play in God’s plan.
d) Guard carefully the use of the tongue
The tongue is in the mouth; it is in a wet place; it is easy to let it slip.
And when we remember that the average person speaks more than 20,000 words a day (University of Minnesota survey), we can see how big a job it is to guard our tongues.
Gossiping, slandering, exaggerating, and mudslinging are all out of the question for God’s people.
e) Learn the art of communicating charitably
We are to confront the person who has wronged us (Matthew 18:15) — but instead of losing tempers, raising voices, and pounding fists — we are to kindly and honestly approach the offending person and try to become reconciled.
During the conversation — don’t interrupt when the other person is talking; don’t allow yourself to explode emotionally; state the issues clearly and don’t beat around the bush; speak the truth, but speak “the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15); make the other persons love you — not for what you say but for how you say it.
f) Practice forbearance and forgiveness
The Scripture says we are to be “forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man [has] a quarrel against any” (Colossians 3:13). The word “forbear” means “to put up with” or “to endure.” This implies that each of us is likely to do something that might be trying to others. We come from differing backgrounds; we don’t always understand each other or agree with others — about methods of training children, the time for starting church services, and so forth — but we must “bear with” each other.
Sometimes we would rather see something done another way, but for the sake of harmony we say nothing. Forbearance is “holding everything back.” Forgiveness is “holding nothing against.”
The word “forgive” comes from the base word “give” and it means “to give release” to another from the wrongs done to us. God forgives us completely when we come to Christ and receive Him as Savior. He wipes out the record and restores us into a right-standing with the Father. Now He asks us to forgive others who wrong us. Is that asking too much?
g) Acknowledge that some conflict will not disappear
The instruction in Romans 12:18 says that we are to “live peaceably with all” — but the command is not absolute. The passage says that as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all. This implies that sometimes it is not possible to get along perfectly harmoniously with others.
Just as it takes two people to disagree, so it takes two persons to solve a problem. If you try to reconcile differences, and the other person does not cooperate — you may have to accept the fact that (at least for now) — the tension will continue. But don’t give up. Keep on trying to get along with your critic.
Never stop treating the other person kindly. Don’t let him entangle you in an argument. Remember that God may intervene — and bring peace later — even though a solution seems unlikely now.
3. Final Admonitions Related to Peace-Making
The entire church is to pursue peace (Hebrews 12:14). Romans 12:18 says that we should do everything on our part to “live peaceably with all men.”
a) We are to live peaceably with all persons
Think of Abraham (in Genesis 13:8) — at a time when he and Sarah returned to the land of Canaan. They traveled through the Negev desert and on to Bethel. Lot, Abram’s nephew, was traveling with them. Both men had herds and flocks that had multiplied rapidly, and the grazing area was not big enough to supply grass for them all. Quarreling developed between their herdsmen — and could have eventually caused a poor testimony before the native Canaanites. And so Abraham, with great generosity, gave Lot his choice from all the land (13:8-9).
Abraham could have said, “Lot — it’s time for you to take a hike; this is my land!” But Abraham modeled peace-making and a nonresistant attitude.
b) We are not to retaliate when others do us wrong
Christians are instructed not to retaliate when others do us wrong. We are to “recompense to no man evil for evil” (Romans 12:17). If someone has done us a wrong, we are not to re-pay that person with another wrong. When another person does an evil deed directed against us, we must not retaliate with a similar deed.
At the Berlin Congress of Evangelism in 1966, two of the Auca Indians from Ecuador were present. The Aucas were a crude people who murdered five American missionaries in January, 1956. One of the martyred missionaries was Jim Elliot. His wife (Elisabeth Elliot) later wrote the book “Through Gates of Splendor.”
Elisabeth and her daughter Valerie (and some other missionaries) — instead of seeking revenge, later went back to the Aucas and were able to live with that group of primitive people — proclaiming the Gospel message to the Auca tribe. Some were converted; a few became preachers of the Word; it was during this time (back in Ecuador) that Valerie received Christ as her Savior.
Elisabeth Elliot was at the Berlin Congress on Evangelism in 1966 — and so was Quemo, an Auca (now converted, and also a preacher of the Word) — but formerly he was one of the small group who had actually speared Jim Elliot to death.
When Elisabeth introduced the Auca, she said, “Quemo is an Auca Indian; he is here to bring a testimony tonight; Quemo is the man who killed my husband; he is also the man who baptized our daughter into the Church of Christ.” And then Quemo gave his testimony.
For unbelievers, remember that no person can have peace with others, as long as he doesn’t have peace with God.
For believers in Jesus: remember that Christianity is not a mere toy to pick up and play with on Sunday mornings; its mandates are to be practiced each day.