“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Matthew 5:9, ESV
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:43-48, ESV
What catches my eye in these two passages is the phrase “that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven,” and “they shall be called the sons of God.” That’s quite an honor. And from what these verses say, having that honor is the result of very similar characteristics. Being a peacemaker requires the kind of love for people that is expressed in the second passage when Jesus says to love your enemies. If God bestows that kind of honor, the characteristic that leads him to it must rank high on his list of things that please him.
So, among Christians, how common are peacemakers? And how common is it to exhibit love for our enemies? I won’t comment on that, but I’ll let you think about it. If those things are characteristic of the sons of God, how well do those who claim his name measure up?
Most people can tell you what Christians are against. We’ve done a really good job of communicating that, in no uncertain terms. And if we think the world might not be listening, we can always find ways to demand our rights and stake out our territory in secular politics. I wonder, though, in our approach to things like secular politics, and even the way we handle doctrinal disagreements and differences of opinion over the interpretation of scripture, whether the qualities of peacemaking, and love for our enemies, can be seen so that those who are watching get a clear picture of the essence of the Christian church, and the faith of those who belong to it?
Peacemaking, which isn’t conciliation or compromise, but which is actually a skill, and perhaps a spiritual gift, that brings the very presence of God’s peace into people’s lives, is something that has the potential to change the world. Peace isn’t the natural by-product of human community. In order for genuine peace to occur, the presence of God must be directly involved. It shouldn’t be a rare gift, but somehow, it seems to be so. Can you imagine the impact that the Christian church would have on this world if peacemaking was as familiar and common as our political involvement and rhetoric, or our evaluation of the spiritual condition of other people whose sin problems have become obvious?
Loving your enemy is the toughest commandment in the Bible. It’s far more difficult than loving your neighbor as yourself, even when it is hard to love yourself. This isn’t just the nasty neighbor. This is your enemy. This is the person who hates you because of who you are, and who wishes to do you harm. This is the political liberal or the tea party extremist, the Islamic jihadist, the cult preacher. You can fill in the blank, then you can figure out just how to love them, and keep in mind the context and definition of the word “love” here. It’s the phileo love that God expects his followers to have for their fellow human beings, all created equal, all created in God’s own image. It’s more than just talk, and it’s not something that you can do from a distance. I think Jesus meant that you must love your enemy in a way that your enemy knows about it. You have to get pretty close for that to happen.
It’s not that these things aren’t being taught in our churches, and preached from the pulpit. It’s that the honor is high, because the characteristic is so commendable, and not easy to practice. It’s a Holy Spirit thing, which means that being a peacemaker, and loving your enemy, requires God’s help. It can’t be done in your own strength. It’s a matter of trusting, not trying.
A church that is known by the world because of what it stands for, rather than only what it opposes, is a spirit-filled church.