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The Paradox of Peace

Peace officers carry guns. As a child of the sixties, that still strikes me as ironic. The word peace conjures up images of flowers, certainly not guns. Nevertheless, having survived the sixties and the decades since, I am convinced that arming the police with flowers instead of guns would be disastrous. The paradox of peace is we must fight for peace.

Fighting Words

This is a contentious day when disagreeing with someone could get us ‘canceled.’ We are accused of violence for refusing to celebrate someone’s sin or for simply affirming biological reality. A pronoun may cost us our reputation and livelihood.

However, this strife is not unique to our day. The Psalmist laments the hostility of his own time: “Too long have I had my dwelling among those who hate peace. I am for peace, but when I speak, they are for war!” (Psalm 120:6-7). The early Christians were not persecuted for their bigotry, hatred, or lawlessness. Even their enemies had to admit they were distinctly gentle, compassionate, and respectful of authority. They suffered because they proclaimed the crucified Jesus to be the promised Messiah, the Son of God, and the resurrected and reigning King of kings. They abstained from the pagan celebrations that permeated civil life and culture, and they refused to say, “Caesar is Lord.”

Peace and the Sword

The paradox of peace is apparent in Jesus’ teaching. The blessed ones in his kingdom are those who are both peacemakers and persecuted for righteousness’ sake (Matt. 5:9-10). He promises, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” (John 14:27) and warns, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matt. 10:34).

The way to make sense of this paradox is to understand the source of hostility and the objects of hostility. The source of all hostility is sin. If there were no sin in the world, there would be perfect harmony. We sometimes achieve a semblance of peace in this world by addressing this hostility between man and man. However, there is an underlying, universal hostility between man and God that must be addressed in order to establish absolute and lasting peace. Yet, when a person finds peace with God and seeks to promote that peace to others, he becomes an object of the world’s hostility.


The Prince of Peace

This paradox will discourage us if we fail to fix our eyes on the Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6) and trust the power of his gospel. Christ is the Lamb who secured our peace with God through the blood of the cross. “And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him” (Col. 1:21-22). He is also our Champion who disarmed and defeated Satan, the enemy of our soul. “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” (Col. 1:15).

Few believers have faced the kind of opposition the apostle Paul did. Yet, when he considered a world filled with those “who by their unrighteousness suppressed the truth,” he boasted in the gospel as “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:18; cf. 1 Cor. 1:18). He encourages us, as soldiers, to take “as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace” (Eph. 6:15).

Uncompromising Grace

In order to promote peace, the message of peace must not only be on our lips but also in our hearts. We must not merely give our assent to gospel truths, we must internalize them. Within the church it looks like this:

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.

Colossians 3:12-15

As we promote God’s peace in a hostile world, it looks far different than the world’s methods. The world achieves peace through domination or compromise. We follow the example of our Savior with uncompromising grace. We are to “strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 13:14). Paul says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Rom. 12:18). What does that look like when we face opposition?

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:19-21

But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

1 Peter 3:13-16

This is how the Christian wages peace in a hostile world as he awaits the returning Prince of Peace and the new heavens and new earth, free of hostility. “Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace” (2 Pet. 3:15).

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