Five hundred years ago in Europe, in the wake of the Protestant Reformation, many of the early Anabaptists were challenging society to embrace Christ’s teaching to love one’s enemies. Michael Sattler was actually taken to court by local magistrates in Germany over this issue, because he had applied this outrageous command to the invading Turks. In advocating for a loving posture toward the Turks, Sattler became an enemy of the state. For this act of scandalous love, he was burned at the stake.
I’ve wondered how loving our enemies today influences how we live on mission in an age of terrorism and fear. How is proactive peacemaking connected to our proclamation of the Gospel?
When I was in Northern Iraq recently, I had the opportunity to meet a leading Muslim scholar from the region who was taking steps toward following Jesus. He told me that it was the peace of Jesus that was so attractive to him. However, he also admitted to feeling pressured by those around him and by doubts within, and he feared sliding back into Islam. We had the opportunity to pray together several times and he experienced deliverance, healing and peace in the Name of Jesus. As Paul writes in Ephesians 2:14, “For he himself is our peace.” Biblical peace is more than the absence of conflict or the negotiation of a compromise settlement; it is solely based on the person, work and presence of Jesus.
We recently hosted a Muslim business leader from the Middle East in our home for a week. We had met months earlier on our travels and I invited him to visit us in Canada. Before he even arrived at our place, he texted me, saying, “I want to talk to you about my home in heaven and peace within.” A week later, that man left our home saying that he was now praying to Jesus.
I believe there are many who live in conflict around the world today who are desperately looking for peace within and without. Are we effectively proclaiming the Gospel of peace?
Peace with God and with one another is a prominent theme in the New Testament. In his second letter to the Corinthian church, Paul says that through Christ, God “gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18). However, he makes this statement in the context of several foundational building blocks of peace, without which, peacemaking will not produce lasting spiritual fruit.
These building blocks are audacious statements that challenge our western worldview to its core. Paul asks his readers to see differently in three critical ways: Biblical peacemaking requires that we see reality differently than the world around us. Paul says, “What is seen is temporary, what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18). Elsewhere, he writes, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). We have an enemy, but it’s not people, contrary to what the news may be telling us! Defending our personal rights and freedoms is not our highest calling. Paul says over and over again that his suffering for the Gospel is producing life in others (2 Cor 4:11, 12, 17) and bringing glory to God. When this world is not the ultimate reality, we can live with eternal values as well as trust in God’s ultimate justice and judgment of sin.
Biblical peacemaking also requires that we see people differently. Paul says, “From now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view” (2 Corinthians 5:16). Every person is created in the image of God and, as such, has value and worth. Jesus died for us that we might live. From the very first days of the Early Church, the followers of Jesus would rather die as martyrs than organize armed resistance against the oppression of the Roman state. The Gospel confronts the endless cycle of revenge within the shame and honour culture by willingly suffering and forgiving the other. We are called to live this Gospel, not just talk about it! Peacemaking requires that we see the eternal value of every person regardless of culture, class, gender, education, or religion. If we demonize the other, we only justify our violence towards them.
Biblical peacemaking also requires that we see ourselves differently. Paul says, “We are therefore, Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:20). Jesus himself has commissioned us as his ambassadors to live and share his message of reconciliation. Peace with God and with others is now available in Christ. In him, we are a “new creation; the old has gone the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). God has entrusted us with a message that will transform lives, families, communities and nations. Whatever conflicts we engage, whether racial, religious, political or economic, we must understand their underlying spiritual origins and focus on the provision for peace that God has already secured on our behalf.
When we see reality, people and ourselves differently, we too will be peacemakers in the way of Jesus.
As I travel and meet with church leaders around the world, I am encouraged with the many ways the Church is living this mission today. I trust that the stories in this issue of Witness will encourage you to embrace your role as a peacemaker. Let’s continue to celebrate the coming of the Prince of Peace.