by Rachel Campbell
In the aftermath of a conflict a multi-national peace-keeping force is often deployed to preserve an inevitably costly and often fragile peace. Yet, I find this term, ‘peace-keeping force,’ somewhat of a contradiction. After all, isn’t force the antithesis of peace?
‘Peace’ evokes images of white doves, or cotton wool clouds against an azure sky, or a river meandering effortlessly through lush meadows. This peace is not forced or forceful, it is tranquil, passive, pastoral, inert. If the pursuit of peace requires any action at all it is to patch up disagreement in a let’s not rock the boat spirit of compromise. But does this common perception of peace get to the root of Christ’s promise that peacemakers will be called the children of God? (Matthew 5:9)
If we think about it, the terms peace-making or peace-keeping imply action, not passivity. After all, ‘making’ and ‘keeping’ are verbs, doing words. So to be peacemakers requires us to do. It’s a call to action, not idleness, and to be doers not just hearers of God’s Word is at the heart of our sanctification, our being made like Christ, the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).
And Jesus the Prince of Peace was far from inert. He lived up to His princely title by challenging sin, the enemy of peace, at any and every opportunity. Yet while Christ consistently confronted wrongdoing His modus operandi varied.
When the religious leaders tried to entice Jesus into condemning the woman caught in adultery (notice they didn’t haul the man who must also have been involved!), He defused the situation by writing in the sand and inviting anyone without sin to throw the first stone (John 8:2-11). John’s narrative seems to encapsulate a peaceful resolution that saves the woman from certain death by stoning and sends the religious leaders with their arrogant theology away like the proverbial dog with a tail between its leg.
In contrast, when Jesus encountered the extortion of the money lenders in the temple as recorded by Matthew (21:12-13), Mark (11:15-18) and John (2:13-18), there was nothing calm or passive about the way He overturned tables. John even goes as far as to say that Jesus ‘made a whip out of cords’ to drive everyone from the temple courts in an act that I think we could all agree seems more forceful than peaceful.
Christ, the Prince of Peace, knew intuitively which approach to take. He knew when to write in the sand while uttering minimal but effective words, and when to literally and forcefully turn over tables. What wisdom! How can we ever hope to attain or exhibit such profound Christ-likeness?
Well, near the beginning of Luke’s Gospel there are a few words that offer us some hope. Luke records that as a child Christ grew both in stature and in wisdom (Luke 2:52). Growing in stature is obviously the natural, inevitable, physical growth that we all understand. Christ, because he was fully human, grew just like every one of us. But for Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, to grow in wisdom is altogether more surprising. It does however illustrate how important this spiritual, supernatural growth, is for those who wish to be known as the ‘children of God’.
This connection between peace-making and wisdom is reinforced in the only other scriptural occurrence of the word ‘peacemaker.’ In his practical epistle James, Christ’s brother and leader of the Early Church, contrasts the pursuit of selfish ambition with a heavenly wisdom that is born from purity of thought and stirred by an attitude of compassion and mercy. James then writes:
Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness. (James 3:18)
Peacemakers then are righteous, and that righteousness in manifested by compassionately, mercifully and wisely putting aside self-interest to actively protect the poor, the vulnerable and the exploited. On occasions that may require issuing wise words to defuse conflict and support an individual caught in a power game. At other times it may mean something far more forceful, ‘turning over tables’ to protect individuals and even whole communities.
And it is through this wise, active, sometimes forceful, pursuit of peace that a harvest of righteousness is reaped and we are able to rest in the astounding privilege of being called the children of God.
PerGen regular contributor Rachel Campbell is from the UK; she is married to New Zealander Grant and they have three children. In recent years she has undertaken a ministry course and an MA in Theology. Rachel believes God’s gift of life in all its fullness is found in family, friendships, community, and God’s wonderful Word and world. She tweets at @OurRachToo and can be found on Instagram @rachel_e_campbell.