How to be a peacemaker
What does the Bible say about conflict management?
We live in a world where differences of opinion are common. But these disagreements can lead to conflict, strife and violence. This happens in marriages, in families, in neighborhoods, at work and in churches. It happens in all kinds of relationships between people.
Conflict between nations can lead to war. In January 2020 Donald Trump announced a Middle East peace plan to solve the Israel–Palestinian conflict. And after more than 18 years of war in Afghanistan, the US has signed a peace treaty with the Taliban.
Peace has been elusive. These wars go on and on. There are so many barriers to peace.
Did you know that God has a peace plan for us and He wants each of us to be peacemakers?
God’s peace plan
The Bible says that we all inherit a sinful nature from Adam and Eve. And “the sinful nature is always hostile to God” (Rom. 8:7NLT). Naturally there is a barrier between us and God. Naturally we are God’s enemies or we ignore God.
We are “all under the power of sin” (Rom. 3:9NIV). All humanity is under the penalty and the power of sin. Sin separates people from God (Isa. 59:2) and from others. In our sinful state, we cannot be reconciled, we cannot have peace with God, no matter how hard we try. The Bible says, “the way of peace they do not know” (Rom. 3:17). Our natural desire is not to seek peace with others. Sin caused separation among people. We now live in a world marked by division. Without God, there can be no long-term peace. And that’s the world we live in. There is no lasting peace.
But God had a peace plan. “While we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son” (Rom. 5:10). God sent Jesus to destroy the barrier so that people can be reconciled with God. Through Christ’s death, we can change from being an enemy of God to a friend of God.
God’s peace plan is summarized in this diagram. Adam and Eve had peace with God, they were friends of God. When they sinned a barrier developed and they were separated from God and became enemies of God. Everyone who inherits life from Adam and Eve is born with this barrier between them and God. But through Christ’s death they can be reconciled with God and have peace with God. That’s God’s peace plan, how each person can have peace with God. The Bible says, “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1).
What do we learn from how God brought peace?
– Jesus didn’t stand up for His rights, but came in humility (Phil. 2:6-8).
– Jesus confronted the barrier (of sin) that caused the strife. He moved towards the trouble, but when He came the trouble flared. The innocent started the reconciliation process (Rom. 5:8). We need to get the log out of our eye first. Peacemaking takes courage. It’s not easy.
– He loved before He was loved in return.
Why do we need peacemakers? We need peacemakers because of our sin. In this case God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are the peacemakers.
The gospel unifies people (Eph. 2:14-16). Jesus is the source of reconciliation and of restoration. The gospel has made us a new creation. It changes everything. It gives a new outlook on life. It empowers us to love our enemies. We are loved, forgiven and reconciled by God. Therefore, we can love, forgive and reconcile with others.
Peace with one another
But God’s peace plan isn’t just for individuals. After showing how sinners who deserve God’s judgment can live eternally with God (v.1-10), in Ephesians 2:11-19NLT Paul shows how to have peace with one another. He’s writing to Christians in Ephesus.
11 Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. 12 In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope.
The Jews and Gentiles were enemies.
13 But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to Him through the blood of Christ.
Now they are both Christians. They both had peace with God.
14 For Christ Himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in His own body on the cross, He broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. 15 He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in Himself one new people [the church] from the two groups. 16 Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of His death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.
Because they both had peace with God, the previous barrier between them was destroyed and they were reconciled to be friends instead of enemies. There is no basis for racism in the church.
17 He [Christ] brought this Good News of peace [the gospel] to you Gentiles who were far away from Him, and peace [the gospel] to the Jews who were near. 18 Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us. 19 So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family.
As all Christians have peace with God, they are like a family with no barriers between them. They love because they are loved by God. They forgive because they are forgiven by God.
Through the death of Christ, Jews and Gentiles who were previously separate are united as Christians.
For example, there was conflict in the early church about the role of male circumcision. But Paul and Barnabas were reconciled with legalists after face-to-face discussion (Acts 15:1-29).
The Bible says that Christians are to be peacemakers.
Christians are to be peacemakers
Jesus told the Jews, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Mt. 5:9NIV). Jesus is saying that children of God are peacemakers. That believers are peacemakers who reduce strife and promote harmony and unity in personal relationships. They confront conflict rather than ignore it. They seek reconciliation. Peacemaking, like love, is a mark of a Christian.
Although this was stated before the church commenced (10 days after Christ’s resurrection), it’s consistent with letters written to the early church. So this part of the beatitudes applies to us today.
After all, Paul told Christians, “Live in harmony with each other”, and “Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone” (Rom. 12:16, 18NLT). He also said, that “God has called us to live in peace” (1 Cor. 7:15). And that Christians have “the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18-19).
And James said, “Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness” (Jas. 3:18). And Peter said we “must seek peace and pursue it” (1 Pt. 3:11).
So peacemaking is certainly a role for Christians.
Peacemaking in the Sermon on the Mount
Here are some examples of peacemaking in the sermon on the mount.
First, if you have caused strife with another person, get it fixed quickly. “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift” (Mt. 5: 23-24). It is of greater priority to deal with sin than to go through formal worship. The time for worship is after reconciliation. Quick reconciliation is Jesus’ standard for conflict (Mt. 5:25-26). The person in the wrong should be quick to admit it and settle with the accuser speedily.
Another characteristic of children of God is that we love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Mt. 5:44-45). And seek reconciliation with them by greeting them instead of avoiding them (v.47).
Finally, don’t judge other people hypocritically (Mt. 7:1-5). Instead, we judge ourselves first.
The best way to be a peacemaker is to introduce people to the God of peace.
The ministry of reconciliation
Because they have been reconciled with God, Christians have been given “the ministry of reconciliation”, which is reconciling people to God (2 Cor. 5:18-19). Paul describes the “message of reconciliation” as follows (5:20 – 6:2NLT). He urges people to “be reconciled to God”. He says, “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ”. There is an urgent need for a response because, “today is the day of salvation”.
While conflict is inevitable in our sinful world, peace is possible through Jesus. Christians should spread the good news about Jesus, the “gospel of peace” (Eph. 6:15). “Peace” summarizes the gospel message: “You know the message God sent … telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all” (Acts 10:36). The good news is that you can have peace with God, because the barrier to lasting peace has been removed! Are you afraid of the COVID-19 virus? Are you afraid of something else? Do you want peace? That comes through trusting that Jesus died for your sins so you can have peace with God. That peace drives out fear (1 Jn. 4:18).
Peacemakers also bring reconciliation to broken relationships. In this, we need to show God’s love and do what would please and honor God – “whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).
Reconciliation with others
There are three main ways to deal with conflict that has caused a barrier to develop between two people.
The first is to intimidate others like a bully. Diotrephes was a bully (3 Jn. 1:9-10). This is an attack response used by those who are more interested in controlling others and getting their own way rather than in preserving a relationship. In this case the size of the barrier increases. It’s a peace-breaking response. Murder is an extreme case of attack. Cain killed Abel. And the Jews had Jesus killed.
The second is to avoid or ignore the barrier. King David ignored the conflict with his son Absalom and lost his kingdom. This is an escape response used by those who are more interested in avoiding unpleasant people or unpleasant situations rather than in resolving differences. In this case the barrier remains. It’s a peace-faking response, which is only justified when withdrawing from an abusive relationship. Paul escaped from persecution in Iconium, Thessalonica and Berea (Acts 14:5-7; 17:10, 14). Suicide is an extreme case of escape. For example, Judas Iscariot.
The third is to confront the barrier with the aim of removing it. This is the peacemaking response to conflict management. The Bible says, “if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently” (Gal. 6:1).
Peace, reconciliation, unity and harmony is impossible unless both parties cooperate. It takes two to tango – to have a relationship. The Bible says, “Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone” (Rom. 12:18NLT). We must do all we can to promote peace, reconciliation, unity and harmony.
Here’s what we can do.
Deal with our own faults
A peacemaker begins by dealing with their own faults. This is difficult because we readily see faults and problems elsewhere, but fail to see them in ourselves (Mt. 7:3-5). If this is not addressed, we are hypocrites and will not have the respect of others. We must realize that being a Christian does not guarantee Christ-like behavior.
This means facing up to our faults first. Identify the idols in our life; the things that are taking God’s place; the attitudes and motives that lead to sinful behavior. Is there pride and arrogance; hedonism, living for physical pleasure; love of money or possessions; fear of people; obsessive desires? Have we failed to meet our responsibilities (Jas. 4:17)? Have we spoken harshly, distorted the truth or spread gossip? Are we treating others as we want them to treat us (Mt. 7:12)? Do we thrive on conflict? Have we heightened the barriers to peace with others by our self-righteousness or self-justification?
Seek God’s help through the Scriptures, prayer and the assistance of a close friend who can be more objective than us.
We should take responsibility for our wrongs and apply the peace process to destroy the barrier and restore peace by confessing our failures to all directly affected, and repenting by changing the way we think and behave. Once we have dealt with our contribution to a conflict, we may approach others about theirs (Mt. 7:5).
Can the barriers be overlooked?
If barriers to peace still exist, the next step is to consider whether they can be overlooked. Some conflicts are not worth fighting over and should be settled quickly.
We should not make judgements on debatable matters (Rom. 14:1). For instance, don’t criticize believers with different opinions to yours on non-essential matters. In Romans 14 it was whether to eat food offered to idols, or whether one day was more sacred than another. Our response to viewpoints that differ from ours must honor God, advance His kingdom and benefit others (1 Cor. 10:31-11:1).
Also, you may be overly sensitive to the wrongs of others. Be careful not to exaggerate the height of the barrier!
By overlooking minor offences we can imitate God’s great forgiveness (Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:13): “The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will He harbor His anger forever; He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities” (Ps. 103:8-10). True love overlooks minor faults and failures in other believers (1 Pt. 4:8).
The Bible says, “Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace …. be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you” (Eph. 4:2-3, 32NLT). So God is our example to follow. This helps because other people will usually treat us how we treat them.
But what if the barriers can’t be overlooked?
Respond to the barriers by investigating the matter
Anything that has disrupted the peace and unity between Christians must be identified, talked over and made right.
The most appropriate response to significant barriers is to recognize and acknowledge them and seek a peaceful settlement through conciliation. It is the collaborative approach of a peacemaker that uses discussion, negotiation and mediation in an attempt to destroy the barriers and bring reconciliation. The objective is to rebuild and restore relationships with others.
After an allegation was made, the Israelites were advised; “you must investigate it thoroughly” (Dt. 13:14). As there are usually at least two sides to every story, it is important to talk to all the parties involved (Josh. 22:13-14; 31-34; Mt. 18:15-17). Of course, a charge against another person must be supported by at least two or three witnesses.
Be ready and willing to be a mediator
If two people can’t resolve a conflict, they should ask one or more people to help them communicate more effectively and explore possible solutions. A mediator should be impartial. They can ask questions and give advice. Mediators help bring people to an agreement. Jesus was a mediator between God and humanity (1 Tim. 2.5; Heb. 9.15). Christians should be ready and willing to be mediators.
Go and be reconciled
Peacemaking is not a passive process. Remember, Christ came to earth to destroy the sin barrier so we may have peace. Likewise we should actively pursue peace with those who oppose and mistreat us. God is depending on us: “Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone” (Rom. 12:18).
If the offence cannot be overlooked then it must be confronted face-to face. The word for the peacemaker is “go”; “… go and be reconciled”; “… go and point out their fault” (Mt. 5:24; 18:15). Christians are to be initiators of reconciliation.
The method of responding to significant barriers to peace is outlined in Mt. 18:15-17NLT. “If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses. If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won’t accept the church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector.”
Firstly talk it over face to face in private, by “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). If this is not successful, get help by involving other mediators and then church elders. Finally, after all avenues have been exhausted, a stubborn person should be treated as a nonbeliever; as they are behaving like one by disregarding Scripture and the church. They are disrupting the church like a cancer disrupts the body. Church discipline aims to reconcile and restore (2 Cor. 2:6-8). The aim is to help people realize the seriousness of the barrier and the need to remove it. Each step of this process should be done as Christ would do it (Mt. 18:20).
The sequence of events is summarized in the diagram. Originally there was peace. When this was destroyed, there was a barrier instead. Then we need to confront the barrier and destroy it through confession, repentance, and forgiveness. Then there is peace once again. A biblical example is, “… If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them” (Lk. 17:3). We should forgive one another, as God has forgiven us (Eph. 4:32). Christ expects His followers to practise forgiveness.
The peacemaker must calm the storm before there can be peace. For example, when the disciples were on the lake during a storm, they did not feel safe until Christ calmed the storm (Mt. 8:23-27). This means that the cause of the problem must be dealt with properly through cooperative negotiation and the barriers destroyed before there can be genuine peace.
A good approach is to give people an opportunity to explain their behavior by asking questions and listening to their explanations (Gen. 3:9-13; Acts 5:8). Unfortunately we often pre-judge on the basis of unreliable information. As in law, others should be assumed to be innocent until the evidence is conclusive.
In the most difficult situations we are not to retaliate or seek revenge (Rom. 12:17-21). Paul said, Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads” (Rom. 12:20NLT). As a last resort, look for a loving act that can change the situation. Is there a need that we can minister to? But if nothing changes, we can just hand it over to God.
Examples of reconciliation
The bible includes may examples of barriers developing between people.
When Abraham’s and Lot’s herders quarrelled, Abraham decided that they should separate. As Lot choose to live on the Jordan plain, Abraham lived in the hills of Canaan (Gen. 13:5-12).
Isaac faced strife from the residents of Gerar over drinking water (Gen. 26: 19-22). He made peace by moving further away.
As he had obtained the inheritance from Isaac by deception, Jacob was estranged from Esau. Before there could be reconciliation, Jacob sent gifts to Esau and he wrestled with God who caused his hip to be injured and he walked with a limp (Gen. ch. 32-33).
Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery. Before there could be reconciliation between Joseph and his brothers, Joseph put them through a series of tests to see if they had changed their hearts (Gen. ch. 42-45).
The western tribes of Israel were satisfied after the eastern tribes explained their motives for building an altar near the Jordan River; always verify the truth of a matter before making accusations (Josh. 22:15-30).
Saul wanted to kill David. Jonathan acted as a mediator between the two, he spoke up for David and Saul promised to change and not kill David. Unfortunately this peace was only brief.
When Abigail found out about a conflict between David and her husband Nabal, she brought a gift of food to David and acknowledged that he would be king over Israel and pleaded for their safety. And David granted her request (1 Sam. 25: 14-31).
Daniel was reconciled with the chief official of the Babylonian empire because he offered a win-win solution to the problem of what he would eat and drink while he was in the king’s service (Dan. 1:8-16).
A dispute about the support of widows between Greek and Hebrew believers in the early church was resolved by the appointment of deacons (Acts 6:1-7).
Paul questioned Peter publicly after the latter’s hypocrisy and legalism affected the Gentiles (Gal. 2:11-14).
In order to resolve a conflict, Euodia and Syntche were encouraged to: rejoice in the Lord, be gentle, pray, look for good aspects, and put biblical guidelines into practice (Phil. 4:2-9).
Lessons for us
Conflict and strife occurred in the early church (1 Cor. 3:3; 2 Cor. 12:20; 1 Tim. 6:4-5). The cause of strife is underlying sin; “What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you?” (Jas. 4:1NLT).
We have seen that believers should all be peacemakers (Jas. 3: 17-18). Those who have peace with God should live in peace with others. Those who have the love of God should love one another. Those who are forgiven by God should forgive one another. Those who are reconciled with God should be reconciled with one another. God wants us to work for peace in all our relationships: in our family, in our work life and in the local church.
Those who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit should display the fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). And they “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3).
As a part of our spiritual growth, let’s recognize the conflicts in our life and be quick to address them, by dealing with our faults. We need to look at ourselves first. How can we change? Then we overlook minor offenses, and, if necessary, initiate the peace process. Are we willing to mediate for others?
God has a peace plan for us. Do you have peace with God?
Let’s be peacemakers and work for reconciliation, peace, unity and harmony by seeking to destroy the barriers between people.
Appendix: Four principles to apply in conflict
Glorify God – shift the focus from people to God. How can God be pleased and honored in the situation? How do I show God’s character? How do I show the reality of the gospel in my life?
Get the log out of your eye (Mt. 7:3-5). Deal with our contribution to a conflict. Don’t vindicate yourself. Don’t conceal your sins.
Gently restore (Gal. 6:1-2; Col. 3:12-15). Use a peacemaking response. Don’t give up on relationships.
Go and be reconciled – Forgive one another.
Written, March 2020
Also see: Peace, reconciliation and unity
Dealing with disagreements
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