This is the third and final Q & A post from The Missing Peace teaching series. The first Q & A post is here. The second post is here. Thanks again to all who submitted questions for this series! We pray it has been helpful and encouraging as you walk with Jesus
– Jason VanDorsten & Jason Goetz
Can you elaborate on what Jesus meant when he said he did not come to bring peace, but a sword?
Jason VanDorsten – I figured that some us may be thinking back to week one, when Goetz touched on that fact that Jesus, the Prince of Peace said that he did not actually come to bring peace, but a sword. This is from Matthew 10:34-36: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.”
I remember reading those verses for the first time as a very young Christian and thinking something along the lines of “…WHAAAAAT?!” I was so confused. How is it that the Prince of Peace brings a sword for war and divides people who should love each other?
I would say that the sword Jesus brings is not a physical one. In fact, when Peter draws a physical sword on behalf of Jesus in Matthew 26, Jesus rebukes him, telling him to put it away because “all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” Instead of a physical sword, the sword Jesus refers to here is a spiritual one, one that will divide and sever broken human relationships that are resistant to a reconciled relationship with the living God.
Jesus is making the point that although he brings real peace with God (and we as peacemakers offer real peace with God in Christ to others), it will bring relational division, conflict and even war. As we’ve said, we tend to think of peace in terms of absence – no pain, no conflict, no noise. Maybe we think of peace in terms of people shutting up – parents, a boss, a teacher, those guys on stage at church while Pastor Mike is gone (bless their hearts!) Out of our fallen natures and the residual “old self” that resides within even regenerated believers (see Romans 6-7), we all lean toward some form of personal “peace” that basically asserts, LET ME DO WHAT I WANT TO DO, LET ME BE FILLED WITH WHAT I WANT TO FILL MY LIFE WITH, LET ME ESTABLISH MY OWN KINGDOM WITH MY OWN RULES. Anything that gets in the way of the kingdom we are trying to set up for ourselves disturbs our version of peace, whatever that may look like for each of us.
I think Jesus is saying here in Matthew 10:34-36 that he didn’t come for that. He did not live and die and rise again for our tiny little definition of peace. He did not come to establish our kingdom, but His Father’s kingdom.
As we’ve said throughout the series, true peace – shalom – is not the kind of peace that man naturally wants or desires. Our human definitions of peace are too narrow, our goals fall too short. So when we come to the table with the gospel, declaring God’s terms of surrender found in repentance, God’s terms of believing the gospel of Christ, we find a violent opposition – sometimes from within, sometimes from without.
Why this opposition? Because I do not naturally want to surrender to the truth of the gospel as it involves acknowledging Jesus Christ as Lord & King of all – including all of me. The gospel is a call to submit to Someone other than myself and the idols I set up as I build my own little kingdom. So there is a violent opposition between God’s terms of peace in Christ and the terms of peace we want. Therefore until repentance comes in man’s heart, by God’s grace, there will be no peace. And that gets back to the light/darkness topic addressed in the first Q & A session, under the question “Why would peacemakers be persecuted?”
Being a light in dark places will make enemies even of those even in your own household if they love the darkness.
How can we make peace with a fallen world – Is this even possible?
Jason Goetz – Unfortunately, it is not possible to make true shalom peace with individuals who have not accepted Jesus as their Lord. It is only possible to make shalom peace when both parties hold to the same standard – the Gospel. Without both parties acknowledging Jesus as Lord and desiring to honor Him, you’ll always have one side that is pursuing a counterfeit peace. This counterfeit peace may appear to be shalom, but it is always full of their own desires (Isaiah 64:6) – the desire to avoid conflict, the desire to be liked, the desire for others to “return the favor”, etc. Though we cannot make true shalom peace with those that don’t follow Jesus, we are called to bring, reflect, model true shalom peace to them (Jn 20:21, Mt 28:19) in the hopes that they will accept Christ.
JVD – In addition to Goetz’s answer above, I’d say for peace in terms of interpersonal relationships, refer back to the principles in the response to the question “How do I make peace with a non-Christian?” In regards to world peace, or general peace in the world system, check out the answer to the question “If shalom means the way things were meant to be and there is sin in the world, can we ever really have true shalom here on earth?”
If only Christians have true peace, can only Christians bring true peace?
JVD – It stands to reason that no one can bring to others that which the do not possess. So in that sense, only Christians can bring the true peace of Christ to others. While people can know about God through what is called general revelation (see Romans 1:20 and Psalm 19:1-4 for examples), general revelation does not communicate the explicit truth of salvation through Jesus Christ – the gospel. Faith in Jesus Christ is the only way to be saved from the penalty of sin, and thus the only way to true peace. So how can people know the true peace from the gospel? Romans 10:14-15 says, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’” God’s people – true, believing, regenerated Christians, saved by His Son, moving in the power of His Spirit, directed by His Word – are His chosen vessel for the good news of peace with God through Jesus (Matthew 28:19–20; Acts 1:8).
How can I know if my peace is really in Jesus or if it’s just circumstantial?
JG – This is a natural question and common to all Jesus followers. It exists as part of the ongoing tension we will face during this lifetime. Shalom peace is the direct result of accepting the truth of the Gospel – admitting that I am a sinful person, accepting that I cannot earn God’s forgiveness or favor, repenting of my wrongdoings, and trusting that God sent His Son Jesus to pay the penalty that I deserve. Put differently, we often wonder (to varying degrees) whether we have shalom peace with God. We need to rest in the fact that our decision to follow Jesus is eternal (John 10:28).
That being said, we don’t even consider this question during the moment-by-moment occasions when circumstances are perceived as neutral – things happen the way we expect them to happen (we are healthy, our car starts when we turn the key, we still have a job, etc.) In a truly introspective moment after something good happens to us, we may occasional ask ourself, “Does my peace come from Jesus or this really good thing?” But most of the time, we tend to ask ourselves this question regarding circumstances that we view as negative. We begin to doubt our faith and consider whether our perceived peace was only present because life was going well.
We are called to live our lives as a living sacrifice for Jesus (Romans 12:1). We are also commanded to rejoice and give thanks in all situations (1 Thes 5:16-18), regardless of the circumstances.
In a practical way, we can ask ourselves the question – “Would I still be joyful (have peace) if this doesn’t turn out the way I want?”
JVD – Diagnostic questions like Goetz’s above very helpful to me when considering this question. Personally, I think the answer to this ultimately lies deeply in the theme of idolatry. By idolatry, I don’t mean little wooden men that I set up and bow down to… but spiritual idolatry. I’ve heard idolatry defined as taking a good thing and making it an ultimate thing. What or whom do I esteem, value, or worship more than God? What or whom do I tend to escape to when times are difficult? Is it Jesus? Or something (or someone) else? What thing or relationship, if taken out of my life, would leave me completely, hopelessly devastated? What do I fear? What do I seek? What do I feel is missing from my life? What one thing or relationship would make me truly happy if I had it (or didn’t have it)? What disappoints me or makes me angry? What do I expect and how do I respond when those expectations aren’t met?
While these questions are helpful in a preemptive way, I find more often than not that it is the unexpected and difficult circumstance itself that often reveals what I really believe about Jesus – and I always feel like I come up short. We will feel the hurt even more keenly when a painful situation shows us we have been trusting less in Jesus than we dare believe. But He is far more gracious, kind and faithful than we dare hope. He does not leave us, but walks with us during those seasons. Like a good Father would, our Lord is kind to take the idols from our hands and turn our faces back toward Him. For most of us, as Goetz indicated, we are probably already trusting more in our circumstances than in our Lord. I think that’s going to be unavoidable to a large degree. But when I have those realizations, I don’t want to sweep them under the rug or wallow in self-pity, but allow God to use those times to push me deeper into all we have in Christ.
What are some practical ways we can “make every effort” (Romans 14:19)? What does doing something with “all” of yourself look like?
JG – I would say that this comes down to a struggle with idolatry, much like JVD outlined in the response to the previous question. We are struggle with this to some degree. Ask yourself the question – Is there something in my life that I am more committed to than Jesus? This might be in life overall or during a given season. Whatever that thing is is holding you back from an all-out pursuit of God. Pursuing God with the same tenacity that we pursue that idol would model what we see in Mark 12:30-31 – “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength…You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
However, we are still sinful individuals and it isn’t going to go perfectly for us in this. We will turn away and desire something less, just like the nation of Israel. But the more we know God and recognize His unconditional love for us, the more we are drawn to Him and committed to serving Him.
JVD – One of the folks who sent a version of this question preempted it with this statement: “My observation in life is that we (myself included) seldom do things to the best of our ability; we tend to do things to the best of our willingness.” Not a bad observation. I think “making every effort” is not just muscling through, but has a lot to do with God changing my desires so that they align with His. What my heart desires, my will is going to pursue. Making every effort to toward peace, or loving God and others with all we have, is work – but work that we do as a result of our faith in Christ (James 2:20). On a practical level, if we are just going through religious motions, I think we’ve missed the mark. I need the Spirit of God and the Word of God leading, guiding, directing me to from within to accomplish what God is calling me to do as one who is to love with “all.” In a very real sense, in order for me to give my all or make every effort, Jesus “must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30). He must direct my desires, and I must surrender my will to His.
Why is peace so elusive when it is one of Jesus’ promises? Saying it is a broken world is not sufficient to answer this question.
JG – I think even more important than the broken world is the broken man. Shalom is so elusive because we really don’t want it. At our core, we don’t want to be right with the one true God…..we want to be God (Gen 3). Peace (from a sanctification perspective) is always there for the Christ follower, but our sinful nature draws us away from experiencing it. Paul articulates this so well in Romans 7:15-20: I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
JVD – Despite the protest that came with this question, I think that saying it is a broken world is in many ways a very sufficient answer. We may not like that answer, but you can dig down pretty deep there. That said, I’d have to agree with Goetz regarding broken man. Christian or not, most people can quote John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that He have His only Son…” One of the amazing things about that verse is not just that God would give His Son to save something so BIG as the world, but also that He would save something so BAD as the world – a world in which no one meets the holy standards of God and not one seeks God (Romans 3:11). Broken people in a broken world make for elusive peace.
Does this mean failure on Christ’s part to deliver on His promise? Not at all. His promise is both for now and for eternity. If I am broken and Jesus is not, I have to consider that the elusiveness of peace in the present is not a failure on His part to deliver, but a failure on my part to perceive. You can refer to our answer to the question “If shalom means the way things were meant to be and there is sin in the world can we ever really have true shalom here on earth?” in this post. Though our salvation in Christ is secure in the eternal sense, our present realities are still lining up with our eternal status. I think this often plays into the question of elusive peace, as well as the pull toward circumstantial peace discussed (in this post, above) in response to the question “How can I know if my peace is really in Jesus, or if it’s just circumstantial?”
How do I stay at peace when there is no peace from something (abuse, chronic illness, ongoing conflict, divorce, etc.)?
JG – We sympathize with those of you that are in these types of situations. The reality is that difficult circumstances may never fully go away. It’s during difficult times like these when it is critically important to circle back to the point at which we got peace – the Gospel. With that in mind, we need to rely on the Gospel truths that we find in God’s Word:
- You are God’s child and nothing can change that (John 10:28)
- God is there to protect you (Proverbs 18:10)
- God is your strength (Ephesians 6:10)
I think the responses to the question of circumstantial peace (above, in this post) can also be helpful in thinking through this question.
JVD – Before I jump in to this question, we would be clear and quick to say that in cases of abuse please do not assume that making peace and pursuing peace means continually submitting yourself to the evils of abuse. In no way would we want to imply that remaining in an abusive situation is somehow the most spiritual or godly thing to do. If you are being abused in some way – including, but certainly not limited to psychological, spiritual, physical or sexual abuse – get out and seek help.
To the question, I think we would certainly reiterate the distinction between shalom and circumstantial/situational peace. And absolutely, we must circle back around the the Gospel, as Goetz points out. Does this mean that the Gospel specifically tell us what to do in every single circumstance or situation? No, not explicitly. But the Gospel does tell us all we need to know about who God is, who we are, how God sees us, how God sees others, and how things turn out in the end. While it does not make every situation and circumstance easy and well, the Gospel is the lens through which we must view and navigate the individual circumstances and situations we face. We have the tendency to judge God through the lens of our situation – i.e., This situation is _______(difficult, painful, disappointing, etc.), therefore God is________ (distant, angry, apathetic, etc.) We must go back again and again to the Gospel in order to do precisely the opposite – instead of passing judgement on God because of our situation, view our situation through the lens who God has shown Himself to be.
We have to understand that there will be circumstances and situations that will not change this side of eternity, so we will not experience that kind of peace we want in them. In reviewing our series with some of the staff, someone said, “Conflict is our address. It’s where we live.” Meaning – we will not be free from difficulty and pain until Jesus comes back. If you dealing with heavy, ongoing difficult circumstances, I would recommend some time before the Lord meditating on, working out and praying through Philippians 4:4-9 – a great promise from God that begins with rejoicing not in a situation, but rejoicing in God despite situations:
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”
If I’m reading this correctly, God will guard my heart with His peace – not because the situation gets better and not because I understand all the whys and hows and whens – but because I walk with Him in thankful prayer with a rejoicing spirit. May He give us the grace to do just that.