Each of us is expected to be an ambassador of peace in all situations
By Patrick Kansa
I was pondering a question one day. When the nine fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23 work together, what do we accomplish? This isn’t quite a trick question, but it’s definitely one with many answers. One answer is that when the fruits are working together in our lives,to whatever degree, we are enabled to pursue peace.
That isn’t to say that peace is the greater of the fruits. Rather I think that as we work to increase those attributes in our lives, pursuing peace becomes that much easier. For example, if you act in a spirit of love, you can pursue peace; if you are long-suffering and kind, you can find peace. And, of course, if you’re not patient and acting without love, finding peace would be difficult.
Pursuing peace takes continual effort
A rather vivid image that stuck with me is found in Psalm 34:14, “Depart from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” I really focused in on the word “pursue”. Albert Barnes’ commentary has this to say about the verse: “And pursue it:Follow after it. Make it an object of desire, and put forth constant efforts to live in peace with all human beings. There can be no doubt that this is appropriate advice to one who wishes to lengthen out his days” (emphasis added throughout).
In other words, this is not a passive thing we’re to be engaged in. If we see an opportunity to promote (or create) peace, we don’t simply watch it come down the street and hope it stops in for a cup of coffee. No, we are to chase it down and actively engage it!
Wisdom is used 53 times within the book of Proverbs. Throughout Proverbs and especially in the third chapter, wisdom is both personified and said to be of great value. One proverb says, “Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her; and happy are all who retain her” (Proverbs 3:17-18).
Are we walking wisely? The Matthew Henry Commentary elaborates on this, “There is not only peace in the end, but peace in the way”. Peace is not simply an end goal, but something we should be pursuing constantly. If we can do that, we will also be walking wisely throughout our days.
How to pursue peace
How should we pursue peace and how can we work towards peace even when disagreements occur? Romans 12:18 instructs us to live peaceably with all men, but that’s not an easy goal, nor is it guaranteed. The first part states, “If it is possible…”
It’s easy when everyone around you has a peaceable disposition and mindset, but how can we pursue peace if someone else takes an antagonistic tack? We can assume the best in others and avoid applying dismissive or derogatory labels
I gleaned these two from reading a book by Dr. Amy Black entitled “Honoring God in Red or Blue: Approaching Politics with Humility, Grace, and Reason”. While her book is focused on the contentious political arena, many of the ideas she puts forth can serve us well in any type of disagreement in which we may find ourselves.
Assuming the best in others is a fairly straightforward premise. In any discussion, (whether it’s a conflict or not) we need to treat the other person in much the same way we hope to be treated. In other words, we should follow the “Golden Rule” (Matthew 7:12); we need to give the other person the same benefit of the doubt that we want from them.
In that vein, Dr. Black states the following: “… if we enter… debates with the assumption that our opponents are sincere and acting in good conscience even if we think they are wrong, this opens a path for extending charity and respect.”
The apostle Paul encourages the church at Philippi (and by extension us) to continue to be joyful and loving—things that are certainly much easier to do when living peaceably with one another. He writes, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself” (Philippians 2:3).
Assuming the best in others gives us a starting point in our pursuit of peace. If things continue along and it seems like the discussion is headed towards strife, what should we do? We may want to disengage from wisdom by tossing a demeaning label out, especially if they’ve thrown some jabs of their own.
Bad idea! We should continue to engage them in a meaningful way, maintaining, to the best of our ability, a respectful dialogue. Dr. Black states that “glib remarks… make a mockery of broad categories of people, showing contempt instead of love for others” (p. 65).
With this point of avoiding labels or name-calling the Bible certainly is not silent. The most striking example I found is in Proverbs 26:4-5, where we have an apparent contradiction. In verse 4, we’re told to not answer a fool and in the very next verse, we’re told we are to answer a fool. How is it that we should not answer the fool and at the same time answer him? Verse 4 really points to what I’ve noted as name calling. We do not want to drop down to the level our antagonist may be trying to drag us to. Whatever words may come from his mouth, if we answer in kind, we have become like him—a fool—and have given up the pursuit of peace.
On the other hand, verse 5 is referring to a word fitly spoken (Proverbs 25:11), whereby we can gently correct a misunderstanding or mis-truth. If we handle this appropriately, maintaining a calm and humble approach, we will maintain wisdom. While there certainly is no guarantee that we will win the other person over at that time, we will at least leave the door open to amicably “agree to disagree”, if not give him something to think about.
The results of our efforts
Fortunately, these two approaches of assuming the best and avoiding labels, are simple concepts to keep in mind as we pursue peace. By doing this, we will find ourselves walking along wisdom’s path, creating a positive environment, both for ourselves and for those around us. We can also utilize our own pursuit of peace as a measure of how present all nine fruits (not just peace) are in our lives.
This pursuit of peace will not be easy and it will be tempting to give up when things get difficult. If we stay the course, we are encouraged by none other than Christ Himself. He stated that peacemakers are blessed and will be called sons of God (Matthew 5:9). What a wonderful title that would be to have!
Our individual actions may seem small, but if we can work together in unity to create peace, that peace can certainly grow and spread. This will help to create a calm and positive environment for not only ourselves, but all of those around us, and give us a taste of the perfect peace that God will one day restore here on the earth.
In part two we will consider the trickier subject of what to do if we are the one who has caused a problem and someone else is seeking to restore peace.