Conflict that Builds Up and Doesn’t Tear Down
Everyone assigns a different meaning to the word “peace.” To some, peace is a calm feeling, an ability to relax, and a care-free life. To others, peace is the end of hostility, a white flag raised to end a terrible war. To others, it is something that happens when we avoid conflict, ignore faults in others, affirm and flatter and “sweep it under the rug” rather than challenge hurtful actions or patterns.
Biblical peace is none of these things. Rather, biblical peace is something that we make by engaging in healthy, redemptive, life-giving conflict when necessary—especially with those whose actions and patterns are hurting us, other people, and/or them. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peace-makers.” But what does this mean?
To make peace is to rescue a hurtful person from himself
Paul writes that if anyone is “caught” in a transgression, those who are “spiritual” should restore him (Galatians 6:1). If a person is caught in a transgression, it means he has actually been overtaken by a sin. It now controls him and, if he is to be freed of it, he will need outside intervention. Some of us have participated in an intervention with a drug addict or an alcoholic. When friends or family notice that a loved one is being overtaken by an addictive substance, they come together and lovingly seek to rescue the addict from his own, self-destructive patterns. To ignore the problem would be terribly unloving. To do everything in your power to block a person from continuing in destructive patterns—this is true love and true peace-making.
Peace-making is counterintuitive
None of us wants to confront. We fear uncomfortable conversations and potential rejection, so we may choose to ignore hurtful patterns in others, or, perhaps worse, to flatter them into thinking that there is nothing wrong with their behavior. When Paul says to “restore” a person caught in transgression (Galatians 6:1-2), the same word in other ancient writings refers to the re-setting of a broken or dislocated bone. The re-setting of a bone is excruciating at first, and is usually followed by a low-grade pain that could last for weeks or even months. But once the bone is fully healed, it is usually stronger than it ever was before it was broken. When friends confront friends, and loved ones confront loved ones for sinful and destructive patterns, it is comparable to the re-setting of a bone. But instead it is a re-setting of the heart and of the person’s character. It flows from a vision to see God restore the person’s original moral beauty to him, to heal and re-align his life to the way things are supposed to be. It is a small, tangible way to bring the peace or ‘shalom’ of heaven to the present earth.
True peace-making is done in a gentle, humble inviting spirit
Galatians 5:15 warns against our potential to “bite and devour” each other. We are warned because whenever we are offended—whenever someone fails (fails us!)—we tend to become aggressive toward the perpetrator in one of two ways. We may become active-aggressive (the fight impulse) by telling them off, asserting our rights, pointing fingers, making ourselves out to be the sole victim, beating them up with our words. Or, we may become passive-aggressive (the flight impulse) by withdrawing relationally, making the person pay with our silent snubs, gossiping about them to others, or even leaving the relationship altogether.
We must see that both forms of aggression—active and passive—are self-medicating strategies employed to soften our own pain by increasing the pain of the enemy. But the Bible calls for a different kind of confrontation—the kind that prizes the healing of the enemy and the restoration of the relationship. So we are to approach this effort in a spirit of gentleness and humility. Biblical peace-making is confrontation in a sinner-safe environment. The goal is two-fold. First, we must do everything in our power to ensure the person feels safe with us and not condemned (because we are just as capable of the sin). Second, we must do everything in our power to ensure that the person is rescued from patterns that are harmful to him and/or to others.
Peace-making requires a heart that is saturated with the Gospel
The only way to gain the emotional wealth needed to respond to an offense with gentleness and humility instead of active or passive aggression, is if our hearts and identity are secure in the Gospel. To the degree that we are experiencing freedom from condemnation in God’s eyes through our union with Christ, we will not fear rejection from the person we confront. If we understand that we are fully loved and secure in our relationship with God as Father—that God loves us as much as he loves Jesus, all the time—we will envision even our enemies flourishing in the Gospel. We will view ourselves as partners with God, on a mission not to put offensive people in their place but, as J.I. Packer says, to make people great by calling them to a more beautiful, Christ-like heart and character.