“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
White attending Sunday School as a child, my classmates and I were asked to memorize Bible verses. We began with single verses, and over time worked up to memorizing several verses and entire passages. Among them were Psalm 23, Psalm 100, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Beatitudes. Over the course of my life since, I have been encouraged, inspired, convicted, and challenged by each of these sections of Scripture. In the past ten years, however, none has challenged me more than the Beatitudes.
In Matthew 5, Jesus outlines the character expectations for all who follow him. His followers will be blessed when they manifest certain characteristics. In the first four characteristics—being poor in spirit, mournful, meek, and hungering and thirsting after righteousness—there is a recognition of need. With these come the promised blessings of the kingdom of God: the comfort of God coming alongside you to address the matter at hand, inheriting the earth, and being filled with and by God. Jesus then describes the characteristics that flow out of being filled with and by God as being merciful and pure in heart. The corresponding promised blessings are those of obtaining mercy and seeing God. Then there is one final blessing: those who shall be called the children of God. This comes to the peacemakers.
Jesus relies on two powerful understandings of peace. The Old Testament Hebrew word for peace is shalom.1 It means wholeness, well-being, the presence of that which is good and positive. It alludes to the fullness of life that causes contentment. The New Testament Greek word is eirene.2 It, too, speaks to the notion of well-being in contrast to evil of any sort. It also speaks to being in a state of rest and being undisturbed.
This well-being, this state of rest and wholeness, comes from God, in whom peace resides. Absolute and eternal, God is whole and undisturbed in himself. Creation at first reflected that wholeness, that well-being. Everything was good in and of itself. The natural world was at rest. Humanity was at rest. Adam and Eve were at rest within themselves, with each other, and with God.
This essential state of wholeness and well-being was disrupted by the fall. With the fall, unrest entered every level of the created world. Yet God remained at peace with himself and set in motion the means by which peace would be made within his creation. In Judges 6:23–24, God spoke peace to Gideon, who then built an altar and named it Yahweh Shalom (“the Lord is peace”). The sons of Korah testified of God’s peace in Psalm 85:8, saying, “Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful.”
This peace of God is invincible and all-excelling. Paul speaks of it as surpassing all understanding (Philippians 4:7). It is a well-being in the midst of the inconceivable, the unimaginable, and the unexplainable. It is the state of being that led H. G. Spafford, while traveling across the Atlantic to claim the bodies of his four daughters who died in a ship accident, to write the words, “When peace like a river attendeth my way; when sorrow like sea billows roll. Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say; It is well. It is well with my soul.”3
However, Jesus did not say, “Blessed are the peace recipients.” He did not say, “Blessed are the peace lovers.” Having experienced God making peace with us and within us, Jesus called us to be peace makers.
We can also see the significance of peacemaking in the order in which Jesus established the Beatitudes. If we are not meek, we will never take responsibility for making peace. We will see ourselves as entitled to peace being made with us, not peace being made by us. We will expect peace to be made for us, not by us. But where there is humility before God, and a recognition of God’s merciful action to reconcile us unto himself, there is the willingness to take responsibility and initiative in bringing peace and making peace with others.
The blessing for the peacemakers is the seventh beatitude. Seven is the biblical number for completion. In the very ordering of these Beatitudes, might Jesus have been suggesting that the Christian life is not complete until peacemaking is actively engaged? The complete life of the believer is seen in what the believer makes and makes happen. Christ-followers are not called to consume; they are called to contribute. They are not identified by what is made for them; they are identified by what they make. This is especially true when it comes to peace. God constantly challenges his people to be makers of peace. In Psalm 34:14, there is the admonition, “Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.” In Jeremiah 29:7, the Lord told the exiles in Babylon, “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile.”
The call to individual peacemaking is a call to accept responsibility for making peace. As such, the call is to see ourselves as personally responsible for working toward peace being felt and found. It is accepting the individual command to live and interact in a way that leads to wholeness and well-being.
The call to peacemaking is, therefore, also a call to take initiative. Christ-followers are not to wait for peace to be made. We are to work at making peace. The word for peacemakers literally means “peace bringers.” This means that peacemakers must be willing to take the first step to establish peace.
In a society characterized by noise, strife, turmoil, unrest, violence, and unease, the call to peacemaking is also a call to make cultural peace. Christ-followers are to allow the peace within us to infect and influence our environment, to intentionally reflect and relay God’s peace to others. As Etty Hillesum notes, “Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it towards others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will also be in our troubled world.”4
We are admonished in Hebrews 12:14 to “pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” We are to chase after peace as if in a hunt for it. Peacemaking is work and effort. It is work to establish right relationships with and between people, to live with and among others in such a way that they are more at rest, more at ease, in your presence than away from you.
This call to peacemaking is not a call to evade or avoid issues, but to face them, deal with them, and overcome them. Peacemaking calls us to address the forces and factors behind unrest, unease, and lack of well-being. Making peace and striving for justice are intimately entwined. Inequity and unfairness make communities and even nations rife with tension, hostility, and violence. Bringers of peace, therefore, cannot avoid issues of inequity, unfairness, and injustice.
This means entering the fray to ensure equity in education, in housing, in employment. It means displaying solidarity in standing up against unfair treatment and excessive force by law enforcement. It means asserting the dignity of the image of God in all persons, advocating for the equal treatment under the law of all persons, and redressing wrongs perpetrated against any person.
Peacemaking is also countercultural. In a world where competition rules, Jesus calls his followers to live cooperatively. Eugene Peterson translates Matthew 5:9 this way: “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight” (The Message). Jesus spoke these words to those who were experiencing marginalization and subjugation under Roman occupation. In such a context, these words were—and are—astonishing.
Yet peacemaking is not only between individuals and between cultures. Peacemaking is also internal. We can’t come to terms with others if we haven’t come to terms with ourselves. Hence, peacemaking requires a keen understanding of the unresolved issues within us so that we can overcome our woundedness and then offer and establish wholeness for and with others. The first person with whom you must make peace is yourself. It is only then that you can make peace with others.
1. James Strong, A Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Greek Testament and the Hebrew Bible, vol. 2 (Bellingham, WA: Faithlife, 2009), 115.
2. Strong, Concise Dictionary, vol. 1 (Bellingham, WA: Faithlife, 2009), 25.
3. Kenneth W. Osbeck, Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1996), 202.
4. Etty Hillesum, Etty Hillesum: An Interrupted Life; The Diaries, 1941–1943, and Letters from Westerbork, trans. Arnold J. Pomerans (New York: Metropolitan Books, 1983), 218.
Excerpted with permission from Uncommon Ground: Living Faithfully in a World of Difference by Timothy Keller and John Inazu, with contributions by Claude Richard Alexander Jr. and others, copyright John Inazu and Timothy Keller.
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How can you begin to make peace with yourself today? How can you begin to make peace with others? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!