The Hard Work of Peacemaking, Part 1

2 Corinthians 5:18

18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:

Dear Friends in Christ,
I’m going to start my sermon this morning with a video from the Skit Guys that is much more serious than most of the ones they make. It’s entitled “Mercy”…
The reason I wanted to show that video is because today I want to talk about a subject that I believe we’re all very familiar with, some of us more so than others. And that is the subject of conflict. And I’d like to begin by saying that though conflict is bound to happen sooner or later in our lives, relationships are always worth restoring. Or to put it another way, God has called us to be peacemakers not peace breakers. In fact, in the introduction to his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus even went so far as to say: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” Notice, he didn’t say, “Blessed are the peace lovers,” for we all love peace. Nor did he say, “Blessed are the peaceful” referring to those who are never disturbed by anything, those who let all the challenges that come their way roll off of them like water off of a duck’s back. Rather Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” or as the New Living Translation of the Bible puts it: “Blessed are those who work for peace.” And do understand that peacemaking is hard work.
So let’s spend some time this morning as we continue our look at how to live a good news life in a bad news world by examining this timely subject and seeing what God would have us do about it. And I thought a good place to begin would be to clarify what peacemaking is not. First of all, peacemaking is not avoiding conflict. Running from a problem that you’re having with another person or pretending that it doesn’t exist or refusing to talk about it is not the way of the peacemaker. And we have no better example of this in the Bible than in Jesus who was never afraid of conflict. He always met it head-on, not because he enjoyed those times of confrontation but because he preferred and understood the benefits that reconciliation brings as opposed to the negatives brought on by unresolved conflict.
Another thing that peacemaking is not is that it is not appeasement – always giving in, always acting like a doormat and allowing other people to run roughshod over you. That’s not what Jesus had in mind when he called us to be peacemakers. And again, he serves as our model. He never backed down from his critics, but stood his ground especially in the face of evil opposition.
So, understanding that many of you may very well have some conflict going on in your life at the present time, let’s get real practical right now and examine some good biblical principles on how to handle that conflict and how to restore a damaged relationship, keeping in mind our text for today where the Apostle Paul says that God has given to us “the ministry of reconciliation.”
And a good place to begin is to talk to God before talking to the person. Unfortunately that’s not usually the first thing we do when we find ourselves at conflict with someone. Granted, most of the time we want to talk about it, but we want to do so with someone else, someone who we know will side with us. And once we open our mouths, oh how easy it is to embellish things and allow our words to become a fast flowing river of gossip that just spews forth from our lips.
But I would suggest that if you first talk to God about the conflict before you talk to anyone else, you will often discover that either God changes your heart or he changes the other person’s heart without your help. David was very good at doing this in the psalms. He was a man who often found himself at conflict with people in his life: Saul who served as king before David and who became so jealous of David that he tried to track him down and kill him on several occasions; once loyal advisors who betrayed him; even a son named Absalom who rebelled against him and tried to take the kingdom away from him. And one thing David did in the midst of all that conflict was to ventilate vertically, to cry out to God, to share his frustrations, his hurts, his anger, his disappointments with him. Don’t be afraid to do the same, my friends. In fact, I would take it one step further and suggest that you not only share how you’re feeling with God, but while you’re talking to him, pray for the one with whom you’re having conflict. And here I’m not talking about praying that God would get even with them for what they’ve done to you, but asking him to forgive that person, to bring them to repentance, to help them understand the hurt they’ve caused you. Believe me, nothing softens the heart more than when you do that. And if you find that to be a very difficult if not impossible thing to do, just picture Jesus hanging on the cross and remember that the first words out of his mouth were not for himself, not for his mother who was a the foot of the cross, not for his disciples, but rather for his enemies: “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.”
So talk to God before talking to the other person. Then secondly, and this is a tough one, always take the initiative. Regardless of whether you are the offender or the offended, God makes it very clear in his word that you are to make the first move. In Matt. 5:23-24 he deals with the one who has committed an offense. He says: “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” Now you know what I find so interesting about that passage? Jesus is saying there that being reconciled to another person should take precedence over even our worship of God. That’s how important this is. And if you are the one who has been offended, the Bible doesn’t let you off the hook and tell you that you have every right to be upset and hold a grudge against this person until he or she comes to you and apologizes. Rather in Matt. 18:15 Jesus says: “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.”
So if you are the offender you are to go and if you are the offended you are to go. You know what that means? That means there should be a lot of going going on whenever conflict occurs. And the reason God emphasizes that so strongly in his Word is because he knows how easy it is for us to not go, to procrastinate, to make excuses. But he also knows that delay only deepens our resentment and makes it harder to go later on. In fact, you know the saying “Time heals all wounds.” Well, that may be true most of the time, but in cases of conflict time usually heals nothing. Instead, it only causes hurts to fester, wounds to deepen, and makes reconciliation more difficult to attain.
That takes us to the 3rd biblical principle of peacemaking that I want to share with you today. And that is when you find yourself in conflict with another person, as difficult as this may be for you, sympathize with their feelings. Again, the natural human reaction is to say “Poor, poor pitiful me.” Or “Forget that jerk!” But that’s not the way of Scripture. In Phil. 2:4 the Apostle Paul, who like David had more than his share of conflict in his life, writes: “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” The Greek word that is translated “look” there is skopos, from which we form our English words telescope and microscope. It means to pay close attention to the interests of others, to look at the big picture as well as the small picture of what this conflict will do to this other person and your relationship with them if it is allowed to continue.
And one of the best ways to do that is to use your ears before you use your mouth. In other words, before attempting to solve any disagreement you must first listen to the other person. Give them an opportunity to unload emotionally without immediately becoming defensive. I realize that that’s not easy to do and that our natural human tendency is throw up the walls of defense and resentment rather than listening to and evaluating what the other person is saying. Makes me think of what David says in Ps. 73:21-22 where he writes: “When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you.” Let’s face it, my friends, when we’ve been hurt, it’s very easy to act beastly.
But again, that’s not the way of Scripture. In Prov. 19:11 we’re told: “A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense.” And if you have trouble doing that, then you’re not understanding how God deals with you. I mean, what if he was less than patient with us? What if he refused to overlook our offenses and instead kept track of every one of them and looked for ways to get even with us? We wouldn’t stand a chance, would we? But that’s not what he does. Instead, through Jesus he bridged the gap that sin caused between us and him with a cross that brought us forgiveness and mercy and salvation that we absolutely did not deserve. And because he did that, how can any of us who have been given and forgiven so much dare to withhold our forgiveness and mercy from one who has wronged us? To do so would be nothing less than a slap in the face of the Savior who died not only so that we could be forgiven, but also so that we could forgive in the power of that forgiveness.
Well, we’ve just scratched the surface this morning of what constitutes true biblical peacemaking. Next Sunday we want to take a look at 4 more principles that I hope and pray will help you pursue and strive for God-pleasing reconciliation whenever conflict arises in your life. Until then, may the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds firmly anchored to the Prince of Peace Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Amen.