Peace, like purity, is scarce. The world is full of trouble, disputes and conflicts. That is also often true in families and in the lives of individuals. The Evil One seeks to ensure a constant preoccupation with things that cause disharmony. We live, of course, in a fallen world. A consequence of this is that there is a lack of peace among men, and between men and their Creator.
The Beatitudes are inter-related. The poor in spirit mourn over sin. Knowing they are sinful people causes (or ought to cause) a spirit of meekness. Such people will hunger for righteousness and, having an experience of God’s mercy, they will surely be merciful to others.
Those who hunger for righteousness will desire purity of life. And those who desire righteousness will surely wish others to know the peace of God. The seventh Beatitude concerns this question of peace: ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God’ (Matthew 5:9).
Peacemakers are ‘blessed’. The peacemaking mentioned here is qualified by the fact that those engaged in it are ‘called the sons of God’; that is to say, this peacemaking has to do principally with man’s relation to God.
Obtaining a Nobel Peace Prize is no doubt a considerable commendation. Seeking peace at the earthly level is good and necessary, and, no doubt, is embraced in this Beatitude.
But the Beatitude speaks principally of a spiritual peacemaking. When we think of peace, we think of arbitration, the settling of disputes, negotiators round a table, and the like. No doubt an element of that is involved in all peacemaking involving men and women. There is an inevitability about such things in our fallen world.
But Jesus here is referring to a spiritual quality, something that is to characterise a faithful disciple. It concerns peacemaking within the context of the Kingdom of God. The disciple should be concerned to encourage true peace in the lives of men and women.
Obviously, that is related to the gospel. But it will also have consequences for the world as its effects are felt. Christians are to be exemplary in living at peace with God and their neighbour.
Why peace is elusive
War and divisions, sadly, are normal in the world. The reason for this is the pervasive effects of sin in the lives of men and women. Sin causes ‘dispeace’ in people’s souls. This is because it spoils peace with God. It destroys peace among peoples and, therefore, among nations. Sin is the culprit.
But men are accountable for their sin. If sin is not repented, there will be hereafter a permanent and eternal experience of dispeace in men’s experience. That is the nature of hell, and we see this vividly illustrated in the passage in Luke 16 concerning the rich man and Lazarus. ‘The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in hell…’ (vv. 32-33). Sin’s wages are (eternal) death. What is the reason for dispeace? It is the fact and practice of sin among men.
The answer to a want of peace
The answer to dispeace is having Christ as Saviour. But what is true peace?
Originally, as first created by God, man possessed peace. Before the Fall (see Genesis 2) there was fellowship between man and woman and their Creator. This peace was shattered by sin (Genesis 3), which brought disharmony, violence and a curse. It brought enmity (Genesis 3:15).
It is of first importance, therefore, that men should have peace with God restored to them. That is accomplished through their being saved by his almighty grace. This salvation is extended to them on the basis of the work of the Lord Jesus Christ on their behalf, and effected by the work of the Holy Spirit within them, quickening their erstwhile dead souls (Ephesians 2:1). ‘For [Christ] himself is our peace … having abolished in his flesh the enmity … through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity’ (Ephesians 2:14-16).
Christ’s work on behalf of sinners was a work of reconciliation (Romans 5:10). Those for whom he died are thereby reconciled to God and set at peace with him. ‘Therefore, having been justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Romans 5:1). There is no peace apart from a man, woman or a child being born again and thus entering the Kingdom of God (John 3:3,5).
This must not be thought of simply in passive terms. People are exhorted to be reconciled to God (and thus to experience real peace in their souls). Paul put it straight to the church in Corinth: ‘knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord … we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God’ (2 Corinthians 5:11,20).
This is the peace that counts. Believers are to be peacemakers in encouraging others to seek such peace. In the passage just quoted, Paul speaks of himself and his fellow-workers as ‘ambassadors for Christ’. Why? Because they were pleading with men to make their peace with God by trusting in Christ for salvation.
The Christian’s first task, therefore, is to promote peace with God among his or her fellows. All Christians are not preachers, but they should all be peacemakers in this sense. After all, the peace that comes from being saved by Christ is the most important peace anyone can have. Without it, people will be lost.
But peacemaking is also important in the church. The New Testament letters reveal that there was much disharmony over practice and doctrine. These things have to be worked out and sometimes involve fierce disputes.
It is important to distinguish truth from error. It is not valid peacemaking to ignore the claims of truth or righteousness. There will be earnest contentions for the faith with those outside who deny the gospel. But also, sadly, there will be unavoidable contentions within the visible, professing church, as we seek to defend and confirm the truth of the gospel (see, for example, Galatians 1:4-9; 2:11-14). Divisions have to be seen in the light of this.
However, the requirement of peacemaking must still be observed. The pre-requisite is mentioned by Paul to the Colossians: ‘let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which you were called in one body’ (3:15). Again, he writes to the Ephesians: ‘I … beseech you to lead a life worthy of the calling with which you are called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with long-suffering, bearing with one another in love, and endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’ (4:1-3).
There will be divisions, no doubt, but that is all the more reason to observe carefully the obligation of peacemaking laid upon us by this Beatitude. We will not make false peace with sin, corruption, doctrinal error, or moral indifference, but we will seek to promote real peace among real believers. There is always much of this work to be done!
The peacemaker’s status
Peacemakers are ‘blessed’ by the Lord. The particular blessing is found in their status: ‘they shall be called sons of God’. The Christian is ‘adopted’ into the family of God when he or she is born again. Believers are not ‘natural’ sons; only Christ is the ‘natural’ Son of God. But, being adopted by grace into the family of God, they are spiritual sons and heirs, with all the rights and standing of natural sons.
Paul states in Romans that ‘as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God’, and goes on to say that they have ‘received the spirit of adoption’ (Romans 8:14-15). As a result, they are ‘children of God, and if children, then heirs — heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ’ (Romans 8:16-17). What a privilege! John Murray describes this as ‘the apex of grace and privilege’.
Peacemakers are appropriately described in this way because, in their peacemaking, they are reflecting the character of their Father in heaven. Adoption speaks of a position of peace between the Father and his adopted children who, in turn, encourage others to become his children.
The example of Christ
The more peacemaking of this sort they do, the more truly do they live up to the title ‘sons of God’. This is a blessed standing. They enjoy his peace, care and provision. This is seen in the parable of the lost son (Luke 15:11-32). The father receives the returning prodigal. Although he had been riotous, he is welcomed as a true son and given all the privileges of sonship in the home. Joy and peace are experienced.
Christ of course exemplifies ‘peacemaking’, as he does all the qualities encouraged in the Beatitudes. He is the Prince of Peace. He brings true ‘peace on earth’. Believers are to reflect his character and behaviour in this, as in all these things.
They know there is no real peace in the world apart from the peace he gives. This is the ‘peace of God, which surpasses all understanding’, and which will ‘guard [garrison] your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 4:7). This is the peace the believer will seek to spread and encourage in this sad, sinful, strife-ridden world.