People like learning from experts. And better yet, experts who not only know their stuff but who give good advice based on personal experiences. As we learn from them and experience for ourselves the truth of what they have to teach, they become more credible. They are teachers we can trust. In Indonesia we have a phrase for people like this: sudah makan banyak garam, which literally means people who “have eaten much salt.” People who eat much salt have a lot of life experience and know what they are talking about.
Paul the apostle was a salty peacemaker. He experienced conflict with Mark, Barnabas, Peter, and the leaders of the Jerusalem church. He did peacemaking between Euodia and Syntyche (Philippians 4:2-3) and between Philemon and Onesimus (Philemon). He wrote about peacemaking in all of his epistles and faced massive personal criticism from the church at Corinth.
Sometimes we think Paul was this tough guy who wasn’t bothered by conflict. But listen to his heart as he shares with the Corinthians: “For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you” (2 Corinthians 2:4).
Conflict hurt him. He knew its pain. But he also knew how to resolve it. So it makes sense to learn from a master peacemaker.
Paul knew how to condense the lessons he learned in profound summaries. I think Romans 12:18 is the best candidate in the Bible for “peacemaking for dummies.” If I had to choose only one verse in the entire Bible to summarize what Jesus expects of peacemakers, it would be Romans 12:18, because it is precise and concise — perfect for peacemaking dummies like me. Here it is…
“If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
First of all, notice how realistic Paul is about peacemaking. The condition, “if it is possible,” acknowledges that it is not always possible to make peace. Scripture is realistic about conflict and discord. Biblical peacemaking is neither sentimental nor naive. It addresses the harsh realities of brokenness and evil (check out the context of this verse). Our most sincere efforts may fail, because reconciliation demands a response from both parties involved in conflict.
Secondly, Romans 12:18 also affirms proactive peacemaking: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Reconciliation isn’t always possible because it involves two parties. But the responsibility for taking steps toward peace always rests on Christ’s disciples. We are repeatedly commanded to take the initiative in pursuing peace.
“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. Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny” (Matthew 5:23-26 NIV).
“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over” (Matthew 18:15 NIV).
“Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him” (Luke 17:3 NIV).
“Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14 NIV).
Thirdly, I want you to notice the last phrase of Romans 12:18: “If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” The Bible teaches peacemaking without borders! The pursuit of peace knows no barriers. The scope of peacemaking is comprehensive. Jesus expects us to pursue peace with family, friends, neighbors, atheists, Muslims, democrats, gays, and republicans.
God’s peacemaking plan is comprehensive. Peacemaking pushes us beyond our comfort zones and outside the walls of our churches. It challenges us to live out the peaceable ways of Jesus with our neighbors and our enemies. No borders. No boundaries. Everyone.
Paul’s peacemaking for dummies can be summarized in three words: realistic, proactive, and comprehensive. Are you facing unreasonable guilt because you have not been able to reconcile with someone? Remember, it isn’t always possible. It takes a willingness on both parties before there can be reconciliation. If you are ready to reconcile and the other guy isn’t, chill out. Be realistic. Paul was.
Or perhaps you are tempted to be passive or you have ignored broken relationships? Are you waiting for others to come to you to resolve conflict? Is so, you need to wake up and take responsibility. You need to be proactive. Paul was.
Maybe you are like many in the “evangelical tribe.” You are satisfied to hang out with your group or those you find socially or spiritually fitting. Sorry. Wrong again. You need to overcome your prejudices and reach out in love to all types of people. We have a comprehensive peacemaking mandate. Paul’s was.
So whaddya think? Is Romans 12:18 a good candidate for Peacemaking for Dummies? Perhaps you have a better verse – with reasons for your choice? I would love to hear what you think.