Humans have yearned for and struggled for peace, but still it has eluded us. What does the Bible reveal about the way of peace, and how can we live that way?
History is the story of human conflict, violence and war. Even times of relative peace seem in the long-run to have been nothing more than the preparation period for the next war.
But it’s not that the human heart doesn’t long for peace or that many individuals haven’t devoted themselves to trying to mediate conflicts and promote peace. Those who work ceaselessly for peace are to be applauded. But their efforts are too often in vain.
The Bible accurately described the human condition in Romans 3:17: “The way of peace they have not known.”
The Bible explains how our first parents rejected God’s peaceful way and were deceived into accepting the deadly, destructive way foisted on humanity by the serpent in the Garden of Eden. And ever since, violence and war have been the result of this wrong, selfish way of thinking.
The Bible tells us that Satan, humanity’s greatest adversary, currently rules this world, and broadcasts his attitudes of hate and violence into the minds of men (Ephesians 2:2; 1 John 5:19; Revelation 12:9). His influence helps amplify our natural selfishness to a fevered pitch as described by James:
“Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members?” (James 4:1).
Called to be peacemakers
But Jesus Christ desires the opposite attitude for His followers: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9).
God has lived the way of peace for eternity, and He wants His children to learn that way to enjoy its benefits and to become like Him.
What do we need to learn to have peace?
1. Obey God’s law of love.
“Great peace have those who love Your law, and nothing causes them to stumble” (Psalm 119:165).
God’s law is the basis of all right relationships—showing us how to love God and love our fellow humans (Matthew 22:37-40). Being a peacemaker requires not just thinking, but acting. And the letter and spirit of God’s law shows us how to act in a way that produces peace (Matthew 5:21-26, 38-48).
Paul described some of the elements of this way of peace in his letter to the Romans:
“Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion. Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.
“Therefore ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:16-21).
Striving to live in harmony, not allowing pride to stir up conflicts, leaving revenge to God, serving our enemies—these are challenging assignments, but they are essential to the way of peace.
Many other biblical passages detail the attitude and approach of the peacemaker.
2. Grow in godly wisdom.
As we saw in James 4, wars come from our selfish desires. Just before that, James gave more information about the way of peace.
“But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (James 3:17-18).
James used eight Greek words here to describe the wisdom that comes from above, and they each counteract the type of worldly wisdom that is “full of bitter envy and self-seeking” (verse 14) that leads to confusion, fights and war. Let’s focus on the Greek word eirenikos, the second word in the list, the one translated “peaceable.” Its root word, when it is used of men, basically means right relationships between man and man, and between man and God.
What does James mean by: “The fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace”? William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible commentary says:
“Let us remember that peace, eirene, means right relationships between man and man. So, then, what James is saying is this, ‘We are all trying to reap the harvest which a good life brings. But the seeds which bring the rich harvest can never flourish in any atmosphere other than one of right relationships between man and man. And the only people who can sow these seeds and reap the reward are those whose life work it has been to produce such right relationships.’ That is to say, nothing good can ever grow in an atmosphere where men are at variance with one another. A group where there is bitterness and strife is a barren soil in which the seeds of righteousness can never grow and out of which no reward can ever come.”
3. Grow in godly love.
Paul also gave a prescription for peace in 1 Corinthians 13, the Love Chapter.
All 15 of the elements of love described in verses 4-7 are worthy of intense study. But let’s focus on two of them. In Dr. Barclay’s translation of verse 5 he says love “does not behave gracelessly; it does not insist on its rights; it never flies into a temper; it does not store up the memory of any wrong it has received.”
Here’s what he says about “love never flies into a temper” (“is not provoked” in the New King James Version): “The real meaning of this is that Christian love never becomes exasperated with people. Exasperation is always a sign of defeat. When we lose our tempers, we lose everything. Kipling said that it was the test of a man if he could keep his head when everyone else was losing his and blaming it on him, and if when he was hated he did not give way to hating. The man who is master of his temper can be master of anything.”
Dr. Barclay also writes, “Love does not store up the memory of any wrong it has received. The word translated store up (logizeshthai) is an accountant’s word. It is the word used for entering an item in a ledger so that it will not be forgotten. That is precisely what so many people do. One of the great arts in life is to learn what to forget. … Many people nurse their wrath to keep it warm; they brood over their wrongs until it is impossible to forget them. Christian love has learned the great lesson of forgetting.”
What if Christ asked us to stand between the warring factions in areas like the Holy Land, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria or South Sudan? We need to understand these biblical principles so we can help others learn to calm their anger and put away their generations-long cycle of revenge.If we learn these lessons of love, of controlling our tempers and fighting the desire for revenge, we will be able to practice and later to teach these essential components of the way of peace.
Anger and revenge lie behind so many of the fights and wars going on in the world today. What if Christ asked us to stand between the warring factions in areas like the Holy Land, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria or South Sudan? We need to understand these biblical principles so we can help others learn to calm their anger and put away their generations-long cycle of revenge.
4. Seek the mind of Christ.
Consider Paul’s human relations advice in Philippians 2:3-5: “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.”
To “esteem others” means to use a thorough analysis to see the value of other people’s strengths and to recognize their challenges and needs.
Verse 4 talks about this outward focus. As writer Stephen Covey put it, we should seek first to understand others, then to be understood.
Then verse 5 explains we need the mind of Christ—to copy His willingness to sacrifice and to serve humbly. This takes the Holy Spirit—being spiritually minded, as Paul put it in Romans 8:6.
Conflict resolution case studies
The way of peace, coupled with the justice and mercy of God’s government in the coming Kingdom of God, will provide effective conflict resolution on the personal and national level. Ultimately, every conflict can have a solution that will benefit all parties for eternity.
We can learn from those who have met the challenge of reaching workable solutions in conflict resolution. What are some examples of peacemaking in the Bible?
Think about when Abraham and Lot had become prosperous, and their herds began competing for the grazing land. There was strife between the herdsmen of Abraham and the herdsmen of Lot. So Abraham gave Lot first choice of the land! That sounds like an inequitable solution, but God made it work out for the good for Abraham as well because of his desire for peace and his generosity. (That’s in Genesis 13:1-17.)
For further Bible studies on the subject of making peace, read the following passages and consider what the main character did to make peace and why it worked: Genesis 26:12-33; 1 Samuel 25:7-35; 2 Samuel 3:6–5:5; 2 Kings 1:13-15; Daniel 1:8-16; and Luke 9:51-56.
Dealing with “no small dissension”
One of the most interesting examples in the New Testament Church was at the Jerusalem conference in Acts 15. Though verse 2 says there had been “no small dissension” and verse 7 shows the conference began with “much dispute,” they came to a peaceful resolution. Verse 22 says, “Then it pleased the apostles and elders, with the whole church” to announce the decision they reached.
Nelson’s NKJV Study Bible has this note on Acts 15:22:
“It is interesting to note the process the council followed in resolving this conflict. First, the problem was clearly stated: Each side was presented in a debate. Second, the facts were presented by those who were acquainted with them. Third, the counsel was given by a person who was trusted for his objectivity and wisdom. Fourth, unanimity was sought in the decision. Fifth, the attitude of preserving the unity of the Spirit remained utmost on the council’s mind. This same formula would be helpful in resolving conflicts … today.”
Your next steps on the way of peace
A world without war will be incredibly better than today’s world. But a world with true peace—resulting from our following God’s way of peace now and being prepared to teach it after Christ’s second coming—that world will be fantastic almost beyond human imagination!
We encourage you to read more about God’s way of life that brings peace in the sections on “The 10 Commandments” and “Christian Conversion.” It’s a way of life that is simple (not complex) but hard (not easy). Yet it is the way that works—that brings many wonderful benefits. And it’s the only way to achieve real, lasting peace!