Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Matthew 5:9
In a Charles Schultz Peanuts comic strip, Lucy tells Charlie Brown, “If I were in charge of the world, I’d change everything . . . And I’d start with you!” Isn’t that just like us? But the beatitudes focus on one’s own self. “Let’s begin with you,” God says.
And so we move to the seventh beatitude of Jesus. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
What It Means
In the Greek peacemaker is elrene which simply means “peacemaker.” But in Hebrew the root word for peacemaker is shalom, a word rich in meaning. Shalom-peace is never just negative, as in the absence of trouble or war. It is also the presence of everything which makes for someone’s highest good.
A common misunderstanding of the seventh beatitude is the notion that it says, “Blessed are the peace-lovers . . .” Some there are who love peace so much they go along to get along, refuse to make waves, settle for peace at any price, evade the issues. To have peace they become appeasers. But Jesus warned, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). So we are to be more than peacelovers. We’re called to peacemaking.
As an example of peacemaking, consider a common pot of violets on your household windowsill. A bit parched, starting to brown, they haven’t bloomed in two years. So you determine to be a peacemaker for them.
First you have to take away harmful things. A dog chews on them. Kids knock the pot off the sill. It’s too cold or too hot where it sits. So you remove these threats. But you still haven’t created shalom.
For you must add the presence of helpful things. Sunlight in the correct amount. Moisture. Fertilizer. Pruning. And in four months the pot of violets is a verdant, blooming beauty. You were a successful peacemaker.
Saint Augustine defined peace as “the tranquility of order.” It is the absence of things hurtful, the presence of things helpful. And it is not something we only strive to do for houseplants, it is something we do for people.
Historically, this beatitude has been understood several ways.
The early fathers believed it meant making peace within their own souls. Each of us is a veritable civil war walking around battling within such foes as anger, bitterness, worry, jealousy, doubts, hate and other unsettling passions. Being a peacemaker means starting with yourself. So many of our early fathers of the faith joined a monastery and in a life of quiet reflection built peace. “The peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).
Others believe peacemaking is spiritual peace best achieved through evangelism. Romans 5:1 says, “Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
C. S. Lewis observed, “Man is not only a sinner who needs to be saved, he is a rebel who needs to lay down his arms.” You see, the entire human race is at war with God and we shall certainly be brought to bay and held accountable for our sinful deeds by an almighty, holy God.
Peacemaking then can be proclaiming the reconciliation and mercy God holds out in Jesus Christ. It is calling people to repentance and faith and a life of loving fellowship with God. This is spiritual peacemaking.
Still others understand being a peacemaker as creating sociological peace. It is working to make the world a better place, to establish justice, to cause quarreling to cease, to right wrongs, to establish right relationships with people.
During the Civil War, president Abraham Lincoln wrote, “Die when I may, I would like it said of me that I always pulled up a weed and planted a flower where I thought a flower would grow.”
So will the real peacemaker please stand up? Is he spiritual? Sociological? Or psychological, sociological, political, ecological, or spiritual. In 1 Thessalonians 5:23, Paul wrote, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through; may your whole spirit, soul and body be kept . . ..” See here how God cares for the whole person?
You will pardon me if I tell an indelicate story, but it serves well to prove my point. I was traveling through eastern North Carolina to a remote college where I was to preach in chapel. I’d been on the road for three hours and needed to find a rest room. Mile after mile passed with nothing but swamps and fields, and I was getting desperate! You can imagine my relief when I rounded a curve and saw Piney Woods Baptist Church building with a “Visitors Welcome” sign out front. I pulled up and ran up to the door just as a deacon came out. “Please,” I said, “may I use your bathroom?” He looked at me aggravatedly and said, “Well, I don’t know! Are you a member here?” Without replying I pushed my way inside and found what I needed. As I left the old gentleman was still standing on the steps looking ill.
But shouldn’t the church as peacemaker meet all of our needs? Bible study and friendship, emotional health and discipline, prayer and accountability, physical healing as well as missions?
That is something of what peacemaking means. Now this: Some examples of making peace. I call them “Kodak moments.”
In the 1960’s civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., encouraged blacks to put away violence as a tool to achieve goals. All the while Black Panthers and Malcolm X were encouraging violence. King wrote, “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you murder the hater, but you do not murder hate.”
Dr. King tested his theory in his march on Selma, Alabama. He and his freedom marchers, hundreds of them, met the local sheriff at the Selma bridge. Told to disperse, King replied they had a valid permit. The sheriff sent in the dogs and billy-clubbing police. It was a very good place for a race war to begin. But King and his marchers simply absorbed the blows and did not resist. All the while the news cameras rolled. I watched it all on the evening news as a young teenager, and understood even then who had won.
O the blessedness of the racial peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God! In Rochester, Minnesota, a new church was struggling to be born. Over the years a fellowship of enough people to really begin to get things done came together. But there suddenly rose a divisive issue that split the church right down the middle. Tempers flared, there was nit-picking and ugliness. Finally one group left to form another church.
The remaining elders talked things over and decided no issue that divided them was all that important. The fight was mostly personality conflicts. So they all resigned and the remaining church went and joined the other group!
The other group was suspicious at first, and didn’t want to receive the second group. But with humility and acts of servanthood this group began to win their way.
Three years later, the new elders of the church told the former elders, “Now that we’ve been leaders for some time, we see how hard it must have been for you. Please forgive us for our surliness and division.”
O the blessedness of peacemakers in the house of Jesus Christ, for they, indeed, shall be called children of God!
Now go with me to a U.S. aircraft carrier in the Pacific. The time? World War II. Max was a young sailor caught up in war. One of the boys, he was out for a good time. In his berthing area was Henry, the only Christian in the squad. And Henry was the brunt of every joke. He was cursed, mocked, ignored, and just about anything else the enlistees could think of.
Every day Max watched as Henry read his Bible and knelt to pray. The men threw their shoes at him. Henry quietly polished them. He was the only berth mate who did not gamble, read pornography, and constantly quarrel. And if you asked Henry about his faith, he quietly and patiently explained things. Max watched Henry’s life for six months and secretly admired him.
Then came a great naval battle and Japanese kamikaze pilots turned the U.S. carrier into an inferno. The warship was barely afloat. Max fought fires for 48 hours nonstop. The dead were stacked in a hangar below deck. And the sailors finally took a break for food and rest. That’s when Max noticed Henry was missing.
He searched for him among the living. He sought him among the dead. And the next day he found Henry in the hangar under several corpses. Henry had been left for dead, horribly burned. He’d taken whole pages from his pocket Bible and torn them out, clutching them to his chest. Max tried to console him, gave him a sip of water, and just before he died, Henry told Max, “Tell my parents I fought the best I could, that I loved Christ to the end. And, Max— tell my parents not to hate the Japanese.”
For Max Scranton that day started a search for the God who could help a man love like that. And it ended with faith in Jesus Christ, a call to the ministry, and Max’s having no small impact on my own life.
O the blessedness of the peacemakers who lead others to know Jesus Christ!
Still another Kodak moment came in the mid-1970s with Black tennis star Arthur Ashe. He was winning a match in a national tournament, but his opponent was being immature, abusive, and profane. Ashe, always well-mannered and cool, watched his losing opponent throw his racket down in unsportsmanlike conduct again, so he walked over to the referee and told him he was quitting the match before he lost his own temper.
The referee was stunned. It meant Ashe would forfeit the match even though he was winning! But Ashe did it anyhow.
Later the U.S. Tennis Association awarded Ashe the “win” and fined his opponent for his unsportsmanlike behavior. Such was the courage of Arthur Ashe to make peace, to be a positive role model for youth.
I could go on and tell you of parents peacemaking with their children, of divorcees learning to make peace with their ex-spouses, of employees holding their corporation accountable. But you get the picture!
In 1938, Italy’s dictator Benito Mussolini told his people, “War puts the stamp of nobility on a people who have the courage to meet it.” How like us. But how unlike Christ.
Jesus said the outcome of his grace working within us is not hostility, jealousy and injury. It is peacemaking. The stamp of divinity is to help bring the sinful chaos of life within and without into the tranquility of divine order.
My, but how the world tries to make peace! We’ve the League of Nations, the United Nations, treaties and nonaggression pacts. It seems like there is always a peace conference going on. But two problems chronically arise: first, too much talk and too little action; and second, we leave God out of the peace. And it is forever true that we cannot achieve the brotherhood of man without the fatherhood of God.
Galatians 5:22 points out that peace is a fruit of God’s indwelling Spirit. It is the result of following Christ. It is neither self-generated nor politically conjured.
In the early 1930s a Protestant missionary to Japan wrote a terse letter to his church. In it he observed, “Japanese society is becoming militant by the day. Either send me 10,000 missionaries how to teach Christ’s love or send me a million of your sons in ten years to fight them in war.” To a world still so spiritually in arrears, his words still ring sorrowfully true.
As we conclude, be aware of the reward for peacemaking. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.”
In the Greek “called” means “owned.” God “owns” the peacemaker as his very son. “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased!”
“Sons of God” is a Jewish manner of speech. In Acts, Barnabas is called a “son of encouragement.” It is a Hebraic way of saying Barnabas was an encouraging man. Likewise, Jesus is the “son of man,” or fully human, incarnate. So in the text to be a “son of God” means to be doing a Godlike work.
What does the seventh beatitude mean? “Blessed . . . fulfilled . . . doing what God created you to do . . . blissful is the man who is a peacemaker, who brings people together . . . Happy is the man who creates a nourishing atmosphere that leads to spiritual, psychological, and social peace. He shall be owned by God for he is doing a Godlike work.”
Lord, help me to make peace, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.