Fresh out of high school and just prior to becoming a Christian, I met Kirk Poth. He had played football in high school and was attending Arizona State University. Kirk led a weekly Bible study for college students in the backyard of a house, to which a new friend had invited me.
As a college athlete myself, I felt an immediate connection with Kirk and was somewhat confused and yet impressed that he was really into God. I’d never known another athlete to be so devoted to the Bible, to a church or, more specifically, to Jesus Christ.
What I remember most about Kirk is he didn’t talk to me; he talked with me. He didn’t force his opinions on me; he became a friend to me. He didn’t condemn me; he walked patiently with me.
Kirk was a peacemaker.
BEING LIKE CHRIST
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus preached through what today we call the Beatitudes. In Matthew 5:3–8, he taught the following to the crowds:
• The poor in spirit will be blessed, for theirs is the kingdom of God.
• Those who mourn will be comforted.
• The gentle shall inherit the earth.
• Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness shall be satisfied.
• The merciful will receive mercy.
• The pure in heart will see God.
Next he said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (v. 9).
Did you catch it?
In the previous verses, people are blessed to receive something for who they are or what they do. Only in verse 9 are people identified with someone; namely, Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace. We are never more closely aligned to the person, the mission and the message of Christ than we are when seeking to advance peace.
This is what Jesus came to do: first, to bring peace to us, as individuals through faith in God, and likewise to advance peace among us, collectively, beyond the distinctions of this world that otherwise divide.
Isn’t it interesting that without notes, a teleprompter or PowerPoint slides, the very next thing on Jesus’ mind after speaking of peacemaking is the inevitability of persecution in the pursuit of peace (Matt. 5:10–12).
The fact is, being a peacemaker is not at all easy. It takes faith, courage and sacrifice as well as prayer, patience and persistence to set aside your own personality and preferences for the sake of others. In both word and deed, peacemakers are often misunderstood, misjudged and maligned. Why? Because certain people and institutions benefit from division. Indeed, there are some whose entire platform and the money they make is derived from keeping us at odds.
That said, we shouldn’t be surprised; this is how the Devil works. To gut the very power of our collective witness, he seeks to divide our churches and us along the lines of flesh and blood (color, class and culture), as do the rulers, powers, world forces of darkness and those in spiritual places (Eph. 6:10–13ff.). For this reason, Paul admonishes us to stand firm in unity and diversity as one in Christ in local churches so as to advance a credible gospel (Eph. 4:1–6; Gal. 3:28).
Ultimately, to be a peacemaker requires the setting aside of any power, position and privilege this life has afforded or that one might otherwise have attained, so others will come to know him as we do. This is exactly what Jesus did, as Paul explained in Philippians 2:5-8:
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although he existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a bond servant … he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
In humility and obedience, peacemakers:
• give their lives for the sake of others;
• renew, reconcile and redeem broken relationships, whether interpersonal or collective;
• do not seek to get their way but to pave a way for diverse others to find common ground;
• embrace the ministry of reconciliation as ambassadors of Christ (2 Cor. 5:18–20) and repairers of the breach (Isa. 58:12) without fear, shame or hesitation;
• faithfully press on in the face of cynical pushback knowing that Jesus was disparaged by many throughout his life as well.
Isn’t that what we all should aim to do?