What Does It Mean to Be a Peacemaker?

Jerry Bridges: “One of the greatest examples of humility in action is to act as a peacemaker in conflict involving ourselves.”

Peacemaking where there is conflict with someone else is not an option for us. It is God’s commandment. We are to strive for peace with everyone (Hebrews 12:14). The word strive is a translation of the Greek word diōkō. It is a very intense word and is most often used for the word persecute. Paul uses it in Philippians 3:12, 14 to say, “I press on.” In 2 Timothy 2:22, he encourages Timothy to “pursue [diōkō] … peace.” Peter, quoting from Psalm 34:14 writes, “let him seek peace and pursue [diōkō] it” (1 Peter 3:11). All these expressions convey an attitude of intensity, what I call a sincere desire and an earnest effort to bring about peace where there is conflict with another person. Paul’s expression “I press on” seems to portray perseverance even in the face of a discouraging response from the other person, or persons.

What might this look like in everyday life? Paul gives some admonitions in Romans 12:14-21.

“Bless those who persecute you” (verse 14) is an astounding statement: Instead of retaliating, we are to bless. We can easily pass by this instruction as not applying to us, because we do not suffer actual persecution. But there is a principle here that we should not ignore: We are to bless anyone who mistreats us in any way. Their mistreatment may be hurtful words or hurtful actions, but whatever they are, we are to bless the other person.

We certainly are not to repay evil for evil (verse 17); nor are we to avenge ourselves in any way (verse 19). Rather we are to leave vengeance to God. This does not mean that we pray for God’s judgment on the person, but rather we entrust our situation to Him who judges with perfect justice.

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We can easily see from the words of Jesus and from the writings of the apostle Paul, who wrote under the direct guidance of the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21), that they turned the world’s values upside down. To bless instead of retaliating, to leave justice in the hand of God instead of seeking it ourselves, is completely beyond society’s values. And, sadly, it often seems beyond our values. But if we are to live biblically, these are the standards we must seek to live by.

Despite our best efforts, however, there may be times when the person(s) we are in conflict with will not reciprocate. In that case, Paul says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18). How can we do this? Jesus tells us, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). Are we willing to pray for those who have hurt us, that God will bless them?

To be a peacemaker, then, means we absorb the hurtful words or actions of others without becoming resentful, or retaliating, or even cutting off a relationship with the person. When I mention hurtful actions, I do not include physically abusive actions. Addressing this issue is beyond the scope of this book, as the process of peacemaking. (In my opinion the best book to address the process is Ken Sande’s The Peacemaker.8) But hurtful actions such as gossip, slander, or angry words addressed to someone can damage or even sever a relationship between two or more people. To be a peacemaker means taking the initiative to restore such broken or damaged relationships, even when the major cause of the rupture lies with the other person. And it especially requires taking the initiative when you are the one who has caused the damaged relationship.

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To be a peacemaker means we must seek to be delivered from self-interest and not look at everything in terms of how it affects us. Instead we must be concerned about the glory of God and how we can best promote that glory in situations of conflict. One of the greatest examples of humility in action is to act as a peacemaker in conflict that involves ourselves.

This humility cannot simply be worked up as an outward expression. It must come from the heart, and this is the work of the Holy Spirit. But the Holy Spirit uses means, and the chief means are God’s Word and our prayers. So let me suggest two passages of Scripture in I Peter for you to ponder and pray over.

In 1 Peter 2:18-20 Peter addresses servants:

Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.

Although he is addressing a specific situation, Peter is employing a principle that any of us can apply to any situation where we are hurt or treated unjustly. Note Peter’s words, “For this is a gracious thing, when mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly,” and again in verse 20, “this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.” Why is it gracious in the sight of God? Because we are seeking to please and glorify Him instead of being concerned about ourselves.