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My father was an attorney. He occasionally mediated between parties to avoid the cost of a court hearing. After one such meeting he said, “I must have done a good job, because they both left mad.” Dad knew the cost of being a peacemaker, because a peacemaker gets between two parties who both want their own way.
Jesus taught, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5.9).
Not too long ago, someone asked me, “Why did Paul write Romans?” Highly acclaimed scholars believe the reason why Paul wrote the letter was to make peace between Gentile and Jewish Christians. He didn’t want Gentile Christians to participate in a time of persecution of Jews that was widespread in Rome. Instead, he wanted a unified church to take the message of God’s good news to a new region, Spain.
His letter to the Ephesians reminded the church of Jesus’ peacemaking work. He wrote, “For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us” (Ephesians 2.14).
In a powerful letter to the Philippians, Paul paused to encourage two ladies in the church to stop squabbling. He wrote, “I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord” (Philippians 4.2).
With Jesus and Paul as our guide, we know that peacemaking is a high priority. Peacemakers resemble their loving Lord. That is what it means to be called “children of God.” Jesus is the basis of our peace, because he made the two groups into one through is sacrificial death on the cross (see Ephesians 2.14).
Suggestions for Peacemakers
Helping people and groups of people, who are odds with each, come together is one of the most difficult jobs there is. Here are some things I have learned while attempting to make peace with people. By-the-way, I have learned many of these lessons through failure to follow the instructions, as much as by trying to follow them.
(1) Don’t take sides. One side of the argument often sounds believable and reasonable until you hear the other side. We must remain neutral. If we take sides, the peacemaking effort will probably end quickly.
(2) Listen, listen and listen some more. The more we listen and obtain the perspective of each side of the argument, the better we will be able to help. We must resist the urge to tell the people what they need to do before we have fully heard and understood the issues.
(3) Help each side get a picture of the other side’s grievance. Today, our country is racially and politically divided. Like the times when the letter to the Romans was written, Christian people can be drawn into the conflict and damage the mission God has given us. The job of the peacemaker is to help the two sides appreciate each other.
(4) Pray. There is nothing that will call us to prayer like trying to make peace where there is conflict and division.
(5) Seek to know God’s will and help the offended parties to discover it for their particular situation. Helping the parties to know and do God’s will is the desired end result of our peacemaking effort. We have a better chance for this to take place, as we work the above steps.
According to a November 2019 Christianity Today article, “Over 245 million Christians live in the 50 countries ranked on the World Watch List as worst for Christians. Between November 2017 and October 2018, 4,136 Christians were killed for their faith in these countries, over 1,266 churches or Christian buildings were attacked, and 2,625 believers were detained, arrested, sentenced, or imprisoned — many of them without a trial.”
Jesus told us that these things would happen. What is shocking is that he called the people to whom it happened “blessed.” That is why I titled this article, “Tough Blessings to Receive.”
Matthew 5.10-12 – “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
A Tragic Example of Persecution
Christians are persecuted at a staggering rate. However, we are not the only people who are persecuted for their religious commitments.
According to World Vision, a Christian humanitarian organization, “Since August 25, 2017, more than 700,000 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar have fled to Bangladesh. This Rohingya refugee crisis is among the largest, fastest movements of people in recent history. The Rohingya, a mostly-Muslim minority ethnic group in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar, are escaping what the United Nations has described as genocidal violence that follows decades of persecution and human rights abuses.
“Today, about 860,000 stateless Rohingya refugees live in the world’s largest and most densely populated refugee camp, Kutupalong. About half of the refugees are children.”
Our daughter, Emily, teaches English classes to immigrants. One of her 25 year-old students from Africa spent her first 23 years of life living under a blue tarp. Imagine being a refugee in Bangladesh and living under blue tarps with over 800,000 people in a space the size of the 54052 zip code during a time of corona virus.
Please begin to include the millions of persecuted Christians, the Rohingya people, and other persecuted persons in your prayers. Visit the World Vision website (https://www.wvi.org/) and truly get a vision of the world.
Blessed are the Persecuted
As we study the Sermon on the Mount, we will find many of Jesus sayings very difficult to understand and to apply to our lives. “Blessed are those who are persecuted,” (verse 10) is one of the most difficult passages to understand. What are some ways we can take seriously Jesus’ message?
(1) A principle of interpretation is to interpret a single verse in the light of the entire Bible. The overall message of the Bible tells us that the immigrant, the refugee, the vulnerable and the broken have a special place in God’s heart.
Every effort that is made to lessen the suffering of persecuted and oppressed persons has the full support of God, who loves all people.
(2) The Psalms give voice to persecuted and oppressed persons. More than a third of the Psalms speak of suffering, oppression or some other pain. Much of what we find in the Psalms will help us pray for ourselves, when we feel we have suffered or have been persecuted. We can also use these prayers to pray for the persecuted church worldwide.
As we pray for persecuted Muslims, Jews, or people of other faiths, we can ask God’s mercy on them in general. We can also ask that God grant them the grace to experience Jesus in a very personal way.
(3) Jesus said, “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘Servants are not greater than their master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also” (John 15.20).
Jesus let us know that persecution would be part of following him. He also promised, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age — houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions — and in the age to come eternal life” (Mark 10.29-30).
I have just started listening to an audio recording of “The Chronicles of Narnia,” by C. S. Lewis. In one scene a London cabby landed in Narnia. He thought it was heaven and exclaimed, “If I knew it was going to be this good, I would have prepared better for it.”
With our emphasis on having everything in the here and now, we forget that earth is preparation for heaven. Even the persecution people experience will better prepare them for an eternity with the God they love and serve.
Dear Jesus, your message today contains some very challenging statements. Please help us to not pass them over and go on like you never spoke them. Please help us align our lives with what you are telling us here.