Blessed Are the Peacemakers!
O Lord, we come before You and humbly confess our sins. All too often evil arises because of our envy and selfishness. All too often strife continues because of our pride and unwillingness to yield. All too often troubles continue because we fail to turn to You in prayer, having become enamored by this world. Cleanse our hearts and increase our faith, so that we with humility might better serve You to the glory of Your saving name. Amen.
The people of Jeremiah's day did not want to hear God's Word and so threatened his life, even as Jesus' life would one day be threatened by people who did not want to hear His Word. Jeremiah, as Jesus, commended himself to his heavenly Father.
Jesus here begins to instruct His disciples regarding His upcoming death. They, however, did not understand, in part because they were disputing among themselves regarding their personal greatness. Jesus then warned His disciples against false pride and urged them to serve others with humility.
Text: James 3:16-4:6
For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing will be there. 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. Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”? But He gives more grace. There He says: “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
In Christ Jesus, who promises us a peace unlike any found in our world—a peace that leads to a life lived in confidence and without fear, dear fellow redeemed:
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9). So says Jesus in His “Sermon on the Mount.” Yet, from the perspective of this world, there are many who might question Jesus’ assertion. After all, they might say, “What about those young men and women of the Minnesota Army National Guard who deployed for Kosovo this past week? How blessed are they, having to leave their families behind and spend a year away from home? What about our young men and women serving as peacekeepers in Iraq or Afghanistan? They are being shot at, wounded, and at times killed! Are they ‘blessed’?” Yes, many in our world would question Jesus, yet we know by faith that Jesus’ words when properly understood are true.
First, we must realize that the peace of which Jesus so frequently speaks is not that peace, which requires an end of hostilities between nations. In fact, quite the opposite—Jesus warns us that there will be “wars and rumors of wars” until the end of time because man’s sinful nature (cf. Mark 13:7). The peace of which Jesus and His apostles speak is that deep and satisfying peace between each of us as individuals and our God. It is a peace based upon the atoning work of Jesus Christ and received as a gift from God in view of our faith in Jesus as our Savior, even as we are led to repent of and forsake our sins.
Second, it is those individuals, whose hearts have been won by the gospel and who are indeed the sons and daughters of God, who then can be and are to become “peacemakers.” These are individuals whose lives reflect the peace within their hearts and the certain confidence that their futures are secure in Christ. They in turn can by their words and actions establish and promote peace between people within this world. The peace we enjoy with God, then is to become a peace we realize and are to foster between others and ourselves.
Yes, BLESSED ARE THE PEACEMAKERS! But what is involved in being a “peace-maker”? Let us consider today how peacemakers are individuals, who cultivate, first of all, fruits of righteousness, secondly, a proper prayer life, and, thirdly, humility with faithfulness!
The apostle James writes, “For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing will be there. 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.” It has always amazed me how Jesus’ apostles—Peter, Paul, John, and here James—can so clearly identify the sinful problems confronting us Christians today. There are no “rose-colored” glasses here are there? “Envy and self-seeking exist,” even within the hearts of us believing Christians at times, and wherever these sinful attitudes exist “confusion and every evil thing will be there” too!
The goal of our sermon today is to encourage all of us here today to become “peace-makers” within our homes, among our families and friends, within our congregation, and within our community. The first step towards that goal is that we each examine our hearts carefully to see the motives that move us to speak and to do the things we speak and do. Why is it that bitter and angry words can so easily flow over our lips in our conversations with family and friends? Are we envious of those around us? Do they seem to have more things than we have? Do they seem to receive things, which in our minds we deem we deserve more than they? Why is it that at times I feel better about myself, when I am cutting someone else down? Does this not reveal an attitude of self-seeking, which ultimately will hurt many people including myself?
Yes, where “envy and self-seeking exits, confusion and every evil thing will be there!” Consequently, as we examine our hearts, may we be led to repent of such sins and rather tocultivate the fruits of righteousness! The fruits of righteousness include divine “wisdom,” which is “pure…peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy…without partiality and without hypocrisy.” My dear friends, the only absolute truth we possess is found in Scripture. Our thoughts, our suggestions, our desires, which are based upon our preferences, are not absolute truth. Consequently, as we deal with one another, may our words reveal our understanding that we may at times be wrong, or there may be better ideas out there than the ones we currently possess, or that we may not have all the information that others have. The ultimate goal of any discussion, after all, ought not be that our personal wishes prevail, but that the good and gracious will of God is done and the lives of all may be enhanced by the decisions made and the actions undertaken. A peacemaker, therefore, will seek to resolve issues in a proper and equitable fashion—guarding his tongue, measuring his actions, so that peace is sown and blessing is experienced.
BLESSED ARE THE PEACEMAKERS! Peacemakers are individuals who, secondly, cultivate a proper prayer life! James writes, “Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.” How often do not squabbles begin when people’s wants and desires are not met? We want certain things; we expect certain things; we demand certain things, and if we cannot secure them we are ready to fight for them. That is certainly true for relationships between nations, even as it is for relationships within our families. How sad! Our desires for pleasure become “lust,” that most difficult passion to control, and soon everything seems out of control!
James suggests that at the root of this particular problem—a problem that can easily prevent any of us from becoming effective peacemakers—is a poor prayer life. James suggests that frequently we fail to approach God concerning our legitimate needs. We roll along in our lives doing pretty well, depending pretty much on ourselves, forgetting just how dependent we actually are upon the grace and blessing of God. We do not face such great difficulties, and Satan leads us to believe we really do not need much help—certainly not from God.
That is one side of the problem. The other is that when we ultimately do turn to God and implore His blessing, we do so improperly, asking for things we do not need and many times things we ought not have. We believe that if we were only a little richer, we would be much happier. We suggest that if God were only to give us this or that thing, we would be much better off. Yet, God in His eternal wisdom hears our prayers and responds in just the way appropriate for our particular situation and in order to bring about His intended blessing.
My dear friends—we are God’s children by faith (cf. Galatians 3:26). We are upheld and protected in His gracious hands (cf. John 10:28-29). Our future is certain in our Lord. Let us therefore turn to our God with absolute confidence, but remembering to conclude our prayers for materials blessing with a “not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). God will provide for our every need in ways far beyond our expectations and certainly appropriate for our individual situations. Let us not act as if God were absent and our futures dependent solely upon our own hands. No, let us strive to be peacemakers—peacemakers cultivating a proper prayer life, which in turn will help draw us closer to our God and move us to rejoice in His providential care.
BLESSED ARE THE PEACEMAKERS! Yes, peacemakers who, finally, cultivate humility with faithfulness! James writes, “Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, ‘The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously’? But He gives more grace. There He says: ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’” Now, those are some harsh words aren’t they coming from the pen of James. He is confronting the Christians of his day, even as he does us today with the very real possibility that we are guilty of spiritual adultery—loving this world more than our blessed Savior!
As we examine ourselves, let us frankly ask ourselves whether this is indeed true? Of the things that are most important to us—are they physical things of this world, or are they spiritual issues relating to God. If we have no time for daily devotions, but we can arrange to spend several hours in front of the television—do we love God or this world? If we have adequate money for beer and our favorite forms of recreation, but there never seems to be enough to provide our God with an expression of our appreciation—or in biblical terms the “firstfruits” of our labor (cf. Exodus 23:13)—do we love God or this world?
I was privileged to have a wonderful conversation this past week with a young man, who is not a member of our congregation. We talked about the nature of God and of religion. I pointed out that while there are many different religions, they can all be placed into one of two categories. In answer to the question, “How must I be saved,” all religions will answer in one of two ways—either by something you must do, or by the grace of God through Christ Jesus. I went on to point out that Christianity, consequently, is such a humbling religion, because it requires that we admit our complete inability to save ourselves and our absolute dependence upon the grace of our God. Yet, in that very dependence comes are greatest confidence and security. If our salvation is dependent upon our own works, we can never be sure we have done enough. Whereas when we understand we are saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus, we can have absolute confidence for that salvation has been completed through the work of Christ and is a gift given by grace.
My dear friends, the Holy Spirit has filled our hearts with faith and He yearns within us and for us. He desires jealously that we heed the words of our Savior, that we remain the objects of His saving grace, and that we cultivate a proper sense of humility that will lead to a desire on our part to remain faithful to Him. When this is the case, we will find that we have no desire to argue about mastery of the things of this world, but rather our greatest goal will be the ultimate good of all those with whom we have contact. When that realization comes about within in our hearts, then God has made of us genuine peacemakers. In that role, we will experience His distinct blessing. Yes, BLESSED ARE THE PEACEMAKERS! Amen.
—Pastor Paul D. Nolting