Peace: The Upper and Lower Stories

Peace is a value emphasized throughout Scripture.  Search the NIV and you'll find the word, "peace" 98 times in the New Testament alone.  John's Gospel tells of the peace that Jesus bestowed on His disciples before His arrest (John 14:27, 16:33) and the peace He grants them after His resurrection as they're commissioned to do His work (John 20:19-26).  Even one of the Beatitudes refers to peacemakers (Matt 5:9).

What could Jesus possibly mean, then, when He said that He didn't come to bring peace but division or a sword?  (Luke 12:51, Matt 10:13)

Several months ago, our church was starting the peacemaking class offered by Peacemaker® Ministries.  As an introduction, I wanted to come up with concise reasons why peacemaking should be foundational to Christian Living, right up there with Bible-study and serving the least of us.  I'd drafted no fewer than 10 blog entries proclaiming the importance of peacemaking, but I could never get past Jesus's statement qualifying our expectation of peace.

Our church has been studying the Bible this year through, "The Story."  One of the key concepts emphasized in this study is that throughout the Bible, which is to say, through creation, there's both an upper story (God's sovereign purposes) and a lower story (how we relate to that in our lives).  There are times when God will grant us temporal blessings in the lower story.  But interwoven throughout time is God's upper story, where His good and eternal purpose will be served.

Within this context, I began to understand that the upper story peace comes with reconciliation with God.  So as the "Prince of Peace," Jesus offers us the path to reconciliation (Acts 10:36, Rom 5:1).  Based on this view of peace, the salutations in most of the epistles that contain the wish for peace does not refer to a life free of conflict.  Rather, it's a word of encouragement by directing hope up above, which transcends our lives of conflict.

It's only when we have that upper story peace that our lower story peace can unfold.  Oftentimes, we, as believers, get that causation wrong.  We often think that by doing something in the lower story, we'll satisfy some desire in God's upper story.  No matter how much peace we try to practice by being meek, by compromising, or even avoiding conflict, we will not be called the children of God.  Rather, by accepting Jesus into our hearts, peace will emanate and we will be called the children of God.  (Rom 8:14)

But does that mean that we should accept conflict in our lower story, which is in our everyday lives?  By no means!  (Now I'm channeling the Apostle Paul.)  Once we accept that reconciliation with God is what leads us to becoming peacemakers, then we can begin to explore how we should respond to conflicts in a way that honors Him.

1. Unity in the Church (John 17:20-23, Psa 133:1)
One of the Jesus's last prayers before his arrest was for the unity of all believers.  In our unity, "Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me."  (John 17:23)  Unity is not  for our pleasure but because we are the reflection of Him.

2. Free of Worries (John 14:27)
Focusing on eternity does not preclude the life, and accompanying troubles, of this world. Conflict, in this world, is assured.  But if we live by the Spirit rather than the flesh, we're freed from the insatiable bond of desire.  (Rom 8)

3. Act of Worship (Col 3:15-17)
The next time you're gripped by anger and bitterness, sing a song of praise to God.  Anger and worship cannot coexist in our hearts.  In Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus suggests (okay, commands!) that before we offer a gift at the alter, we should go and reconcile a conflict.

4. Love in Action (Rom 12:9-21)
Just as we're called to look after orphans and widows, peacemaking is another act of service.  The world would have us compete for superiority and right wrongs against us.  But we're to live by a different standard -- to follow God's good and perfect will.  (Rom 12:2)  By responding in a uniquely Christ-like manner is to draw attention to the glory and goodness of God.

Now, back to Luke 12:51, where Jesus said that He didn't come to bring peace but division.  Choosing a life of peace through Christ is not an easy choice and will not make our troubles go away.  Rather, the choice itself can and will lead to conflict and persecution.  But that's in the lower story -- we can rest assured with the knowledge that once we've chosen to cleave to Christ, His love is inseparable.  (Rom 8:37-39)

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