A Commentary by John Stott
Matt.5:9. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.
The sequence of thought from purity of heart to peacemaking is natural, because one of the most frequent causes of conflict is intrigue, while openness and sincerity are essential to all true reconciliation.
Every Christian, according to this beatitude, is meant to be a peacemaker both in the community and in the church. True, Jesus was to say later that he had ‘not come to bring peace, but a sword’, for he had come ‘to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’, so that a man’s enemies would be ‘those of his own household’. (Matt.10:34-36.). And what he meant by this was that conflict would be the inevitable result of his coming, even in one’s own family, and that, if we are to be worthy of him, we must love him best and put him first, above even our nearest and dearest relatives (Mt.10:37). It is clear beyond question throughout the teaching of Jesus and his apostles, however, that we should never ourselves seek conflict or be responsible for it. On the contrary, we are called to peace, we are actively to ‘pursue’ peace, we are to ‘strive for peace with all men’, and so far as it depends on us, we are to ‘live peaceably with all’. (1 Cor.7:15; 1 Pet.3:11; Heb.12:14; Rom.12:18).
Now peacemaking is a divine work. For peace means reconciliation, and God is the author of peace and reconciliation. Indeed, the very same verb which is used in this beatitude of us is applied by the apostle Paul to what God has done through Christ. Through Christ, God was pleased ‘to reconcile to himself all things, …*making peace* by the blood of his cross’. And Christ’s purpose was to ‘create in himself one new man in place of the two (sc. Jew and Gentile), so *making peace*. (Col.1:20; Eph.2:15). It is hardly surprising therefore that the particular blessing that attaches to peacemakers is that ‘they shall be called the sons of God’. For they are seeking to do what their Father has done, loving people with his love, as Jesus is soon to make explicit. (Matt.5:44-45). It is the devil who is a troublemaker; it is God who loves reconciliation and who now through his children, as formerly through his only begotten Son, is bent on making peace.
This will remind us that ‘peace’ and ‘appeasement’ are not synonyms. For the peace of God is not peace at any price. He made peace with us at immense cost, even at the price of the life-blood of his only Son. We too – though in our lesser ways – will find peacemaking a costly enterprise. Dietrich Bonhoeffer has made us familiar with the concept of ‘cheap grace’; there is such a thing as ‘cheap peace’ also. To proclaim ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace, is the work of the false prophet, not the Christian witness. Many examples could be given of peace through pain. When we are ourselves involved in a quarrel, there will be either the pain of apologizing to the person we have injured or the pain of rebuking the person who has injured us. Sometimes there is the nagging pain of having to refuse to forgive the guilty party until he repents. Of course a cheap peace can be bought by cheap forgiveness. But true peace and true forgiveness are costly treasures. God forgives us only when we repent. Jesus told us to do the same: ‘If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him (Lk.17:3). How can we forgive an injury when it is neither admitted nor regretted?
Or again, we may not be personally involved in a dispute, but may find ourselves struggling to reconcile to each other two people or groups who are estranged and at variance with each other. In this case there will be the pain of listening, of ridding ourselves of prejudice, of striving sympathetically to understand both the opposing points of view, and of risking misunderstanding, ingratitude or failure.
Other examples of peacemaking are the work of reunion and the work of evangelism, that is, seeking on the one hand to unite churches and on the other to bring sinners to Christ. In both these, true reconciliation can be degraded into cheap peace. The visible unity of the church is a proper Christian quest, but only if union is not sought at the expense of doctrine. Jesus prayed for the oneness of his people. He also prayed that they might be kept from evil and in truth. We have no mandate from Christ to seek unity without purity, purity of both doctrine and conduct. If there is such a thing as ‘cheap reunion’, there is ‘cheap evangelism’ also, namely the proclamation of the gospel without the cost of discipleship, the demand for faith without repentance. These are forbidden shortcuts. They turn the evangelist into a fraud. They cheapen the gospel and damage the cause of Christ.
Tomorrow: Matt.5:10-12. The persecuted for righteousness sake.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of the Sermon on the Mount. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.