“Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal.” (Hebrews 12:14-16 ESV http://bible.com/59/heb.12.14-16.esv)
Normally, in this space, I share my thoughts and prayers as I prepare to preach each week. This week and next week I am out of the pulpit as I mentor a group of college students on a mission trip to London. Since I’m not preparing a sermon, I’m going to just share some thoughts with you.
In the passage above, we are called to strive for peace with everyone. I suspect most of us don’t mind seeking and striving for peace with people who are generally willing to seek it with us. But what happens when we desire peace and they don’t? We aren’t told to strive for peace with just peaceful people, but with everyone. How do you seek peace with people who disagree with you? Better yet, how can you be at peace with people who disagree with you?
I don’t believe it is accidental that the writer of Hebrews joins the admonition to strive for peace and the admonition to strive for “the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” In the Beatitudes, Jesus states that the peacemakers will be called the sons (or children) of God. But peace seems to be an elusive thing. We’ve sought it since mankind began to keep historic records and there’s every reason to believe we sought it since the beginning of time. So, why is it so hard to find and even harder to hold onto?
At least part of the reason is because we look for peace in all the wrong places and through all the wrong people. Peace is not really just the absence of conflict. I’ve known a few couples who finally just gave up fighting with one another, but there certainly wasn’t peace in their household. I’ve also known folks who lived in the midst of constant struggle and yet they seemed to have a peace that was uncanny. You see, peace comes from within and not from without. Peace must come from inside you to be able to permeate all of your life. Consider this verse…
“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” (Isaiah 26:3 ESV http://bible.com/59/isa.26.3.esv)
We expect peace to be the result of what others do (or don’t do) in our daily circumstances. But scripture states that peace is the result of God’s presence and our trust in Him. In other words, peace is not dependent on our circumstances but on our relationship with God. Here’s Jesus’ take on peace…
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 ESV http://bible.com/59/jhn.16.33.esv)
You can have peace in Jesus even while you’re experiencing tribulation in the world. How? Because, “I have overcome the world.” The tribulation of the world has no long term effect on life or lasting impact on eternity. You see, that goes back and ties our original phrases together more clearly – peace and holiness.
We tend to think of holiness as a moral attribute, but that’s not really correct. Holiness gets associated with morality because they generally happen together, but holiness really means to be set apart for God’s purpose or use. If a person is truly set apart for God’s use then he/she ought to exhibit the highest moral character and actions, but I hope you also are beginning to see how holiness and seeking peace go together.
When we belong to God and are set apart for His purposes and we experience the overwhelming presence and power of God, we can begin to know the peace of God in all circumstances. When that peace begins to pervade our lives then we too can confront conflict with resolve, respect and peace.
Over the past few weeks in this blog, we’ve considered Jesus’ trial and crucifixion. As He stood before the High Priest and Pilate He remained calm and quietly at peace with himself, his circumstances and even those around Him. In fact, we find Him exhibiting an incredible sense of peace as He prays for those who are persecuting Him…
“And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments.” (Luke 23:34 ESV http://bible.com/59/luk.23.34.esv)
Just like He taught us:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in Heaven… You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-45a, 48 ESV http://bible.com/59/mat.5.43-45,48.esv)
Peace between people is not always possible, but it should be our goal. However, peace in the heart of a believer regardless of the circumstances is possible, especially when it come from drawing close to God in holiness.
So, we should strive for peace with everyone but we must also strive for holiness. Without holiness we won’t “see the Lord.” But notice, he places an emphasis on what holiness… “THE holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” He appears to indicate there’s a specific holiness that opens a path to God. There’s one other possibility, there’s only one true holiness and he uses the article “the” to emphasize this point. I think this last idea is the correct one that there’s only one TRUE holiness and that is to the one true God who has revealed Himself in the person of Jesus Christ.
When set ourselves apart for God’s purposes we must remember that we belong to Him and He has every right to determine our steps, our desires and our actions. Just last week I was reminded of this when someone decided to steal my flatbed trailer out of my yard. I felt violated and was upset because someone took my property. I was even more upset because my grandson’s swing set was loaded on that trailer to be delivered to his house. Aaarrrggghhhh! How could someone have the audacity to take my property out of my yard without my permission?
Now, just for a moment consider how often we use our own bodies, minds, intelligence or skills to achieve our own desires without one thought as to what God might want. What? Don’t you belong to God?
“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 ESV http://bible.com/59/1co.6.19-20.esv)
Holiness is not only recognizing that we belong to God completely, but more specifically it is keeping ourselves set apart from the corruption and sin that dominates our world and, to borrow a phrase, give ourselves only to Him. The people who stole my trailer violated my rights as the owner of it and we violate God’s rights when we use ourselves in opposition to His purposes and desires.
Now, let’s tie these two ideas back together… if we pursue holiness and honor God’s purposes for our lives we WILL be peacemakers. Remember, peacemakers will be called the sons of God. While peace can exist in our hearts despite external conflicts or persecution, we ought to seek peace with all men. If it depends on us, we will, we must pursue peace. Though some will resist it, we will still pursue it as best we can. Do we compromise our beliefs or behavior to achieve or maintain peace? Not if our beliefs or behavior is consistent with holiness. Remain true to Him and His Word while pursuing peace and true holiness.