The Bare Soul - May 1, 2011
Pursuing Peace

The following is the message text and audio recording of a sermon titled "Pursuing Peace" delivered to the homeless
at the Kansas City Rescue Mission Chapel on May 4, 2011.

Pursuing Peace - May 4, 2011

Romans 12:18 - If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.

It is a noble thing to wish for peace, it is quite another thing to obtain it. Martin Luther King, Jr. once stated: Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal. I understand this to mean that in order to achieve any type of peace from without, we must have a decided peace from within. In our lead verse, the Apostle Paul tells the church at Rome that they are capable of living in peace with most men under most circumstances. Undoubtedly, there will always be those exceptions. For example, we can certainly believe that Paul desired to be at peace with Demetrius the silversmith (Acts 19:23-41), or with Alexander the coppersmith (II Timothy 4:14), but that was not to be the case according to scripture. Certain situations or circumstances may warrant different responses. For instance, we certainly cannot compromise what God has revealed to us through His Holy Word. However, a peaceful resolution is generally possible and is what most reasonable parties seek. Often, it merely takes a little initiative on our part to create a bond of reconciliation. Those who might be antagonistic toward our offers of friendship might find themselves taken aback when we approach them with humility. As Paul concludes Romans chapter 12, he tells us that we may often shame those set against us by our acts of kindness. It quite literally embarrasses them into a surrendering of their pride which results in a peaceful resolve (Romans 12:20).

Within the context of this chapter, we see the apostle admonishing a church of predominately Gentile believers to love one another and to ultimately be at peace. "Predominately" is the keyword. For it was not always the case that the Gentiles were the majority. Most scholars believe that the church in Rome began as the direct result of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost in approximately 30 AD. Italian Jews were thought to have been visiting Jerusalem at the time of this momentous event. Some of these were possibly saved, taking their new-found Christian faith back to Rome. It is believed that Jewish Christians were the majority in the fledgling church for several years until Claudius expelled all Jews from the Roman capital because of supposed Jewish and Christian uprisings. (We know from scripture that Priscilla and Aquila were two Jews who were indeed expelled at this time [Acts 18:2].) With the vacuum of Jewish-Christian believers, the Gentiles grew in number where they soon became the majority. So much so that the historian Tacitus recorded several years after Paul's writing to the Romans (during Nero's rule) that the Christians in Rome were an "immense multitude". Therefore, when Paul wrote this letter in approximately 57 AD, there was possibly some wrong attitudes between the once majority Jewish believers who had trickled back into the Roman church, and the super-majority of Gentile believers. Although this book contains some of the most important doctrine in the Christian faith, there is also the constant undercurrent of Paul's admonition to these two groups to come together and heal their differences.

While Romans chapter 12 focuses on a "coming together" of the saints in Rome, the remainder of Paul's letter continues to reinforce this idea of equality amongst all believers. In chapter 14, the apostle addresses a problem with one group judging another group regarding holy days (Romans 14:5) and dietary concerns (Romans 14:12-16). In Paul's wisdom, he sees these as matters of conscience which shouldn't be forced on another as a rule or a law. The Gentiles apparently felt that they should not be restricted to the Jewish dietary laws, and the Jews were apparently appalled that the Gentiles did not follow in their conviction. Paul defends what was truly important in the following: for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14:17) He concludes his stance by stating in verse 19 that we should "pursue the things which make for peace, and the building up of one another". Paul's main ambition in speaking to the Roman Christians in this way was to get their eyes off their petty differences, and to get them back on the things that truly mattered, like building the Kingdom of God here on earth. The two group's beliefs, which strongly asserted their own convictions regarding their "rightness", were to be overlooked in view of working together for the important things. No wonder Paul ends his letter stating that Satan would soon be crushed under their feet, if they would simply come together in unity (Romans 16:20). The enemy's distractions were numerous yet the time is short, to paraphrase Paul's possible intention when dictating that verse.

What can we take from this lesson to the Roman church? Do we have petty differences in our relationships, whether at church or work or home? Can't we simply approach the person or the situation with a spirit of humility and speak mercy rather than judgment into those respective lives? If we can, then we are following Paul's admonition to the church of Rome that was badly fractured due to things that didn't really matter that much in the final score. While we may not be able to make peace with all men, it is still our responsibility to pursue it with vigor. Especially in those situations where it doesn't really matter that much who appears to win the confrontation. True, we must not compromise on truth, as Paul tells us. Laws of doctrine in the Christian faith are indisputable. However, whether or not someone eats pork, or observes the Sabbath with complete rest, or drinks a case of diet soda a day is not our concern. We must allow the Holy Spirit to deal with individuals as He desires and not allow the enemy an occasion to fragment the church any further. Is perfect peace possible in this age? That isn't the point. Nonetheless, we must pursue peace with all men. The attainment we must leave in God's hands as He will faithfully bring forth His glorious reign of peace in His own way and in His timing. May we all remain faithful to the pursuit.

Heavenly Father, may we pursue peace with all men. May we have hearts of humility to reconcile people concerning those things that really don't matter that much in light of the work You desire for us to all accomplish. May we allow Your Holy Spirit to be the Great Judge to convince those who might need correction. As we allow You to do what You do so well, allow us to birth peaceful resolutions in people, places, and situations and to bring the Body of Christ together. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

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