Peace on Earth, But Let's Start in the Church

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Wednesday, December 23, 2015 0 comments

by Logan Ames

By now, you’ve probably heard the famous announcement of the heavenly army recorded in Luke 2:14 at least once during the Christmas season. If you’ve been in church, you have probably heard it in sermons. If you haven’t been in church, the chances are still high that you’ve heard part of it in a song while shopping or driving. A “great company” of the heavenly host joined the angel of the Lord and proclaimed, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men” (NKJV). The angel and the heavenly army proclaimed this truth first to the shepherds in the fields, declaring that with the arrival of Jesus the Messiah comes peace to the earth and goodwill toward all men. The question is, where’s the peace?

A study back in 1991 revealed that from 3600 B.C. to 1991, the world only knew a grand total of 292 years of peace. In that time, there were 14,531 wars of both large and small size and over 3.6 billion people were killed in those wars. We know that these numbers have certainly risen since 1991. The reason for all this destruction and fighting is not because Jesus failed at achieving peace, but because the human heart doesn’t want peace. The prophet Jeremiah said, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure” (17:9). God has given us free will out of his love for us, and with sin in our hearts, we desire only what pleases the self. The answer is still Jesus, for peace is achieved when an individual heart responds to the Savior and Lord by surrendering the desires of the flesh, be they anger, lust, greed, power, or something else. World peace may never be achieved until Christ returns again, but YOU can experience peace in your life between you and God, you and another person, and you and your enemies by surrendering to him.

Some 33 years after that glorious night in which the Christ was born, the early church was formed following Jesus’ death and resurrection. They were unified by the presence of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2) and moved forward in boldness and faith to do the Lord’s work on the earth, beginning at Jerusalem. But if you read the book of Acts beyond that, you will see that it didn’t take very long before well-meaning believers allowed their selfish desires to get in the way and suddenly, there were divisions and even false teachings in the church. How can the body of Christ expect there to be peace on earth when there often isn’t even peace IN the church?

The Apostle Paul addresses this problem in Romans 16:17-20. He is wrapping up his letter to the Roman believers and urges them to be aware of “those who cause divisions and put obstacles in (their) way that are contrary to the teaching (they) have learned,” and then also to avoid them (verse 17). These are two separate groups of people that Paul is telling the believers to avoid. They are just as prevalent in the church today as they were back then. There are those who divide God’s people and those who deceive God’s people. You may be speaking truth and sound doctrine, but may be gossipping or causing others to either side with you or with someone else. Those who deceive God’s people are more often those who teach and practice things that are not in accordance with sound Biblical doctrine, but they make them seem like they are. One group of people is not at peace with each other, and the other group is not at peace with God. Paul was talking to the first century church, but he might as well be writing directly to you and me today. We must avoid those who seek to deceive or divide God’s people, but we can’t avoid what we won’t even acknowledge.

I’m not suggesting you live in constant paranoia regarding your relationships with other believers, and neither is Paul. He says that he desires that we be “wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil” (verse 19). You’ve probably heard it said that the best way to spot something that is counterfeit is to become overly familiar with the real thing. That’s why Paul mentions being wise about what is good first. My friends, this is such a critical point for us today. The reason I say this is because we are at a time today, even in the church, when false teachers are trying to blur the lines between what is good and what is evil. The problem for them is that God’s Word does not change. We must continue to evaluate good and evil by the standard of Jesus Christ, who is the “true light that gives light to everyone” (John 1:9). Isaiah saw this coming when he announced, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter” (5:20). In other words, we the church must STOP confusing God’s truth with a counterfeit version of it that might look or even “feel” right, but only “deceives the minds of naive people” (Romans 16:18).

I’ve spent most of this post addressing those who deceive God’s people, but those who seek to divide are just as much of an issue. Paul says they “are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites” (verse 18). If you’ve ever spent time around Christians who are always arguing or fighting with each other, you’ve probably wondered if you took a wrong turn somewhere. Jesus was clear when he said, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand” (Matthew 12:25). Are we one body, or are we not? That’s the question each Christian must ask. A lack of truth threatens to destroy the church, but truth without unity leads to pride. So, would you rather be “right” all the time, or be at peace?

Reverend John Philip Newell said, “Mad dogs are shot; infectious diseases are quarantined; but evil teachers who would divide to their destruction and draw away the saints with teaching contrary to the doctrine of Christ and his apostles are everywhere tolerated!” If you’ve been believing false teaching or contributing to division in the church, take some time this Christmas season to reflect on what it means for you that the Prince of Peace came to this earth. Read in the Gospels how he handled those who tried to confuse truth with lies and those who tried to divide his followers. Let your heart be open to the move of the Holy Spirit to turn you into a peacemaker. Paul ends this section with a reference to the “God of peace,” who “will soon crush Satan” under the feet of those who trust in him (verse 20). Peace on earth must begin with the church, which means it must begin with you.

Any Greek would have recognized the scholarly content and depth of Luke’s gospel. He appeals to their love of beauty through its opening songs, relates to the poor in Greek culture through his emphasis on the poor, and reveals that through Jesus their longing for deliverance could be fulfilled by being adopted into God’s family. This is a gift we can all be thankful for during this season. Merry Christmas!

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