The gospel is not just about how to receive eternal life, but also about how to live this life.
As we grow in our knowledge and experience of the gospel, life also grows in vibrancy and vitality. Where grace and faith multiply, love and unity flourish. To the degree that we emphasize grace and faith in our lives and in our community is the same degree to which we experience peace, joy, delight, and unity with God and with one another.
The gospel was intended to advance and promote peace. Not just peace to our inner beings, and not just peace between men and God, but also peace between all people and eventually, peace to the entire universe.
In one of the first declarations of the gospel in the Bible, the angels announce the birth of Jesus to shepherds and proclaim to them peace on earth and goodwill toward men (Luke 2:10, 14).
Throughout the entire ministry of Jesus, He sought to bring peace where there was hostility, and love where there was hate.
Even among the Twelve Apostles, Jesus brought together Zealots and tax collectors who would have hated each other in any other context. Near the end of His ministry, Jesus proclaimed to His apostles that He had come to bring peace, was leaving them with His peace (John 14:27), and that just as God had sent Jesus to proclaim peace, so also, His followers must do the same (John 20:21).
In the letters of Paul and Peter it is the same. Over and over, these apostolic writers proclaim that in Jesus Christ, there is now peace (e.g., Eph 2:14-17; Col 1:20; 1 Pet 3:11).
As such, any time we use the gospel to produce anything but peace, we are misusing and abusing the gospel.
If our defense of the gospel causes bitterness, strife, and division “for the sake of the gospel,” it is likely that we do not understand or defend the true gospel of peace in Jesus Christ.
But didn’t Jesus say he would bring a sword and division?
But what about when Jesus claims He did not come to bring peace, but a sword, that His ministry would not result in peace, but division (cf. Matt 10:34; Luke 12:51)?
Sadly, these statements by Jesus have been severely misused by Christians who want to justify their own warlike behavior toward other Christians. Such a view, however, contradicts almost everything else Jesus taught.
It is best, therefore, to understand that Jesus is not talking about His purpose in coming, but rather, a consequence of His ministry and teaching. His statement is not prescriptive, but descriptive. He is not describing what He wanted to happen, but rather, is describing what would happen. He was predicting; not prescribing.
This is not a statement of desire or intention by Jesus, but is a statement of realistic understanding about what might occur as people follow Him. In speaking of a sword, Jesus is using hyperbole and exaggeration to make the point that as a result of what He taught, there would be strife and division among people; yes, even among family members. This was not the goal and was not ideal, but Jesus realistically understood that such divisions would occur.
Jesus desired, intended, and prayed for peace among all men, but He knew that as a result of what He was teaching, there would be some discord and dissension. The statement of Jesus should be read with a tone of sadness in His voice, not an air of excited anticipation.
Jesus is not saying, “Let’s go cut off the heads of everyone who disagrees with me!” but rather, “I am deeply saddened by the fact that people will use my words and my teachings to go to war with their brethren. I know the hearts of men, and some will abuse my example and my teaching in just this way. For some, my words will not lead to peace, but to a sword.”
Jesus did not want to bring a sword, strife, discord, and war, but knew that some would twist and pervert His words and His ways to justify evil actions such as these.
May this prediction not be true of us!
From first to last, the gospel is a message of peace.
Therefore, those who teach, preach, and live the gospel will be known and men and women of peace. They will be known for their love and service toward others.
Is this what YOU are known for … even among those with whom you disagree … whether you disagree theologically or politically?
Follow Jesus into peace, for if you are not following Him into peace, you are not following Jesus.
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