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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Scott Moultrie says
Amen, I wish more people would hear this and let this sink in!
Very nice and true message. Just wondering what you believe Jesus would want us to do in war type situations, i.e. World War II.
Roy Hill says
How should we understand Matthew 10:34?
David Barnes says
Did you read the second half of the blog where he explains how we should understand Matthew 10:34?
Aidan McLaughlin says
I think also that the sword jesus was talking about is is the revelation of truth. And truth hurts sometimes and cuts to our very core. Though the liberation is worth it. Making a stance against evil as in world war 2 is more about the principality and powers that we come up against and is less personal with regard to what jesus was talking about. It does tie in though but in a more holistic worldview sorta way.
Jeff Parrott says
A friend of mine recently asked me that if, now I’m a Christian, that means I would judge her. I explained that the Jesus I follow wants me to love people and try and help them when I can, not look for their flaws. If anything, my faith makes me more aware of when I am being judgemental and perhaps be more judgemental of my own thinking and behaviour. (I’ll think, “is that a loving way to respond to this person/situation?”)
My friend then proceeded to confide in me about a very difficult situation she’s in and we’re now trying, together, to figure out how best to get her through it.
It makes me sad that this is people’s idea of Christians.
David DeMille says
Sam Riviera says
Yes. I frequently cringe when I hear people use someone’s or some group’s interpretation supposedly of the Bible to bring “bitterness, strife, and division” to a situation, and feel righteous for having done so. I know people who for personal reasons are for or against certain religious/social/political issues who migrated to religious groups which identify as Christian (and agree with these peoples’ personal opinions) so they presumably might have an ultimate authority to support their opinions. Some of us refer to this as using the “Christian card,” the “God card” or the “Bible card” to support their opinions on various topics. This almost always introduces “bitterness, strife, and division” to any situation, rather than peace, love and service toward others.
Agshin Jafarov says
This is good article but I wonder what do we do with the Old Testament description of God and wars that ancient Israel led. I don’t think we should isolate gospel from the OT context and understand it without considering the implications of the OT.
But itt is true that in the Gospels the emphasis is on peace rather than on war.
Roy Hill says
Jeremy wrote…. So follow Jesus into peace, for if you are not following Him into peace, you are not following. In Matthew 10:34, Jesus said “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. My question was How should we understand Matthew 10:34? The text seems to be clear…… Jesus did not come to bring peace on earth.
Jeremy Myers says
I address that very question in the post.
Roy Hill says
I hadn’t read the full article, but reading the article doesn’t seem to change what Jesus said. Jesus sounds pretty emphatic saying……. “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword, for I have come to bring division,….
I’m reluctant to alter what Jesus said by adding what Jesus wanted and knew. Jeremy wrote that….. “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”. Judges 7 tells of God directing Gideon in a war with the Midianites. Would God have been promoting an “evil action”? Revelation also has a number of references to war that I wouldn’t describe as evil. It’s more of a conflict between good & evil with good being the aggressor. It’s also interesting to note that Romans 12:18 has “If possible, on your part, be at peace with all men.” This seems to imply that it won’t always be possible.
Mike Carino says
Jesus’ message was really divisive. Many people hated his message for various reasons. The Romans hated it because Christians refused to worship the Roman gods. Many Jews hated it because they thought it was blasphemous that Jesus could claim to be the Son of God. Both groups tried to stomp out the early church, and sometimes resorted to arresting and killing Christians. I’m sure many families were torn apart as some remained pagans loyal to Rome, or remained Jews while others became Christians. It was a natural consequence of the radical message Jesus brought, and Jesus knew that. The message is just as divisive today as it ever was.