For most of my life, I believed that conflict was negative. I dreaded the tension that filled the room when two people I cared about disagreed. I longed to run away, to find a place to breathe. The message came through loud and clear: Conflict is dangerous, disagreements are harmful, and differences ruin relationships.
I carried the message into my parenting. One of my roles was to keep the peace, to ensure that nobody rocked the boat. I wanted one big happy family where nobody would ever get hurt. Can you say, “Unrealistic expectations”?
I also carried the message into early ministry. I spent a lot of effort to avoid offending anyone. I had a fear of stepping on anyone’s toes. When I was eight years old, I literally stepped on my uncle’s little toe and broke it. Even though it was an accident, I was devastated. My uncle was gracious, but the memory impaired my perspective for decades.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught the crowds. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9, NIV). There is a blessing when we prioritize peace. However, merely avoiding strife or stilling opposition falls short of the mark. During the pax Romana, the mighty Roman military kept the peace. The powerful quelled all hostilities and conflicts, and the Roman Empire maintained the exterior of peace, while animosity boiled beneath the surface. We are not called to be peace keepers.
The New Living Translation phrases Matthew 5:9 as, “God blesses those who work for peace.” It requires consistent, courageous work to pursue peace in its fullness. Shalom is the ancient Hebrew concept of peace, meaning “wholeness, completeness, health, safety, and prosperity.” Shalom involves our relationships with others and replacing systems in which shalom is broken. Shalom originates from and is sustained by God.
As followers of Jesus, we must seek peace, working to maintain and strengthen it (Psalm 34:14). We reflect the LORD’s heart for humanity as we actively engage with others in pursuit of shalom. We should view conflict as a natural part of existing with human beings, rather than as a threat. As servant leaders, we create a safe place to lovingly address conflict, disagreements, and differences. We build bridges by seeking to truly understand, and emphasizing empathy, listening, and respect (even if we don’t agree). Beyond our relationships, we advocate for true justice and systems that restore shalom to others living in the margins.
Let’s be peacemakers—not peace keepers—and walk in the ways of Jesus, our Prince of Peace.