Be Slow to Judge and Quick to Make Peace: What Pastors Can Learn from Doubting Thomas

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19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
— James 1:19–20 —

In the Bible Thomas gets a bad rap. In the face of seeing Christ’s death on the cross and not seeing Christ’s resurrection, the apostle, who previously volunteered to die with Christ (John 11:16), is unable to believe. For a whole week this beloved follower of Christ is kept in the dark, and not until Jesus returns to the Upper Room does he believe. But when Thomas does believe—he offers one of the most illuminating testimonies of Christ’s identity: “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).

There are many lessons we can draw from Thomas’s delayed faith, but one of the most important is that faith is based on evidence. The Christian faith is not a leap in the dark; it is based on the evidential history that Jesus rose from the grave, walked on the earth for forty days, so that he could teach his disciples about the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:1–8; Acts 1:1–8). In that time, Jesus revealed himself to 500 disciples at one time, before his ascended to heaven in the presence of his followers (Acts 1:9–11). In short, God granted to those who saw the resurrected Christ.

With respect to Thomas’s doubt, his request for the physical body does not deny his faith; it ensures his faith is placed rightly in the resurrected Christ. Even today, faith is dependent on the eye-witness account of Christ’s physical resurrection (1 John 1:1–3). Thomas did not have that yet, and thus his delayed faith testifies to the need for eye-witness testimony.

At the same time, there’s second lesson to be learned from Thomas and his doubt. It relates to faith and evidence too, but it is not about believing the gospel but believing other believers. Until Jesus showed himself to Thomas, there was a division in the household of faith. Ironically, this is a division caused by Christ himself, as he revealed himself to his disciples at different times. But it is a division nonetheless, and one Jesus remedied when he returned to the Upper Room a week later.

Truth Takes Time to Perceive

Today, believers do not find themselves in the same position as the original disciples. For us, the gospel has come fully formed. Christ is exalted to God’s right hand of God, the Spirit has been poured out, and the New Testament has been finished. Hence, the transitional nature (which led to the temporary division between Thomas and the disciples) is not repeated today.

What is repeated are events in the life of the church where one member or one group come to see or understand something that others have not (yet) understood. This knowledge and belief may be a theological truth, a decision for ministry, or a situation of church discipline.

In such cases, believers may come to understand a doctrine or a situation at different times. Like runners traversing the same course, they may have different opinions on the race—not because they are on different paths but because they are looking at different sections of the course. In such instances, painful divisions can occur and tear apart the body of Christ. But unlike the division which Christ intended in the days following his resurrection, this division is not intended by Christ. Or is it?

Could it be that God plans temporary divisions in the church that cause his people to learn how to listen to one another? Could it be that various churches or individuals have different degrees of theological understanding or practical wisdom on various issues? And could it be that God wants his people not only to be at peace, but to learn how to make peace with one another?

Indeed, if we listen to the Bible, we see that God’s children are not just at peace with God (Rom. 5:1) and one another (Eph. 4:1–3), we are to be peacemakers (Matt. 5:9). And pastors are to be the ones who lead in making peace in the church. Continue reading

The Gospel of Peace: Hearing the Message of ‘Shalom’ in the Book of Isaiah

peaceIsaiah has sometimes been called ‘the fifth gospel,’ and for good reason. It is filled with good news about the salvation God will bring in Christ. And the more time we spend in the book, the more we discover themes of salvation, justice, righteousness, and peace.

On this note, we can learn much about the message of Isaiah by tracing various themes through the book (e.g., Zion/Jerusalem, kingdom, servant, etc.). Today I want to trace the theme of shalōm (peace, well-being). By keeping an eye on this theme, we can see how the whole book hangs together and how God, the maker of light and darkness, shalom and calamity (Isa. 45:7), has brought peace to a people who have rejected peace in their pursuit of wickedness.

In fact, as we will see, the way that God makes peace with rebellious sinners in Isaiah follows the contours of the gospel. Or perhaps, stated better, the gospel we come to know from the apostles finds it origins in the promise of peace in Isaiah. Let’s take a look. Continue reading

Blessed Are the Peacemakers: Six Old Testament Lessons for the New Testament Church

jonathan-farber-_lpQA9ox6IA-unsplash.jpgWhen the Western tribes of Israel heard that Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh built an altar near the Jordan River, they were ready to go to war (Josh. 22:10–12). This altar threatened God’s favor on Israel, and the obedient sons of Israel were ready to act. Fortunately, before they took up swords against their brothers, they sent a delegation to inquire about this altar.

This peace-keeping mission is what Joshua 22:10–34 describes, and in these verses we find a tremendous model for peace-making in the church today.  In what follows, we will consider six priorities for genuine reconciliation.

Six Priorities for Peace-Making 

First, peace requires a faithful (high) priest.

When the Western tribes learned of the altar, they gathered at Shiloh to make war. Only before proceeding on that path, they sent a priest by the name of Phinehas. Phinehas is well-known to us because of his actions in Numbers 25. There, he atoned for the sins of the people by taking a spear in his own hand and killing Zimri and Cozbi. This appeased God, ended the plague brought on by Israel’s sexual immorality, and proved Phinehas’s faithfulness as a priest.

Now, following his lead, the delegation of Israel went to inquire of their brothers. What becomes apparent in this peace negotiation is that these brothers acted in faith and did not sin against God or them. Thus, a faithful priest was necessary for making peace. Only now with the split between the tribes of Israel, peace is made by putting the sword down and not going to war. The lesson in this is that faithful priests knew how to divide clean and unclean (Lev. 10:11). Phinehas excellence, therefore, is proved by his ability to make this decision.

At the same time, it is vital to see that a priest is still needed to make peace. In the new covenant, Christ is the peace of his people, one who has made peace by his cross and one who preaches peace to those far and near (Eph. 2:14–17). Moreover, Jesus lives to intercede for his brothers (Heb. 7:25). Thus, the unity of the church is preserved by Christ and his priesthood.

Likewise, Jesus as our great high priest also teaches God’s people how to be priests to one another. As Matthew 5:9 says, those who make peace prove themselves to sons of God, which is to say, they prove themselves to be faithful priests in God’s household. (Faithful sonship was always the source of true priesthood). Today, if the church has any unity, it is because Christ is the one who is mediating the new covenant and praying effectively for his people to become peace-makers. Continue reading

Peace To End All Wars: What Christ’s Birth Has Done and Will Do

christmasThere is a story from WWI that reminds us that in the worst of times, there’s still hope. Nearing the end of December 1914, 5 months after WWI began, British soldiers heard their German foes singing Christmas Carols after a day of fighting.

In the dark, huddled in their cold trenches, the British soldiers wondered what to make of this. But soon, they joined in, singing well-known and well-loved Christmas carols. And so, through Christmas Eve, the two warring armies celebrated the birth of their Messiah.

Amazingly, the Christmas spirit continued the next day, as “some German soldiers emerged from their trenches and approached the Allied lines across no-man’s-land, calling out “Merry Christmas” in their enemies’ native tongues.” For the rest of the day, these sworn enemies traded gifts, played soccer, and celebrated the peace that only Christ can bring.

More than a century later, with the bloodiest century on record standing between us, the Christmas Truce of 1914 flickers a light of hope that only Christ can bring. Only between two nations with Christian heritages could such an armistice be considered. Still, the peace Christ brings intends to do more than foster temporary cease fires. As Micah 4:3 says of the Lord,

He shall judge between many peoples,
and shall decide disputes for strong nations far away;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore. 

What a day that will be when all wars cease, when the peace of our Lord is fully realized, when Micah’s prophecy comes to fruition. But for now, we still in a world filled with threat, hostility, violence, and war. Therefore, it is worth asking in what way does Christ bring peace? And how can we know that peace this Christmas? Continue reading

Nine Traits of a Peacemaker

peaceIn Matthew 5:9 Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” A few verses later, Jesus instructs worshipers to leave their gifts at the altar in order to make peace with those who have something against them (5:21-26) and just a few verses later he tells us we should love our enemies and pray for those persecute us, that we might be like our father in heaven who provides the righteous and the unrighteous with sunshine and rain (5:43-45).

In short, God’s children are those who make peace. But what does that mean? James 3:13-18 gives a very clear answer. Read with me:

Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

In this illuminating passage, James, who is writing to a church fractured with partiality, gives nine traits of the peacemaker. Beginning with verse 17, and couched in the language of heavenly wisdom, he gives us nine traits of a peacemaker. Continue reading

If You Want to Reap Joy, Plan for Peace

[This article was originally featured in our hometown newspaper, The Seymour Tribune]

Anxiety, misery, and bitterness are feelings that no one wants, but that many have.   If we pause to assess our lives and our world, we quickly discover scads of broken promises, shattered dreams, and hurtful relationships. These things rob our joy and eviscerate our peace.

The Bible addresses such things. Proverbs 12:20 says, “Deceit is in the heart of the those who devise evil, but those who plan peace have joy.”  Those pithy words are short but full of practical wisdom.  First, God warns us to live a life of truth, because falsehood is the onramp to the highway of evil.

Next, God gives seasonal instruction.  Those who desire a harvest of joy, must plant peace.  And as any good gardener knows, planting requires planning.  Here is the lesson: Lasting joy is not spontaneous.  Sometimes it feels that way, but such joy is like a puff of smoke on a cold morning.  It lasts for a moment and disappears.

The joy described in the Bible is different.  It is joy abundant and everlasting.  As Psalm 16:11 says about God, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

How can the Bible make such an unqualified statement about joy?  Because God has been planning peace from eternity past (1 Peter 1:19-20).  Indeed, Scripture describes Jesus as God’s peacemaker.  By his sacrifice on the cross, he paid the penalty for sin reconciling believers to God.

Thus, when the Bible instructs us to plan for peace, it shows us that God has already offered peace, and biblically-speaking, your joy depends on your peace with God.  Today, you can find that peace whenever you look in faith to Christ’s cross, and by planning your peace with Christ, you are guaranteed joy that overcomes any anxiety, misery, or bitterness.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Providence & Peace(making)

Providence and peace go together.  Providence makes peace possible; and peace is the fruit of a genuine trust in God’s providence.  In truth, I would venture to say that an insufficient and/or underestimated view of God’s providence will in time undermine your peace.  Or to say it another way, your peace in the midst of conflict and adversity is proportionate to your view of God’s providence.  Peace that passes all understanding must take root in the bedrock of God’s exhaustive and meticulous providence–to borrow Bruce Ware’s terminology (God’s Greater Glory).

In his book on the subject, Ken Sande spends an entire chapter connecting the dots between God’s providence and our peace.  He shows from Scripture and from personal testimony, how Christians who have found peace in the greatest trials are the ones with the most unflappable assurance in God’s goodness and sovereignty.  This is what Sande writes,

God’s sovereignty is so complete that he exercises ultimate control even over painful and unjust events (Exod 4:10-12; Job 1:6-12; 42:11; Ps 71:20-22; Isa 45:5-7; Lam 3:37-38; Amos 3:6; 1 Peter 3:17). This is difficult for us to understand and accept, because we tend to judge God’s actions accoridng to our notions of what is right.  Whether consciously or subconsciously, we say to ouselves, “If I were God and could control everything in the world, I wouldn’t allow some one to suffer this way.”  Such thoughts show how little we understand and respect God…. Even when sinful and painful things are happening, God is somehow exercising ultimate control and working things out for his good purposes–[like in the case of Joseph, see Ps 105:16-25].  Moreover, at the right time God administers justice and rights all wrongs…Knowing that [God] has personally tailored the events of our lives and is looking out for us at every moment should dramatically affect the way we respond to conflict (Ken Sande, The Peacemaker, 61-62).

Understanding what the Bible teaches about God’s providence does not make us automatic peacemakers, but it is the first step.  We cannot make peace with others until we have made peace with God, or to put it more appropriately, more ‘Godwardly,’ until we have received his peace (cf. Eph 2:11-22).  Without this cornerstone of confidence–that is a settled belief that no sparrow falls to the ground apart from God’s supervision (Matt 10:29), that no step is taken apart from God’s oversight (Prov 16:4, 9), and that no sin is committed apart from God’s mysterious permission (Job 1-2; Isa 45:7; Lam 3:37-38)–lasting peace will always suffer from this nagging doubt: “it could have been different.”  However, as soon as Scripture weighs in on the matter and persuades you of God’s complete and faultless providence, the peace which passes understanding is shortly to follow.

For amazingly, providence and peace-making have been on the mind of God from before the foundation of the earth.  Consider Peter’s words in Acts 3:23-24, “this Jesus [was] delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” God’s peacemaking strategy  hinged on his definite and preordained plan to allow lawless men to arrest, try, and crucify his son, but for the divine purpose of atoning for the sins of the world and reconciling himself to his people (cf Acts 4:26-27).  In the cross, we must take heart and learn that the greatest affliction and horrors in this world can be redeemed by a God who loves his children and controls all things (Rom. 8:28).  He promises his children that our lives can and will be marked by suffering but also with comfort (2 Cor 1).  Thus we can have confidence that everything we experience in life has passed the inscrutable (and unsearchable) hands of God, and thus we can have peace in the God who upholds us and loves us.  Thus in a word: His providence secures our peace, which leads to the ability to make peace with others, even those who are the source of our pain.

As our church studies the principles of peacemaking, I was reminded that the bedrock of that process of reconciliation is the God who upholds all things and who gave his son into the hands of wicked men in order to save people from all nations.  May such an amazing vision of God’s sovereignty and sacrifice press us to be peacemakers.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss