Peace should be a high priority for all believers. We should do all that we can to make sure that the church is a harmonious and pleasant place in which to worship. Each Christian should be peaceable. But what does it mean to be peaceable?
Wilhelmus à Brakel in his Reformed classic The Christian’s Reasonable Service gives this definition of peaceableness:
Peaceableness is a believer’s quiet and contended disposition of soul, inclining him toward, and causing him to strive for, the maintaining of a relationship with his neighbor characterized by sweet unity—doing so in the way of truth and godliness. (4:91)
The first part of this definition provides an excellent insight into the nature of peaceableness. It begins with quietness and contentment of spirit. It is when we are agitated in our spirit that we are inclined to lash out in anger and fight. The quiet spirit of the believer rests in the sovereignty of God and leaves other people in the hands of God. We are also quiet in spirit because we recognize that we are accepted by God with Christ, something which we do not deserve, and that all good things we enjoy are a gift of His grace.
When we are not agitated with our neighbor, we are inclined to interact with our neighbor in sweet harmony. Even when we find our neighbors cross or angry with us, we recognize that God has placed them in our lives for a good purpose. As Brakel states:
At one time we may encounter someone who is cross, and then again another who is angry, stirring up our corrupt nature to respond to our neighbor in like manner. the peacemaker overlooks this, however, responds in a good-natured manner, and gives in—even if this is to his own detriment and causes him to lose the esteem of the world. (4:94)
Being at peace with God and in himself, the believer can relate in sweet harmony to others, even though they may not act in this way toward him.
In Brakel’s definition, there is an important qualification. Though we may surrender our own desires and preferences for peace, we may not surrender truth and godliness. Brakel notes that there are many people who will yield simply because they do not like experiencing someone’s opposition or displeasure:
There are people who are fearful of experiencing the displeasure or opposition of someone else, and therefore . . . easily yield that which is not theirs but was entrusted by God to their safekeeping, namely, truth and godliness—even if this would mean the loss of everything, yes, even their own life. Such people will then hide themselves behind the phrase “peace, peace” (4:94).
Brakel finds this attitude summarized in Zechariah 8:19: “Therefore love the truth and peace” (KJV).
In his conclusion to this section, Brakel offers four suggestions for helping us pursue peace, which also help elucidate his teaching on this matter:
- “Crucify your desire for money, honor, and love; it is impossible to have and maintain a peaceable heart without self-denial” (4:100).
- “Keep yourslef and let others govern their own matters. Do not appoint yourself as a detective and judge concerning the deeds of others; close your ears to backbiters” (4:100).
- “Be always the least—both in your own eyes as well as in your conduct toward others” (4:101).
- “If someone encounters you in an unpleasant manner, or if you detect the first stirring of displeasure, arm yourself at once and resist strife at the very outset; be completely silent” (4:101).