Some things come naturally. I’m pretty good at remaining on the couch once I’ve sat down on it at the end of the day, for instance. Eating junk food is really easy for me, too.
Other things take more work. Keeping current with my writing requires some discipline. (Proofreading can be surprisingly taxing.) Maintaining a house and vehicles is not automatic and requires effort. Raising children correctly cannot be put on autopilot or left to YouTube.
The author of Hebrews talks about obligations that take work, yet are still worth the investment:
Work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord.
Hebrews 12:14 NLT
I’m not sure if the modern idea of peace is changing, but it can mean a lot of things. Diplomats seek peace between countries. Mediators attempt to bring peace between disagreeing parties. Even umpires and referees try to keep peace between opposing teams (maybe not as much in hockey, I guess).
This verse is a good reminder that peace doesn’t come automatically. We might think that “someone else” will figure out how to resolve wars and conflicts at the national level. We hear about organizations working out their differences, without necessarily appreciating the effort that was required to get to the finish line of reconciliation, consensus, or compromise. We might even believe that if we leave problems alone, rocky relationships with family or friends will just “get better over time”.
Some might say that time heals all wounds. However, in our physical bodies, healing usually happens best – and fastest – when wounds are sewn closed, treated with salve, bandaged, and re-dressed periodically. Even if time can eventually dull the pointed sting of grief, there are steps that individuals (and their friends) who are impacted by loss can do to help with the healing process. So, “time” might need some help to heal certain wounds effectively.
In the same way, we probably shouldn’t expect peace with others to happen quickly (or at all) if we aren’t doing something about it. This verse instructs us to work towards that goal.
Not every person or party is ready to accept peace, once lines have been drawn and words have been said. Still, if we are to find (or hasten) reconciliation, we will probably have to get out and do something about it. That might mean apologizing, or – if the truth has necessarily offended someone – showing love and grace along with that truth. It might mean enduring insults or the silent treatment, as we reach out (multiple times) with extended olive branches, offering peace. I believe that listening to others’ points of view is a big step forward in reconciliation, since we may have given offense without realizing the context in which our words or actions were interpreted.
Note also that this verse talks about holiness. If we are truly striving to be holy – set apart by God for something different and better – then we will probably be doing things that don’t look like the rest of the world. Where some are just getting by (hoping that peace will come automatically) or actively resisting peace for selfish or prideful reasons, followers of Jesus should stand out as they fulfill their special mission. When certain groups seem content with strife, the love of Jesus should shine out even more brightly, as He offers reconciliation for all parties that will turn to Him.
If we believe that working “at living in peace with everyone” is too difficult or unimportant, we have no further to look than Jesus Christ. When our choice to sin left us as enemies of a righteous God (see Romans 5:10-11), He did not just wait for things to get better. God knew that peace between us and Him could not be achieved simply through the passage of time. Neither did God expect us to do the work (even though many of us insist that those who have hurt us should take the first step to reconciliation). If Jesus’ life, ministry, and sacrificial death wasn’t the ultimate example of an offended party working to achieve peace with those who did Him harm, I’m not sure what better illustration we could find.
As followers of Jesus, may we follow His example of hard work through which He restored peace with us. May we actively get out there and strive to find peace with others. That doesn’t mean compromising the truth – in fact, it is an illustration of the truth: the truth that Jesus loved us as His enemies, and we want to do the same for others.
So, are there some people or groups about whom God is calling you to reach out to today, seeking to live at peace with them, in Jesus’ name? You and I may have some work to do!
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.