Isaiah 9:6 “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
Proverbs 12:20 “There is deceit in the hearts of those who plot evil, but joy for those who promote peace.”
In the sermon I preached on Uniting the Divided States of America I made the point that promoting peace is the responsibility of every believer, and that effort begins in each of our homes. Each one of us is responsible before God for our own attitudes and actions. How do we act at home when we don’t get our way? How do we treat one another when there is conflict and tension? Do we give people the silent treatment or the cold shoulder? Are we slamming doors and using sarcasm to try to cut others down? Are we helpful around the house in order to make it a team effort and make the load lighter for everyone or do we expect others to do all of the work? Are we appreciative of our family and what others do for us or do we take people for granted? Strong, successful and peaceful families will create strong, successful and peaceful communities. People who want peace and who value peace will look for ways to promote it.
The music of the holiday season suggests that this is a time of great joy. “Joy to the World, the Lord is Come” but those whose lives lack peace, those who don’t work to promote peace, according to Proverbs 12:20, could be lacking in the joy department. Think with me this morning about peace and joy as being two sides to the same coin. If we promote peace, we not only get to experience the benefits of peace, but deep joy will also be our experience.
While Proverbs 12 is a passage with lots of great general advice and isn’t necessarily focused on peace, much of the advice in this chapter can be used to promote peace and is worth looking at as we enter into this season where peace gets some focus.
I would suggest to you first that promoters of peace choose PEACEFUL RESPONSES. Let’s look at several verses beginning with verse 1. “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid.” Sometimes we need corrected because our behavior is sinful or destructive. It is a parent’s responsibility to help their children develop an ability to discern between right and wrong and to help them see the reason why choosing right is important. When the time out is given, when the phone is taken away, when a parent decides that grounding you for a week is the best thing to help redirect your behavior, don’t put up a wall between you and your mom or dad. Don’t get angry and mean and nasty and harder to live with. Choose to accept the consequences for your actions. If the phone was taken away, I am guessing you did something to precipitate that action. It won’t help you or help create peace for you to act like the punishment is ridiculous or unwarranted if you know you are guilty of doing what you shouldn’t have done.
But beyond discipline to correct wrong and foolish behavior, sometimes people need to help us see that we are just wrong, or we didn’t think something through, or we believed faulty information and we need to change our way of thinking. We don’t like being told we are wrong, do we? Sometimes it isn’t that we intend to do something wrong on purpose, but we can be insensitive, short-sighted, and self-absorbed, and it is to our benefit if someone will lovingly help us see things differently.
When Thom and I got married, we got some great premarital counseling. We were trained to speak to each other in honest and loving ways and to respond to each other in humility. So, when Thom, for example, would do something “wrong” or when I needed something different from him, I was to say to him, “Can I give you a love tip?” And then I would proceed to tell him that he could love me better or more effectively by doing something differently. He had to listen and then simply say, “Thank you for sharing that with me.” He couldn’t defend why he did what he did or even explain it. He just had to say, “Thank you for sharing that with me.” We could talk about it later, but not in that moment.
Verse one of our text says that whoever loves discipline loves knowledge. If I value having knowledge about how best to relate to my husband, listening to him when he wants to share a “love tip” with me rather than being defensive will make for a peaceful marriage.
That goes right along with verse 15: “The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice.” Listening to others and receiving their input is a peaceful way to respond to people. Even if we wind up not taking their advice, we can thank them for their thoughts.
How about this peaceful response in verse 16: “A fool shows his annoyance at once, but a prudent man overlooks an insult.” We have no shortage of opportunities to be offended. We will never live in peace with people if we are easily offended. We need to know ourselves well and understand what pushes our buttons. When people push our buttons, we need to have a plan for how we are going to handle those moments.
I did a ministry internship at a church during the summer of 1994 here in WV! I was actually in Parkersburg. (It wasn’t the Church of God.) I was the youth pastor for the summer. Let your mind dwell on that one for a second.
Shortly after my arrival at the church one gentleman whom I had just met, looked at me and asked when I was due. I was wearing a high-waisted dress that looked a bit like a maternity dress, but I wasn’t nearly as “fluffy” as I am now! It was soooo awkward. I knew he didn’t mean to insult me, and I had to hang out around this guy all summer. I didn’t have much time to think, so I just laughed and said, “I suppose nine months after I get pregnant.” He was thirteen shades of red, and I just reassured him that it was an honest mistake. I wanted to put him as at ease as possible since he was choking on the foot he had just put in his mouth. J Maybe for fun we can define peacemaking this way: Choosing peace is a gift we give people when they say stupid stuff. J As we enter the season of gift-giving, let’s commit to giving the gift of peace! Let’s not be so easily annoyed. Let’s overlook insensitive and shallow comments.
We don’t always have to have a snarky comeback when someone makes a comment we don’t like. We don’t need to roll our eyes at people when they say something we don’t care for. We don’t need to sigh while lifting our shoulders as high as they will go when someone tests our patience. Giving people “the look” or honking our horn to make sure someone knows they should have done something differently in traffic isn’t always necessary. Little situations can escalate into big situations unnecessarily when we could choose peaceful responses. You can often diffuse annoying situations or can ignore them altogether. Let’s promote peace through peaceful responses to others.
Promoters of peace choose PEACEFUL WORDS. Let’s look at several verses here:
6 The words of the wicked lie in wait for blood, but the speech of the upright rescues them.
13 An evil man is trapped by his sinful talk, but a righteous man escapes trouble.
14 From the fruit of his lips a man is filled with good things as surely as the work of his hands rewards him.
17 A truthful witness gives honest testimony, but a false witness tells lies.
18 Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
19 Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue lasts only a moment.
22 The LORD detests lying lips, but he delights in men who are truthful.
Promoters of peace choose PEACEFUL WORDS.
These verses tell us that our words need to be honest, helpful, healing and holy in order to promote peace. “What’s your problem?” probably isn’t the best way to start a peaceful conversation with someone. “Shut your face” isn’t likely going to put a period on the end of whatever conversation you are having. When you use helpful words, you keep the goal of peace in mind.
Gossip and innuendo hurt people’s reputations and character. Our words can promote peace or can actually assassinate them. When you pass on careless words about others you can actually be doing long-term damage when you may think you are just sharing information.
People who promote peace with their words don’t fly off the handle when they are frustrated, inconvenienced, or annoyed. They don’t rant and rave and speak threatening, rude, and divisive words in order to put people in their place or to control or manipulate the situation.
Look at II Timothy 2:22-23: 22 Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. 23 Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.
Foolish talk isn’t going to promote peace. Stupid arguments won’t promote peace. How many of us here today would love to have an opportunity to do some conversations differently? How many times have we gotten into stupid arguments that created division in our relationships and made things awkward for weeks, months, and sometimes years to come? Refuse to take the bait of being drawn into petty arguments. That doesn’t make you a passive doormat. It makes you a smart peacemaker. There are arguments worth having. There are conversations of great consequence that we must be prepared to be engage in and during which we must stand our ground, but foolish and stupid arguments aren’t worth it because of the feuds they create, the quarrels they create.
If you have to confront someone about something or have a difficult conversation, pray first, but make having peace with that person your highest goal. Yes, you want to be heard. Yes, you want to be understood, but more important, as a believer, you should want peace. Peace and not the conflict itself should be the most important thing.
Plan to speak honest, helpful, and holy words. Remember the wisdom of Solomon that reminds us, “A gentle answer turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath” (Prov. 15:1). Paul reminds us in Eph. 4:29 that we aren’t to allow unwholesome talk to come out of our mouths, but only the kind of words that will build others up.
Peacemakers look to diffuse situations and to bring the emotional temperature of situations down. When peacemakers respond to people who are getting hot under the collar they offer God’s grace to the person. Rather than fight fire with fire and shoot back some quick response with the same emotional pitch or even louder and more hostile, they look for a softer approach. Peacemakers choose to overlook the emotional attack and respond with grace.
It is interesting to me that Paul’s letters almost always begin with these two words: “Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” “Grace and peace.” Always in that order. Never “peace and grace.” Grace always precedes peace. Grace promotes peace. You and I had to experience God’s grace before we could have peace with God. Once we understand that God hasn’t treated us as we deserved, once we have received His grace, we can appreciate His peace inside the relationship with Him. You see, for God, it was all about relationship, and it still is. For us as His followers, it must be all about relationship which means we need to respond graciously to people who don’t deserve it in order to extend God’s peace to them.
Peace isn’t something that just will happen because we desire to experience it. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” It takes effort to create peace, to make peace, to extend peace. If you want to be blessed, make peace with your words.
Finally, promoters of peace live a life characterized by peaceful practices.
Sometimes we bring chaos and a lack of peace on ourselves. How could we be peacemakers if we choose turmoil for our personal lives? If you have ever flown on an airplane you have heard the speech that should the cabin air pressure change, oxygen masks will drop from an overhead compartment. You should put your mask on before trying to assist someone else with theirs.
Before we can offer peace to others, we need to learn to live peaceful lives. If our lives are full of drama and are chaotic and constantly up and down, if we are moving from crisis to crisis of our own making, we won’t be able to be promoters of peace. We need to make decisions that lead to peace in our own lives. Look at verse 2.
2 A good man obtains favor from the LORD, but the LORD condemns a crafty man.
Living in peace is the result of walking in integrity before God. People who try to deceive people, cheat the system, and cut corners aren’t going to have peace with God. They will also always live life looking over their shoulder. They will burn bridges and destroy relationships. Living in peace is the result of living the right way.
Also, peaceful people learn to be content with what they have. Nothing will rob your life of peace faster than be a slave to debt in your life. Look at verse 9:
9 Better to be a nobody and yet have a servant than pretend to be somebody and have no food.
This verse says it is better to be a regular “Joe Schmo” with an honest job and have something to show for it than to pretend to be someone you aren’t and not even have the necessities of life if the truth were known.
Image management is expensive. Trying to live a life on credit is a lying lifestyle that eventually catches you in a chokehold. Living within our means leads to peace. Proverbs 14:30 tells us that “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” One thing that can rob us of peace at Christmastime is trying to do Christmas on a budget that finds us paying for Christmas 2016 all year in 2017. Create your Christmas budget, and spend within it. You don’t have to have what you think everyone else has this December 25th, and I guarantee you, if you wait a few months or even a year, it will be a whole lot cheaper and you will be a whole lot happier with yourself for not overspending.
11 He who works his land will have abundant food, but he who chases fantasies lacks judgment.
We saw a lot of people chasing fantasies in Vegas this past week. When touring the themed hotels, you walk right through the casino’s. They aren’t in separate rooms, but are conveniently located in the thoroughfare from your hotel lobby to the main room elevators and the shopping that is connected to the hotels. On our tour through the hotels one thing that was obviously lacking in the casinos was joy. There was no great celebration or party atmosphere. It wasn’t at all what I expected to see. It was a stark reminder that worldly happiness is a dream. People who want something for nothing miss the joy and satisfaction and pride that come with working hard and doing a job well.
People are chasing all kinds of fantasies whether through gambling as we saw this week, drugs and alcohol, sexual fantasies, lying, stealing, and cheating, and listen, your phone, that little “innocent device in your hand,” can become the gateway to all kinds of endless fantasies that will never bring you peace and contentment. You may be thinking, “Well, I’ve got to try it for myself and see.” No, you don’t. Wise people will listen to counsel, and there is plenty of evidence that running after fantasies won’t satisfy you. Nothing satisfies the soul like Jesus. And nothing satisfies our hearts like doing a job well and being productive. Chasing fantasies will keep you from being productive and in the end, will leave you feeling as if you wasted your life.
Colossians 3:23-24 tells us, 23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Honor the Prince of Peace by working daily to do the best and be the best peacemaker you can.
As you begin to move through the season just prepare yourself for the chaos that can be part of the holiday rush. Be ready to stand in some long lines. Be ready to have to deal with customer service folks over products that didn’t come in on time or that don’t do what they promised. Be ready to deal with the expectations of family who all want this to be the perfect Christmas and expect you to comply with their wishes. Be ready for the tape and tissue paper to run out before you are done wrapping the presents which will send you back to the store with the long lines. Be ready to deal with other people whose stress levels has gone up due to their personal holiday stress which makes them snappier and more emotionally charged to deal with.
Choose now to live at peace. Don’t overspend. Don’t overstress. Work hard. Enjoy the season, but don’t become snappy and snarky yourself. Give others grace so that you can offer them peace. And if your response crosses a line, if your words cross a line, back up and tell someone that you are sorry for letting your personal stress get the better of you in that moment and ask for forgiveness.
Christians ought to be the most peaceful people on the planet and our personal peace and the ability we have to deal peacefully with others ought to be part of our witness to others about Jesus. Look at this verse. I had never seen it before in this context: Mark 9:50 (NIV) 50 “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other.” We don’t want to lose our ability to be salt and light because we aren’t able to live in peace with people.
Two last words for this Christmas season:
“Make EVERY effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14) Think of that person or persons with whom you have a conflict. Have you made every effort to relate peacefully with them? Not a little effort. Not a few text messages. Every effort. That is what God asks of us, and He ties living peacefully to living a holy life.
And finally, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.” (Colossians 3:15)
Will you join me this morning in making a pledge to be a peacemaker in the world around you?