The Five Pillars of Peace Pursuit
The Bible has much to say about resolving relational problems between two people. I have synthesized my understanding of a number of Bible passages into five concepts, which I call the Five Pillars of Peace Pursuit.
God wants you to be at peace with all people.
Your relationships with people reflect and affect your relationship with God.
Treat everyone as a unique person created and loved by God.
Treat everyone alike, without prejudice or partiality.
Everyone is blessed when you pursue peace biblically.
Pillars 1 and 2 tell us why we should make peace.
Pillars 3 and 4 describe how we make peace.
Pillar 5 promises good fruit will come from our biblical peacemaking efforts.
Pillar 1: God wants you to be at peace with all people.
Here are just a few Bible verses which communicate God’s priority for people to be at peace with each other (emphasis mine):
Pursue peace with all. (NASB)
Make every effort to live in peace with all men. (NIV)
Strive for peace with everyone. (ESV)
If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. (ESV)
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (NIV)
Make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. (NIV)
Pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. (ESV)
Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. (NIV)
Be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (NASB)
Be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (ESV)
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. (NIV)
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. (NASB, ESV)
I believe those verses clearly teach these principles:
- God instructs you to be at peace with all people. It’s not a suggestion, it’s an imperative.
- God holds you personally responsible to do your part to pursue peace.
- God does not hold you responsible for the response of other people to your sincere efforts to pursue peace.
Be encouraged. God doesn’t tell you to do something you can’t do. Since God instructs you to be at peace with others, you can think of it as his good purpose for you.
You can trust that God will provide you with everything you need to do your part to make peace, whether it is courage, wisdom, counsel, humility, patience, compassion, grace, faith, repentance, or forgiveness. This should give you hope, even in the most challenging conflicts. That has been my experience when resolving my own relational problems and when I have helped others with theirs.
What does the Bible mean by the phrase, “live at peace” or “live peaceably” with everyone?
I describe peace between two people as the point when each party admits whatever they did wrong to the other (if they did anything wrong), and each party forgives the other. You can say it in just four words: appropriate confession and forgiveness. If that is not your definition of peace, maybe you can agree that to reach appropriate confession and forgiveness is at least a good marker on the road to repair a relationship. Let me illustrate what I mean.
The dashed line in the diagram below represents the relationship level between two persons. The arrowhead on the dashed line indicates time moving from left to right. Starting from the picture on the left, the two people are interacting together at their normal relationship level. Then, sometime later their relationship is damaged by an offense or conflict. To illustrate this, the two people fold their arms and look away from each other. If neither one pursues peace, the warmth, closeness, and trust in their relationship will likely begin to fall below what it has been, as illustrated by the solid curved line below their feet.
Their warmth, closeness, and trust are likely to keep declining until one or both of them confess and/or forgive the incident that started the problem. That is point 1 at the bottom of the curve in the diagram. We call this moment of appropriate confession and forgiveness the “Bounce of Peace.” They have stopped the downward path of their relationship and they can start the climb back up.
After they reach the Bounce of Peace at point 1, they can then produce appropriate fruit of repentance and begin to rebuild love and trust. That is the time indicated by the upward line between points 1 and 2. Their relationship might improve right away, or stay at point 1 for a while. To be honest, they might not return to point 2. And, they may never achieve point 3, which symbolizes that their relationship is stronger and at a higher level than it was before their conflict.
In my years of experience, I have observed it is really, really hard for two people get to point 2 or 3 unless they have confessed and forgiven each other at point 1. That is why we describe peace as the point when two people have appropriately confessed and forgiven the relational offenses between them.
Of course, God wants you to go beyond simply arriving at the Bounce of Peace, especially with others who follow him. The Bible uses terms like having fellowship and growing in love for one another to describe these deeper levels of relationship. This is the area between points 1 and 2 on the diagram. You can know you have gone beyond the minimum level of peace when most of the time your relationship has unity, harmony, grace, blessing, gentleness, honor, respect, submission, confession, and forgiveness. These words describe what it means to maintain, preserve, and live in peace.
Even if the other person chooses not to co-operate, you can do your part toward appropriate confession and forgiveness. To pursue peace from your side means you first meet with God. You make the decision to forgive the person in your heart before the Lord. Second, if you have committed any biblically-defined wrong to the person, you confess it to them.
What does “live at peace” or “live peaceably” not mean?
The Bible describes a lack of peace with words like jealousy, strife, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, discord, envy, factions, unruliness, rudeness, dishonor, disrespect, bitterness, disobedience, unconfessed sin, and unforgiven sin. Obviously, if you have these in your relationships, you are not at peace, and you must do what you can to make peace.
However, to be at peace with someone does not mean you have to be “best friends” with them. You treat them the way you want them to treat you (Matthew 7:12), and you do what you can to make sure there is no unconfessed sin or unforgiven sin between you.
Being at peace also does not mean you have to say, “I totally trust the other person in all circumstances.” You can be reconciled with a person over past relational problems, but sometimes you should be careful when you place your future trust in them. Let’s be honest. Some people are simply just not trustworthy in some areas of either their character or their competence.
What do I mean by character and competence? To trust in a person’s character means you have confidence that their morals, ethics, and motives have integrity and are consistently in line with biblical principles. You can then trust them to be honest and “do the right thing.” However, suppose I am a habitual, unreformed thief. You can forgive me for stealing from you, but you should not trust me with your money or valuables until I have proven that I am no longer a thief. Or, let’s say I am an unreformed gossip. You can forgive me for gossiping about you, but you should not entrust me with any information you don’t want others to hear until it is clear that I can control my tongue.
By trust in a person’s competence, I mean confidence in their skill or ability to complete a task. I may be an honest, ethical, and trustworthy person of godly character, but you should not trust my competence to do open heart surgery on you or to repair your car’s transmission. I don’t have competence in those skills.
How can you know when you have fulfilled your biblical role to pursue peace, “so far as it depends on you?”
After a good-faith attempt at reconciliation that seemingly failed, a person with a sensitive conscience asked me, “I know it is God’s will for me to be at peace with everyone. I have tried to reconcile with this person — I truly have — but it hasn’t worked. So, I’m still living in an unresolved relational problem. Does that mean I’m sinning against God?”
If you are in a situation like this, remember that since God only requires you to fulfill your responsibility to pursue peace, you can rest with a clear conscience before God if you have done all you can, “so far as it depends on you” (Romans 12:18).
Of course, you should continue to pray in faith that the other person will do their part and you will one day be more fully reconciled.
I believe you can rest with a clear conscience before God that you have done all in your power to make peace when you have tried your best to do things like these:
- You have asked God to search your heart regarding your motives and your attitude about that person.
- You have removed planks from your own eyes.
- You have confessed to the other person with godly sorrow any sin you have committed against them.
- You have forgiven the other person in your heart for any biblical offense they have committed against you.
- You have tried to have more than one respectful conversation with them about the relational problem.
- You have sought wise and appropriate counsel regarding your role in the conflict.
One way to know you have fulfilled your biblical role is to complete in good faith Peace Pursuit Stage 1: Meet with God and Stage 2: If appropriate, meet with the other person. See the Peace Pursuit QUICK START GUIDE.
What about making peace with people who don’t follow Jesus?
Many people from different faiths and worldviews have values of peace and reconciliation that are similar to biblical principles. I have found that when I apply Peace Pursuit Stage 1 and Stage 2 in relational problems with people of other faiths (or of no faith), I have more success getting to peace with them than when I have not done Stage 1 or Stage 2.
On the other hand, you can’t always expect people of other faiths or worldviews to respond in a biblical way to your efforts to pursue peace like you would expect from a Christian who listens to the Holy Spirit. However, God will still honor your attempt to do your part to make peace in obedience to him.
Pillar 2: Your relationships with people reflect and affect your relationship with God.
This second pillar focuses on the connection God makes between your interactions with people and your relationship with him.
“Loving God is easy, but loving people is impossible!”
Once I was conversing with a friend from a different faith. He counted on his fingers as he explained to me the essential things you have to do to be an obedient follower in his religion.
Then he asked me how many requirements there are for me to be a faithful and obedient follower of Jesus.
I responded, “Two,” and held out my two hands.
Then I paraphrased Mark 12:28-30: “Once a religion expert asked Jesus which was the greatest commandment in all the Law of Moses. Jesus answered, ‘Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.’ Then Jesus added a second command, ‘Love other people like you love yourself.’ These are often called the two Great Commands.”
My friend smiled and said, “That first command to love God is easy. Loving God is a personal thing inside your heart, just between you and him. But the second command to love other people like you love yourself is impossible!”
You cannot separate loving God from loving people.
I thought a lot about what my friend said. Then I realized that he misunderstood the two Great Commands like many Christians misunderstand them. They tend to think the two Great Commands are separate and distinct from each other, as if you can obey one without obeying the other, or you can neglect one without neglecting the other.
Jesus spoke strongly to the Pharisee hypocrites precisely because they thought they could love God by ticking off their lists of religious duties while neglecting to love people (Matthew 23:23, Luke 11:42). I believe Jesus intentionally linked the second command with the first one. He meant to teach them and us that one way we can know how much we love God is to look at how much we love other people.
The New Testament bears this out. I have paraphrased just a few examples:
- Loving other people equals loving Jesus, and not loving people equals not loving Jesus (Matthew 25: 31-46).
- Even if you do all kinds of fantastic spiritual things, if you don’t love people the way God defines love, you are “nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-7).
- If you really love Jesus, then you will love others selflessly, like he did (Philippians 2:1-8).
- If you don’t love others, and yet say you love God, you are a liar and his love is not in you (1 John 4: 20-21).
Since the two Great Commands are inseparable, we really can’t say with integrity, “Loving God is easy, but loving people is impossible.” God doesn’t command us to do the impossible.
How the two Great Commands connect.
Let me explain how I see the two Great Commands are inseparable. I have found that most Christians will agree that worship and prayer are two essential ways we show our love for God.
Let’s start with worship. Jesus clearly taught that we should reconcile with people we have offended before worshiping God. “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24). It is hard to interpret these verses any other way than to say that God simply does not want us to come to him in worship if we have not reconciled with another one of his children we know we have sinned against.
Now, let’s think of prayer as an expression of love for God. In another passage, Jesus made a connection between prayer and making peace: “And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses” (Mark 11:25). In the center of what is commonly called the Lord’s Prayer, he instructs us to pray, “and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). Right after the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus warns us, “but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:15).
You can see from these verses how closely the acts of confessing your sins to the people you have offended and forgiving those who have offended you are tied to worship and prayer.
Matthew 7:12 is often called the Golden Rule: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.” I assume you want others to forgive you for your sins against them and you would appreciate it if they acknowledged the offenses they have done to you. In other words, forgiving other people and making right your sins against them are two basic ways of loving others the way you would want to be loved.
If you sin against a person, you sin against God.
1 Corinthians 8:12 teaches the principle that when you sin against another believer in Jesus, you sin against Jesus himself: “Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.” Therefore, when you repent to a person for sinning against them, you need to repent to God as well.
Your relationships with people – especially in the context of love, forgiveness, and repentance – reflect and affect your relationship with God.
Pillar 3: Treat everyone as a unique person created and loved by God.
God created you as a unique person. No one else is exactly like you. You are a special blend of desires, needs, strengths, weaknesses, feelings, values, expectations, and beliefs about what is right and wrong, good and bad, appropriate and inappropriate. He loves you in your uniqueness, even the parts of you that are not yet transformed into his image (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Every other person is as unique as you are. God created and loves every one of them just as much as he loves you.
When you pursue peace with someone, I assume you want the other person to care enough about you to try to understand what you think and how you feel about the situation. Since you want others to treat you uniquely when they pursue peace with you, do the same for them. It’s a godly thing to do. It’s the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12).
Whatever your role in the Peace Pursuit process, the more you can demonstrate to a person that you comprehend and appreciate their unique perspective, the more they are likely to trust you and be willing to pursue peace. The more you try to see the relational problem through their eyes, hear it through their ears, and feel it with their heart, the more understanding and compassion you will have for them, and the more you will see them as Jesus sees them.
If you are in the role of offender, the more you try to understand the pain and cost your offense caused to the other person, the more contrite you will be. If you are in the offended role, the more you understand the offender’s situation, the more you will be able to show them the same compassion, grace, and forgiveness that Jesus shows you when you sin against him.
How can you learn to appreciate a person’s uniqueness? Try to understand them as much as you want to be understood by them. In practical terms, consider factors like these: their age, present and former family life, education, ethnic and cultural background, religious experience, natural personality, spiritual gifting, and so on.
Of course, your uniqueness and my uniqueness do not give us an excuse or license to sin. We just sin against others in our own unique style. However, we are all accountable to the same biblical standards. Which leads us to Peace Pursuit Pillar number four.
Pillar 4: Treat everyone alike, without prejudice or partiality.
It may seem that Pillars 3 and 4 contradict each other, but they don’t. Pillar 3 focuses on each party’s uniqueness, but that doesn’t mean any person should use their uniqueness as an excuse to rationalize away their responsibility for the cause of a conflict or their part in its resolution. Pillar 4 helps keep excuses and rationalizations to a minimum.
I believe you want other people to treat you as a unique person when you are resolving a relational problem (Pillar 3). I also believe you will want every person involved in the problem or its resolution to treat everyone else with equal standards of love and objectivity (Pillar 4). Since you want people to treat you like this, you should treat them the same way, whatever Peace Pursuit role you are in. That’s the Matthew 7:12 Golden Rule again.
What does it practically look like to act toward each person without prejudice or partiality? Here is one way. Whatever your Peace Pursuit role, measure each party’s words, actions, inactions, and reactions in the light of Bible verses which contain the phrases “one another” or “each other.” These teachings apply to every believer in Jesus, without reference to age, gender, ethnicity, culture, or position of leadership in the church.
A main goal of Peace Pursuit is appropriate confession and forgiveness between two people. Whatever your role, do your part to create an environment for mutual truth-speaking, mutual honor, mutual respect, and mutual safety for all parties. At the same time, do what you can to create an atmosphere that will minimize the risk for gossip, slander, fear, shame, wrongful judgment, anger, bitterness, revenge, and factions for all people involved. When you and every other person in the peacemaking process treat everyone else equally, you will very likely reach appropriate confession and forgiveness.
As you treat each other by the same standards, keep in mind that God also looks at both parties through the same eyes. And, remember that if both parties are spiritually regenerate followers of Jesus, the Holy Spirit is inside both of them, and he is the one who comforts, helps, counsels, convicts of sin, and leads into all truth (John 14:6, 16:8-14).
Pillar 5: Everyone is blessed when you pursue peace biblically.
“Blessed are the peacemakers…” (Matthew 5:9).
This powerful promise is the basis for the fifth pillar of Peace Pursuit. God assures you and me that we will be blessed if we pursue peace. That is, you and I will be blessed if we have done all we can, as much as it depends on us, to go after peace, no matter what the visible outcome of our efforts look like on the human level (Romans 12:18).
Here’s another promise:
“Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness” (James 3:18 – NIV).
I can honestly say that I am blessed every time I fill any legitimate role in the Peace Pursuit process. As I complete Stage One and meet with God in the role of offender, offended or initiator, my heart and mind are reoriented toward God’s love and purposes for me and the other party.
When I am asked to fill the Peace Pursuit role of coach, witness, or mediator, it gives me joy to have had even a small contribution in the holy transaction of two people reconciling with God and with each other. I am also blessed because I have an opportunity to check my heart and integrity before the Lord and depend on him so I can be loving and impartial toward all parties.
Many people have shared with me that they also feel a kind of spiritual renewal when they meet with God in Peace Pursuit Stage 1. And, it goes without saying that reaching appropriate confession and forgiveness at Stage 2 is a great spiritual and relational blessing for both parties.
I know that resolving relational problems can require honesty, patience, courage, vulnerability, and large amounts of mental, spiritual, and emotional energy. At some point it may not look like you and others will feel blessed as you pursue peace. Please be encouraged. Trust that God will be glorified by your efforts and that he will keep his promise that you will be blessed when you pursue peace biblically.