How to Love Our Enemies

Topical Scripture: Matthew 5:43–48

Richard Steve Moser III of Cincinnati went to the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles last year to get his driver’s license renewed. The problem was, he claimed to be a Pastafarian, otherwise known as the satirical “Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.”

He thus insisted on wearing a spaghetti colander on his head for his photo. When the government agency refused, he claimed religious discrimination. The American Humanist Association has taken up his cause.

Some of the “enemies” we face are of our own making. For instance, scientists are paying people $3,300 to be infected with the flu for research purposes. Others are not: A retired soldier lost his medical alert dog in Arlington when she was stolen from his house.

And some people are making headlines for making good choices. Actor Matthew McConaughey made the news this week when he helped served Thanksgiving dinners for firefighters battling wildfires in California.

Last week I asked you to name the person who hurt you most deeply or most recently. We learned from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount what not to do: we are not to return hate for hate, hurt for hurt.

This week, we learn what we are to do.

Love on purpose

Jesus begins: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy’” (v. 43).

“Love your neighbor” is a familiar biblical injunction. We find it as early as Leviticus 19:18, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” “Neighbor” comes from “nigh-bor,” one who is “nigh” or near. Loving our neighbor is a basic and familiar Christian ethic.

But were Jesus’ hearers really taught, “hate your enemy”? In fact, they were. The Jewish rabbis considered fellow Jews their neighbor. Everyone else, the Gentile world, was not, and was in fact their spiritual enemy. The Gentile world would corrupt them with its defiled food, customs, and paganism.

Here we find basic humanity exposed. It’s easy to love those who like us and are like us. It’s hard to like those who are not like us and do not like us. It’s human nature to love our neighbor and hate our enemy.

Now Jesus takes his stand: “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (v. 44).

This statement has no parallel in the Jewish tradition or literature. No religious teacher in world history ever defended such an ethic.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was martyred while practicing these very words, said about them, “The Christian must treat his enemy as a brother, and requite his hostility with love. His behavior must be determined not by the way others treat him, but by the treatment he himself receives from Jesus; it has only one source, and that is the will of Jesus” (The Cost of Discipleship, 164).

This is the action which makes our love both real and possible.

Jesus expanded these words by saying, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:27–28). When we pray for our enemies, our love becomes real. It moves from sentiment to substance, from feeling to action. It takes wings and grows feet. It becomes practical and tangible.

And when we pray for those who persecute us, our actions produce feelings. We act out love, and eventually feel love. It’s a process which takes time, but it works.

Such forgiving love in action reveals our spiritual genetics: “that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (v. 45).

God blesses both the evil and the good. Sun shines and rain falls on the unrighteous and the righteous. And we’re glad, for we’ve all been evil and unrighteous.

A father should love his children, whether or not they love him; and so God loves us. A sibling should love his sister or brother, whether or not they love him; and so should we. Such love shows us to be our Father’s children.

Otherwise we are no different from the children of the world. The tax-collectors, the most despised people in Israel, love those who love them. The pagans destined for hell greet those who greet them. It is human nature to love those who love us. It is divine nature to love those who do not.

Such selfless, forgiving love fulfills the purpose for which we were created: “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (v. 48).

“Perfect” is the word teleios. In this context it means to achieve the purpose for which we were intended. In this sense a screwdriver is “perfect” if it does its job. It is not “sinless”—it may have nicks on the handle and paint on the blade. But if it turns the screw it was meant to turn, it is teleios.

What is our intended purpose? Jesus made it clear: love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. God is love (1 John 4:8), and he has created us to love as he does, to forgive as he does, to love our neighbor because we love our Father and to prove we love our Father by loving our neighbor.

And so selfless, forgiving love is the purpose for which we exist. Now, how do we learn to give it?

Love in practice

Dr. Everett Worthington edited a defining book on forgiveness, titled Dimensions of Forgiveness: Psychological research and theological perspectives. When he began his research, he had no idea how much he would need its results personally. On New Year’s morning of 1996, his elderly mother was found beaten to death with a crowbar and a baseball bat. His advice is both professionally informed and personally compelling.

Dr. Worthington suggests five steps towards forgiveness. In examining them while preparing this message, I was amazed by their parallel to Jesus’ words in our text. They form the acronym REACH.

“R” stands for recall. Recall the hurt, as objectively as you can. Admit the reality of the pain you have experienced. Do not deny it, pretend it doesn’t exist, or excuse the person who caused it. Think about the person who hurt you most, as realistically as possible.

Jesus begins at the same place: “Love your enemies” (v. 44). Not “love if you have enemies.” He knows that we do, and that we know who they are. He warned us: “In this world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33). Where is yours? Who caused it? Think about the person, and especially what that person did, the specific actions which injured you. Recall the hurt in all its reality.

“E” stands for empathize. Try to understand why this person hurt you, from his point of view.

Jesus tells us to “Love our enemies,” using the unusual Greek word agape. This word was employed very seldom in the Greek world prior to Christianity. The common Greek words for “love” point to sexual, family, or friendship love.

Agape is far more. It is selfless, sacrificial, the love which puts the other person first with no thought of reward. The love which cares for the other, however they feel about us.

How do we do this? “A” in Dr. Worthington’s acronym stands for giving the altruistic gift of forgiveness.

Jesus tells us to “pray for those who persecute us.” His words are present tense—do it even while they are persecuting us. This is the act whereby genuine forgiveness always begins.

Such prayer surrenders the right to get even with the person who hurts us but gives them over to God instead. Such prayer enables us to see this person as God does, as a weak, fallible, complicated human being like ourselves. And such prayer begins the process of wishing for their welfare.

Note that praying for our enemies does not deny justice. Nowhere does Jesus teach us that forgiveness suspends the consequences of evil actions. The legal process which governs human affairs and nations must proceed. To forgive means that we pardon personally—we give up our right to punish this person ourselves. We no longer want revenge and vengeance for ourselves. We trust this person into the hands of God and that justice which is fair and right.

“C” stands for public commitment to forgiveness. Dr. Worthington’s clients write a “certificate of forgiveness,” a letter of forgiveness to the offender. They write such forgiveness in their diary or tell a trusted friend what they have done. They make public their pardon for the one who has hurt them.

Jesus makes clear that our forgiveness must be equally public. This is our witness, proof that we are children of a forgiving Father. Such forgiveness separates us publicly from the tax-collectors and pagans of our day. It shows the world that we belong to a God of grace.

“H” stands for the final step, to hold onto forgiveness. Every time the pain returns, we take these steps again. We recall it, we empathize with the one who hurt us, we forgive altruistically through prayer, and we commit to such forgiveness. As we do so we become “perfect,” fulfilling God’s created purpose for our lives. We love as he loves. We make Jesus’ love real through our own.


Let’s recap: Recall the person and the specific hurt you felt. Empathize in selfless love. Be altruistic through prayer, surrendering your right to revenge and placing them in God’s hands. Commit definitely and publicly to pardon and reconciliation. Hold this commitment firm every time the pain returns to your heart, the anger to your soul.

In short, do for others what Jesus has done for us. Give to others that which he has given to you. And he will help you give it.

Corrie ten Boom, the Holocaust survivor who lost her entire family to the Nazis, knew firsthand that forgiveness is such a process. She likened it to letting go of a bell rope. When you’re pulling on the rope which rings a bell, and you let it go, the bell keeps ringing for a while.

But if you keep your hands off the rope, the bell will begin to slow and eventually stops. She says that forgiveness is not something we feel, but something we do. It is letting go of the rope.

This is what Jesus did for us. Now he invites us to pay forward his forgiving grace.

For whom do you need to let go of the rope today?

I Am the Good Shepherd

Topical Scripture: John 10:11-15

The 2018 NFL draft has dominated sports headlines this week. My favorite story involves a linebacker named Shaquem Griffin. He played at Central Florida, where he was named the American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year. He ran for NFL scouts last month, posting the fastest forty-yard time by a linebacker since 2003.

He also has only one hand. His left hand was amputated when he was four years old due to a birth defect.

As inspiring as his story is, the bottom line is still the bottom line. Shaquem Griffin will succeed or fail in the NFL the same way every other player does: by his performance on the field. In football, and in much of life, you are what you do.

With Christianity, it’s exactly the opposite. Your status and identity are based not on what you do but on what Jesus has done. Let’s learn why that is true and what it means for our souls today.

Why did Jesus have to die for us?

This week we’re continuing Jesus’ “I am” statements, coming now to his fourth claim: “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11). Our Lord calls himself the “good” shepherd, distinguishing himself from a shepherd who cares little for his sheep. As he explained, “He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them” (v. 12).

By contrast, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father” (vv. 14–15a). Then comes the proof: “and I lay down my life for the sheep” (v. 15b).

Scripture consistently repeats his assertion:

  • “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3:18).
  • “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24).
  • “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree'” (Galatians 3:13).
  • “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
  • “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).

So, we know that Jesus died for us to pay our debt and purchase our salvation. The question is, why did he have to do so? Why couldn’t God have forgiven our sins without calling his Son to die on the cross?

If I run into your car in the parking lot, I assume someone doesn’t have to die for my debt to be paid. Why did God require the death of his Son to pay ours?

The answer is that sin separates us from the holy God who is the only source of life (Isaiah 59:2; John 14:6). That’s why the Lord warned Adam that if he ate the forbidden fruit “you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17). That’s why “the soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:20). That’s why “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).

Sin leads to death. It stands to reason, therefore, that the only one who could pay the debt sinners owe is someone who has never sinned. If I have a thousand dollars in my bank account and owe that amount to creditors, I cannot use that money to pay your debt as well as mine. Since Jesus was the only sinless person who has ever lived (Hebrews 4:15), he alone could pay our debt.

As the chorus says, “He paid a debt he did not owe; I owed a debt I could not pay.”

Why did he have to die by crucifixion?

So the logic of Good Friday makes sense. Now let’s consider a second question: Why did Jesus have to die by crucifixion?

The manner of Jesus’ death fulfilled the prophet’s prediction, “They will look on me, the one they have pierced” (Zechariah 12:10). It also matched David’s description, “They have pierced my hands and feet” (Psalm 22:16). But why did the Holy Spirit lead these writers to predict that Jesus would die in such a gruesome way?

The Jews executed by stoning (as with Stephen in Acts 7). Rome executed its citizens by beheading. Presumably, any form of death would pay the penalty for our sins. Why did Jesus have to suffer the most horrible, heinous form of execution ever invented?

I have two answers.

First: The cross shows how horrible sin really is.

If Jesus’ death had been painless and antiseptic, the sins for which he died could seem less catastrophic. As it is, every time we are tempted we can remember the thorns that lacerated our Savior’s scalp, the whip that scourged his back, the nails that pierced his wrists and feet, the spear that ruptured his heart. That’s what your sins and my sins did to Jesus. That’s what he chose to suffer for us.

No one watching Jesus writhe in horrible agony on the cross would have called the day of Jesus’ death, “Good Friday.” The Germans get closer to the historic reality: They call it “Karfreitag,” meaning “Sorrowful Friday.”

Second: The cross shows how great God’s love really is.

If Jesus had died in an antiseptic, painless way, we would still be grateful for his atoning sacrifice. But his death in the most horrific manner possible shows the depth of his sacrificial love as nothing else could.

Know that this love is shared not only by the Son, but also by his Father: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but eternal life” (John 3:16). As a father and grandfather, I cannot begin to imagine the pain our Father felt as he watched his Son be whipped, tortured, and crucified.

He did all of that for you. He would do it all over again, just for you.

Know that you are loved

You and I live in a culture that measures us by the Three P’s: performance, possessions, and popularity. We are taught from infancy that we are what we own, what we do, and what others think of what we own and do.

It’s easy to import this thinking into our theology, assuming that God loves us more if we are righteous and less if we are sinful, that there are things we can do to make him love us more or less.

The cross proves that it’s not so. If the Father could love you even though your sins nailed his Son to the cross, what else could you do to lose his love? If he could love you before you became his child through faith, what could you do now that you are his child to lose his love?

My sons will forever be my sons because they were born as my sons. They may not want to be my sons or act like my sons, but they will always be my sons by birth. In the same way, you and I are the children of God by the “second birth.” We will always be his sons. There is nothing we can do to lose a love we did nothing to gain.

At the end of the day, God loves us because he is love (1 John 4:8). He loves us because his character is to love us. Not because of anything we can do. Not because of anything we have done.

The next time you’re facing a tough place and wonder if God loves you, remember the cross. Remember that your “good shepherd” laid down his life for you. And be grateful.


What have we learned about God’s love today?

One: God’s love is inspiring.

The Bible says, “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). We are to love God, not so he will love us but because he already does. We worship and pray and serve out of gratitude, not guilt. We love him because he loves us, at the cross and every day of our lives.

Two: God’s love is inclusive.

Scripture adds: “Whoever loves God must also love his brother” (v. 21). When we see the depth of God’s love for us, we are called to love others in the same way, to “pay it forward.” Jesus died for you; if you’re good enough for him, you’re good enough for me.

Three: God’s love is unchanging.

There is nothing we can do to lose or gain it. No matter what happens in your life, God still loves you.

Charles Spurgeon was out hiking one day and came across a windmill with the words “God Is Love” turning in the breeze. He asked the farmer, “Do you mean that God’s love is as shifting as the wind?” The farmer smiled and explained, “Not at all. I mean that no matter how the wind blows, God is still love.”

What winds are blowing in your soul today?

Right and Wrong Ways to Know God’s Will

Topical Scripture: Judges 6

You know the world is changing when the World Health Organization proposes adding “gaming disorder” to its manual of disease classifications. According to the manual, “Gaming disorder is characterized by a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behavior.” Symptoms include a lack of control over gaming; giving gaming preference over other life interests and daily activities; and continuation or escalation of gaming despite negative consequences.

We live in a culture that is changing more rapidly than ever before. It’s not surprising, therefore, that the most common question I’ve been asked in four decades of ministry is, “How can I know God’s will for my life?” Some people ask this question with regard to a specific decision they are facing, others as they seek their general direction and life purpose.

In our series from the Book of Judges, we come today to a man who desperately needed to know how to answer this question. His story is in Scripture as an example for us today. From Gideon we will learn what to do and what not to do. Both lessons are vital.

Believe in God’s love

Our story is set in one of the most dangerous periods in Jewish history. It begins, as so often in Judges, with the nation’s sin: “The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord” (Judges 6:1a). As a result, “for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites” (v. 1b).

Who were these oppressors? Why were they so dangerous?

Midian was the fourth son of Abraham by his second wife (or concubine) Keturah (Genesis 25:2). His descendants intermingled with the Ishmaelites (Genesis 37:25), living as nomads in the desert east of the Dead Sea and the Sinai Peninsula (modern-day Saudi Arabia).

In our text, the Midianites aligned with “Amalekites and other eastern people” (Judges 6:3) to attack Israel. They amassed large herds of camels, making them much quicker than the foot soldiers of Israel (v. 5b). When the harvest was ripe, they would appear “like swarms of locusts” (v. 5a) and steal the sheep, cattle, donkeys, and crops of the Jews (v. 4).

The Israelites were forced to hide from them in mountain clefts, caves, and strongholds (v. 2). They could not defeat their enemy or live like this much longer. So, they finally “cried out to the Lord for help” (v. 6), repenting of their sin and turning to God.

Who or what are the Midianites and Amalekites in your life? Where are you facing challenges and struggles? They may be the result of your sins, or they may be the result of living in a fallen world.

Either way, know that God still loves you. He knows your pain (Hebrews 4:15) and cares about your suffering. You can still call out to him for help. It’s never too soon to give up on God.

Go where God sends

The Lord’s revealed will for their need came in a surprising way.

He sent his angel to Gideon, son of Joash the Abiezrite, while he was “threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites” (Judges 6:11). Wheat was typically threshed in an open area where the wind could carry away the chaff, while grapes were crushed into wine in an enclosed area where they would be more protected from the elements.

Gideon was a laborer, working as a field hand. He was hiding from Israel’s enemies in fear. Such was not the resume we would expect for a “mighty warrior” of God (v. 12b).

The angel assured Gideon that “the Lord is with you” (v. 12a). The frustrated Israelite immediately protested that God’s presence should not have allowed them to fall into the hands of the Midianites (v. 13). Rather than speculate as to the reasons for their suffering, the angel offered the practical next step of God: “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?” (v. 14).

There is an entire theology of God’s will in this one verse.

Lesson one: God’s direction is always more practical than speculative. We want to know why something happened—our Lord is usually more interested in showing us what to do when it does occur. Rather than providing a full philosophical theodicy for their suffering, he provides a practical solution in Gideon’s leadership.

Lesson two: God has prepared us for whatever he calls us to do. Gideon was to “go in the strength you have,” not waiting until he acquired greater physical prowess or military might. The Lord has already made you ready for the next step you are to take, or he would not call you to take it. If you are to share Christ with a difficult neighbor or give a greater sacrifice of your time and money, or follow God into a new vocation, he has already prepared you for the will he now reveals. You have the strength you need for the task at hand.

Lesson three: His will is always for what comes next. He was to “save Israel out of Midian’s hand,” because that was the problem before them. We want a five-year plan, but no one in Scripture is given such advance notice. Today is the only day there is. God’s will is first and foremost for this present moment and the faithfulness it requires of us. Obedience, more than knowledge, is the issue.

Lesson four: God’s will never leads where his grace cannot sustain. He was “sending” Gideon in his will, provision, and power. He would go before him and prepare the way; he would sustain Gideon and his people in their battles; he would use them for his glory and their good. When Gideon protested that he was the weakest member of the weakest family in the weakest clan of Israel (v. 15), God repeated his assurance, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites together” (v. 16).

Trust where God leads

But such assurance was not enough for Gideon. So, he placed a wool fleece on the threshing floor where he was at work (v. 37). He asked God to make the fleece wet with dew and the ground dry, and his request was answered (vv. 37–38). Then he asked that the fleece be dry while the ground was wet (the greater miracle, as fleece would absorb much more dew than the ground), and again it was so (vv. 39–40). And Gideon had his assurance and was ready to lead the armies of Israel into battle.

God’s willingness to meet Gideon’s conditions demonstrates his grace. He takes us where we are and leads us where we need to go. His incarnational love comes into our condition and accommodates his holiness to our fallenness. But the fact that he was willing to give Gideon such signs is not clear proof that he intends us to ask for them today.

Gideon’s method of determining God’s will has come down through history as “putting out the fleece.” Countless believers have followed his example by constructing circumstantial tests for knowing God’s direction.

For instance, I have known of pastors who would go to a church only if a specific percentage of the congregation voted to call them, believing that such a number would show them whether it was God’s will for them to accept the call or not. I have heard of churches which decide that they will move forward with capital projects only if a certain percentage of the needed funds are pledged in a given time period, as indication of God’s will in the matter.

Either decision could be pragmatic; I would not pastor a church if the large majority did not want to call me, or move forward with a building project if a sizeable percentage of the needed funds were not pledged. But for some, the specific number itself is an indication of God’s will. One pastor I know refused a church’s call because he had set a “fleece” of 90 percent and received 88 percent instead.

I would caution you against using the “fleece” method as the biblical way of knowing God’s will, for several reasons.

First, Gideon’s fleece is described in the Bible, not prescribed in Scripture. No verse of God’s word asks us to seek God’s will in this way. The fact that Gideon used this practice does not mandate it for us. David’s sin with Bathsheba is described accurately, but certainly not prescribed for us today.

Second, Gideon is not the best moral character in Scripture to follow. When the people of Peniel would not help him in battle, he pulled down their tower and killed all the men of the town (Judges 8:17). Then he took gold from the people and formed an ephod (a priestly garment) as an idol for the people to worship (vv. 24–27). He had many wives, and at least one concubine as well (vv. 30–31). Nowhere does the Bible lift him up as an example for us to follow in seeking the Lord’s direction for our lives.

Third, a circumstantial “fleece” must be interpreted carefully. Satan can move people to act, as with Judas’s betrayal of Jesus (John 13:27). People can misuse their freedom to act in ways which contradict God’s word and will, as the Hebrews did in our text. And events can be understood in different ways. Jesus’ miracles caused many in the crowds to believe in him, but some to attribute his powers to Beelzebub (Luke 11:14–15).


Let me say it again: God’s will never leads where his grace cannot sustain. Whatever your challenges, know that your Father loves you. Choose to go where he sends and trust where he leads.

He may reveal his will through Scripture, circumstances, other people, or by speaking to you intuitively. But if you are willing to go anywhere and do anything, when you need to know his will, you will. The question is not one of knowledge, but obedience.

God has a plan for Adam and Eve—where and what to live. A plan for Noah—how to build his ark, right down to the exact specifications and building materials he should use. A plan for Abraham, including where he should live, how old he would be when he had his son, and even that son’s name. A plan for Joseph, using his slavery and imprisonment to save the entire nation. A plan for Moses, encompassing the very words he should say to Pharaoh. A plan for Joshua, showing him where and how to take the land. A plan for David and Solomon, for their kingdom and the temple they would build for him. A plan for Daniel, even in the lion’s den.

Jesus had plans for his first disciples—plans they could not have begun to understand. He had a plan for Saul of Tarsus as he left to persecute the Christians in Damascus. He had a plan for John on Patmos.

Now God has a plan for your life.

In what way is your Lord calling you to be a Gideon for today? Identify your Midianites, and the reason they are persecuting you. If sin is causing your suffering, admit it and claim your Father’s forgiving grace. Then seek his direction for your next step. Surrender to his will before he reveals it, refusing to be conformed to the world’s mold, being transformed daily by your communion with him. And you will know his “good, pleasing, and perfect” will (Romans 12:2).

Ignatius of Loyola founded the Jesuits, and made this prayer theirs:

Teach us, Lord, to serve you as you deserve,

To give and not to count the cost,

To fight and not to heed the wounds,

To toil and not to seek for rest,

To labor and not to ask any reward,

Save that of knowing that we do your will.


The Key to True Peace

Topical Scripture: Matthew 5:9

A friend sent me these first-grade proverbs. The teacher gave the kids the first half of the sentence, and they supplied the rest:

  • “Don’t bite the hand that . . . looks dirty.”
  • “If you lie down with dogs, you’ll . . . stink in the morning.”
  • “A penny saved is . . . not much.”
  • “Laugh and the whole world laughs with you, cry and . . . you have to blow your nose.”
  • “Better to be safe than . . . punch a fifth grader.”

Even first-graders know that peace is valuable. And they’re right. It has been estimated that in the last 3,400 years, humans have been entirely at peace for 268 of them, constituting 8 percent of recorded history.

Clearly, our world needs peace. Between the floods on the Gulf Coast, rising tensions in the Persian Gulf, and challenges with Iran’s nuclear programs, it seems that turmoil makes the news every.

Where do you need more peace in your life? With whom are you at odds today? Where do you need a relationship to be healed? Where do you need peace?

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God,” Jesus promises. The Hebrew word for peace is “shalom”: peace with God, self and others. Today we’ll learn from God’s word where we find such peace for ourselves, and then how we can give it to the person with whom we need it most.

Make peace with God

Where can you find peace for your own heart, soul, and mind?

The Bible says, “May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace!” (Psalm 29:11).

Jesus promised us, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). Later he said, “I have said these things to you that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).

Peace is one of the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22). It is the result of the Spirit’s work, not human ability.

Clearly, we cannot create peace ourselves. We can only receive it from God. How? Here are some answers from God’s word.

First, if you want peace, accept the love of God.

Actress Sophia Loren told USA Today, “I should go to heaven; otherwise it’s not nice. I haven’t done anything wrong. My conscience is very clean. My soul is as white as those orchids over there, and I should go straight, straight to heaven.”

Listen, by contrast, to the word of God.

The prophet said of Jesus, “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5).

Paul added, “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14).

When we accept Jesus’ forgiving love by faith, we receive God’s peace: “Therefore since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1).

We cannot be at peace with a perfect God and live in his perfect heaven, unless we are made perfect ourselves. This is why Jesus died on the cross: to pay the penalty for our sins, to purchase our forgiveness. We can only be at peace with God by accepting his love, by making Jesus our Savior and Lord.

If you’re trying to be good enough for God—religious enough, moral enough, successful or significant enough—know that you’re not succeeding. Imagine what it would take for a human being to impress the God of the universe. But we can accept the atoning love of Jesus and be made right with God. This is the first step to true peace.

Next, if you want peace, obey the word of God.

Musician Paul Simon once told an interviewer, “The only thing that God requires from us is to enjoy life—and love. It doesn’t matter if you accomplish anything. You don’t have to do anything but appreciate that you’re alive. And love, that’s the whole point.”

Note the contrast between his statement and God’s word.

The Psalmist prayed, “Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble” (Psalm 119:165). God said through his prophet, “Oh that you had paid attention to my commandments! Then your peace would have been like a river, and your righteousness like the waves of the sea;” (Isaiah 48:18).

God’s word gives the guideposts we need to live successfully. Herein are the signs which point us to our destination and keep us out of ditches and dead ends. These principles are for our good, and they give us God’s peace.

So, meet God every day in the Scriptures. Measure your every decision by his truth. Obey his word, and you’ll have his peace.

Third, if you want peace, receive the forgiveness of God.

Dwight Moody gave a Bible to a friend, but first wrote these words on its flyleaf: “The Bible will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from the Bible.”

When we obey the word of God, we judge ourselves in its light. We see ourselves as God does. The closer we are to God, the further away we realize we are. Then we seek and receive his forgiveness for our sins, and we have his peace.

God told the prophet, “There is no peace for the wicked” (Isaiah 48:22). He added: “But the wicked are like the tossing sea, which cannot rest, whose waves cast up mire and mud.” (Isaiah 57:20). And he warned: “The way of peace they do not know, and there is no justice in their paths; they have made their roads crooked; no one who treads on them knows peace.” (Isaiah 59:8).

His word is clear: “Be sure that your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23). So confess your sins to God if you want to have peace with him. He is waiting to forgive you, cleanse you, and set you free. He loves you that much. But you must ask.

Fourth, if you want peace, trust the will of God.

Advice from the Book of Job: “Agree with God, and be at peace; thereby good will come to you.” (Job 22:21). Paul agreed: “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.” (Colossians 3:15).

Trust the will of God, and you’ll say with the prophet: “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” (Isaiah 26:3).

Are you at peace with God this morning? Have you accepted his love? Are you obeying his word? Have you received his forgiveness? Are you trusting his will?

H. G. Wells was right: “If there is no God, nothing matters. If there is a God, nothing else matters.” He promises you his peace and tells you how to receive it. The decision is yours.

Make peace with others

Now, how do we give this peace we receive from God? How do we become “peacemakers” with others? With whom do you most need peace today? Think of that person and take these biblical steps toward the peace you need.

First, initiate pardon.

As we learned from the fifth beatitude, we are to choose not to punish whatever wrong has been done to us. God’s word instructs us, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” (Romans 12:18-19).

Later the apostle adds, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). Initiate pardon. And you will be a peacemaker.

Second, seek reconciliation.

Jesus teaches us, “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 altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23–24, emphasis added).

If someone has something against you, whether you believe their anger is justified or not, go to them. Seek reconciliation. And you will be a peacemaker.

Third, choose peace.

Whether the person accepts your pardon or receives your attempts at reconciliation, choose peace. Give them to God and choose his peace.

The Bible says, “God has called us to peace” (1 Corinthians 7:15). It exhorts us: “Be at peace among yourselves. (1 Thessalonians 5:13). Our Master tells us, “Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you” (Romans 15:7).

God commands us: “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God, and that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled” (Hebrews 12:14–15).

When we have God’s peace in our heart, we can give it to others. And when we give peace to others, we find it in our own heart. As we love God, we love our neighbor. As we love our neighbor, we love God.

And then we “will be called sons of God.” Jesus does not say that we become sons of God—that would be works righteousness. But people will know that we are God’s children as we give his peace to them: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).


Is your soul at peace with those who matter to you? Would you seek peace with God, and with them? Your life will be forever different if you will.

Consider John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church. He rode enough miles on horseback preaching the gospel to circle the globe ten times. He preached more than forty thousand sermons. You can buy more than ninety-five books containing his writings in English. He was clearly one of the greatest Christian leaders in history.

But his story did not begin the way it ended.

As a young man, Wesley went to America as a missionary but was not himself converted. He wrote in his journal, “I went to America to convert the Indians, but oh! who shall convert me?”

Then he encountered Moravian missionaries on board a ship bound for America. He notes in his journal that one day, the group had just begun to sing a psalm of worship when “the sea broke over, split the main-sail in pieces, covered the ship, and poured in between the decks, as if the great deep had already swallowed us up. A terrible screaming began among the English. The Germans [Moravians] calmly sung on. I asked one of them afterwards, ‘Was you not afraid?’ He answered, ‘I thank God, No.’ I asked, ‘But were not your women and children afraid?’ He replied mildly, ‘No; our women and children are not afraid to die.’

“From them I went to their crying, trembling neighbours, and pointed out to them the difference in the hour of trial, between him that feareth God, and him that feareth him not. At twelve the wind fell. This was the most glorious Day which I have hitherto seen.”

Wesley later testified that the Moravians’ peace contributed directly to his conversion.

Who will see the peace of Christ in you this week?