Shod With The Gospel Of Peace
“Blessed are the peacemakers for they will inherit the earth.” | Matthew 5:9 (ESV)
The Spiritual Warrior
In Ephesians 6, the Apostle Paul gives a striking description of a person known as the spiritual warrior, a follower of Jesus who has been powerfully equipped for warfare by the armour of God Himself. The elements or pieces of armour which make up ‘the whole armour’ are of God – it is His strength which believers are armed with and protected by (Ephesians 6:10-17, cp Isaiah 59:17). Paul confirms in Ephesians that we are to view the battle that we are all fighting, as believers, as a spiritual one, and that what we do in this warfare has eternal significance.
There are six pieces of armour that make up this warrior’s protective battle gear:
– The Belt of Truth
– The Breastplate of Righteousness
– Shoes of the Gospel of Peace
– Shield of Faith
– Helmet of Salvation
– Sword of the Spirit.
In this article, I’d like to focus on the third item, the shoes of the ‘gospel of peace’. To be ‘shod with peace’ may initially seem like a strange inclusion in the armour of someone who is prepared for battle. What would peace and warfare have to do with each other? Surely these two terms are mutually exclusive? But first, I want to start by sharing a couple of passages from Paul’s letter to the church at Rome:
“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Carefully consider what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible on your part, live at peace with everyone.” | Romans 12:17-18 (ESV)
“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” | Romans 14:17-19 (ESV)
Living And Working For Peace
In his letters, Paul encourages the believers in Rome to ‘live at peace with everyone, if it is possible on your part” (Romans 12:8). He encourages them to “pursue what leads to peace” (Romans 14:9) and confirms that the “kingdom of God is not meat and drink but righteousness and peace”.
Jesus gave his famous discourse on the mount during his earthly ministry, also known as the Beatitudes (Matthew 5), where he too affirmed that those that ‘work for peace’ will be the children of God (Matthew 5:9). As members of his one body, it’s his peace that is to rule our hearts (Colossians 3:15).
And God, as we know, is in the peacemaking business.
So it seems contradictory that Jesus, given the title of ‘Prince of Peace’ long before his birth (Isaiah 9:6), should say these words:
“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. “ ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law – a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.” | Jesus, Matthew 10: 34 (NIV)
Luke’s gospel repeats the refrain:
“Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three.” | Jesus, Luke 12:51 (ESV)
Initially, the commission to be peacemakers, to live at peace with everyone, together with Paul’s statement that the kingdom of God is righteousness and peace, seems to be at odds with Jesus’ own words and even with Paul’s later language of warfare found in Ephesians. So I think it’s helpful to consider the definition of what ‘peace’ is before we can understand how we are to ‘work for peace’ or be ‘peacemakers’.
Peacekeeping Is Not Peacemaking
We can often speak about ‘keeping the peace’ and believe that this is the same as peacemaking. Yet peace – true peace – is defined as ‘a state or period in which there is no war or a war has ended.’
Choosing not to act in violent ways towards another party whom one may be ‘at war with’ doesn’t equate to peace. Just because we don’t acknowledge the reality of hostilities doesn’t mean they don’t exist. For example, distrust, hostility and enmity still continued during the Cold War, even though a shot was never fired. Tension was still felt and expressed by both parties and mutual distrust and enmity were still very real. And it was still known as a “war”, despite there not being any actual physical warfare. Some might like to think that ‘peace’ was achieved, or at least a more acceptable sense of peace than physical war, but this was simply pseudo-peace, a type of peacekeeping but certainly not peacemaking.
God didn’t settle for peacekeeping! In sending Jesus, He entered directly into the hostilities between Himself and humanity and brought about the cessation of war. True peace only comes when true reconciliation is achieved – that is, the ending of hostilities and the restoration of relationship.
This is why the gospel is styled the gospel of peace – not because it makes Christians nice, agreeable or compliant people. The gospel of peace doesn’t make us nice – it makes us new! It restores our relationship with God and gives us a new identity as children of God. We are no longer enemies but friends with our Creator. This truth, this realignment of identity, this cessation of hostilities, becomes one of the first weapons in the arsenal of our spiritual battle.
“But now in Christ Jesus, you who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility…and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off [Gentiles!] and peace to those who were near [Jews!]; for through him we have access in one Spirit to the Father.” | Ephesians 2:13-18
We are ready to set forth, preaching that same peace to the world and I believe this is why it is styled as ‘shoes’ or ‘to be shod’ with the gospel of peace. Our first move of ‘forward motion’ after becoming Christians is framed by the gospel of peace and reconciliation that we have received. We stand in and on this truth. This is the peace that Jesus spoke of leaving his disciples with, where, as it’s recorded in John’s gospel, he says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27) It is the supreme and unwavering peace of knowing that we are friends with God.
The Sword Of Division
So what exactly did Jesus mean when he said he didn’t come to bring peace but a sword? Well, I think this is an acknowledgement that our human life is indelibly tied to the spiritual war that was set in motion in the beginning.
God made humans in His image, to be in close, harmonious relationship with Him, as His family, and to be His perfect image-bearers on this earth. But the first humans, Adam and Eve, sinned and in doing so, caused damage and disruption to the relationship between God and humanity. They were no longer able to be God’s perfect image-bearers, as He had purposed for them, and were consequently subject to mortality, becoming slaves to sin. Since then, humans have been engaged in a lifelong battle against the ‘ruler of the dominion of darkness – sin’. We and every other human have been fighting the enemy within ourselves and others – sin – since that time (Romans 5-7).
This uncomfortable truth – that sin rules in this world and that we must reject sin if we are to follow Jesus – will bring disturbance in our natural relationships. The gospel of peace asks those who receive it to choose to behave in counter-cultural ways and this will often set believers against the ‘powers that be’. Believers have been transferred out of this dominion of sin and darkness and now serve, with thankfulness, King Jesus. The Word of God, incarnated in the perfect king and image-bearer, Jesus – is “sharper than any sword, piercing even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow.” It discerns the thoughts and intentions at the deepest level of each one of us, seeking to transform and renew our hearts if we allow it (Colossians 1: 13: Hebrew 4:2, Romans 12:2).
Sometimes, despite our best efforts to be peacemakers, the attainment of peace in our families or wider relationships is not attained. This is the sword that Jesus spoke of, the division that would come between those who choose to follow King Jesus and those who persist in serving the ruler of this world. Yet it’s important to remember in all of this that it is a spiritual battle. We are not at war with people but with sin.
“We are not fighting against humans. We are fighting against forces and authorities and against rulers of darkness and powers in the spiritual world.” | Ephesians 6:12 (CEV)
How Do We Make Peace?
We must behave in the same way as God, who was so concerned for peace that He sent His Son “to guide our feet into the path of peace” (Luke 1:79, Isaiah 2:4). If our Father is a peacemaker, then we will be too!
“First, pray for those who you may be at odds with or who persecute you (Matthew 5:44). Pray by acknowledging God’s sovereign rule and pray that your enemy might acknowledge that too.
Then, in Matthew 5:47, Jesus gives the other specific example of peacemaking – love – in this text: “If you salute [greet] only your brethren, what more are you doing than others?” In other words, if there is a rupture in one of your relationships, or if there is someone who opposes you, don’t nurse that grudge. Don’t feed the animosity by ignoring and avoiding that person. That is the natural thing to do – just cross the street so that you don’t have to greet them. But that is not the impulse of the Spirit of a peacemaking God, who sacrificed His Son to reconcile us to Himself and to each other.
Peacemaking tries to build bridges to people – it does not want the animosity to remain. It wants reconciliation. It wants harmony. And so it tries to show what may be the only courtesy the enemy will tolerate, namely, a greeting. The peacemaker looks the enemy right in the eye and says, “Good morning, John.” And he says it with a longing for peace in his heart, not with a phony gloss of politeness to cover his anger.” – Desiring God
A peacemaker – a child of the gospel – is someone who longs for peace and works for peace but who also acknowledges that some barriers may simply not be able to be overcome. Allegiance to the king is always of primary importance. Jesus’ blessing pronounced upon those who would be ‘persecuted for the sake of righteousness’ demonstrates that the goal of peace is clearly subordinated to the goal of righteousness. James later supports this in his letter to believers, where he says, “The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable.” (James 3:17)
Finally, in conclusion, I believe it’s an important detail that being ‘shod with the gospel of peace‘ is listed directly after putting on ‘the breastplate of righteousness‘, the piece of armour which protects the vital organs, particularly the heart. Before we set out anywhere to ‘negotiate reconciliation’ (either personal or as ambassadors of the Prince of Peace), we need to examine our hearts, testing our motives and ensuring our heart is safely guarded against personal deception or impure motives.
“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” | Proverbs 4:23 (NIV)