Recently, while teaching through the book of James with a group of high schoolers, I was reminded of the importance of striving for peace within the body of Christ. As believers, and as members together in the body of Christ, we should “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:3 NIV). King David exclaimed, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.” (Psalm 133:1).
In James 4, the apostle addresses the problem of war within the church. Prior to that, he had contrasted the wisdom of the world with the wisdom “from above,” that is, God’s wisdom. Clearly, the underlying cause of all church conflict lies in one or more persons operating on the basis of worldly wisdom, which James describes as earthly (lacking an eternal perspective), sensual (driven by carnal desires), and demonic (initiated by Satan). Just as worldly wisdom leads to conflict; God’s wisdom leads to peace and unity. James describes this wisdom as being “willing to yield, full of mercy, and without partiality.”
In my lifetime, I have never seen our country more divided and polarized. An “us vs. them” mentality that brooks no compromise or tolerates any disagreement dominates public discourse and has become deeply rooted in American culture. People desire their particular policies, agendas, and methods to the exclusion of any other alternative. I am convinced that church conflicts are spawned through similar ways of thinking. James says this war springs out of desires that battle within us. This means that every outward conflict that arises within a church is a symptom of an inner conflict within the person causing the problem.
Thus, the first step in becoming a peacemaker is to win your own internal battles. Even the apostle Paul wrestled with errant desires (see Romans 7:23). His inner man desired to serve Christ, but his fleshly, carnal nature desired to serve himself. To be a peacemaker, we must depend on the Holy Spirit to help us conquer those selfish desires that “war against the soul.” (1 Peter 2:11) The reason you’re at odds with fellow believers in a sinful way is because you lost that inner battle.
Second, peacemakers are ruled by Scripture. Jesus, knowing that conflict among his followers was inevitable, gave specific instructions for resolving it. Sadly, it has been my observation that conflict within the body of Christ seldom follows our Lord’s plan for resolution in Matthew 18. Moreover, resolving unresolved conflict is your first priority as a believer (see Matthew 5:24). And make no mistake, nothing is truly resolved until it is resolved scripturally. When people leave churches with unresolved personal conflict, they often simply take their sinful cargo to another church where it will sprout in some other form.
Third, peacemakers have an active prayer life. James further states that conflicts reflect a lack of prayer conditioned to desire God’s will above your own. This is how we win those inner battles mentioned above. We come to the Lord in humility, asking him to have his way in the matter of concern.
Finally, don’t make the mistake of confusing need with desire. This is what much of modern psychology does. It reasons that because I need this my desire is justified. This humanistic approach says I can’t help others until my own needs are met, or I can't love others until I love myself. Thus, worldly wisdom once again triumphs and sinful desires find what is believed to be a rational basis.
Putting this all together, we learn that being a peacemaker means understanding the nature of conflict, where it comes from, and how to overcome it. We must strive to win our own inner battles by following God’s Word, resisting worldly wisdom, and submitting to God’s will in humble prayer.