There are many dualities within the Christian faith. God gave the Mosaic laws and then provided a Way for imperfect people to stand a chance at keeping them. Jesus is both the Lion of Judah and the sacrificial lamb. Jesus is both God and man. There are faith and deeds (and navigating the true ways those two connect). Then there are the themes of war and peace throughout the scriptures and the doctrine.
For a large part of the Old Testament, people and countries go to war. Such is true of any time or tale with kings and kingdoms, but it is very evident that these wars, be it in cause or effect, are tied to God and faith.
In the New Testament, we see less physical war and more spiritual war, as is perfectly demonstrated when Paul writes of the Armor of God in Ephesians 6:10-17.
Edward Leigh Pell said, “The kingdom of Christ is a kingdom of peace, but you cannot establish a kingdom without war. And the army of Christ is still on the fighting line. The moment we enlist in His service, we find ourselves face to face with forces of evil which call for all the fighting spirit we have and more. And what we lack, He will supply.”
The kingdom of Christ is a peaceful one. One trip through the Gospels makes it very clear that Jesus promotes peace and encourages us to be peaceful.
This is reflected in what Paul writes in Titus 3:1-11.
“Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show every courtesy to everyone” (Titus 3:1-2, NRSV).
This is coming from a man who spent a fair amount of time in jail. So at the risk of people thinking Paul is being hypocritical, I want to clarify what Paul means here. He’s saying to obey laws that don’t contradict our faith and to object peacefully if the law is counter to our faith. When Paul was told by officials to stop preaching, he didn’t comply because it went against his beliefs. When he was taken to jail, he didn’t fight authorities or resist or make matters worse. He went peacefully.
Paul also says to show “every courtesy” (NRSV), “true humility” (NLT), or “perfect courtesy” (ESV) to everyone, meaning that the politeness and niceties we show should be full and consistent with everyone we meet.
Now, I work with the public, so I understand how difficult this is, but as hard as it is when there are or are not imminent consequences, we should be good and show humility for their own sakes because that’s a sign of God in our lives and because it’s worth passing such notions and actions around.
“For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, despicable, hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is sure. I desire that you insist on these things, so that those who have come to believe in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works; these things are excellent and profitable to everyone” (Titus 3:3-8, NRSV).
Such a beautiful, hopeful picture. I’d say the full accuracy of it surely passes our understanding. What Paul writes here is the heart of our faith: that God is love and righteousness and that those qualities working in tandem offer all of us hope and salvation. It’s such an even playing field because none of us are good enough on our own. Not a single soul. God knows that, knows it better than anyone and loves us all anyway. Nothing I’ve done or could do is capable of earning God’s love because humanity is that sinful and because I cannot earn what’s already been freely given.
And this follows well with what Paul wrote before. By extending humility to everyone, we can better understand God’s perspective, and that can lead to seeing others as God does. Which generates empathy and love. It’s not to say that it becomes easier or that it’ll happen with everyone all the time. But it can happen, and it changes you.
“But avoid stupid controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. After a first and second admonition, have nothing more to do with anyone who causes divisions, since you know that such a person is perverted and sinful, being self-condemned” (Titus 3:9-11).
As peaceful as the kingdom of God is, it’s not without its disagreements. The early church, consisting of people who knew Jesus personally, disagreed on certain things. There are far more Christian writings than what are included in our Bible, which I’m sure didn’t go over swimmingly with the authors of said excluded documents. So Paul is by no means dismissing the possibility or eventual reality of conflict arising between believers. He is simply saying to avoid them, and when they’re unavoidable, handle them well.
There is no way for all believers, or even all people (in a more broader perspective), to stay in harmony with all things all the time. That’s simply unrealistic. It doesn’t mean, however, that we should go looking for ways to create division or even celebrate it. To do so would not be the spirit of peace or the heart of Christ.
We may war against evils and principalities, but it doesn’t mean that we should war with each other. Jesus called the peacemakers children of God, meaning that peace is an inherent part of God’s character. Even if we can’t all agree, we can certainly all get along. We just have to be willing to try.
By Carrie Prevette