Near the end of the book of Hebrews the writer of Hebrews gives an interesting exhortation “pursue peace with everyone.” (Hebrews 12:14) Typically when we think of peace we think of peace on a large, worldwide scale. Our minds jump to war, to relations between nation states, to God’s call upon disciples of participating or not participating in military engagements, and how the church should respond or not respond to world situations. But in the context of Hebrews, peace is more than fighting between nation states.
Peace first comes up in Hebrews with Melchizedek whose rule over Salem is defined as King of Peace. In the final benediction of the book, the writer prays to the God of peace. And just a few verses before pursue peace with everyone, the writer says that the fully educated person will receive the fruit of peace, which is righteousness. It is interesting to combine peace and righteousness in 12:11 because Melchizedek, whose reign is described as king of peace, is also known as king of righteousness. The writer of Hebrews seems to be combining these two important themes of peace and righteousness so that it appears that the pursuit of peace is a natural expression of righteousness. That one who is righteous, who is living into the will of God, is also one who seeks peace, on a global level but also on an individual level. It is important to be a person of peace, and not just within the community of faith but with all people, and maybe most especially with those outside the community of faith.
Jesus in the beatitudes says “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called sons of God.” Seeking peace is at the very heart of God, and those that seek peace become imitators of God. God sought peace with humanity so much so that he was willing to send the Son to earth to become fully human and die for humanity (as the writer of Hebrews repeatedly argues). If we are to live into the reality God imagines and desires, we must pursue peace with everyone.
But what does it mean to pursue peace with everyone? Or better yet, what does it look like? What does it look like to seek right relationship with others? It is so much more than just avoiding fights or trying not to harm another. To pursue peace in relationships means not just avoiding the one you don’t get along with but trying to find reconciliation, trying to resolve differences. (As Paul tells the Corinthians, you have been given a ministry of reconciliation.) It means swallowing pride and saying you’re sorry. It means taking the hard step and granting forgiveness to another even when the other has not asked for (or maybe even deserves) forgiveness. Pursuing peace doesn’t mean you have to be best friends with someone or even need to be around someone, but it does mean you can not be enemies. Pursing peace means learning to love your enemies, seeking to make strained relationships whole, finding healthy ways to interact with others.
Why? Because this is the way of righteousness, this is the way of the Kingdom. It becomes difficult to be in right relationship with God while being at odds with another. Jesus encourages in the sermon on the mount that if you are on your way to the altar and you remember someone has something against you, first go and be reconciled, then come and make your gift. Paul tells the Romans as far as it depends on you live at peace with all people. Obviously no one can control how others respond, but as Christians it is our mandate to pursue peace with everyone. To pursue reconciled relationships. To at all times be peacemakers. Because in so doing we become righteous agents of God’s Kingdom. In so doing we witness to our own reconciled relationship with God and we seek to bring others into that same relationship. Pursue peace with everyone because “they will know you are Christians by your love.”