With each passing beatitude in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, it becomes more and more clear that a person cannot be a genuine Christian without have their attitudes and actions completely and radically transformed from the inside out. Regardless the extent of your exegetical gymnastics, there is no possibility of developing a theology of salvation by works from Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5. In fact, it is quite the opposite. The beatitudes are shining reminders that when a person is saved by grace through faith, their life will begin to manifest attitudes of genuine humility, gentleness, righteousness, mercy, purity, and peacemaking.
In Matthew 5:9, Jesus states, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Jesus is not giving priority to how one might become a “son of God,” but is emphasizing that the likeness of “sons of God” have to their heavenly Father––for God is a “God of peace” (Romans 16:20; 1 Thessalonians 5:23; Hebrews 13:20). From the moment man was exiled from the garden in Genesis 3 because of sin to the climax of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God’s plan has been to bring about lasting peace between himself and man, and then between man and man. Paul describes God as a peacemaker in 2 Corinthians 5:19, “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” Therefore, since this is a characteristic of their heavenly Father, peacemaking should also characterize the “sons of God.”
The Priority of Peacemaking
The word “peacemakers” can be translated into the word “wholemakers.” The concept of “peace,” throughout Scripture, is a situation of comprehensive welfare. In English, the word “peace” usually refers either to an inner tranquility––peace of mind––of an outward state or an absence of war. But biblical shalom, biblical peace, conveys an illustration of a circle and means communal well-being in every direction and in every relation. The individual in the center of the circle is related justly to every point on the circumference of the circle. While the English word often denotes a straight line of peace between one person to another, the Hebrew word portrays a circle embracing one’s whole relational community. In Scripture, to bring peace is to bring community. The Apostle Paul entreated the Corinthian believers, “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10). To manifest peace within a body of believers does not mean more dinners, more activities, or more fellowships, but to bring authentic community in biblical peacemaking.
The theme of peacemaking could, in essence, be the theme of Matthew 5. One commentator is convinced that the peacemaking between ourselves and our enemies that Jesus speaks of here is meant to include the circles of our daily lives: house, family, community, congregation. Another commentator sees Jesus’ horizon as larger than peace within the home or church and as embracing the whole world. All six commands of Jesus that follow in Matthew 5:21–48 describe forms of peacemaking––from the control of anger through fidelity in marriage to the love of enemies. Using the Hebrew analogy, it may be helpful to view peacemaking as concentric circles that move outward, proceeding from a pure heart. Peacemaking must touch every part of the life of the Christian––house, family, community, and congregation.
How are Christians supposed to demonstrate authentic biblical peacemaking?
First, we must understand that peacemaking and peace-realizing are two completely different things. A true peacemaker longs for peace, prays for peace, works for peace, and sacrifices for peace, but the realization of peace may never come. Romans 12:18 is very important at this point, Paul says, “If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all.” This is the goal of one who is called a peacemaker, “If possible, so far as it depends on you.” In other words, don’t let the rupture in the relationship be your fault and if lasting peace is never accomplished, never let that deviate you from being a peacemaker.
Second, it is vital to understand that peace-realizing is not always possible when you stand for the truth of God’s Word. Paul admits that there will be times when your stand for truth will inevitably make peace an impossible reality. For example, he states in 1 Corinthians 11:18–19, “I hear that there are divisions among you; and I partly believe it, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.” Paul is very clear that genuine Christians must never compromise the truth in order to prevent divisions at all cost. In fact, it is precisely because some are genuine peacemakers that divisions existed within the Corinthian church. Jesus said in Matthew 10:34, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man's foes will be those of his own household.” In other words, you must work for peace, pray for peace, and love peace, but you must never abandon your allegiance to Jesus and his Word regardless of the affliction and animosity such a stand may bring down upon your head.
The Position of Peacemakers
When Jesus states that peacemakers will be “called sons of God,” he is not describing to us how one becomes a “son of God,” but is simply saying that all those who are already sons are also peacemakers. Scripture is replete with passages that point to how we become “sons of God.” For instance, we could go to John 1:12, “As many as received him, to them he gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in his name.” Or, we could examine Paul’s words in Romans 10:9–10, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.” We become sons of God by trusting in the finished and complete work of Christ on the cross, through faith.
In addition to explaining how to become a son of God, Scripture abounds with verses identifying the “sons of God.” For instance, sons of God have the indwelling Spirit, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God” (Rom. 8:14). The sons of God are promised a resurrection unto eternal life, “For they cannot even die anymore, because they are like angels, and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection” (Luke 20:36). The sons of God have immediate access to God in prayer, “Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying ‘Abba! Father!’” (Gal. 4:6).
Jesus is clear that the priority of every Christian should be peacemaking, and when such a priority is present they can be assured that they are his sons and daughters. Jesus’ hearers are the outcasts and nobodies of society and he distinguishes them here by giving them the name, “peacemaker,” which was reserved for the Roman Emperor. These little people, these peacemakers, are dignified here by Jesus with membership in the very family of God.
Dustin W. Benge (Ph.D., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is visiting professor of Munster Bible College, Cork, Ireland and lecturer at The Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies.