So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.Romans 14:19
I had about 12 hours of “windshield time” yesterday as we drove home from Florida — lots of time to think. I started thinking about New Year’s resolutions and whether or not I believe in them. And after thinking it over, I’ve decided that I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions anymore — mainly because I’ve reached a point in my life where I’m fairly distrusting of our ability to bring about lasting transformation through resolve and effort. Sure, you can eat better, hit up the gym, and drop 20 pounds — but that’s not real transformation anymore. You can be 20 lbs. lighter and still be the same old jerk you’ve always been. So somewhere south of Atlanta, I decided I don’t really believe in New Year’s resolutions anymore. Not that you asked.
But somewhere south of Atlanta, even though I decided that I don’t really believe in New Year’s resolutions anymore, I realized that I do believe in transformation — true, gospel-centered transformation. I’m talking “I-once-was-lost-in-sin-but-Jesus-took-me-in” kind of transformation. It’s Simon Peter leaving his nets on the shore of the Sea of Galilee; Zacchaeus repaying every single person he’d ripped off; and Saul seeing the light on the road to Damascus. Somewhere south of Atlanta, I was reminded of just how much I believe in that kind of transformation. If I were trying to convince you that such transformation were possible, I would submit my own life as Exhibit A. Only I would know the degree of transformation I have experienced over the decades I’ve spent in apprenticeship to Jesus. But believe me, even though I am far from a finished product, I continue to receive a new nature from King Jesus. Whereas my natural tendencies veer toward selfishness and anger and isolation, King Jesus perpetually offers me a new, better identity grounded in His mercies. I believe in this kind of transformation with all of my heart — so much so that I believe it to be the only hope for any of us.
So somewhere south of Atlanta, as I renounced the whole business of resolutions but affirmed the power of God unto salvation, I found myself asking, “What do I hope God does in my life in the upcoming year?” It’s a broad, open-ended question and I spent a lot of time mulling over my answer.
And somewhere south of Atlanta, a verse came to me — which I attribute to the work of the Holy Spirit. Romans 14:19, So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. This is what I’m praying for in 2020: that God will help me pursue what makes for peace.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus called His followers to the work of peacemaking (Matt. 5:9) — to actively participate in God’s work of creating shalom (flourishing) in the world once again. As New Testament scholar Jonathan Pennington notes, God’s entire redemptive work can be understood as His effort to bring His own shalom to the earth. Jesus calls us to take up this redemptive work in our own way, to create wholeness and rightness wherever and however we can. That’s what it means to “make peace.”
And somewhere south of Atlanta, as I reflected on the call to make peace, I had an immediate opportunity to test this out. Sunny and I had a discussion that could’ve easily turned into an argument. And even though I defaulted into a bit of defensiveness — at least at first — the call to make peace helped me to re-direct fairly quickly. The trajectory of the entire conversation changed when making peace was the goal.
Paul’s comment in Romans 14 is rooted in what he’s already said about love.
- Rom. 12:9, Let love be genuine.
- Rom. 12:10, Love one another with brotherly affection.
- Rom. 12:18, If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
- Rom. 13:8-10, Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
With these verses in view, we can properly follow what Paul says in chapter 14. Genuine love for neighbor is the true fulfillment of the law; therefore love for neighbor takes precedence over observing other, “lesser” ordinances. When this kind of love moves through the disciple community, there can be no room for judgment or discord. Instead, we are to walk in love. And when we walk in love, we will pursue what makes for peace.
So my prayerful hope for 2020 is that I can simply pursue the path of peace. In the words of the Psalmist, to “seek peace and pursue it,” (Ps. 34:14). The ancient rabbis used this text to speak of the “paths of peace” and it seems as if Paul is echoing this in Romans 14. To walk in love is to journey the path of peace. In these divisive times — with another election looming in a few months — I can’t think of a better thing to be praying for 2020.
Would you join me on the path of peace? In the name of King Jesus, let us pursue what makes for peace and mutual upbuilding.