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Just Thinking

I Was Just Thinking … about Grace and Reconciliation, Part 3

Last week we saw that reconciliation between two people is a function of grace (“the action that originates in the joy of one person in order to create a corresponding joy in another”): In anticipation of the joy of receiving God’s grace, we engage in a peacemaking activity designed to bring a conflicted brothers and sisters into a state wherein they can experience a corresponding joy.

The writers of Scripture do not provide us with many examples of successful human reconciliation, and none of them follows the pattern suggested in Matthew 5:24. In the two most prominent—Joseph and his brothers; Jesus and Peter—the offended person initiated the process (cf. Mark 11:25). In a third, Paul attempted to mediate the reconciliation of Philemon with Onesimus; and we can only assume from the presence of the letter in the New Testament canon that his efforts were successful. Nevertheless, reconciliation was still a function of grace. Paul desired that Philemon share in the joy of Christian fellowship with Onesimus, just as he had done. Joseph desired that his brothers enter into the joy of the life-giving ministry God had placed in his hands. Jesus not only brought Peter back into fellowship with himself, but also gave him the task of strengthening the faith of the others who had abandoned Jesus in his hour of need (Luke 22:32).

In all of these cases where reconciliation occurred, the participants began to experience peace as more than just an absence of conflict. We should expect this because reconciliation is a function of grace, just as grace is a goal of reconciliation. Therefore, we can say that “peace” is the label we give to the state of a relationship in which the operation of grace—whether expressed as reconciliation or not—is succeeding. Paul uses this connection in his argument in Ephesians 2: Jews and Non-Jews who have been reconciled to God through the grace of the cross and the resurrection are now in a state of peace, both with each other and with God, in that we all have access to more of the Father’s grace through the Spirit. In Philippians 4:7 he labels this state of grace “the peace of God” because it summarizes all that God will do to keep our hearts happy through our connection to him through Jesus. And he gives God the label of “The God of Peace” for the same reason (4:9).

At this point it’s helpful to remember that Paul is a well-educated Jew, for whom the equation of the Greek word εἰρήνη and the Hebrew word שלום is not just a linguistic fluke. In both of his cultures, the words we render as ‘peace’ indicate, fundamentally, ‘being at one with’ others or one’s environment. This oneness is so pervasive that the ideas of well-being and prosperity fit it better than the limited concept our modern setting attaches to the term—merely a lack of conflict (whether internal or external). The same thought process would be true of Jesus, both as our peacemaker (Colossians 1:20; Ephesians 2:14) and the one who instructs us to imitate him as children of God (Matthew 5:24; cf. 5:9). When he told us to be peacemakers, he had in mind that we should do more than just stop (or prevent) conflict. He expected us to become so entangled with others that their welfare and ours are inseparable, that their experience of God’s grace and ours would be integrated. People who have the high honor of being called children of God use the grace of reconciliation to change a relationship so that its constant state is one of peace, one in which the activities of grace flow from joy to joy—forever.

At the beginning of this essay I told a story in which reconciliation occurred quickly and grace rapidly created an atmosphere of peace. Even though the Holy Spirit was clearly at work there, this was unusual. From a purely human point of view, I suspect the speed of this change was possible because the relationships were young and the offenses were minor. Nevertheless, the grace that flowed between these young warriors was not insignificant. They left the training cycle having experienced the joy of the grace-reconciliation-peace matrix. And, they left with no regrets. Such a rapid recovery is not always the case. Frequently, and maybe especially, in long-term relationships the process will be prolonged and difficult. Interpersonal trust is not easy to rebuild, but neither is it impossible. If we claim to be brothers and sisters of Christ, children of God, we must make the effort. The incentives are too precious to ignore; the sanctions are too dreadful to discount; the supernatural aid is too powerful to pass up.

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