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Have you ever wondered what the phrase "turn the other cheek" really means? It's a sentiment that gets tossed around in all sorts of contexts. People tend to apply it as, "I'm the better person if I ignore your behavior." It is one example Jesus gives us on how to respond to evil without self-centeredness. It tells us that we should not return evil with evil, but its literal interpretation is not a blanket statement. The "rise above" mentality works in theory, but it can also act as an excuse to avoid conflict. The major distinction we miss is between peacemaking and peacekeeping. When we pride ourselves on being peacekeepers, we can end up ignoring real issues and build superiority complexes from our lack of confrontation. And the truth is, Jesus was certainly not a peacekeeper; He was a peacemaker.
The Bible tells us, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God." Some people may look at this verse and think that God calls us to live passively. That is not what peacemaking is about. Jesus was a doer - and we should be too. Peacemakers don't seek out conflict; they take the initiative to work through issues, not around issues. Fear of conflict can hold us back in relationships and leadership. Sometimes it's not even fear as much as the refusal to be "that person" who stirs up “trouble”. With that aversion, we lose sight of the value of honesty. Sure, we need to pick our battles and shouldn't go out of our way to criticize and complain. The discerning factor is self-awareness.
"Let us, therefore, make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification." - Romans 14:19
When we choose controversy based on our selfish desires, then that is where we work against ourselves and others. We can learn this clearly from Jesus. When people chastised and doubted Him, Jesus didn't lash out defensively; He proved them wrong through His actions. Yet, He also was confrontational when it was necessary. If Jesus were a peacekeeper, He would not have offered His life or called us to live radically. He spoke His mind to show people the difference between mercy and entitlement. Jesus created an opportunity for peace for all sinners, not only by His sacrifice but in how He shared the truth while He was on earth. Jesus shows us how to bring peace because He shows us how to react to sin with grace.
“If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.” - Luke 17:3
One of the most critical differences between peacemakers and peacekeepers is that peacemakers ask questions. There are some situations where it's clear that someone is set in their attitude, and it's better to let them work through it on their own. But in many cases, questions can pave the way when there is a misunderstanding.
For example, imagine that one of your friends keeps making passive-aggressive comments about a certain topic in your life (maybe you already know this feeling), and you've decided to ignore it because you think it will pass. Your friend may stop at some point, but you will continue to doubt the friendship and wonder about all the reasons they may have that attitude. Your next instinct will probably tell you to strike back with your judgment of their life, but that will only create new conflict. As a peacemaker, you should ask your friend why they are making those comments. Then the door opens to a deeper conversation that could solve the current tension and help prevent future tensions.
Peacemakers don't accuse; they inquire. It's so easy for a conflict to spin out of control when assumptions and insinuations fly around. And yet, it's just as easy for the same thing to happen when nothing is said. When we come to conclusions in our minds, we will either make things worse than they are or discount problems that will hurt us or others. To follow Jesus, we need to love our neighbors. Sometimes love requires us to have self-control, and sometimes it requires us to face uncomfortable situations. Love allows peace in our hearts, no matter our circumstances. Love tells us to draw others to our source of peace in God. To do that, we must not listen to our fight or flight instincts, but to the guidance of God’s Word.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” - Galatians 5:22-23
Leadership is when we step forward to solve problems. At the heart of it, peacemaking is problem-solving. God tells us to pursue change. That doesn't mean we need to step into everyone's business under the pretense of "peacemaking." It means we should speak up straightforwardly when we see room for growth in situations that involve us. It means we should recognize that we may be wrong, but we are still part of the next steps. When we decide to live as peacemakers, we turn from spite and speculation and create lifelines to pull ourselves and others out of the muck. God does not call us to avoid tension because tension is part of His plan. We can’t understand mercy without knowing the alternative, and we can’t understand peace without knowing conflict. So what can we do to bring peace into moments of imbalance? We can look beyond our iminent reactions to a God-seeking outcome. In the face of disrespect, mutual disagreement, or recklessness, which direction will lead you and others toward Jesus? Sometimes “turning the other cheek” is the best answer, but it is not always the answer. When we continuously strive to walk according to God’s Word, then we will grow in our instinctive responses as peacemakers.
Written Content Coordinator at Sun Valley Community Church. An avid writer since the age of 5, who loves to explore new ideas and places. Inspired by Jesus, books, and travel.