The topics of peace and division have been on my mind lately. In part, this is due to some of my research along those lines this semester (see last week’s post for more on that). But the themes are present outside of the classroom as well. Online interactions show us that division is prevalent in our world, and the bitterness with which people divide makes peace seen almost a myth. And sadly, the church isn’t immune from such struggles to live in unity.
This week, as I finished reading Romans, I noticed how often Paul speaks of peace. After building a robust picture of “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16), Paul devotes the latter section of his letter to practical matters. He begins with a call for personal surrender to God before immediately calling for humility and service in community (Romans 12:1-8). He calls for peace and love for friends and enemies (12:9-21). He calls for honor toward authorities, love toward neighbors, and purity in conduct (Romans 13). He then calls for peace and acceptance among disagreeing believers, rooting his call in the model of Jesus (14:1-15:13). He ends the letter with some discussion of his ministry and future plans, some greetings, a final call for unity, and a closing blessing (15:14-16:27).
There are many things to ponder in these chapters, but one common thread throughout the whole is Paul’s concern for peace. “Live in harmony with one another” (12:16). “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (12:18). “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (14:19). “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them” (16:17). Paul also includes harmony and peace in three blessings he writes to the church (15:5-6, 13, 33). Peace within the church seems to be a big deal for Paul.
In the face of so many apparent divisions in our world and within our churches, we can easily feel discouraged. We may sympathize with Paul’s desire for unity, but we may see peace as a lost cause, something long gone and out of reach. Try as we might, we cannot bring about the peace we so desperately seek.
Paul’s words may settle our spirits. Near the end of his letter, he writes, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” (Romans 16:20). A few things stand out here.
First, God will crush Satan. Paul just appealed to the church to be watchful for divisive people (Romans 16:17-18). Within the context of his call for harmony and unity within the body, Paul seems to see Satan as the bringer of disunity, the source of at least some of the church’s present concerns. Now, he promises that God will crush Satan, that the one who tempted Eve to choose division will be defeated. Division may be strong, but God will overcome. Indeed, in Christ, the greatest division between God and man has been mended. We are reconciled with God through Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17-21). Reconciliation wins.
Second, the God of peace will crush Satan. Yes, God is God of peace. Jesus came as the Prince of Peace. The Spirit comforts us, bringing peace to storm-tossed souls. But Paul does not mean to imply that God avoids conflict or overlooks sin. The Lord is not weak or witless when it comes to what must be done to secure peace. Because he is the God of peace, he will crush the enemy. The God of peace does not fear the fight; the God of peace wins.
Third, the God of peace will soon crush Satan under the feet of the church. God’s people share in his victory, overcoming because he has overcome. In our own strength, we may be powerless before the foe, yet, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). The Lord reigns from eternity past, now, and forevermore. In Paul’s words, “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).
Division is indeed a distressing threat. It presses upon us from every side, finding subtle ways to separate souls. But the God of peace is undaunted. So pray for peace, work for peace, hope for peace, but, ultimately, trust in the God of peace and in his power to accomplish his will in the world.