So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.Romans 14:19
Last month, I had about 12 hours of “windshield time” on New Year’s Eve as we drove from Florida to our home in Alabama. Those long stretches of highway gave me plenty of time to think. Somewhere south of Atlanta, I found myself thinking about New Year’s resolutions and whether or not I even believe in them anymore. Here in my mid-40s, I’ve lived long enough to make (and break) more than a few. And after thinking it over, I’ve decided that I don’t really believe in New Year’s resolutions anymore, mainly because I’ve reached a point in my life where I’m fairly distrusting of my ability to bring about lasting transformation through resolve and effort. Sure, I could eat better, hit up the gym, and drop twenty pounds, but that’s not real transformation anyway. So somewhere south of Atlanta, I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t going to be making any resolutions for 2020.
But somewhere south of Atlanta, even as I was deciding that I don’t really believe in New Year’s resolutions anymore, I found myself doubling down on my belief in the possibility of transformation — true, gospel-centered transformation. I’m talking about the “I-once-was-lost-in-sin-but-Jesus-took-me-in” kind of transformation. Simon Peter leaving his fishing nets on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Zacchaeus repaying each person he’d ripped off. Saul seeing the light on the road to Damascus. Somewhere south of Atlanta, as the biblical narratives continued to wash over me, 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. Of course, only I would know the true 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), which I understand to be active participation in God’s work of creating shalom (flourishing) in the world once again. As New Testament scholar Jonathan Pennington notes in The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing, 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. In the midst of these thoughts, my wife engaged me in a discussion that could’ve easily turned into an argument. Honestly, she had some advice for me to consider with regard to my preaching. For all the ways I’ve received a new nature in Christ, this kind of critique is still difficult for me. But even though I defaulted into a bit of defensiveness — at least at first — the call to make peace helped our conversation to flourish rather than stall out. The trajectory of the entire conversation changed when making peace was the goal.
So this is my prayerful hope for 2020: 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 — and with another election looming in a few months — I can’t think of a better hope 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.