Here is a manageable book on reconciliation that offers a practical, grace-based plan with a simple three-step model. Ultimately, it addresses various types of conflicted relationships so that peace might be established.
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About the Author
Robert D. Jones(DMin, Westminster Theological Seminary) is associate professor of biblical counseling at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a founding member of the council board of the Biblical Counseling Coalition and a member of the Evangelical Theological Society.
Read an Excerpt
Finding Hope in the God of Peace
To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
* * *
Maybe you can relate to Jen and Rick. Jen had been a believer in Jesus all her life. When she married after high school, she had high hopes for a happy marriage. The first two years sailed by blissfully. She and Rick both proclaimed the joys of marriage. But an assortment of ongoing conflicts soon developed. Should we have children, and when? How will we cover our expenses? What involvement should we have with our parents who seem so meddlesome, and why won't my spouse stand up to them? Along with these questions Jen found herself increasingly upset over Rick's workaholism and his lack of involvement in her life. Rick concurrently grumbled about Jen's critical spirit toward him. His frustrations grew. He had become a follower of Jesus only a year before they married, and his dreams of a truly Christian marriage were fading fast. If this trend continued unchecked, Rick and Jen would soon become another divorce statistic.
Or maybe your conflict concerns your church. Having worked tirelessly in the children's ministry for six years, Joanie had serious questions about the changes made by Gail, the new children's director. Joanie tried to get to know her, to understand her, and to support her, but their brief conversations proved unfruitful. Gail's answers seemed evasive, and Joanie increasingly sensed that her questions irritated Gail. Yet in the back of her mind her discouragement mounted. Doesn't Gail know that changing the Wednesday night program will disturb parents? Does she even care? Worse, Joanie was not alone. Several of her co-teachers voiced similar concerns to Joanie and each other. And so Joanie wondered, Maybe it's time for me to take a break from ministering to kids and to consider another ministry.
We could multiply examples not only from the arenas of marriage and church but also involving parents and children, roommates, and the workplace. Surely we and the many conflicted people around us need help with peacemaking.
But why a book on biblical peacemaking? Does the Bible really have something crucial to contribute to the real world of marriage fights, parent-teen breakdowns, job tensions, and church splits?
Yes, for two reasons . First, peace and conflict are Scripture mega-themes. The Bible is all about God and his peace-pursuing, peacemaking activities. Its story line from Genesis through Revelation records conflict — earthly and cosmic, natural and supernatural. The paradise of Genesis 1–2 disintegrates swiftly into the disaster of Genesis 3. There, as the Scripture's curtain lifts, we see the war between God and Satan, and between God's people and Satan's people. Chapter after chapter in the Bible records victories and losses. The casualties are great; souls lie strewn across the Bible's battlefield. The combat continues through human history — raging throughout Israel's history, heightening at the Prince of Peace's birth, intensifying at his cross and resurrection, and culminating in Revelation 20's last battle, where we witness the final revolt, overthrow, and destruction of the Devil and all who belong to him. After that — but not one hour before — will the Peacemaker's work be finally done, as fractured humanity enjoys flawless harmony. In short, the Scriptures breathe conflict out of every pore. Between the Bible' s two bookend chapters — prewar peace in Genesis 1–2 and post-war peace in Revelation 21–22 — lie nearly twelve hundred chapters of hostility, aggression, alienation, and betrayal. You cannot read your Bible well and miss its militant plot; it is the ultimate "war and peace" novel. We long for the eternal day when, as theologians and hymn writers put it, the church militant will become the church triumphant.
The second reason to view your Bible as indispensable for peacemaking is that Scripture is all about our relationships — with God and with others. Are you ever tempted to think that the essence of Christian living is vertical only? What really matters is praying unceasingly and communing continually with Jesus. If I can also have peaceful relationships, that would be nice too. But having God-pleasing relationships is not a dispensable luxury. It is more than icing on a good Christian's cake. It lies at the heart of Christian discipleship. In his two great commandments, Jesus inseparably linked loving God with loving our neighbor, teaching us that the second is like the first and that the two together summarize all the Law and the Prophets (Matt. 22:37–40). You simply cannot love God without loving your neighbor. The apostle John elaborates, "If anyone says, 'I love God,' yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen" (1 John 4:20). To devour your Bible, enjoy rich corporate worship, maintain personal purity, and tell dozens of people about Jesus — the sum of Christian living for some people — is simply not enough if your interpersonal relationships crumble.
For these reasons this book will help you handle your daily tensions with others. You have conflict in your life. You encounter it, admit it, and somehow endure it. You see it in your own home, in your place of work, and among your extended family. It flows through the water supply of your relational system. Conflict marks your parents, your children, your city, your coworkers, and even your church. (In fact, the odds are high that your church began out of conflict sometime long ago, as many do.) But you are not sure how to handle it, you too often contribute to it, and you sometimes mismanage it.
The Starting Place: Our Peacemaking God
So where do we begin? Like any subject, the proper starting place to think biblically about pursuing peace is God. And here is the central truth about God we need to start with: our God is the God of peace, his Son is the Prince of Peace, and his Spirit brings peace. And what has this God done? He has made peace with us, he pours out his peace on us and into us, and he calls and enables us to pursue peace with others.
The Bible links peace and God in at least four ways: There is the saving peace that God made with us at the cross, and the ongoing inner peace God gives us in our souls. These twin gifts in turn bring two more blessings for the Christian believer. They enable us to pursue relational peace with others in this life. Moreover, they guarantee us an endless life of future situational peace in the world to come, "a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness" (2 Pet. 3:13).
From many authors in many passages, these four divine-peace provisions weave their way through the Scriptures. Let's think about these promises in light of the whole Bible and along the way envision the help they give to Joanie, Rick, and Jen.
We will start with Paul's first letter in the New Testament canon, the epistle to the Romans. Hailed by countless scholars as the greatest gospel treatise ever penned, it brilliantly describes and declares the peacemaking work of God. The reason is obvious: the gospel of Jesus is the gospel of peace.
Saving Peace with God
We learn from the opening verses of Romans that this letter is all about the gospel of God, which centers in his Son. It is the good news of God's saving grace in Jesus for sinners like me and you. And that good news is all about God's peace. Paul closes his introduction with this promise and blessing: "To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom. 1:7).
These words come to us as more than mere formalities. They declare life-giving hope to seize and believe. The apostle announces God's stance — his posture of grace and peace toward us in Christ. Just as the words "loved" and "saints" point back to the designation of God's people in the Hebrew Scriptures, so this promise of peace calls to mind the great Hebrew word shalom and the Old Testament vision of peace, fulfilled in Romans in the person and work of Jesus. It is no wonder that the formal worship liturgy in some Reformed churches frequently begins with an opening salutation, a word of greeting from God through the minister, often taken from texts like Romans 1:7.
Probably the most famous shalom prayer-promise comes from Numbers 6:24–26, the benediction assigned for Aaron and his sons to proclaim to God's people.
The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.
This peace is more than the absence of war and strife. It is the positive presence of harmony, salvation, joy, blessing, and reconciliation — "the state of perfect well-being created by God's eschatological intervention and enjoyed by the righteous." In the context of Romans, it is the reconciliation of believing Jews and believing Gentiles both with God and with each other — both vertical and horizontal. We taste it now whenever we enjoy the fruits of repentance, confession, and forgiveness with each other. One day we will experience it fully.
Who will experience this final peace? Only those who belong to God. The apostle both promises and warns, "There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor, and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism" (Rom. 2:9–11). Whether Jew or Gentile, the one who knows and follows the Redeemer God will treasure God's saving gift of shalom. On the other hand, the unbeliever who rejects God's "way of peace" (Rom. 3:17) will only reap God's judgment.
How does someone gain God's peace? Romans 5:1–2 replies, "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God." In this compact summary of gospel blessing, Paul tells us (1) that we now have peace with God; (2) that this peace is built on our justification through faith, God's grace-work of declaring us righteous in Christ; and (3) that this peace produces deep joy. As hymn writer Francis J. Van Alstyne (1820–1915) exclaimed,
The vilest offender who truly believes,
that moment from Jesus a pardon receives.
Similar themes emerge in Ephesians 2:11–18, where Christ and his cross form the centerpiece of our peace.
What does this gospel assurance have to do with pursuing peace in our relationships? Everything. It fills us with joy, power, and confidence as we gratefully obey God in our relationships. It provides a model of grace to convey to others. And it reassures us that, even if the other people don't respond in kind, our relationship with the most important and ultimate Person in the universe remains secure. Thanks be to God for Jesus our Lord!
The saving work of God in the Christian, however, does not merely consist of a right standing with God. In salvation God has done something not only for us, but also in us. Our Christian growth — sanctification in its past, present, and future aspects — began with a decisive act by God of severing the spinal cord of sin and making us new people who are now inclined to love and obey him. The apostle Paul describes this internal transformation: "The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God" (Rom. 8:6–8). The sinful mind is hostile to God, but the saved mind — the mind captured and controlled by the Holy Spirit — reflects the very life and peace of God's Spirit, albeit imperfectly.
Isaiah pictures a similar reality with a vivid metaphor in Isaiah 57:18–21 concerning God's own promise to restore his people.
"I have seen his ways, but I will heal him;
I will guide him and restore comfort to him,
creating praise on the lips of the mourners in Israel.
Peace, peace, to those far and near,"
says the Lord. "And I will heal them."
But the wicked are like the tossing sea,
which cannot rest,
whose waves cast up mire and mud.
"There is no peace," says my God, "for the wicked."
In other words — to join Isaiah and Paul — death marks the unbeliever; life and peace mark the believer.
Relational Peace with Others
The twin gifts of God's reconciling peace through Christ's cross and God's inner peace through his Spirit lead to the third peace blessing, namely, relational peace with others. In one of the Bible's most realistic texts concerning human relationships, Romans 12:18 exhorts us, "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." In many ways, our entire book will address these themes.
We find a fourfold call in this passage and its context. First, we must pursue peace as our Christian duty. The apostle commands us to live at peace. To fail to seek peace with people is to disobey God. We have no option.
Second, we must pursue peace with everyone. The peacemaking charge in this text is comprehensive; we must address all of our relationships. Our Lord does not permit us to ignore even one relationship or dismiss any individual. As the apostle declares in Acts 24:16, "So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man." While this "with everyone" standard is admittedly high, God's power makes his commands less daunting.
Third, as we actively pursue peace, the apostle urges us to leave the results to God. "If it is possible," Paul reminds us, we should live at peace. He acknowledges that a peaceful result may not be possible; we have no guarantee that the other person will follow God's peacemaking plan. As the old saying goes, "It takes two to tango."
Fourth, keeping in mind the larger context, we must pursue peace in light of God's mercy toward us in Christ. The entire twelfth chapter of Romans flows from God's saving grace expounded in detail in Romans 1–11. "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God — this is your spiritual act of worship" (12:1). In other words, we must apply Romans 12:18 against the backdrop of 12:1–2 and the preceding eleven chapters. Peacemaking is but one way we offer ourselves to God in sacrificial worship, and that obedience, like every other command in Romans 12, arises from the gospel of God's mercy in Christ.
With whom must we seek peace? While the context of Romans 12:18 primarily concerns pursuing peace with non-Christians, chapters 14–15 address our relationships with each other in the body of Christ. In the middle of his discussion he tells us what God treasures above all in his church: "For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men" (Rom. 14:17–18). Five observations about the peace that Jesus prizes flow from this passage:
1. Peace, in this context, concerns our relationships with one another, that is, horizontal peace with each other more than vertical peace with God.
2. This peace is linked with "righteousness" and "joy" as central to God's kingdom.
3. Christ values these virtues over a person's individual convictions related to disputed areas of conduct like "eating" (kosher versus nonkosher food) or "drinking" (wine perhaps associated with idolatrous rituals).
4. This peace comes to us through the work of God's Holy Spirit (as seen in 15:13 below).
5. This peace concerns our relationships with one another (horizontal peace), and it pleases both God and other people.
Paul then inserts a summary challenge: "Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification" (14:19). "Make every effort" translates a Greek word elsewhere used for pursuing, tracking down, or persecuting someone or something. Like a hunter relentlessly hounding his prey, we must pursue peace with both Christians and non-Christians.
Thankfully, God has not left us alone in pursuing relational peace; he promises to be with us. The apostle rounds out the larger unit with a hope-giving wish prayer in Romans 15:13: "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." The joy and peace the gospel promises come to us solely as God's gifts. They come to us from God himself, the triune God of hope and peace. They come to us through the Holy Spirit's power, since "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience," and so forth (Gal. 5:22–23). While this text could refer to inner peace (below), it likely refers to relational peace between members of the body.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Pursuing Peace"
Copyright © 2012 Robert D. Jones.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 Finding Hope in the God of Peace 17
2 A God's-Eye View of Conflict 29
3 Keeping God Central 43
4 Getting to the Heart of Our Conflicts 57
5 Owning Our Sins before God Our Savior 74
6 Apologizing That Makes a Difference 90
7 Cultivating Grace Attitudes 106
8 To Forgive or Not to Forgive 122
9 Battling Bitterness by Grace 137
10 Redeeming the Art of Rebuke and Granting Forgiveness 151
11 Reconciliation in Action 167
12 When Nothing Works 182
Appendix A Forgiveness on Two Levels 196
Appendix B I Believe in the Forgiveness of Sins 199
General Index 201
Scripture Index 205
What People are Saying About This
“Interpersonal conflict is a misery maker, stirring up chaos and the fog of war. Robert Jones carefully walks down the narrow road that makes peace and stirs up joy. His presentation is judicious, wide-ranging, balanced, biblical, and full of grace. Every counselor needs to know these things. Every struggler willing to take the time will benefitand we are all strugglers in these matters. Speed-reading not allowed! Pursuing Peace needs to be slowly absorbed and would make a marvelous twelve-week study.”
David Powlison,Late Executive Director, Christian Counseling &Educational Foundation
“Conflict comes in many shapes and sizes, so we need a variety of perspectives and insights into how to respond to it in biblically faithful ways. I am delighted that Robert Jones has brought his many years of pastoral and counseling experience to bear on this topicproviding a fresh perspective on how to approach conflict and estranged people in a grace-filled, gospel-centered way.”
Ken Sande,President, Relational Wisdom 360; author,The Peacemaker
“In a day when ‘us and them’ seems to be the default presumption with which our society confronts culture, politics, and religion, Robert Jones has provided us a scripturally sound and pragmatic path to follow to experience the peace for which most of us have a God-given desire. While the book may find itself in the syllabus of many Christian counseling classes, it is equally at home in the school of practical theology. Rich with biblical references and connected to practical application, Pursuing Peace will be helpful specifically for those dealing with issues of conflict in any arena of life, and generally for all who wish to gain a clearer understanding of how to interact with others in God-pleasing ways. With uncanny insights and sharp clarity, Dr. Jones addresses and then makes sense of normal, everyday conflicts and how they should be handled so that full resolution might be experienced. This book is indeed a helpful contribution to the culture of our day.”
Thom S. Rainer, President and CEO, LifeWay Christian Resources
“Robert Jones has written a most profitable and sound book in Pursuing Peace. Though I wish it were not needed in the church today, the fact is that the message and advice of this book are desperately needed even among believers. I urge all of God’s leaders in the household of faith not only to read this volume, but to discuss it as a guide for what to do the next time the peace of Christ’s church is disturbed. Such reading and discussion will save loads of grief and some future headaches, as well as possible loss of the joy of the Lord.”
Walter C. Kaiser Jr.,President Emeritus and Colman M. Mockler Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Old Testament, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
“Conflicts in relationship are inevitable. However, they do not have to be destructive. Pursuing Peace is a faithful, biblical guide that shows us how we can actually grow and mature spiritually, and find grace and peace on the other side. This valuable resource will well serve the body of Christ.”
Daniel L. Akin, President, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
“Sinful human beings live in a broken and fallen world full of unwanted opportunities for painful and destructive conflict. Dr. Jones’s practical and biblical insights provide an excellent guide to navigate the realities of conflict in God-honoring and effective ways. This book is for everyone who struggles with the inevitable conflict that so deeply impacts our lives and relationships. Pursuing Peace promotes faith, hope, and love in the One who is the Prince of Peace. A must-read for every believer.”
Judy Dabler, Reconciliation Specialist and Founder, Live at Peace Ministries; coauthor, Peacemaking Women: Biblical Hope for Resolving Conflict
“Robert Jones gives us both a grand, God’s-eye view of conflict and a down-to-earth, practical roadmap for healing in our relationships. The big picture keeps us coming back to the gospel again and again for fresh grace and wisdom, and the practical guidance brings it all home to daily life. This book has helped me personally and will be a valuable resource to me as a pastor as I counsel others through conflicts with spouses, family members, and friends.”
Mike Wilkerson, author,Redemption: Freed by Jesus from the Idols We Worship and the Wounds We Carry
“You do not need to read this book if you never experience conflict or do not know anyone else that does. If, however, conflict is part of your experienceas it is for the rest of usyou must read this book. Dr. Jones’s words are anchored in the words of Scripture, rich in the graces of Christ, and full of practical wisdom. This book will serve as a reliable guide to anyone interested in pursuing relational peace.”
Heath Lambert,Associate Pastor, First Baptist Church of Jacksonville; Executive Director, Association of Certified Biblical Counselors; author, A Theology of Biblical Counseling and Finally Free
“Pursuing Peace is an excellent guide for helping people biblically resolve conflict and is greatly needed in our world of inevitable conflict.”
Oletha Barnett, Conflict Resolution Director, Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship; Attorney at Law, DeSoto, Texas