How Peacemaking Commitments Make for the Good Life



In The Grace of Giving,  Stephen Olford tells of a Baptist pastor during the American Revolution, Peter Miller, who lived in Ephrata, Pennsylvania, and enjoyed the friendship of George Washington.

In Ephrata also lived Michael Wittman, an evil-minded sort who did all he could to oppose and humiliate the pastor. One day Michael Wittman was arrested for treason and sentenced to die.

Peter Miller traveled seventy miles on foot to Philadelphia to plead for the life of the traitor.

“No, Peter,” General Washington said. “I cannot grant you the life of your friend.”

“My friend!” exclaimed the old preacher. “He’s the bitterest enemy I have.”

“What?” cried Washington. “You’ve walked seventy miles to save the life of an enemy? That puts the matter in different light. I’ll grant your pardon.” And he did.

Peter Miller took Michael Wittman back home to Ephrata–no longer an enemy but a friend.

Peter Miller lived the good life as 1 Peter 3:8-12 prescribes it.

The text explains how to love life and see good days in spite of evil and reviling that at times can threaten us and our churches. It takes showing grace and refusing revenge and giving blessing.

Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless! Really? This is radical. It is counter intuitive. It’s the essence of unconditional, Christ-following/imitating love.

Can you hear the echoes of Jesus’ teaching from Luke 6:27-29?

But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either.

It resonates with Paul’s example in 1 Cor. 4:12–when reviled, we bless–and his teaching in 1 Thessalonians 5:15–See that no one repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.

Perhaps Rom. 12:21 says it best: Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

In the rest of this passage, Peter makes his case for why this kind of radical way of relating should govern our reactions even to our worst persecutors.

The first has to do with the nature of our calling. For to this you were called. In 1 Peter 2:20-21, Peter explained the first of two callings given to believers in the face of persecution in particular.

But here he gives an additional grace-shaped, love-never-fails calling when persecuted and reviled–-returning blessing for evil.

The second reason for committing to this kind of radical way of relating has to do with the nature of our reward. See the motivation at the end of v. 9?–-that you may obtain a blessing.

I think Peter means for us to look at this in terms of the present life and not the next. Consider how he defends his point in verses 10-12. He quotes Psalm 34:12-16, a psalm of David, when he came under attack by Abimelech and the Philistines.

Look at v. 10. For–-there’s his reason–He who would love life and see good days. That’s not talking about eternity; that’s talking about here and now.

This holds out a promise for a quality of life on earth, even for the believer enduring terrible persecution and conflict of all kinds.

As you head into 2018, do you need to adjust your expectations about the good life you desire?

Be sure to leave room for blessing an enemy.


StriveI use and choose the word diligent carefully. It’s all about those first three words, make every effort in Heb. 12:14. The ESV translates the Greek, strive. It means to run after something or follow someone. Luke 17:23 uses it literally where Jesus warns His disciples about the danger of following after false teachers. The commentator Matthew Poole cast it as a fierce, unwearied, constant pursuit.

It makes for a fitting synonym for a huge word in Eph. 4:3—eager to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. In Hebrews 12:14 it functions as the main verb, a present tense command—continually, keep on striving—and, as such, colors three commitments the writer prescribes as necessary for us to run the race with endurance (Heb. 12:1-2). The three commitments are—peace with all, holiness before God, and care of believers. In this post, I want to address just the first.

Commitment #1: Peace with all (14a). Make every effort to live in peace with everyone. Remember that this letter was written to persecuted believers in the first century. They were largely Jewish people who had left behind their Old Covenant ways. They had decided to follow Jesus as members of the New Covenant inaugurated by His death on the cross and resurrection from the dead. Dr. Donald Barnhouse used to say: Hebrews was written to the Hebrews to tell the Hebrews they were no longer to be Hebrews.

The writer sent the letter to exhort them to go the distance—make the finish line as followers of Jesus, their great High Priest (Heb. 8:1). Persecution, even of the most extreme kind, does not take the church and her people off the hook from pursuing the blessedness of the peacemaker (Matt. 5:9).

What’s striking in my mind in this verse is the scope of the call to peacemaking—with everyone. What does he have in mind? I think everyone means just that, everyone, even our persecutors! Why do I say that? For one thing, the way Jesus taught in Matt. 5:44-45.

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

Consider as well the way Paul taught in generalities in Gal. 6:10: So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith (emphasis added). But note also how Paul exhorted in specifics related to peacemaking as a way of doing good in Rom. 12:18: If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all (emphasis added). He simply allowed for no exceptions in calling us to peacemaking.

Richard Phillips, in his commentary on Hebrews, cites a story related by Watchman Nee in order to illustrate this point:

A Christian who had a rice field on a hill had to hand-work a pump to bring water up from the irrigation stream that ran at the base of the hill. Beneath him was a neighbor who made a hole in the dividing wall so that when the Christian tried to pump water into his field it drained down into the neighbor’s. The Christian became understandably frustrated at this repeated theft. Consulting his Christian friends he asked, “What shall I do? I have tried to be patient and not retaliate. Isn’t it right for me to confront him?” The Christians prayed, and then one of them noted that as Christians they surely had a duty to seek more than justice for themselves, but to live in such a way as to be a blessing to others. Armed with this advice, the Christian pursued a different strategy. The next day he went out and first pumped water into his neighbor’s fields and then went on to do the additional labor for watering his own fields. Before long, this procedure brought the neighbor out to ask why the Christian would act in this way, and as a result of the relationship that ensued the neighbor became a Christian himself (p. 556).

Even the persecuted church has peacemaking commitments incumbent upon it as it runs the race set before it, nothing short of peace with all. How much more do the diligent commitments to peacemaking apply to us who enjoy so little in the way of costs for our faith here in the west?

Have you omitted someone from your peacemaking agenda for whatever reason? You may want to reconsider their oversight in light of the all/everyone scope so painfully clear in a passage like this.

After all, if you are a Christian, even when you were His enemy, Jesus made very effort to make peace with you (Rom. 5:10).

Why Pray for the Persecuted?


This Sunday is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. We will join forces with believers around the globe in interceding for the some 200 million of our kind suffering for their faith in Jesus. This begs the question why pray for these brothers and sisters? I see at least three reasons in the Scriptures.

One, it’s a matter of loving obedience. In Hebrews 13, v. 1 leads off a list of rapid fire exhortations with, “Let the love of the brethren continue.” One such manifestation of that love in v. 3 involves the following: “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.” Remember is a present tense command. We must keep on remembering. What better, more tangible way to do that, than in intercessory prayer?

Two, it’s a matter of mystical ownership. I say “mystical” in the sense of that which inspires a sense of spiritual mystery and awe. Paul speaks of this in 1 Cor. 12:26 when he writes, “If one member suffers, all suffer together. If one member is honored, all rejoice together.” There is simply no separating ourselves from our fellow saints in chains even if they do reside in restricted countries halfway around the globe from us. Prayer marks us as owning this one-body reality in a substantive way.

Three, it’s a matter of supernatural opposition. I love Acts 12:5. “So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church (emphasis mine).” Luke tells the rest of the story that saw the apostle miraculously delivered from his cell. Why? Because the church opposed Herod’s threat by wielding its powerful weaponry of prayer. So many tales are told by persecuted saints of miraculous intervention tied directly to the prayers of saints in faraway places. Eternity alone will reveal just how much harm was prevented as well as good done because the church prayed as it should.

Join me this Sunday evening at 6 PM for our monthly conference of prayer with special emphasis on the persecuted church. One of our missionaries will share about her experiences in a restricted country and bring unique perspective to our prayer time as a result.

Why pray? Obedience, ownership, and opposition. That’s why.

Why Pray for the Persecuted Church?


Tomorrow brings us to another International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. We will devote exclusively our monthly concert of prayer on the evening of the 10th at 6 PM in F5 to interceding for our brothers and sisters in chains. Why does it matter that we do this? Here are several reasons.

  1. Jesus suffered much at the hand of a host of persecutors. He identifies completely with their weakness (Heb. 4:15). So should we.
  2. Multitudes of believers worldwide, some 200 million, pay a great price for their faith, even martyrdom. The sheer extent of the need cries for our attention. More Christians were martyred in the 20th century than in all previous centuries combined (International Journal of Missionary Research). 
  3. Scriptures command us to remember their plight as if incarcerated with them (Heb. 13:3). How better to remember than in prayer?
  4. The most frequent prayer request by the persecuted is that other believers would pray for and with them. Can we possibly refuse?
  5. When one member of the body suffers, all suffer (1 Cor. 12:26).  Sixty to ninety minutes of prayer is a small price to pay to identify with the suffering of dear saints around the globe.
  6. Praying for one another imitates the model of Jesus who prayed for Peter in advance for his strength in the face of persecution sure to come (Luke 22:32). What would Jesus do?
  7. God answers prayers for the persecuted in miraculous ways.

One reason why I read Voice of the Martyrs’ monthly newsletter is that it includes countless reports of how God miraculously encourages saints under duress as a direct result of the prayers of God’s people on the other side of the world. Join us on Sunday evening.

Part of me wants to say this: if you don’t come to any other of the eleven concerts of prayer OGC hosts, come to this one. Remember the persecuted. In the sovereignty of God you and I could just as easily find ourselves today holed away in a North Korean prison camp for our faith as opposed to luxuriating ourselves in the affluent West. Enough said.

For a look at the World Watch list top 50 restricted nations for 2013 click here.

Moved by a “Moving Church”


One of my favorite ministries is Voice of the Martyrs. They offer a free subscription to their monthly newsletter describing the plight of the persecuted church of Jesus around the globe. You can subscribe here. I encourage you to do so. The perspective God will give your own suffering is something you will not regret. And you will know better how to remember your brothers and sisters in chains (Heb. 13:3).

This month’s issue contains a brief article entitled, A “Moving Church” in Central Asia.” It gives an account of a city in one of the most religiously restrictive nations in that part of the world where the Christian population shrank to just 70 people after many fled relentless government persecution. It then explains how believers there found a creative way to practice their faith.

One pastor who had been under intense scrutiny from authorities thought of an inventive way to provide for his congregation. They couldn’t hold meetings in a set location, and many believers were afraid to be seen attending a meeting. With assistance from VOM, Pastor “Ramil” purchased a minivan that soon became known as the Moving Church.

On Meeting day, Ramil picks up four to six believers in the van. They sing, pray, read Scriptures and listen to teaching by Ramil or one of his elders as they drive around the city. After two hours, he drops the group off and picks up another small group of Christians. He does this throughout the week so all the believers under his care receive spiritual nourishment, fellowship and encouragement.

This account of ingenuity under duress moves me on multiple levels. Among other things it inspires me to want to serve my own people with greater zeal and devotion. Pastor Ramil clearly understands what it means to shepherd well the flock entrusted to his care.

Additionally it makes me want to find some way better to help those living under freedom to give up a nonchalant attitude about meeting in community for worship and fellowship. More often than I care to admit I confront a take-it-or-leave-it mentality when it comes to church attendance. The Scripture exhorts us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together (Heb. 10:24-25). With texts like that it makes me wonder how professing believers can treat the Word and the Table as optional.

Are you reading this and must admit that you are AWOL on your covenant member commitments at your local church? Worse yet, that you don’t belong to any gospel-treasuring community of believers? May I encourage you to let the “Moving Church” of Central Asia spur you on to love and good deeds such that you get a move on toward joining/rejoining a body of believers? If not, you might as well take a knife and cut Hebrews 10:24-25 out of your Bible.

A Different Kind of Thanksgiving

Several years ago we had Gary Witherall of Operation Mobilization come to OGC and share his testimony of loss in the martyrdom of his wife in Beirut, Lebanon back in 2002. I received this from him earlier last week as a testimony of how the Lord may grace us to be sorrowful yet always rejoicing (2 Cor. 6:10). I offer it as an encouragement to those whose Thanksgiving weekend knows that paradoxical blend of gratitude and grief.

I am sitting at a Starbucks on Hamra Street in West Beirut. A famous little road full of little shops, honking cars, and people making business, sitting, watching, sipping coffee and checking cell phones. It’s a little unknown area of the world. It’s a wonderful place, yet only the bad stuff makes the news, bombing, killing, rocket attacks, or some militant group showing force. It was on this piece of land that I first came in January 2001, and my life would never be the same again. On November 21st 2002 in Sidon, Bonnie’s life was brutally taken by an unknown gunman.

A few weeks ago I went with Bonnie’s parents to the grave. The first time I have returned to a place that has caused me torment. I stood there with her mother and father, quietly, in the cold looking at the ground where her body was laid. I thought for the first time, ‘ok Lord, I’m ok with this.’

When I think about you now reading this, in the deepest place of my soul, I can say, ‘Thou art worthy.’

Is it safe to follow Jesus. The answer is no. Denying self, carrying a cross, laying down your life. No, it’s not safe, that is the daily reality for many who carry the name of Christian. But we have been called to go, to declare the hope of salvation in Jesus. And I stand confident in this. So I ask believers everywhere to join me in prayer, to give and perhaps even go to these nations that are grieving from conflict, suffering and hatred. And may His Kingdom come.

Hebrews 6:19 “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.”

Thank you for investing in us, and for His Kingdom, Gary Witherall

Beirut, Lebanon
November 19th 2012

An Annual Call to Remember

Tomorrow we will observe, as we always do, the International Day of Prayer for the persecuted church.

Scriptures like Hebrews 13:3 compel us to do so:

Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.

Open Doors estimates some 100 million of our brothers and sisters around the globe suffer mistreatment for their faith.

This year’s world watch list, which reports the worst nations in the world for persecuting Christians, has the following nations in the top ten positions in 2010:

1. North Korea (#1 for the eighth year in a row)
2. Iran
3. Saudi Arabia
4. Somalia
5. Maldives (collection of over two hundred islands South West of India’s tip)
6. Afghanistan
7. Yemen (the Arabian Peninsula)
8. Mauritania (West Africa)
9. Laos
10. Uzbekistan (central Asia, north of Afghanistan)

I plan to preach on Daniel 3:1-30. I have entitled the message Fearless Faith in the Fiery Furnace.

Rather than devote the 9:30 hour to prayer for the persecuted church this year, we felt the need to keep the momentum going in the Gospel in Life equipping class. Instead we decided to shift our regular 8:30 AM prayer time to the church property, albeit a meager way, but nonetheless an attempt to identify with so many who gather for prayer and worship in far, far less comfort and even danger than we do.

If you like, bring a blanket or folding chair with you. We will have resources from Voice of the Martyrs available to guide our praying.

Hope to see you on the property nice and early tomorrow morning.

There will be no prayer meeting at the SDA site at that time.

May God have mercy on our brothers and sisters in chains around the globe as we gather to remember, identify, and pray.