The dove is a nearly universal symbol of peace. And a very appropriate one. Doves are beautiful, gentle, faithful creatures. They’re also, well, flighty creatures. It doesn’t take much to send a dove fluttering away. A harsh word, a rash gesture, and off she goes. If you want a dove to stay around, you have to be very careful how you speak and act. Which is a lot like what it takes to be at peace with other people.
“When a conflict is brewing, we should assume it is avoidable and do everything to pursue peace.”
The author of Hebrews tells us to “strive for peace with everyone” (Hebrews 12:14). His implication: peace — real, honest peace, not dysfunctional conflict avoidance — is hard to keep. How hard? Well, pursuing peace fits into the list of hard things he groups around this statement:
- It’s hard like lifting drooping hands and strengthening weak knees when you’re tired and discouraged (Hebrews 12:12).
- It’s hard like continuing to walk when your leg is injured (Hebrews 12:13).
- It’s hard like living in a holiness that evidences the reality of your faith, even though your indwelling sin continually tries to derail you into unholy passions (Hebrews 12:14).
- It’s hard like not allowing the constant barrage of deceitful sin to harden our hearts and lead us away from God into apostasy (Hebrews 3:12–13), which is what the writer means by being defiled by a “root of bitterness” (Hebrews 12:15, quoting Deuteronomy 29:18).
- It’s hard like the constant vigilance required to remain sexually pure (Hebrews 12:16).
Striving for peace with everyone is hard, like all aspects of the good fight of faith (1 Timothy 6:12). It’s spiritual warfare. Peace will always be attacked, and we have to do everything we can to stand firm (Ephesians 6:13) and live peaceably with all (Romans 12:18). It’s a great kingdom irony that we must fight hard for peace.
The Greek word translated as “strive for” in Hebrews 12:14 is diōkō. It’s a strong word — stronger than modern English speakers typically mean when we say “strive.” Versions of diōkō are used many times in the New Testament. Here are a few familiar examples (in italics):
- Jesus: “Blessed are you when others . . . persecute you” (Matthew 5:11).
- Jesus: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4).
- Paul: “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14) — and Paul meant “by any means possible” (Philippians 3:11).
- John: “And when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child” (Revelation 12:13).
These examples give us some sense of what the author of Hebrews had in mind when exhorting us to diōkō (strive) for peace. We are to press on toward peace by any appropriate means possible. We are to pursue peace with relentless determination. We might even think about it as persecuting conflict — by which I mean vigorously working to prevent or end sinful conflict and putting sin to death, not persecuting people in conflict!
Obviously, not all conflict can or should be avoided. The Bible clearly warns us that “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). Jesus said, “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (Luke 21:17). Jude instructs us to “contend for the faith” against false teachers (Jude 3). Jesus rebuked sinful religious leaders (Matthew 23:13–39), Paul rebuked Peter (Galatians 2:11–14), Peter rebuked Simon the Magician (Acts 8:20–23), and John had to confront Diotrephes (3 John 9–10).
“We are called to press on toward peace by any appropriate means possible.”
But most of the conflicts we experience are not as clear-cut as these. Most of them are difficult to navigate because they are a mixture of valid concerns, misunderstandings, fears, and what James calls sinful warring passions, like jealousy, selfish ambition, and a prideful unwillingness to admit error (James 4:1; 3:16).
And trying to discern the chemistry of a conflict, how much of which ingredient is in the mix, requires discernment and patience and endurance and forbearance and wisdom and charity (agapē love) — often just to get to the place where we can determine if a conflict really is, at root, unavoidable. It requires a rigorous, disciplined commitment to being quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry (James 1:19). It requires pressing on, doggedly pursuing; it requires diōkō — striving for peace. Because most of our conflicts are unnecessary, or unnecessarily acrimonious.
Pursue Peace to the Death
Just how far are we to “strive for peace”? Further than most of us want to go; further than we frequently feel we should go when our passions are engaged in conflict with someone.
The Bible calls Jesus the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). And the Prince of Peace, the Son of God, said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9). How far did the Prince of Peace, the Son of God, go to make peace with us? To the death. Jesus made peace between us and God “by the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:20). When we were still sinners (Romans 5:8).
How far should the sons of God go to make peace? To the death. What does that mean? It depends on the nature of the conflict. But at the very least it means, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you” (Colossians 3:5). It means, “Love one another with brotherly affection” and “outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10). It means, “Bless those who persecute you,” “live in harmony with one another,” “never be wise in your own sight,” never “repay . . . evil for evil,” and “do what is honorable in the sight of all,” never seeking revenge when wronged, treating our enemies with graciousness and compassion, and, so far as it depends on us, living “peaceably with all” (Romans 12:14–21).
“Peace requires a rigorous, disciplined commitment to being quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.”
This is what it looks like to “strive for peace with everyone” (Hebrews 12:14). Most of the time, when a conflict is brewing, we should assume it is avoidable and do everything to pursue peace. We should assume the best of the other(s) and assume we are misunderstanding something or being tempted by warring passions. We should not enter into conflict as such until we have clear confirmation that it is unavoidable in the biblical sense. And even then, we speak the appropriate truth in the appropriate form of love, whether it be tough or tender (Ephesians 4:15).
This is hard. Like all forms of spiritual endurance and warfare, we must strive. We must die. But this kind of dying to make peace is blessed. It’s what sons of God do. And God’s reward to his peacemaking sons will be out-of-this-world wonderful.