Oct 16 - Peace on Earth or Conflict Among Men?

Peace on Earth or Conflict Among Men?

October 16, 2016

Micah 4:1-4




Micah 4:1-4 (Isaiah 2:2-4)

October 16TH, 2016


I would think that most of you are familiar with John Lennon’s song “Imagine.”


In the song, John dreams of a time when all people are living life in peace, when the world will be as one, when there’s no hunger, when all people share the world, when all the world will live as one.


In order to get there, he postulates three things need to happen:

1. People should stop believing in the afterlife and give up on religion and only live for today.

2.  People should get rid of borders and countries, the implication being that people could just live wherever they want.

3. People should reject personal possessions and greed (the desire for money personal possessions). Again, the implication is that there is a kind of global communal approach to living, one where resources are shared among all people and no one claims that something is their own. 


This, according to John would lead to a situation where there is nothing to kill or die for.  


There are a number of problems with John’s vision of this utopian future.  For one, it doesn’t recognize that any ideology, religious or not, can be twisted to justify violence.  Yes, militant Islam is a great threat to world peace, but so is militant communism, currently embodied in North Korea.  So you don’t have to believe in an afterlife to be violent.


In fact, religion can in fact lead to peace instead of conflict.  If two parties decided to follow Jesus’ teaching, for example.


What would open borders mean?  What if there was a free interchange of people living anywhere they want, similar to the Schengen zone in Europe?  Would that eradicate prejudice or racial tensions?  Would it bring with it international prosperity and wipe out global poverty?  Or would the exact opposite happen?


But mostly, John’s dream shatters on human nature. 


While a peace activist and supporting some charities from time to time,[1] John himself didn’t give up all of his possessions, his many palatial homes and, among his cars, the famous Rolls Royce and Bentley painted in psychedelic colours.  He was very much concerned about what belonged to him. That’s not to slag John Lennon in the least ...it simply illustrates what human nature is like. 


Another example of ignorance of the human nature can be found In the 1949 Broadway musical, “South Pacific”, which takes place during WWII, one of the protagonists, called Lieutenant Cable sings a song written by Rodgers and Hammerstein:


You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear,

you’ve got to be taught from year to year,

and it’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear.

You’ve got to be carefully taught!


The idea is that we are naturally peaceful people, but we are taught hostility and prejudice by others. The implication of the song is that if human beings are left to themselves they are sweet innocents who are only corrupted by the hateful teaching of others. 


Now, it is true that people can be brainwashed, corrupted or “radicalized”, to use modern language.  However, the reality is a lot more complicated than that.  Because as desire for harmony isn’t the only thing that is native to us, but hatred is as well. 


Children don’t have to be taught how to fight, they figure it out all by themselves.  The same is true of couples. 


This is the reason why the book “Lord of the Flies” was such a disturbing yet powerful story.[2]  Children weren’t the innocents that people believe them to be, but could potentially become predatory and violent, even without the need of adults to goad them into it. 


We don’t need to be taught the road to conflict, instead we need to be taught the road to peace, to getting along, to love others, to forgive and reconcile and move on.


Because of the human nature, conflict and war have been a constant theme throughout human history. And it continues to this day.  And it will continue to mar human history in the foreseeable future.  


Now the verses we will be reading this morning are an oddity in Micah, because they are a direct citation from Isaiah 2:2-4.  They reflect Micah’s conviction that Isaiah’s view of the future is correct, that there will be a time of peace among all people, in direct contrast of what is the present the norm.[3] 


“It will come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of YHWH will be established as the highest of the mountains and it will be lifted up above the hills.

And nations will flow to it, and many people groups will start on their way and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of YHWH, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’  Because from Zion will go forth the teaching and the word of YHWH from Jerusalem.   Micah 4:1-2


These verses are all about the city of Jerusalem.  It is referred to as “the mountain of the house of YHWH”, “the mountain of YHWH”, and “Zion.”  Zion is used over 150 times in the Bible and refers to the hill on which Jerusalem was built - and is often called “Mount Zion” in the Bible.[4] 


There are a number of passages in the Bible that identify Zion with the future hope of humanity, something that was picked up on and used in the Matrix trilogy, the last human city – the place of salvation for all humanity. 


Being established as the highest mountain and being lifted above other hills does not mean that where Jerusalem is located would be physically elevated.  It is a poetic way of saying that Jerusalem would become the most important city in the world, and the nations will come to it because God’s message would be proclaimed there some day.  By the way, this passage is written in Hebrew poetry, with couplets that repeat the same idea (the identifying sign that these verses could have been sung). 


So something extraordinary will have to take place for the nations to want to come to Jerusalem, and more specifically to the temple, the house of God, and be taught by God himself to know and obey his will. 


He (YHWH) will judge between many nations and will admonish[5] strong nations (far away) [added by Micah to the quote].  And they will beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.  Nation will not lift up sword against nation, neither will they learn war anymore.” [end of quote]  But every man will sit under his grape vine and fig tree and no one will make him afraid.                                                            Micah 4:3-4


When the nations come to Zion, God will judge all the nations both near and far.  And as a result of knowing and obeying God’s word, three things will happen:


Implements of war will be transformed to practical implements ... like the blades of plows or the small metal hooks used to prune grape vines prior to the existence of pruning shears.


Wars will cease, as will the teaching of war and battle strategies. By implication, the nations will now learn peace strategies rather than military strategies. 


Micah adds the last sentence himself.  To him, being at rest in the shade of one’s own fig tree or grape vine without having to fear attack is the sign that truly peace has come. 


I want to remind you of something that I said last week with regard to the three possible fulfillments of biblical prophecy. 


Prophets see many things much like an astronomer who sees clusters of stars with no gauge to determine which stars are nearer and which are further away.

In this instance, Micah is re-recording something that had already been recorded in Isaiah. The hope of both prophets was likely that this would happen sooner rather than later.  However, the incoming of the nations simply did not come about in their lifetime or the lifetime of their hearers.   


Given human nature, this vision of lasting peace is not something that can occur within normal human history.  It is only FULLY fulfilled after the Day of Judgment when human nature has been dealt with permanently. 


This vision goes beyond their time and our time, to the time when the nature of humans is changed in a profound way, something that Christians believe happens in the time of the new heaven and new earth.


Nevertheless, this prophecy has also been PARTIALLY fulfilled at the time of Jesus.  Jerusalem is the one place where Jesus not only taught in the temple, the house of God, about God’s will, but also the place where his death and resurrection brought about the incorporation of people from all nations into the people of God

And, Zion is also the place where the Spirit of God was sent for the first time to be among and in God’s people, to be present in a whole new way.    


In that sense, we now live in a time of tension, an “in between” time, when those who follow Jesus have their human nature impacted on a number of levels, to the point that they are said to have become a new creation.


And part of that new creation means that they will be a people of peace, those who bring about peace, who are peace-able, who embrace peace, ... all the while still having to deal with the reality of the old nature that has NOT fully left them.


So Jesus taught his followers that in the present, those who are part of that coming Kingdom of Peace, can and should be peacemakers in this present reality.  After all, as Jesus said, the ones who make peace will be called the children of God (Matt 5:9). 


Being a peacemaker means first of all, being at peace with God. 


The Bible states that the problem with humanity is that, it has separated itself from God because of its choices.  Human beings put themselves in God’s place.  The creation wants to be the creator, wants to make its own rules, live according to its own will. 


For this, it needs to be forgiven.  And beyond that, it needs to know and live according to God’s will.  And since there is such moral ambivalence in our society, those who are at peace with God need to make sure they truly know God’s will. 


Peacemakers, secondly, also need to be at peace with themselves.  Peace among people starts with individuals who know the peace that passes understanding.  It is only when we know peace within that we can make peace without. It is only when we have in our minds and hearts a profound peace about who we are that we can make peace with and for others.


When we are comfortable in our own skins, we don’t have to prove anything to anyone, and slights and inconveniences don’t bother us … it’s like water off a duck’s back.  However, for us to get to that point, we need to resolve our own internal conflicts first.


Last week I quickly dealt with the question why some Christians are not experiencing the internal peace that is to be theirs - with the caveat that chemical imbalances or physiological conditions can rob us of our inner peace regardless.  


We may lack inner peace because we have not overcome hurts and actions that occurred in our past.  We may lack inner peace because we are constantly beating up on ourselves, constantly calling ourselves down.  

We may lack inner peace because our self-worth may not be based on God’s love for us but on the opinions of others … what we think others think about us. 

We may lack inner peace because our egos are so fragile that we get easily offended, we’re hyper-sensitive and therefore hyper-critical. 

Maybe we lack inner peace because we are eaten up with greed or self-centeredness

Maybe we lack inner peace because we never or rarely connect with God, and when we do, to list complaints and requests instead of thanksgiving and praise. 


If any of these are true of us, then I suggested starting off each day with five minutes of quiet introspection and prayer, filled with thanksgiving and placing all the worries and stresses and challenges of the day into God’s hands.  I don’t know if you’ve started this at all, but I would recommend that you do find some quiet time of positive reflection, introspection, and prayer.


Peacemakers are at peace with God, at peace with themselves, and then at peace with others.  But what exactly does that mean?  Will Christians simply be nicer people?  Will they be polite and pleasant and non-offensive?  Okely dokely (Flanders in the Simpsons)!  Or is there more to it?


I think, that we actually need to live in a way that practically leads us to bring peace to a situation or a relationship. The apostle Paul told the believers in Rome:  As far as it depends on you, be at peace with everyone (Rom 12:18).


And part of that is to demonstrate to the world what reconciled relationships look like, what it looks like to walk in the paths of God, what it looks like to raise children in a positive way, to model positive self-confidence in combination with humility, what it looks like to live a life that has meaning, and what it looks like to resolve conflicts in a positive way.

Unfortunately, these very things have escaped Christians. Like Euodia and Synthyche, the two women the apostle Paul mentions in his letter to the believers in Philippi.  They attended a great church.  They had been heavily involved in ministry, including sharing the good news about Jesus in the city alongside Paul and other men.  And yet, for some reason they were not getting along.  So Paul asks them “to agree in the Lord” and enlists a close friend to help them do so (Phil 4:2-3).


When there is tension between two individuals, then resentment may build.  An argument begins, then escalates based on an overflow of pent-up frustration and flawed communication. Heated moments are, however, the worst times to try to solve problems or make our points heard. They leave us saying things we regret or don’t even mean.


So we can experience major conflict over relatively small things, we can flip out over misunderstandings, lambaste others, be adamant that our way is THE way, expect others to be exactly like we would like them to be, in other words, convince ourselves that we are the final arbiter of the way things SHOULD BE ...and completely fail in living at peace with others, fail in actually bringing peace to a situation. 


[A Brigham Young University study followed couples for over two decades, found, among other things, that couples who who are able to resolve conflict and therefore argue less actually live longer.]


So what can we do?  How can we work on being at peace with God and ourselves, and then, relying on the power of the Holy Spirit, start to change the way that we relate to others.  This is not an easy task.  However it IS possible. 


Someone once said that you can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.  I think what they meant is that, given the right start, the right materials, like a surfboard in that allegory, it is possible to conquer the circumstances that may prevent us from living as we ought or could.


What if there was a way to overcome all that pent-up, self-righteous rage?  Would you try it—even if it meant temporarily dropping your side of a fight?  What I mean is taking seriously Jesus’ words and for a time taking the focus off the words and actions of the other person and shifting it to our own words and actions.  To soften within ourselves and approach the other person from a more loving stance. 


So here’s something that you and I need to think about BEFORE we engage with another person.  We need to think about what our ultimate goal is in a relationship.  Is our ultimate goal to have someone we can control to do all of our bidding?  Is our ultimate goal to always be “right” and always “win” an argument?


A recent Baylor University study (2013)[6] shows that for many couples today, winning a fight is most important to themThe favourite solution to conflict is the other person backing down and giving in.  So fights have a lot to do with gaining power and the other person relinquishing power. 


If that’s the case, then our definition of “success” does not give much hope for a close and solid relationship.  Because the person who “loses” the fight and “gives in” remains angry and resentful. The winner may feel good in the moment but he or she also realizes that this is not leading to a fulfilling and positive relationship


However, if our ultimate goal is to be close to the other person and have a great relationship, and that goal is important to us, then it should make a huge difference in how we deal with potential conflict.  Because it will be more important to be close, instead of having to win an argument, something that makes us emotionally open and vulnerable.   


When we love others as ourselves, at the most basic level, we forgo self-interest or winning or getting something for ourselves as the main goalWe are not so much interested in what we can get out of the relationship, but making the relationship better


If you don’t remember anything else, I hope you remember this.  So what does it look like when we make unity and peace and a close relationship the most important thing?


1. I will do my best to relax and stay cool. 


A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict, but the one who is even-tempered calms a quarrel.            Proverbs 15:8


When we’re triggered, we start to heat up.  At that moment our inner defensive critic, our instinct or the old nature, if you will, will tell us to take destructive actions, like lashing out, yelling, and verbally denigrating or accusing the other person verbally. 


It is possible, however, to pause at that moment in order to calm ourselves down, by taking a series of deep breaths, or counting back from 10, or taking a walk, or listening to music, or praying to God.  


And what happens is that we are allowing our brain to re-engage, to listen to the guidance of the HS, and to address the other person from a calm and loving stance. 


Of course it’s critical to get centered before we say something.   Which allows us to do the other points.

So what does it look like when we make unity and peace and a close relationship the most important thing?


2. I will try my best not to sweat the small stuff.


Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.                                   James 1:19


When young and energetic, it is easy to make a mountain out of a molehill.  With age hopefully comes the wisdom to recognize that few things are important enough to go to war over.  Not every disagreement has to result in an argument. 


It’s like raising children.  With the first one, parents by and large are much more uptight and have a lot more rules and regulations than they do with their third child. 


Parents learn to be relaxed about certain things that, in retrospect, really aren’t THAT important.  The same can be true in all relationships.  We can be a lot more relaxed. 


Unfortunately, for some couples, the exact opposite is true.  The cute quirks can become major points of annoyance.  Past hurts can increase sensitivities to the point that even minor issues become major problems, even unimportant issues become a battlefield. 


Ask, “What is the wise thing to do?”  “What is the loving thing to do?”  While it’s easily said and difficult to do, especially in the heat of the moment, ultimately that is what we need to learn to do.


So what does it look like when we make unity and peace and a close relationship the most important thing?


3. I will do my best not to provoke or lash back.


A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.                                     Proverbs 15:1        


People often know what to say to each other in order to trigger the other person into getting mad.  We can resist making these statements and we can resist taking the bait when someone else goads us.  


Staying the person who we really want to be, no matter how other people act, is also a huge goal.  We take responsibility for our own behaviour and do not hand over that power to the other person (which includes never blaming the other person, “he/she made me do it).  


We can feel good about ourselves when we don’t end up saying a bunch of hurtful things, things that can cause long-term damage to the relationship.


So what does it look like when we make unity and peace and a close relationship the most important thing?


4. I will do my best to respond with warmth.


Be kind and compassionate to one another.

                                                            Ephesians 4:32


Laying down our arms does not mean taking the easy way out or being a door mat.  It could be saying something like, “I care more about being close to you than having this fight.”


Sometimes, a small act of affection or kindness is all it takes to disarm a situation.  So what does it look like when we make unity and peace and a close relationship the most important thing?


5. I will do my best to understand others and where they come from.


Treat others as you would want to be treated by them. 

                                                Matthew 7:12; Luke 6:31


We all approach a situation with different backgrounds, a different set of experiences, different presuppositions, and different homes of origin.  We have not walked a mile in another person’s shoes, not even two steps.  We may have no idea what personal is battling with. 


Instead of trying to denigrate the feeling or thought of the other person because it doesn’t reflect our own, it would be a much more positive move to actually try to understand why the other person is feeling that way. 


Maybe if we were in their position, had gone through what they went through, we might actually think something similar. 


So instead of saying something like, “that’s stupid,” try, “hey, I’m having a hard time seeing it this way, so help me to understand.” 


So what does it look like when we make unity and peace and a close relationship the most important thing?


6. I will do my best to communicate how I feel. 


Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.

                                                                        Ephesians 4:15


It’s better to tell another person that we feel hurt than to tell them they’re a jerk because they are trying to control you.  You probably also have already heard that it’s much better to use “I” rather than accusatory and finger-pointing “you” statements.


Once we start sharing our feeling as to what another person’s action mean to us, we have to also be willing to listen what our own actions may have meant to them. 


And if they explain that we misunderstood their actions or words, we have to accept this as well. 


There is nothing wrong with being up front, as long as we don’t do this mean spirited or with a lack of compassion. 


So what does it look like when we make unity and peace and a close relationship the most important thing?


7. I will do my best to leave the past in the past


One thing I do: Forgetting what lies behind I reach forward to what lies ahead...     Philippians 3:13-14


OK, so I quoted Paul out of context.  Nevertheless, the point is valid. 


Don’t bring up stuff from the past as ammunition against another person.  Leave the past in the past. 


So what does it look like when we make unity and peace and a close relationship the most important thing?


8. I will do my best to remind myself that the end goal is harmony.


If at all possible and as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.                        Romans 12:18


It’s hard to feel threatened by someone when we see ourselves as interconnected and working toward the same result - a close and positive relationship. 


If harmony is the goal, then solving the problem together, not winning a fight, is the strategy when it comes to facing conflict.


Conflict can be distressing. If you see it as an opportunity for growth, it can help you become closer and deepen your relationship.


Micah and Isaiah saw a new reality dawning, the time when people from all nations will draw near to God and seek to do his will.  They saw a time when lasting peace prevails and people learn the art of peace rather than war.  This Jesus has accomplished for us by allowing us to be at peace with God … and so filled with the Spirit of God. 


If this isn’t a reality in your life yet, or as much of a reality as you would like it to be, what can you do about it today and in the coming weeks?




[1] $ 50 million?

[2] Author William Golding, published 1954.  Also a story that is set during a war (unspecified nuclear war). 

[3] Isaiah’s vision also included a child, a great light out of Galilee, who would put an end to war, who would be called, Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, prince of Peace. There will be no end to peace as his kingdom is established forever with justice and righteousness (9:1-7).


[4] First time used in 2 Sam 5:7 - David captured the fortress of Zion.  In 1 Pet 2:6, Jesus is called a corner stone of Zion.

[5] Er weist maechtige Nationen zurecht [bis in die Ferne]; Or: ... and will decide for strong nations far away; Isaiah 2:4, “He will ... decide disputes for many peoples.” “Er spricht Recht im Streit der Voelker, er weist viele Nationen zurecht.”

[6] Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 2013.  455 married couples were asked what their ideal resolution to a current conflict with their spouse would be.