“Blessed are the peacemakers” Jesus said, as recorded in Matt. 5:9. That is the normal way believers should go about their business: being a source of peace amidst conflict; being a place of calm amidst chaos and confusion; being a gentle presence amongst a disordered and riotous world.
But that is not quite the whole story. While believers should strive for peace, harmony and reconciliation, in a fallen and hostile world, that may not always be possible. Indeed, there are times when the believer is called to go against the grain, and to actually stir things up instead of hoping for calm and quiet. Sometimes we are called to agitate, to disturb, to prod and poke, and to rattle cages.
When people have turned from God and his ways, those who point to God and his ways will often be seen as troublemakers, as spoilers, as provocateurs. This has always been the case, and it is certainly evident when we examine the Scriptures.
Throughout the Bible we read of God’s people rocking the boat, stepping on toes, upsetting the apple cart, and stirring the pot. It seems to go with the territory. Consider the Old Testament prophets as an example. They were always challenging the people and practices of the day, and were seldom thanked or welcomed for their efforts.
Indeed, we know that the only prophets whom the people regularly craved to hear were the false prophets. But the true prophets of God were continuously rejected and ridiculed, precisely because they were seen to be disturbers of the peace. Many examples can be examined here.
Consider a classic passage in 1 Kings 18 where we read about one such disturber, Elijah. He was not always seen as a peacemaker. In fact, he was usually seen as a pest, so much so that in verse 17 he is called the “troubler of Israel”. Whenever a man of God stands up for truth in a world of falsehood, and for morality in a world of ethical anarchy, he will be seen as a troublemaker.
Things are no different in the NT. For example, we constantly read about how Jesus split the crowds and caused turmoil and division. Passages such as Luke 12:51; John 7:40-43; John 9:16 and John 10:19 clearly bear this out. Unity can always be achieved when we water things down and give people what they want. But that was not how Jesus conducted his affairs.
The Gospel, economics, and troublemaking
There are many ways in which the presentation of the gospel will ruffle feathers and shake things up. Economics is an obvious example. The biblical picture on wealth and riches often stands in marked contrast to the way the world deals with such matters. Often the clash between gospel and culture involves the issue of finances.
Consider two episodes from the book of Acts. They both involve a huge uproar between the townspeople and the apostles. And they both involve money, interestingly enough. Whenever believers challenge the financial interests of the day which are contrary to the values of the Kingdom, you can expect a real uproar. Thus we find the only two accounts of riots in Acts having something to do with money.
In Acts 16:16-40 we read of how Paul in Philippi is vexed by a slave girl with a spirit of divination. He cast out the spirit, but provoked her owner who made a living from her divination. Thus Paul and Silas are thrown in prison, after throwing the city into an uproar.
Comments F.F. Bruce, “The good deed done to the fortune-telling slave girl was not to the liking of her owners, for when Paul exorcized the spirit that possessed her he exorcized their source of income as well: she could no longer tell fortunes.” As William Larkin explains, “Whenever the gospel threatens vested interests, especially economic interests, it is bound to meet opposition.”
In Acts 19:23-41 we read of the second riot which breaks out over the issue of money. While in Ephesus, Paul challenged the silversmiths who made money by making silver shrines to the goddess Diana (Artemis). As John Polhill notes, in Ephesus economics and religion were closely linked. Paul’s preaching was clearly damaging the financial interests of the silversmiths there: “It would be the equivalent to someone’s standing at the entrance of Churchill Downs … during Derby week and preaching against horse racing. The gospel is always at its most controversial when it comes into conflict with economic interests.”
When William Wilberforce took on the slave trade in 18th century England, he was taking on huge financial vested interests. The whole British economy heavily depended on the slave trade. No wonder he was so fiercely opposed. At one point he was known as the most hated man in all of England. Yet his Christian convictions impelled him to challenge the slave trade of his day.
And when believers today take on such things as the illicit drug trade, prostitution and pornography, the abortion industry and the like, we too will be fiercely resisted. All these social ills are huge money-makers for those involved. Promoting biblical values in a secular world will always create division, resentment and persecution.
The gospel and its claims are never neutral. When Jesus comes to us, he asks us to renounce our earthly treasures and follow him. That is always costly, and will always be met with antagonism and hatred. The gospel of Jesus Christ will always challenge the culture of the day, and the prevailing beliefs and values.
All of this opposition must come because God’s people can never settle for giving messages to soothe the crowds and please the masses. We must give the very words of God, and they will usually result in alienation, rejection, division and uproar.
God’s words are both kind and hard, soothing and confronting. We are to preach the full counsel of God (Acts 20:27) and that will include words of love, mercy and grace, as well as words of judgment, rebuke and wrath. As we are reminded in Romans 11:22, we are to consider both the “kindness and severity of God”. They go together, and can never be separated.
If we only preach about God’s love and acceptance, we will always attract willing crowds and eager followers. But if we preach the full word of God, which also includes the wrath of God and judgment to come, we will alienate many, and make plenty of enemies.
So are we called to be peacemakers? You bet. But there will be times when we have to rock the boat to challenge a sinful and wayward people: both within and without the church. If we seek to present the whole gospel of God to a world – and church – that often does not want such things, we, like Elijah, will have to bear the same complaint: “Here comes that troubler”. If such a tag must be born in order to properly serve our Lord, then so be it. He is the great troubler too. And Jesus the troubler was killed for his efforts. We too will receive opposition and rejection. But we must be faithful to our calling, regardless of the price we must pay.