Have you heard something so obvious you wondered why the person said it? And then the import of the words caught up with you. And then you couldn’t get the words out of your head.
That happened to me at church on Sunday.
One of the ministers shared a Charles Spurgeon quote that reads: “And when the Lord Jesus has become your peace, remember, there is another thing: good will towards men. Do not try to keep Christmas without good will towards men.”
There are a couple of obvious things here. Right away, I’m thinking, “Charles Spurgeon again.” Not because my church quotes him all the time. We don’t. But because Charles Spurgeon is quoted as often in evangelical circles as C.S. Lewis or Oswald Chambers.
I bet I don’t have to tell you the other obvious thing, but I will anyway.
We just finished Christmas and singing “peace on earth, good will to men” in more than one song. Peace and good will grace many of the Christmas cards we received and still are receiving. What can I possibly hear about peace and good will that I haven’t already heard a hundred times just this year?
Well, there’s that Spurgeon quote, for one.
Seeing what peace has to do with good will
As I think back on my editorials during 2019, I remember trying to encourage peace. My last editorial of the year addressed peace directly.
Sure, not all of my editorials were peacemaking, as evidenced by the comments on Facebook. Nonetheless, there is a theme: How can we be people whose lives demonstrate Christ’s peace reigning in us?
Spurgeon’s quote helps me answer that question.
Peace is both a descriptor and a thing proved through good will toward others. Peace is easy to talk about, think about and want. Good will—to the extent sung by the angels—is difficult.
People will not see Christ’s peace reigning in us if we do not exhibit good will to all people.
This is the point of division. Good will? What is good will? All people? Neighbor? Who is my neighbor?
Christ’s peace looks like this: Jesus sitting down to eat a meal with person after person who was highly critical of him, person after person who was hostile to him, person after person involved in sin. Jesus hurled no personal attacks at his hosts. And not because he was a good guest.
Christ’s peace looks like this: Jesus talking to a woman … alone; Jesus touching and being touched by people deemed “unclean;” Jesus being known as a glutton, a drunkard, a friend of sinners, all while seeming to be unconcerned about his reputation. And not because he didn’t care.
Christ’s peace looks like this: Jesus facing death with words like these: “Not my will but yours be done,” “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” “It is finished.” And not because he was weak.
These are just a few examples of Christ’s peace lived out in good will to all people. In none of them do we read Jesus calculating what constitutes good will or an acceptable recipient.
Seeing our way to good will in the days ahead
Tension in our country—not to mention the rest of the world—has been mounting the last few years. Violence has not abated. School and church shootings have continued. Racial tension is rising. Political divides are growing. Rhetoric is downright vicious and coarsening.
Again, I point you to Facebook comments. “Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks,” the Prince of Peace said. If you want to know what is in our hearts, whether peace or tension, read a handful of social media comments.
The tension in our country seemed to come to a head at the end of 2019. All indications are the tension in our society will not magically disappear in 2020. So, what to do with “peace on earth, good will to men?”
Are these just words, or do they mean something? Are they so obvious we can tune them out as though they really mean nothing, or will these words stick and not let us go?
When we tell people we are Christians, do we mean we are “peace on earth and good will to all” kind of people, or do we mean something else?
A tension in Christ’s peace
In response to talk about Christ’s peace, I have heard: “Jesus said he didn’t come to bring peace but a sword. He said he came to divide people, even families.”
The problem with people citing these words from Luke 12 in response to talk about Christ’s peace is the seeming justification of not living at peace with others. It’s as if to say, “Political rivalries, racial tensions, belittling and dehumanizing rhetoric, violence, all these things are OK because Jesus said it would be that way.”
I don’t intend this as a straw man argument. I have seen these conversations play out this way and carry these kinds of connotations.
Yes, Jesus said he came to divide, even families. No, I don’t believe Jesus meant to justify our being dividers.
Jesus also said: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).
Though Jesus was speaking to his followers to comfort them as he faced arrest and crucifixion, his words also speak to us today.
Troubled and fearful hearts tend to hurt others, to lash out, to withdraw, to divide. None of these things represent Christ but instead represent sin reigning in us. Jesus instructed his followers not to be troubled and afraid. To face such trouble and fear, Jesus left us his peace—his steadfastness, calmness and confidence derived from the eternal God living in a temporary situation.
Putting the parts together
We shouldn’t forget that peace and good will are only part of the angels’ song. The song begins, “Glory to God in the highest.”
Peace and good will come second to God’s glory and point us to it. The song announcing Jesus’ birth tells us he came to bring glory to God by doing God’s will—from which we get “good will.” Jesus could enter our trouble because his peace is rooted in the very being of God.
Spurgeon is quoted often for a reason. He was a supremely gifted thinker and communicator. Communicators like him put the parts together for us in captivating ways. Spurgeon calls us to remember we cannot take Christ’s peace without also extending good will to others.
If last year was any indication, 2020 will test our resolve even further. Will we see any clearer our need to be people of Christ’s peace and good will, remembering it cost him his life?
We can live in peace and extend good will to all because our troubles are temporary and our God is eternal.
Eric Black is the executive director, publisher and editor of the Baptist Standard. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @EricBlackBSP. The views expressed are those solely of the author.