14 Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: 15 looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled (Hebrews 12:14–15, NKJV).
Christians are under a divine directive to pursue peace and holiness. We must run after peace and holiness like an animal chasing its prey. Without these attributes of faith, we will not see the Lord. While rage, vengeance, and violence drive the faithless, we must consistently and carefully stand in God’s grace by removing and avoiding from our hearts every vestige of malice and bitterness. The slightest bit of resentment or anger poisons and defiles the soul. A root of bitterness in the heart infects others; it is not dormant. Holding a grudge when someone hurts us is not the way to pursue peace and holiness. It chips away at peaceful thoughts and interrupts holy words and conduct toward that person. Bitter attitudes and treatment of other disrupts peace and retards holiness as it becomes a stumbling block to others. Bitterness builds barriers that solidify hostility. As Solomon said, “A brother offended is harder to win than a strong city, and contentions are like the bars of a castle” (Prov. 18:19). Do your part to remove every hindrance to peace and holiness in your home, your community, your nation, and most definitely with your brethren (Rom. 12:18; 1 Thess. 5:13).
Cast out the scoffer, and contention will leave; Yes, strife and reproach will cease. (Proverbs 22:10, NKJV)
The scoffer introduces and produces contention and strife in relationships where there should be peace (for example, marriages, neighborhoods, churches). The scoffer mocks truth and refuses the correction wisdom offers, “A scoffer does not love one who corrects him, nor will he go to the wise” (Prov. 15:12). Pride is the trademark of the scoffer: “A proud and haughty man—‘Scoffer’ is his name; He acts with arrogant pride” (Prov. 21:24). Driven by the pride of self-righteousness, scoffers ridicule their spouse, their neighbor, their coworker, and their brethren in Christ – disrupting harmony with their poisonous disdain. The scoffer makes fun of others while satisfying ungodly lusts instead of doing the will of God (2 Pet. 3:3; Jude 18). The scoffer undermines peace and reconciliation by refusing to show mercy and forgiveness. Overconfidence, instead of compassion, denotes the scoffer (Eph. 4:31-32). To avoid this dreadful destroyer of peace, let us hear this warning and promise from God concerning the scoffer: “The curse of the Lord is on the house of the wicked, but He blesses the home of the just. Surely He scorns the scornful, but gives grace to the humble” (Prov. 3:33-34).
3 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. 4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3–4, NKJV)
Combative mindsets and contentious conduct permeate society. The works of the flesh (“adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like”) are producing devastating results all around us (Galatians 5:19-21). Look at the contrast in today’s passage with the works of the flesh. Selfish ambition thrives in the arrogant heart that sees others as “less than” we are. Pride feeds the desire to look out for ourselves first – before others. When we estimate others to be better than ourselves it follows that we will not injure and harm them through the works of the flesh. (Look at that list again and see how often our sins invariably hurt others.) By developing hearts of humility we become servants of others instead of users and takers. Living for others instead of ourselves protects us from sin as it spreads the influence of righteousness. Be the salt of the earth by maintaining a humble heart that values others and becomes a blessing in their lives (Matthew 5:13).
7 And there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock. The Canaanites and the Perizzites then dwelt in the land. 8 So Abram said to Lot, “Please let there be no strife between you and me, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen; for we are brethren. 9 Is not the whole land before you? Please separate from me. If you take the left, then I will go to the right; or, if you go to the right, then I will go to the left.” (Genesis 13:7–9, NKJV)
Family members ought to be able to resolve differences between them. The contention between Abram and Lot’s herdsmen affected their masters as well as the inhabitants of the land who witnessed the discord. Strife is that way. It impacts others in addition to its principal parties. It takes faith and humility to end a quarrel; any fool can start one (Prov. 20:3). Abram’s faith rose above the animosity as he offered Lot first pick of the land. To Abram, it didn’t matter who was “right” and who was “wrong.” Furthermore, by rights (as the eldest and Lot’s uncle), Abram should have had first choice. But, what mattered most to Abram was ending the strife in a fair and lasting manner. So, he deferred to Lot and trusted the Lord bless him, which He did (Gen. 13:14-18). Similar honor is needed in the church, the family of God. Putting an end to strife requires having the faith to “accept the wrong” and to then move forward, instead of bitterly clinging to the past (1 Cor. 6:7).
Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? (James 4:1, NKJV)
Is your life defined by constant skirmishes with others? If so, there is a war taking place in you. Your desire for personal pleasure and satisfaction fuels these contentions and fights with others (which you deem necessary in order to obtain your self-defined happiness). Hedonism is defined by Merriam-Webster as “the belief that pleasure or happiness is the most important goal in life.” A good life, according to this philosophy, is fulfilling your personal pleasures, desires and sensual delights. Invariably, this leads to selfishness and ill treatment of others, instead of kindness and love. In contrast to the hedonistic pursuit of worldly fulfillment (by which one becomes an enemy of God, Jas. 4:4), Christians “pursue peace with all people, and holiness” (Heb. 12:14). James previously advised that “the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (Jas. 3:17). If you want peace with others and with God, then do not think and act like fulfilling your desires is the true course to happiness. A good dose of humility helps us win the battles in our war against the devil (Jas. 4:6-7).