By Tony Merida
Before the fall, there were no conflicts in the Garden of Eden. Can you imagine? As we can see in Genesis 1 and 2, there was no sin and no shame; just perfect peace.
But in Genesis 3, humanity rebels against the God of Peace at the prompting of His enemy, Satan, and sin is introduced to the world, creating a rift between God and people, and also between people and each other. Sadly, as we can see in the fall, one of the primary consequences of sin is conflict.
Indeed, as a consequence for their sin, God tells the man and woman some bad news: there will be strife between them (Genesis 3:16).
And in the very next chapter we see this strife being passed down generationally, as we read of one brother killing another brother (Genesis 4; 1 John 3:12).
Clearly sin and conflict don’t stay put; they travel down the family tree, and left unchecked, they only grow.
The good news, however, is also promised amidst the bad! God promises an answer to this problem: that One will come from the seed of the woman, One who will crush the head of the enemy (Genesis 3:15); and that victorious Savior is Jesus, the Prince of Peace.
Though strife and discord and hostility would be the way of the world after the fall, through Christ, we can overcome its effects in many ways: we can have peace with God (Colossians 1:20; Romans 5:1), we can experience the peace of God (Philemon 4:7), and by the Spirit’s power we can “pursue what promotes peace” with others as we attempt to “live at peace with everyone” (Romans 15:18, 12:18).
We pursue this peace in a conflict-ridden world as we await the new creation to come, where there will be total shalom.
While we must deal with the grief of relational wounds, alienation, and pain now, Christians can pursue harmony with hope, for “the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Romans 16:20).
What’s more, when we do these things, we give the watching world a taste of what our heavenly home is like—peaceful and flourishing.
If even ever so slightly, when we make peace in our relationships, we help the lost among us sense what a wrong world fixed feels like. We help them taste heaven, and remember they were made for it.
The new creation is coming, and we can help the watching world get an impression of its glory and its state of total shalom.
In this way, our conflicts aren’t just one-off issues we need to resolve. They have an evangelistic dimension that impacts the lost.
In short, conflict with God and others was the consequence of sin, and Jesus Christ is the answer to resolving it and securing peace for us forever.
That was true in the Garden, its effects will remain true in the new heavens and earth, and it’s true today, in small and large conflicts alike.
You Fight and Wage War
We know the origin of conflict, we know Jesus resolves it, and we know our heavenly future will not include it. So why is it so hard to stay at peace in the here and now?
Whether it’s with a spouse, coworker, neighbor, child, or friend, why do we struggle with conflict so much in our everyday lives? Let’s head back into James to find out.
New Testament scholar Douglas Moo notes that the common thread running through James 3:13-4:3 is peace.
James contrasts true and false wisdom, noting that envy and selfish ambition lead to disorder, whereas true wisdom is marked by gentleness and peace:
“Who among you is wise and understanding? By his good conduct he should show that his works are done in the gentleness that comes from wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your heart, don’t boast and deny the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there is disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without pretense. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who cultivate peace” (James 3:13-18, my emphasis).
It’s not hard to see that James thinks Christians should be peace-loving people, living in harmony with one another, but it’s also not hard to see that this isn’t always the case with believers.
Why the disconnect between what we should be and what we are? James keeps going, probing deeper within us, to help us see why we have wars among us:
“What is the source of wars and fights among you? Don’t they come from your passions that wage war within you? You desire and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and wage war” (James 4:1-2, my emphasis).”
James is talking about conflicts within the community of faith, but what he says about our hearts applies to any relationship. We have wars among us because of controlling passions within us. These passions can be many things.
A ruling passion could be envy or ambition. It could be selfishness (that may even be expressed in our prayers, as he says in 4:3).
It might be a controlling covetous desire, or some other lust of the flesh. Regardless of the particular passion, James makes it clear the internal war waging within a Christian eventually leads him to wage external war with others in efforts to satisfy his craving.
In short, troubled people trouble people. Their internal unrest comes out on others and creates unrest in their relationships. In the end, your relationships are usually in turmoil because you are in turmoil.
Do the words of James sound familiar to you? Of course they do, as James’ letter has many echoes of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount—and that’s seen in this passage as well.
Professor Charles Quarles notes the relationship between Jesus’ beatitude, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9) and James’ instruction, saying:
Peacemaking is the work of reconciling two alienated parties, of taking two enemies and bringing them into a relationship of unity and harmony. Only two other New Testament texts refer to peacemaking: Colossians 1:20 and James 3:18. Colossians 1:20 explains that Jesus made peace between God and sinners through His death on the cross. Because of the clear relationship between the [Sermon on the Mount] and the letter of James, James 3:13-4:1 is probably more helpful in understanding the nature of peacemaking in Matthew 5:9.”