Why Giving Peace a Chance Doesn’t Work In Charlottesville

Why Giving Peace a Chance Doesn’t Work

In Charlottesville

Peace is fragile. Harmony is easily shattered by human selfishness and self promotion, rooted in pride. Charlottesville, VA today is a field blanketed by the thorns of racial strife and tension. At its root is pride. “Only by pride comes contention.”[1] Can the flowers of peace ever bloom in this nation and in the field of our own relationships? Yes, they really can bloom.

It is all too easy to denounce and throw paint at misguided or racist people. It is far more productive to suggest real solutions to these deep-seated problems. It is easier to blast the worst forms of humanity than to build peace and harmony in our own relationships and families.

In his book, The Cure for Church Divisions, Richard Baxter intones: The best Christian, when he or she sees something in the church in need of amendment, seeks to reform it and does not use it as an excuse for division.[2] God does provide timeless strategies to build lasting, deep unity in the place of strife and disunity. But it takes more than denunciation. It takes work.

Peace is the Exception

It is important to understand that the flowers of peace do not grow or blossom by giving them a chance. Peace is not a natural condition for human beings. We do not drift into harmony.

Fields naturally grow weeds and thorns. But flowers must be cultivated with hard work. The history of the human race is characterized by continual and prolonged warfare and conflict. Conflict is the rule; concord is the exception.

But peace and harmony in relationships are God’s plan for us and are achievable when we cultivate the essential virtues and character qualities. These qualities do not come naturally to us; they are foreign to our natural proud, self-centeredness. These qualities must be developed vigorously and intentionally. Only then do the flowers of peace have a chance to blossom in the gardens of our relationships.

Three Churches Facing Disunity

Strife and contention afflicted three of the congregations to whom Paul wrote. No surprise. There were proud, selfish people in those congregations.

The Corinthian church was divided over the selfish infection of Christian celebrityism spreading through its Body (1 Cor 1-4). The Philippian church was on the cusp of division due to selfish ambitions and vanity—rooted in pride – on the part of its members (Phil 2).

But the strife and disunity in the Ephesian church was caused by the roots of racial pride, which were growing the toxic thorns of racial polarization, the Grand Canyon gap between Jew and Gentile. Paul’s entire letter to the Ephesians is a treatise for church concord between different races in Jesus’ church.

Alphabet Soup

The coastal city of Ephesus was the alphabet soup of humanity, a first-century New York City. You could find citizens of every race, class, and social distinction walking its streets and alleys. Jesus’ church was comprised of that same bowl of soup. So, with pride of race and social status as realities, peace and unity in the Ephesian church soup was fragile, easily broken, and needed God’s attention. Perhaps your relationships need attention as well.

Divisions in the Church

Among the major divisions were personality clashes,[3] tension over spiritual gifts[4] and spiritual immaturity,[5] the unchristian behavior of professing believers who were still attracted to the unregenerate way of life[6] and its fleshly manifestations,[7] and the normal clashes between sexual, generational, and social class differences.[8]

These divisions were all fueled by the malicious designs that the power of darkness had on Jesus’ church.[9] The adversary divides church families and relationships so that he can conquer.

Paul’s strategy was not simply to “give peace a chance.” Instead, he unveils to us the true nature of Jesus’ church as the incentive for attitudes and conduct that foster unity. The nature of Jesus’ church is built upon three foundational pillars.[10] Let’s examine each pillar.

The First Pillar of Unity

The church of Jesus—composed of all races, social classes, genders, and ages—is a very valuable possession of God. All three members of the Godhead have contributed to its eternal salvation (Eph 1). No one in the church can behave unthinkingly in view of the supreme value God places on us and the work He has put into us. God values us. So we must recognize that same eternal value in one another, regardless of race, gender, or social status. To each other we say, “You matter. You have value to God and to me.”

Second Pillar of Unity

The sole basis for membership in this valuable Body of Jesus is grace alone, God’s priceless and undeserved gift (Eph 2). Consequently, in Jesus’ church, there is absolutely no room for pride of race, gender, or social status. Superior attitudes towards others deny God’s grace and undermine the basis of our membership. There are no first-class or second-class citizens in a Body where grace is the sole basis for membership. Jesus’ church is made up of sinners, all of whom have been saved by God’s grace alone. As sinners, we are all in equal debt to God’s undeserved favor. We all kneel on equal ground, absolutely dependent upon God’s indescribable grace in Jesus.

Third Pillar of Unity

Jesus’ church is also not a divine afterthought, a last minute emergency addition to Israel’s story, but an integral part of God’s eternal and cosmic plan (Ephesians 3). The church of Jesus – that’s us – plays a monumental role and enjoys an eternal significance in the plan and heart of God. We must perceive ourselves and each other – regardless of race, social status, or gender – through this lens of significance. So, violence, squabbling, and claims for superiority of one group over the other demean such significance.

Grappling with Disunity

Building on those three theological pillars of unity, Paul goes on to grapple with disunity and strife face-to-face. In the remaining chapters of Ephesians (chapters 4-6), the apostle deduces four strategies for unity.

Attitudes Require Cultivation

The first strategy[11] is to realize that since peace is so fragile and unnatural for humans in relationships, certain virtues and character qualities have to be actively cultivated and vigorously pursued.

But the essential qualities and attitudes that nurture the flowers of peace are unnatural; they are foreign to men and women whose natural disposition is pride-based self-promotion and selfishness. Thistles of pride grow naturally. But gardens with flowers, free of thorns, require constant cultivation and tireless work. Hear the urgency.

“I, therefore (in view of the foundations for unity), the prisoner of the Lord, urge you to walk worthily of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility…” Ephesians 4:1-2

The Most Important Quality for Unity

The first quality — first in importance for unity and itself congruent with God’s gracious call – that must be cultivated is humility[12] (4:2). Humility is the opposite of selfishness, vainglorious boasting,[13] and pride.[14] Humility has the idea of “lowliness of mind.” Humble people recognize the value and worth of other people, regardless of gender, race, or social status. Humility must always be the portion of any man or woman who receives divine acceptance, total forgiveness, worth, and eternal purpose earned in the blood of God’s Son.[15]

We owe our reconciliation — repairing the division between God and mankind – to the humility of Jesus.[16] It was Jesus’ humility that helped end the strife between heaven and earth. It will be humility that ends the strife in human relationships. Humble men and women repair fractured relationships and bring concord. Proud men and women engender strife. Pride and strife are two sides of the same coin.

Humility Must Be Cultivated

But why must humility be cultivated? We are all born proud. And, to make matters worse, our upbringing may have served to deepen the roots of our natural pride: pride of race, family, tradition, nationality, social status, IQ, abilities, talents, gifts, religion, experience, or knowledge. Pride is like the air conditioning ducts in the attic of our home – unseen, unwatched, so subtle, but so very present. Pride feeds each room of our life with its self-centered fumes.

          “Only by pride comes contention.” Prov. 13:10

“He that is of a proud heart stirs up strife.” Prov 28:25

The Thistles and Thorns of Pride

Pride’s thorny presence is easy to feel. Some of those thistles are denial of sin, ungrateful, entitled, outbursts of anger, withdrawing, pouting, inability to work under authority, monopolizing conversations, vindictiveness, cruelty, meanness, being a poor listener, magnifying hurts, being devastated by criticism, whining, grumbling and complaining, being unteachable, consumed with others’ opinions, having superior attitudes, defensiveness, and despising others who do not match up to our achievements.

Pride is a most impatient sin: there is no pleasing a proud person, without a great deal of wit, and care, and diligence. You must come about them as you do about straw or gunpowder with a candle.” Richard Baxter

Other thorns that betray the presence of pride are looking down on others who do not measure up to our standards, having an over-inflated opinion of our importance, possessing exaggerated views of our injuries and abilities, being easily angered and easily frustrated, displaying a pattern of temper tantrums and attitudes of self-pity and criticism, and disregarding the necessity of prayer.

Pride Guarantees Ineffectiveness

Proud people become controlling leaders, employees who are hard to manage, angry, volatile, hard to please spouses (have to walk on eggshells around them), rigid and ungracious parents, and people who suffer from a conflict mentality.

The most common problem that appears when people attempt to reconcile differences is pride. Pride lies behind all strife and division. Pride is the quality that locates us the farthest from Jesus and sets God against us (James 4:6; 1 Pet 5:5).

Men, women, children, babies, even pets, are safe in the presence of the humble. But the same people are put at risk under the authority of proud men and women. Safety becomes a concern in the presence of the proud.

The Humility of Jesus

Jesus motivates us to follow him and learn from him as a teacher due to the gentleness and humility in his heart.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your soul…”  Matthew 11:28-29

Men and women and children are safe to follow Jesus and learn from him because he is humble where it really counts: in his heart.

So, because pride is natural to us and poisonous to relationships, humility must be vigorously cultivated and pride bulldozed out with its toxic roots. We can’t just give peace a chance. The flowers of peace grow in the garden of our relationships when pride is plowed out and humility becomes its soil.

Then peace has a chance in Charlottesville and in our churches, our marriages, and in all our human relationships.




[1] Proverbs 13:10

[2] My paraphrase of Baxter’s original words.

[3] Eph 4:1-6

[4] 4:7-13

[5] 4:14-15

[6] 4:16-32

[7] 5:3-18

[8] 5:21—6:9

[9] 6:10-18

[10] Chapters 1,2,3.

[11] I will only grapple with the first strategy in this blog post. Eph 4:1-3

[12] The three other qualities that foster unity in relationships and, therefore, must be cultivated are gentleness, patience, and peacefulness (Ephesians 4:2-3).

[13] This contrast is seen in Philippians 2:3.

[14] This contrast is seen in 1 Peter 5:5.

[15] I borrow the thoughts from the speech of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, given on June 12, 1945, to British dignitaries in Guildhall, London, on the occasion of the Allied victory in WW 2.

[16] See Philippians 2: 8.