I have not come to bring Peace, but a Sword

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∞ I have not come to bring peace, but a sword ∞

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword”

Matthew 10:34

Like we always do, I love this wonderful Anglican tradition of responding: Praise be to you, O Christ after the Gospel reading. This response suggests that we gladly receive, accept and believe the Gospel of Christ. But after reading a very sensitive statement like in today’s Gospel: I have not come to bring peace, but a sword, one would like to wonder whether it is logical to still say Praise be to you, O Christ. I am not sure what came on your mind on hearing Jesus’ statement “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” in the Gospel text which I just read minutes ago.

Hearing such a statement made by a man who otherwise is thought to be the most pacifist person without a proper interpretation cannot fail to raise some questions in our minds. And, if not well interpreted, it can cause many to stumble—especially at a time when peace is increasingly becoming uncertain. The question I asked myself on reading this text is: what did Jesus mean in saying that I have not come to bring peace, but a sword?

“At first glance, it indeed appears that Jesus encourages violence and calls his disciples to practice it, presumably righteous violence”[1] Knowing well that the “text is king; the context is queen”,[2] we need to first put this text to its context since “a text without a context becomes a pretext”[3] Jesus makes this statement while sending the twelve to preach the Gospel to the house of Israel. He was probably aware of the reception these men will get as they move from one village to the other, one city to another proclaiming: Repent, the kingdom of God is at hand.

He sends out the twelve disciples to the “lost sheep of Israel,” not yet to the gentiles, … It is not surprising, historically speaking, that he would spread his word by proclamation to his own, by Jewish disciples. Second, he predicts that some towns may not receive the disciples and that the authorities may put them on trial and flog them. In that eventuality, they should shake the dust off their feet, pray for them, and flee to another city. Third, it is only natural that first-century Jews may not understand this new sect or “Jesus movement” (as sociologists of the New Testament call it), so they resist it.[4]

In addition, the Jews were longing for a temporal peace—a liberation from the Roman domination. Christ therefore dissociates himself from being one who will bring this temporal peace. For he has come to proclaim the Gospel—which primarily seeks to draw man to peace with God.

So, what did Jesus mean by saying “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword?” I agree with John Grill[5] in saying that the sword Jesus meant is the Gospel—the word of God, not a weapon of physical war. While asking the Ephesians to put on the full armour of God, apostle Paul equally attested that the word of God is the sword of the Spirit by saying, “Take… the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17).

As soothing as the Gospel might be, like a sword, it can divide. In his version, Luke uses the word division instead of sword; “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division” (Luke 12:51).

“Not that it was the intention and design of Christ, in coming into the world, to [stimulate] and encourage such things; but this, through the malice and wickedness of men, was eventually the effect and consequence of his coming; … because the sword divides asunder, as does the sword of the Spirit, the word of God.”[6]

The scripture attest that “the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than a double aged sword, it penetrates even to the dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges makes the following useful commentary in helping us to shed light on this seemingly paradoxical statement:

The contrast is rather between union and division than between peace and war. The “sifting” of Christ causes division or perplexity, and conflict of opinion, both in the thoughts of the individual and between man and man. The same idea is illustrated by the husbandman’s fan, the refiner’s fire, and the shepherd’s separation of his flocks.[7]

The “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” statement is therefore not a command to violence, otherwise Jesus would not have stopped Peter from using the sword in fighting back at his arrest. He would have commanded legions of angels from heaven to fight back the army that came to arrest him in the garden of Gethsemane. He demonstrated his non-violence by putting back the ear which Peter had cut off, of one of the servants who came to arrest him.

This statement does not call the disciple to violence, it rather makes the disciples aware of the possible division that might arise because of the Gospel and their faith. It calls the disciple to know that a true allegiance to the Gospel of Christ is likely to cause rejection and persecution by the world—and occasionally by those very close and dear to us.

Christ makes this explicit by saying “For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household” (Matthew 10:35-36).

Therefore;

We should be aware of the possible fate the gospel can put us in.

Some of us might have experienced rejection and isolation by our loved ones on account of the Gospel. I have experienced isolation from peers because of the Gospel values I held. I have seen some people who are close to me being rejected by their loved ones for their faith. The disciples were indeed sought after for their faith, for the Gospel of peace and reconciliation they preached. They were persecuted—others to the point of death.

We have heard of the persecutions our brothers and sisters in Egypt—the Coptic Christians are facing because of the Gospel. The Coptic Christians’ example is but just a small fraction of the persecutions Christians face throughout the world—the West isn’t exempt. We should conquer rejection and persecution by love as we keep our allegiance to him who as saved us. Remembering what our Lord has said; love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:43-45). And,

We should use the Gospel—the sword of the Spirit to fight evil.

We have accepted to be disciples of Christ because we acknowledge that Christ can help us come out from evil into his marvellous light. He commissions us to be light and salt of the world (Matthew 5:16). We should therefore be able to have the light of Christ shine in this our murky world. This is only possible if we live the Gospel we confess.

We should also use the Sword of the Spirit to kill sin.

In the epistle reading (Romans 6:1-11), Paul writes that we shouldn’t continue in sin. The Grace should teach us to say no to ungodliness (Titus 2:11), we should put to death our human nature. To do this we need the sword of the Spirit.

“The word of God is the sword of the Spirit. The Sword is for putting to death. And by the Spirit we put to death our sinful deeds. So, I conclude that the way we kill our sins is with the Spirit’s sword, the word of God.”[8]

Christ is our Peace,

Long before he was born, prophet Isaiah referred to him as the Prince of Peace. He writes;

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be upon his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6 NIV).

That holy night he was born in a manger in Bethlehem, a host of angels from heaven appeared to the shepherds in the field, they praised God saying;

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those whom his favour rests” (Luke 2:14 NIV).

And he has called us to be peacemakers to reconcile mankind to God. During his ministry, he proclaimed;

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9).

Knowing very well that Christ is the Prince of Peace and that he sends us out to be peacemakers, I am not ashamed of the Gospel. So, I can proudly say; Praise to you, O Christ to his word; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword because I know that the Gospel which is the sword of the Spirit—is the Good News, “it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). Amen! Rev. J

__________________________________________________________

Foot notes

[1] James M. Arlandson in “A brief explanation of the Sword in Matthew 10:34) accessed from http://www.answering-islam.org/Authors/Arlandson/matthew_10_34.htm

[2] Vines, Jerry & Shaddix, Jim. (2017). Progess in the Pulpit: How to Grow in Your Preaching. Chicago: Moody Publishers.

[3] This old evangelical saying is quoted in Stewart, Mary V. L. (2010). A Sword Between the Sexes. C. S Lewis and the Gender Debates. Grand Rapids: Broz Press. p. 249.

[4] Ibid. James M. Arlandson.

[5] John Grills exposition of the Bible http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/gills-exposition-of-the-bible/matthew-10-34.html

[6] Ibid. John Grill

[7] Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges accessed from http://biblehub.com/commentaries/matthew/10-34.htm

[8] John Piper. “Swords are for Killing” accessed from http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/swords-are-for-killing


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Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations are taken from the New International Version (NIV). Rev. Julius Izza Tabi is a pastor in the Anglican Church of Uganda, Ma’di & West Nile Diocese. Julius served as an assistant Chaplain and lecturer at the Arua Campus of the Uganda Christin University. He is a graduate of Master of Philosophy in Religion, Society and Global Issues at Det Teologiske Menighetsfakultet alias the Norwegian School of Theology, in Oslo, Norway. He is an author of the Popular Triumphing Over Odds . For pastoral assistance you can contact him here and you can also help to support this site and his ministry by donating here.

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