"Can't We All Just Get Along?"  

by John Skaggs

"Can't we all just get along?" These words, made famous by the California resident Rodney King, have been on the lips of men since Cain and Able. The civilized world has and continues to dream of peace among the nations. Some claim we are getting closer to it every day. Mankind, they say, is getting better and better. Soon peace will reign and all will live happily ever after.

In the mean time we have the law and various organizations to keep undeveloped man in line. We have equality laws meant to keep one person from getting it over on the other. We have criminal laws which confine and punish those who don't wish to behave in a peaceful manner. In the world of religion there is an ongoing effort to get all churches and faiths to stop warring against one another. Peace in the ranks of the visible church is God's will, they say. The Baptists, Catholics, Mormons, Christian Science and Moslems should all get along. After all, we serve the same God and will end up in the same heaven. Those who promote such external peace among religions believe that this goal must be reached at all costs.

Although the promoters of the ecumenical movement do not like it there is a question that must be asked. Is there anything more important than peaceful unity between the world's religions? The answer to that question is yes, there is something vastly more important. Truth is more important. Truth is a much greater treasure than unity and peace among different religions. You see, you can't have both. For when truth is held sacred division follows. Let's hear the words of Jesus on this subject. Luke 12:49-53 NASB "I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled! {50} "But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is accomplished! {51} "Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division; {52} for from now on five members in one household will be divided, three against two, and two against three. {53} "They will be divided, father against son, and son against father; mother against daughter, and daughter against mother; mother-in-law against daughter-in-law, and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law."

These are certainly startling words coming from the Prince of Peace. Many teach that Jesus, being meek and lamb-like, cannot cause division in any way. His goal and desire is that all humans live in peace with each other. He would never do anything to divide one man from another, would He? You won't be surprised to hear me say yes. Jesus has and will continue to divide one man from man. Let's look at this passage one section at a time. First Jesus declares, (Luke 12:49 NASB) "I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled!"

The fire Jesus speaks of could be the coming judgment of God. However the word is also used to describe the persecution, affliction and dissension that follows the preaching of the Gospel and the conversion of sinners. The church is said to go through the fire when it experiences spiritual and physical persecution. Hear the words of 1 Peter 4:12-14 NASB. "Beloved, do not be surprised at the FIERY ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; {13} but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation. {14} If you are REVILED for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you."

Jesus came to bring fire upon the earth and He wishes it was already begun. The fire has to do with suffering spiritual and physical opposition from those who hate truth and God. As soon as Jesus began to shine light or truth into the darkness that filled the hearts of men He began to experience their hatred. Un-converted men hate to have their sins identified and will pour out fire upon all who expose them. The anger of those who hated Christ was fiery, intense, dangerous and ended in His cruel death by crucifixion. So we see that the fire Christ intentionally brought upon the earth affected Him most of all. Yet, looking forward to the cross, He says, " I wish it were already begun." Perhaps this statement is like that made by a woman who expects to deliver a child soon. She declares "I'll be glad when this child is born." She is not a looking forward to the pain of childbirth. Rather, she is anxious to get past the pain to the lovely child it will bring. So also, Jesus, "for the joy set before Him" longed to accomplish His mission. He was ready to suffer and die for the given ones, the elect, God's lost sheep. He was anxious to accomplish their redemption so He could again be seated at the right hand of the Father in glory. This, I think, is something of what is meant by our Lord's statement.

That He does have His own suffering in mind is revealed in the next verse. (Luke 12:50 NASB) "But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is accomplished!" The word baptism speaks of being dipped or immersed in something. Therefore, Jesus is saying "I am about to be immersed or overwhelmed in redemptive suffering and misery. I came for this purpose and I cannot rest until it is accomplished." The word translated "distressed" in the NAS also speaks of constraint. It describes one who is "held in custody" until time for release. In other words, Jesus is bound by His desire to do the will of God in redeeming His lost sheep. He is driven to do all His Fathers will. In so doing He will immerse Himself in the fire of suffering, hatred, and death."

The next section is one the ecumenical movement would prefer didn't exist. (Luke 12:51 NASB) "Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? (He speaks of a physical peace, a life without conflict, prejudice, hatred, war, or division.) I tell you, no, but rather division."

The Jewish audience did in fact believe that the Messiah would destroy all their enemies and bring them peace. Jesus knows what they expect to take place and corrects them. "I came to bring division, not peace." How can this possibly be? Is not Christ the Prince of Peace? Is He not the one who said "Blessed are the peacemakers?" Does not the scripture everywhere tell us that peace is His mission? Consider these texts.

(Luke 1:78-79 NASB) Because of the tender mercy of our God, With which the Sunrise from on high shall visit us, (The Sun from on high is Jesus.) {79} TO SHINE UPON THOSE WHO SIT IN DARKNESS AND THE SHADOW OF DEATH, To guide our feet into the way of peace." Christ's mission was indeed one of peace.

Surely you are all familiar with Luke 2:14 NASB. "Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased."

What believer has not been encouraged by the words of John 14:27 NASB. "Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; NOT AS THE WORLD GIVES, do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful." With this text we begin to see what kind of peace Christ intended to bring. The peace He refers to has to do with the heart not our circumstances. His peace is not like that which the world longs for and believes they can achieve. Rather, Christ's peace is internal and spiritual. Hear the words of John 16:33 NASB. "These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, (fiery trials, no physical or circumstantial peace) but take courage; I have overcome the world." Do you see it? While in the world we are going to experience fiery trials and trouble, that is just the way it is. But in Christ we have peace even while experiencing fiery trials. It is an internal and personal peace that Jesus brings to His own. Brothers and sisters it is peace with God. (Romans 5:1 NASB) Therefore having been justified by faith, we have PEACE WITH GOD through our Lord Jesus Christ."

By His death in our place Jesus made peace between believing sinners and God. This is what is meant when Jesus is called the Prince of Peace. What we must understand is that division is the natural by product of one finding peace with God. For to have peace with God he or she must be called OUT FROM the world of sinners. He or she must be made to differ from the unbeliever. The bottom line is this. When God saves an individual He distinguishes between them and other humans. A person who has been born again has been translated from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. (Colossians 1:13 NASB) For He delivered us from the DOMAIN OF DARKNESS, and transferred us to the KINGDOM OF HIS BELOVED SON." (Ephesians 2:19 NASB) So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household." The Christian is part of God's family the unbeliever is a stranger and an alien to that family. There is a division between man and man because Christ has called one to faith and not the other.

What the believer was has passed away and all things about him are new. He was dead and now he is alive. (Ephesians 2:5 NASB) even when we were dead in our transgressions, (He) made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)."

We could go on and on with this. Salvation changes a person from the inside out. When one hears the Gospel and trusts in the righteousness of Christ for acceptance with God there is an instant division created between the this person and the unbelievers around him. One is for Christ and the other is against Him. There is division. True saving faith consistently creates division between individuals, churches and nations. It even brings division into the family which is the most painful of all.

(Luke 12:52-53 NASB) for from now on five members in one household will be divided, three against two, and two against three. {53} "They will be divided, father against son, and son against father; mother against daughter, and daughter against mother; mother-in-law against daughter-in-law, and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law." Anyone who has known the division here described knows that it comes with much pain and sorrow. The Christian has found life eternal, the Pearl of Great Price, the Savior of all who come to Him by faith. Those around him have not. He tries to tell them the Good News but they do not understand what has taken place in his life. The problem is, neither one can change the other. One is a child of God by sovereign grace the other remains as he was born, a child of the Devil. There can never be real peace between them. They must each go their own way. There is division.

The book, Pilgrims Progress, illustrates this well. In the first chapter we find the account of the salvation of one of God's lost sheep. The man's name is Christian. See if you hear the ring of truth as I read.

"I saw a man clothed with rags (The rags of his sin. Isaiah 64:6) standing in a certain place, with his face turned from his own house, a book (the Bible) in his hand, and a great burden (conviction of sin) upon his back. I looked, and saw him open the book, and read; and as he read, he wept and trembled; (Psalm 38:4 Isaiah 64:6 Luke 14:33 Hebrews 2:2-3) and he began to weep, saying, "What shall I do to be saved?" (Acts 2:37) The night was as troublesome to him as the day. Instead of sleeping, he spent it in sighs and tears. So, when the morning was come, his family, asking how he was, received the reply, "Worse and worse." He talked to them again and again saying they must ESCAPE WITH HIM from the wrath that was coming but their hearts were hard. They also thought to drive away his religious madness by harsh conduct to him: sometimes they would mock him; sometimes they would chide; and sometimes they would neglect him. Therefore, he kept to his bedroom, to pray for and pity his family and also to console his own misery. He would walk alone in the fields, sometimes reading and sometimes praying; and thus for days he spent his time.

Now I saw him once when he was walking in the fields, he was reading in his Bible and greatly distressed in his mind; and, as he read, he burst out, as he had done before, crying, "What must I do to be saved?" (Acts 16:30-31) Then said one named EVANGELIST, "Why don't you just die, since you are so miserable?" The man answered, "Because I fear that this burden of sin upon my back will sink me lower than the grave, and I shall fall into Hell." Then said EVANGELIST, "If this be thy condition, why do you stand still?" He answered, "Because I do not know where to go." Then he gave him a parchment roll; and there was written within, "Flee from the wrath to come!" (Matthew 3:7) So the man began to run toward a light in the distance. Now he had not run far from his own door, but his wife and children perceiving it, began to cry after him to return (Luke 14:26); but the man put his fingers in his ears, and ran on, crying, "Life!, life!, Eternal life!" So HE LOOKED NOT BEHIND HIM, but fled towards the middle of the plain, (Genesis 19:17). In response to another, who would have him turn back, this man, named Christian, replied, "I seek an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, that fades not away, (1 Peter 1:4). That inheritance is laid up in heaven, and safe there, to be bestowed, at the time appointed, on them that diligently seek it (Hebrews 11:16). I read this in my book, he said to one named Obstinate. "Away with your book; said Obstinate, will you go back with us or not?" "No, not I," said Christian; "because I have laid my hand to the plough and I cannot go back." (Luke 9:62). (Excerpts from Pilgrims Progress by John Bunyan, Modified for this lesson.)

If one is willing to put down the Bible he can join the ecumenical movement and be at peace with the world. But the Christian cannot put down the book for it is the bread of life to the sheep of God's pasture. In it are the words of eternal life. In it one finds the way of peace with God. This gospel truth matters more than outward peace in the church, family or among the nations. The truth which is Christ the Lord is our greatest treasure and it cannot be sacrificed to the god of unity. When God sets His love upon His people they are forever divided from the rest of humanity.

We saw this in the beginning when God set His love on the nation Israel. From that point onward the world hated and persecuted them. When John the Baptist came forth from the desert to speak God's truth he was hated and eventually murdered. When Jesus came the world hated and murdered Him. Then they turned on His disciples. Throughout history Christians have been hated for Christ's sake. They have been martyred by the thousands.

We must not be surprised that the world hates the children of God. For Jesus did not come to create physical peace between man and man. Rather, He came to bring peace with God to the lost sheep for whom He shed His precious blood. The very giving of this peace sets them apart. Immediately there is division. One thinks this way the other that. One likes this the other that. One longs for righteousness the other lives only for the satisfaction of his flesh. One walks in light the other in darkness. There can be no true fellowship between light and darkness even if we are speaking of blood relatives. The division caused by Christ and His truth is described in more detail in 1 Corinthians 1:17-25 NASB. "For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, that the cross of Christ should not be made void. {18} For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, BUT to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (Here is the dividing place between man and man. When God is in the process of saving one the Gospel becomes to this person the powerful means of salvation. For the man who is perishing because of his continued unbelief the Gospel is ineffective and means nothing. The difference between one and the other is divine intervention. God opens the eyes of one to understand the Gospel but He does not open the eyes of the other. This doesn't sound fair. It doesn't seem like it ought to be this way. But it is.) {19} For it is written, "I WILL DESTROY THE WISDOM OF THE WISE, AND THE CLEVERNESS OF THE CLEVER I WILL SET ASIDE." {20} Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? {21} For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, (Men have tried forever to gain God's favor in ways contrary to grace but they have failed. For ...) God was well- pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. {22} For indeed Jews ask for signs, and Greeks search for wisdom; {23} but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, (For they do not believe Jesus is the Christ. Therefore, they are not saved from the wrath to come.) and to Gentiles foolishness, (The word Gentile refers to all unbelievers.) {24} but to those who are the called, (He speaks of those cut out from the crowd by the will and power of God the Holy Spirit.) both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God (unto salvation) and the wisdom of God. (That is, the way God has chosen to save His people from their sin.) {25} Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men."

Truth divides, Christ divides, God, by the work of the Holy Spirit, divides one man from the other. To one He brings peace with God while, at least for the time being, He leaves the other person dead in trespasses and sins.

What is the practical value of this lesson?

1. First it answers the question, "Can't we all just get along?" The answer is both yes and no. So far as it lies within us we are to be at peace with all men. If I can walk hand in hand with a person without compromising the truths found in the Bible then let there be peace. But when my fellowship and peace with a person or group demands that I put aside all or a portion of the Book, the Bible, then there must be division. For light and darkness have nothing in common. A true ecumenical association of individuals or churches must be based on truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Otherwise it is a false and manufactured unity that does not honor the God of true Christianity.

2. The things discussed in this lesson should help us understand and take in stride the opposition, hatred and division we experience for Christs' sake. For it will and must come to all who love God and refuse to compromise.

3. Lastly the things discussed today ought to alarm those who hear but do not love the Gospel. For if you love not the truth of God you cannot love His Christ. If you love not the Christ you will not go to heaven. You are presently an enemy of God. To enter His heaven you must become a son by faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of your soul.

If with the character in Pilgrims Progress you now ask, "What must I do to be saved?" I answer with the words of Christ Himself:

"They said therefore to Him, 'What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?' Jesus answered and said to them, 'This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.'" (John 6:28-29)

Trust in the righteousness of Christ for acceptance with God and you shall be saved from the wrath of God that will be poured out on all those who die in unbelief.

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