This is the weekend we celebrate the life of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. It is my impression that Rev. King was essentially a man of peace. He often found inequality or injustice in our nation, but he generally sought a resolution through peaceful means. He is best known for his role in the advancement of civil rights using nonviolent civil disobedience based on his Christian beliefs. On October 14, 1964, King even received the Nobel Peace Prize for combating racial inequality through nonviolent resistance. (King was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was established as a holiday in numerous cities and states beginning in 1971, and as a U.S. federal holiday in 1986.)
Violence is an attitude that permeates our society: grown men fighting one another at their sons’ Little League games, a father assaulting a teenage referee in a soccer game, one gang in a poor area of a city conducting a “turf” war with another gang, an unborn baby having his or her life terminated for the sake of convenience, a deacon threatening a pastoral staff member, and, lately, voters whose candidate did not win attacking voters whose candidate won in shameful and reproachable ways. There’s a kind of “get even” mentality that finds its way into every corner of our relationships — even in the church. One of my most embarrassing moments as a pastor was my involvement in a church league basketball game brawl. It was terrible!
In our Lord’s discourse on the end times, He indicates that “nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom” (Matthew 24:7). In other words, there will be war everywhere you look. That seems to be the case today. Not only do we have wars raging; we also have rumors of more wars to come.
I hate the thought of war. I am well aware of the concept and why we engage in war, but it is difficult to think of so many people hating so many other people enough to want to kill them. It’s even worse when innocent soldiers are sent to kill other innocent soldiers simply because their leaders can’t get along. I am not being overly naive — I just hate war.
Why do we do these things? The answer: wickedness of the human heart. “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Paul explained part of the reason for mortal conflict when he said, “The acts of the sinful nature are … hatred, discord … [and] dissensions” (Galatians 5:19-20). In other words, the motivation that causes war between nations is the same one that causes neighbors to do bodily harm to one another because the snow is not removed from the sidewalk. Or a church member to have such hatred for his pastor that he would do nearly anything to see the pastor lose his or her job. Or someone to assassinate Martin Luther King, Jr. Or kill a president. Or murder a spouse.
The heart — that which tempers our reactions and causes us to love or hate — is basically evil. And unless there is radical surgery on the heart, there will never be peace. That is why Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives” (John 14:27). His peace is a transformation of the mind brought about by a changed heart.
Hearts must be changed. That is why you need to preach it: “Change my heart, O God.” “He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples” (Isaiah 2:4). Unless our hearts are changed by a relationship with Jesus, we will continue to hurt one another.
There will be a time when, like all men, we will stand before the awesome Judge of the universe and account for our behavior. Only then will we know genuine and complete justice. Unfortunately, the church does not talk much about judgment anymore, and because of that, a generation of people is going through life uninformed and unforgiven. That is a shame, because judgment is an integral part of the gospel.
Pastor, preach the whole gospel — not just the parts people want to hear. A dying world is in need of God’s saving grace. “For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17).