by Matt Styles, Alumnus; Lead Pastor, Trinity Baptist Church, Sioux Falls, SD
Last week, we introduced a new series of articles focused on practices within the Kairos Community. Over the next three weeks, we will take a closer look at practicing the way of Jesus by exploring peace as a way of being.
“The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” ~ Romans 16:20
I can hear some of you singing the church camp song already. For those of you who have no idea what I am talking about, there is a camp song that starts out by repeating the phrase, “Romans 16:19 says!” The song then continues by practically quoting Romans 16:19-20 and ends with an emphatic grunt to emphasize the stomping of Satan under our feet.
Head crushing for the Kingdom! Pretty intense stuff! And although we may know what Romans 16:20 says, I think it is important to wrestle with what it is saying. How does one go about head crushing for the Kingdom of God?
I think some Christians assume that the way you crush the head of the ancient serpent is by filling your tank with rage and bitterness against all forms of evil in the world. When we interpret the passage this way, Christians attempt to launch a holy hostility campaign against the forces of evil, doing whatever it takes to crush the serpent’s head whenever it pops up. A real-life version of whack-a-mole, but in this case whack-a-serpent. If we continue down this path of interpretation, we quickly conclude that God intends to make peace by unleashing his people’s fury and rage upon evil. The idea is that if we do whatever it takes and show no mercy towards evil, we will defeat it and arrive at peace. When you read the passage like this, “peace” becomes a destination that you can arrive at by means of “doing whatever it takes” to “crush Satan.”
But what if peace is less of a destination and more a path? Less of a result and more of a way of being? Less of an end and more of a means? What if peace is not simply the result of crushing Satan’s head, but the way God crushes Satan’s head? What if every time you try to make peace without practicing peace, you not only fail to crush Satan’s head, but you end up becoming another one?
If that is the case, then we will never arrive at the destination of peace unless we also learn to walk in the way of peace. And this is what Jesus came to do; to guide our feet into the path of peace. At least that’s what Jesus’ uncle, Zechariah said. Jesus came “to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death to guide our feet in the path of peace” (Lk. 1:79).
Peace is not simply a result, but a path; a posture; a way of being. This path of peace is what Jesus taught his disciples. They had heard that you could crush evil by seeking an eye for an eye and hating your enemies. But if they really wanted to crush Satan, then Jesus tells them they must do more than seek peace. They must practice it.
This is why Jesus taught his followers to not retaliate against an evil person (Mt. 5:39), and to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them (Mt. 5:44). This is why Jesus rebuked James and John when they wanted to call down fire from heaven to devour their Samaritan enemies (Lk. 9:54-55). This is why Jesus wept over Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, saying, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace” (Lk. 19:41-42). This is why Jesus disarms Peter’s attempt to make peace with the sword when Jesus is arrested (Mt. 26:52). There is no way to arrive at peace without practicing it.
Jesus not only guides our feet into the path of peace, he perfectly embodies it on the cross. As humanity raged against him, he did not return the favor. Instead, he practiced peace and prayed for his enemies, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do” (Lk. 23:34). Jesus practiced peace unto death, even death on a cross, and as a result crushed the head of Satan and the powers of evil. As Paul puts it in his letter to the Colossians, “Having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Col. 2:15).
Jesus shows us that peace is not only the result of crushing; peace is the way to crush. And this Prince of Peace guides our feet into the same path. This is why Paul writes, a few chapters before Romans 16, in Romans 12, “Do not repay evil for evil…As far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone…If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:17a, 18, 20-21).
Do you see what Paul is saying? Peace is not what happens after we overcome. A peaceable life is the way God overcomes. Any hope to arrive at peace must start with the practice of peace. This is how the God of peace will soon crush Satan under our feet. That is what, “Romans 16: 20 says!”