“Make every effort to live at peace with all men and to be holy” (Hebrews 12:14).
The temptation, when reading a verse like this, is to separate it into two parts, and then to focus on the part that we like the best. That, however, would be a huge mistake.
For example, if I focus only on the “live at peace with all men” part, then I am tempted to measure my success by avoiding conflict. If that is my goal, then all I have to do is agree with everything that anyone else says or does.
As long as I do not contradict their thoughts, values or actions, I can live at peace with just about anyone. Who will fight with you if you simply let them do whatever they want?
The problem is you do not have real peace. All you have is a lack of aggression. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once pointed out that most people “prefer a negative peace, which is the absence of tension, to a positive peace, which is the presence of justice.”
In other words, sometimes the worst thing you can do is just duck your head, and not get involved. An overemphasis on getting along may mean that we do not stand up for truth or make a difference when we see something that really does need to be corrected.
You may not be fighting with anyone, but nothing changes for the better either.
On the other hand, if I focus solely on the “be holy” part, then I have another set of problems. Be holy easily descends into being “Holier than thou.” If my goal is to speak the truth, whether you like it or not, then I am likely going to find myself standing alone.
This position also works against the greater good because, even if I am right, my approach makes it so that no one wants to listen to me. No one is helped by a judgmental know-it-all.
What makes this verse both important and instructive is the fact that it says that we are to “make every effort” to do both parts. I have to learn to respect God enough that holy things are really important to me. However, I have to respect people enough that I care about how they hear the things that I am saying.
According to Jesus, the greatest the commandment was to love God and to love people (Matthew 22:37-39). One or the other on its own is not good enough.
Suddenly, that little verse at the top of the page just got a lot more challenging.