A good friend of mine asked a serious question about the Bible last week that I would like to answer in today’s post. The question was about Matt. 5:38-39, and 5:43-44.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. … You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you (Matt. 5:38-39)
When we read this instruction, it gives all of us reason to scratch our heads and question ourselves, “Am I ‘Christian’ enough to DO that?” We might also wonder if Christ is really telling us not to defend ourselves. Today, I’d like to take the time to give a studied answer to this serious question.
The same Jesus Christ who said “not to resist an evil person” also advised His disciples in Luke 22:36, “he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one.” Yet this was also the same Jesus who said in Matthew 26:52, after Peter had cut off Malchus’s ear in the garden, “put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.”
I may be totally alone in this, but I have found it a bit confusing when I look at all of these verses together. Can’t help it … I’m human, not Superman, and … in case you’re wondering, I HAVE been smacked in the mouth a time or two, and have not retaliated!
Back on the topic of self-defense, Matthew Henry’s Commentary has this to say on Matt. 5: 39:
“this does not repeal the law of self-preservation, and the care we are to take of our families; we may avoid evil, and may resist it, so far as is necessary to our own security; but we must not render evil for evil, must not bear a grudge, nor avenge ourselves, nor study to be even with those that have treated us unkindly, but we must go beyond them by forgiving them.”
Matthew Henry also comments on Luke 22:38, saying, “The disciples hereupon enquire what strength they had, and find they had among them two swords (Luke 22:38), of which one was Peter’s. The Galileans generally traveled with swords. Christ wore none himself, but He was not against His disciples wearing them.”
I will not dismiss the practice of total pacifism. I get it … you want to obey Christ, whatever the cost, to the very spirit of His Word and His law as you read it. But I will also defend the right of the Christian who seeks to defend himself and his family with the APPROPRIATE use of a “sword” in today’s world, and I’d like to use a current story in the news to do so.
Wise And Harmless
An elderly gentleman in Texas was accosted from behind in a parking garage, and told not to turn around. Thinking some of his friends were playing a practical joke on him, he began to turn his head, and got a hard punch to the kidney for doing so. The thug took his wallet out of his back pocket, and then walked around to the passenger’s side of the car where his wife was seated, with the intention of robbing her as well. Seeing this, the man drew his weapon, and aimed it at the robber which caused him to flee the scene. He was later apprehended because his image showed up on the garage’s security cameras.
Behold I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.(Matt. 10:16)
There is a “wise” and “harmless” way to live in an increasingly violent world like the one we live in today — a world much like the one described in Isaiah 59, where “truth fails, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey.”
This man in Texas intended the thief no harm. He never had to fire his weapon, but he HAD protected his wife from possible harm. The only harm this gentleman suffered was a punch to the kidney, and the loss of his wallet. The thief was not injured, and faced the justice system for his crime as he should have done. Great outcome for all concerned, unless you consider the thief himself an “innocent victim” as some do today.
I will also say this. The great martyrs of the Bible were not just allowing themselves to be victims of street criminals and brigands. They were persecuted FOR THEIR FAITH, by the legal and religious authorities of the day as Christ was. The martyrs in Foxes’ Book of Martyrs were the victims of state-sanctioned religious persecution, not roving bands of street thugs.
You can probably tell by now that I’m not a big fan of “one size fits all” answers, OR of quick, pat answers as if I’m the only guy with “the right” Biblical answer to every question. Like most serious Bible questions, one quick answer doesn’t fit all situations that may arise in relation to a Christian’s self-defense, and the most obvious answer to some may not be the best answer for all situations and people.