This article was originally posted at my site. Only some of my articles are posted on SBC Voices. If you would like access to all of my articles, you can follow my feed here. You can also connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.
How should Christians respond to physical attack? Jesus in Matthew 5:38-42 says,
38You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’39But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.41And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
These verses seem to suggest that Christians are never to fight against those who try to hurt them; but, what about the command from Christ to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matt. 22:39)? If loving ourselves according to Christ’s words equals “never protecting our lives,” then if we love our neighbors as ourselves, we should never protect their lives either. A few days ago, a former deacon walked into Lakeland Church in Florida, after murdering his own wife, and shot his pastor in the back of the head as he knelt praying. The shooter then fired three bullets into the associate pastor; but, was tackled by some other congregants before he could do more damage. Based on the words of Christ above, were these Christians wrong to stop this man from shooting other people? No, because it seems that Jesus’ point in the Sermon on the Mount is that the theocracy of Israel is over. He has fulfilled the Law (Matt. 5:17); and Christians are no longer under the Law of Israel in a civil sense, but are instead under the law of the local government (Rom. 13:1-7). Thus, God’s holiness is no longer directly associated with a specific national people on earth. His holiness is instead associated with His church through Christ. This church of Christ however, although existing on earth, is part of a heavenly kingdom that is not part of this world (John 18:36). Hence, Jesus’ command to “turn the other cheek” must be applied only to Christians who are suffering because they are members of this heavenly kingdom. In Israel, the “reason” for the attack had little significance, for the “eye for an eye” law remained; but, Jesus says that since the theocracy is over, the reason for the attack has huge significance. Hurting other humans in the civil kingdom may be avenged by the Sword (Rom. 13:1-7), but persecution of the heavenly kingdom may not me avenged, except by God (Rom. 12:18-21). God has judged the sins of His people in Christ; thus reconciling them to Himself. As a result, Christians too must carry out their ministry of reconciliation with their enemies since they are part of His heavenly kingdom and this heavenly ethic (2 Cor. 5:17-21). Just as Christ suffered for His church, Christians too should arm themselves with the same mind (1 Pet. 4:1-2).
David VanDrunen explains this reality in the November 2009 Issue of Themelios (I HIGHLY recommend that you follow this link and read the entire article):
Finally, the legitimacy of self-defense depends upon the context: am I being assailed as just another citizen of the civil kingdom or as a disciple of Jesus and hence as a member of the church? If an individual Christian is threatened by a burglar who breaks into his home to steal his property, this is an ordinary civil matter, and the Christian (who, in this setting, just happens to be a Christian) is free (and perhaps even obligated?) to defend himself or seek coercive legal remedy. But if an individual Christian is threatened because of her Christian faith, because she is identified with Christ as a member of his church, then is non-retaliation perhaps the appropriate response? The context of Matt 5:38–42 suggests an affirmative answer. Jesus most likely envisions his disciples being slapped, stripped, and conscripted not in ordinary civil disputes but specifically as his disciples: “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me” (5:10–11). The apostolic example suggests that Christians, in the face of state action, may peaceably appeal to the civil government to abide by its own laws (e.g., Acts 22:25–29). The apostles, however, never retaliated when government officials treated them unjustly and never pursued legal action against those who persecuted them. The disruption of the civil kingdom may be avenged by the sword but the persecution of the kingdom of heaven may not.
In other words, if a bully persecutes you because you’re a Christian, enjoy the fact that you’re so saved that even the Devil and his servants recognize it (Acts 5:41). However, if a bully merely wants to destroy the image of God in you, since you are still a citizen of the civil kingdom (Rom. 13:1-7), and this is not a heavenly kingdom matter (Gen. 1:26), you are to protect this image of God in obedience to Christ (Col. 1:16-17). Concerning protecting your family, do not strip them of the privilege of suffering for the sake of Christ if they are Christians (Luke 6:22); but, if someone merely wants to snuff out the image of God in them, then protect your wife and children to the point of laying down your life for them (Eph. 5:25). We are not to be doormats in the civil kingdom since we are indeed citizens here (Rom. 13:1-7; Col. 1:16-17); however, we are to be doormats if need be due to living here in a not fully realized heavenly kingdom. In other words, persecute me for being a Christian, and I will let you with joy; but, persecute me for being a human being, and you will have a fight on your hands… and I’m a biter!
What are your thoughts?