A question frequently asked is what should one do if he or his family is attacked, or if someone intends to render harm in any way, or when there is a danger to one’s property? Surely we would think it is our duty to protect our lives and interests, and if the nation is attacked, it is our patriotic duty to bear arms. While this hypothetical situation occasionally does arise, for the dedicated Christian it overlooks one important consideration. God says: “When a man’s ways please the LORD, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him” (Prov. 16:7). God is capable of protecting His true people, and has done so on many occasions.
The belief that Christians should participate in the military is based on what is written in the Old Testament, while ignoring what is found in the New. During the Old Testament period, the people of Israel were God’s physical nation on this earth. God had promised to fight their battles for them.
Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared. Beware of him, and obey his voice, provoke him not; for he will not pardon your transgressions: for my name is in him. But if thou shalt indeed obey his voice, and do all that I speak; then I will be an enemy unto thine enemies, and an adversary unto thine adversaries. For mine Angel shall go before thee, and bring thee in unto the Amorites, and the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Canaanites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites: and I will cut them off. (Ex. 23:20-23)
Before this promise was given, the Israelites had been attacked and had chosen to fight for themselves (Ex. 17:9). Had they really trusted God, it would not have been necessary. Since they felt more secure in fighting, God made them His instrument for the destruction of the heathen people dwelling in the land of Canaan. During the Old Testament, Israel was a nation of this world. The wars in which the Israelites engaged were fought to solve problems-the same way all the nations of the earth attempt to solve theirs-by victory in war. The fact is: From the beginning of history, no nation has been able to bring about lasting peace on this earth. For 6,000 years men have been unable to make the world safe from the violence and bloodshed associated with war. Peace will not come until Christ returns to take control of this world and to rule it “with a rod of iron” (Rev. 19:11-15, Isa.11:9).
To address the question asked at the beginning of this article, consider this: Aside from war, most acts of domestic violence are perpetrated by drug addicts or by career criminals who are often the product of a faulty judicial system. In many cases authorities have utterly failed to make society safe. This is particularly true in the United States. No one in a right mind would walk around most urban areas at night and not be fearful. By using good judgment, and by not placing oneself in a dangerous situation, one need not fear harm against himself or his family. We must be much like Jesus’ disciples. They were told: “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matt. 10:16). In civilized nations, a man whose ways please the Lord will unlikely face the situation where violence could strike him or his family.
In modern times wars between major powers are likely to be nuclear in nature. Such a war would be over in a matter of a few hours. “Police action” against smaller nations is another matter however. Those who involve themselves in these affairs attempt to solve the world’s problems by human means. While some benefit may result, in the final analysis men are incapable of ever permanently changing human nature. As King Solomon said: “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9).
Would Christ Fight?
The fundamental question for Christians is this: Would Christ fight? During the time of Jesus, the Jewish people were ruled by the Romans. They believed the Messiah would come to free them from Roman oppression. During Christ’s ministry, on more than one occasion, the people wanted to make Him king. Christ refused to become involved in the political affairs of this world. This is what Christians must realize. When asked if He were a king, Jesus told Pilate: ” . . . My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence” (John 18:36). When Christ returns, He will come as King of kings (Rev. 19:16). Yet, while on this earth in the flesh, He refused to be a part of the system in any manner.
Christians must realize that they are called out of the world. Though living in it, they are not of it. While they may be citizens of a particular nation, they are also citizens of heaven. The Apostle Paul wrote: “For our [citizenship] is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:20). “Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20). Ambassadors do not involve themselves in the domestic matters of the nations to which they are assigned. Paul’s mission was to the Church, not to the world. In like manner Christians, called out of this world, do not involve themselves in the matters and concerns of society. The Christian concern is the battle that must be faced in overcoming Satan and the evil in our own natures. “No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier” (2 Tim. 2:4). To repeat, true Christians do not participate in the affairs of the governments of this world. The rewards Christians seek are not to be found in this life, but eternal life in the Kingdom of God.
For mankind in general, “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Prov. 14:12). Paul emphasized: “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:3-5). The nations of this world are unaware of what it means to really practice Christianity. They will continue to fight wars to solve their problems until Christ puts an end to it. While Christians obey the laws of the land (unless these laws are contrary to the Law of God), they are preparing to rule with Christ when He returns. ” . . . And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: And he shall rule them with a rod of iron . . .” (Rev. 2:25-27).
Basic training in the military involves a conditioning process. This process is intended to instill enough hatred against an enemy that the recruit would not hesitate to kill if required. The very purpose of soldiering is to defeat the enemy. Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest once said, “War means fighting, and fighting means killing.” General Patton was absolutely correct when he stated that wars are not won by dying for your country. Wars are won by making the other guy die for his country. While in the military, the soldier is under complete control of the government. In effect, he is no longer free to make many decisions for himself. He is not free to really obey God. The Apostle Paul tells us: “Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men” (1 Cor. 7:23). Christians are servants of Christ. They are not to be the servants of men. The entire military psychology is in opposition to God’s law of love. “Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law” (Rom. 13:8). It is impossible to practice the law of love in the military. True Christians should be free to properly serve and worship God. In effect, disciples of Christ are forbidden by Him and the commandments of God to kill or in any manner, directly or indirectly, to take human life, by whatsoever means. Bearing arms is directly contrary to this fundamental truth. True Christians conscientiously refuse to bear arms or to come under military authority. The giving and taking of life is the prerogative of God. God states, “See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god with me: I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal: neither is there any that can deliver out of my hand” (Deut. 32:39). It should be clear that as far as this world is concerned, Jesus Christ would not take up arms against an enemy.
How God Views Murder
In the sight of God, taking a human life is a very grave matter. He instructs: “And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man’s brother will I require the life of man. Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man” (Gen. 9:5-6). We see by this verse that the taking of human life is so serious that capital punishment is not viewed in the same manner as killing an enemy. Civil authorities have been placed in office to protect the public, though the various justice systems of today are seriously flawed.
For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. (Rom. 13:3-5)
The first murder was committed by Cain. At that point of time God did not enforce the death penalty. After the Flood He gave the instruction cited at the beginning of this section. Later, when Israel was chosen as His physical nation on this earth, murder was included as one of the great cardinal sins. The sixth commandment states: “Thou shalt [do no murder]” (Ex. 20:13). It is permissible to kill animals, fish, etc. but it is a capital offense to kill another human being. In the sight of God, capital punishment is not regarded as murder.
Various statutes detail the penalty God requires for murder. “He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death . . . . But if a man come presumptuously upon his neighbour, to slay him with guile; thou shalt take him from mine altar, that he may die” (Ex. 21: 12, 14).
And if he smite him with an instrument of iron, so that he die, he is a murderer: the murderer shall surely be put to death. And if he smite him with throwing a stone, wherewith he may die, and he die, he is a murderer: the murderer shall surely be put to death. Or if he smite him with an hand weapon of wood, wherewith he may die, and he die, he is a murderer: the murderer shall surely be put to death . . . . But if he thrust him of hatred, or hurl at him by laying of wait, that he die; Or in enmity smite him with his hand, that he die: he that smote him shall surely be put to death; for he is a murderer . . . . (Num. 35:16-18, 20-21)
Manslaughter Likewise a Serious Offense
Accidental killings are generally regarded as manslaughter, meaning that the death of another party was not premeditated or deliberately done. While regarded as serious, the death penalty was not required in such cases. Therefore, the following provision was made. Six cities, scattered throughout the land, were set aside as cities of refuge. If one had been guilty of manslaughter, he could flee to a city of refuge and safely reside there. Why? Because if a man was guilty of murder, the nearest relative of the victim had a legal right to execute the offender. In the case of manslaughter, until the facts were brought to light, the offender could be safe from retribution. The downside was that in the matter of manslaughter, the offender had to remain in the city of refuge until the death of the high priest. To leave the city laid the offender open to the avenger of blood. In effect, the penalty for manslaughter, depending on the age of the high priest, could amount to nearly a lifetime of restriction within the city of refuge.
Here is the instruction:
“Then ye shall appoint you cities to be cities of refuge for you; that the slayer may flee thither, which killeth any person at unawares. And they shall be unto you cities for refuge from the avenger; that the manslayer die not, until he stand before the congregation in judgment. And of these cities which ye shall give six cities shall ye have for refuge . . . . These six cities shall be a refuge, both for the children of Israel, and for the stranger, and for the sojourner among them: that every one that killeth any person unawares may flee thither . . . . But if he thrust him suddenly without enmity, or have cast upon him any thing without laying of wait, Or with any stone, wherewith a man may die, seeing him not, and cast it upon him, that he die, and was not his enemy, neither sought his harm: Then the congregation shall judge between the slayer and the revenger of blood according to these judgments: And the congregation shall deliver the slayer out of the hand of the revenger of blood, and the congregation shall restore him to the city of his refuge, whither he was fled: and he shall abide in it unto the death of the high priest, which was anointed with the holy oil. (Num. 35:11-13, 15, 22-25)
Carelessness in taking of a human life was not a light matter. Even when building a house, the instruction was: “When thou buildest a new house, then thou shalt make a battlement for thy roof, that thou bring not blood upon thine house, if any man fall from thence” (Deut. 22:8). If the same kind of justice was dispensed today, for example in the case of drunk drivers, the death rate would be greatly reduced.
God-the Supreme Judge
God alone determines who and when a life should be taken. Only under rare circumstances is man authorized to take human life. Capital punishment is one of those occasions. During the Old Testament period God often used the nation of Israel as His instrument in executing judgment upon the heathen nations. War was often the means by which this judgment was employed. Today, there is no physical nation of God upon this earth. Instead, there is a spiritual Church. This Church does not participate in the politics and wars of this world.
As noted earlier in this article, God says: “See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god with me: I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal: neither is there any that can deliver out of my hand” (Deut. 32:39). On more than one occasion God took human life.’
Consider these examples:
“And Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD slew him” (Gen. 38:7).
“And the thing which he [Onan] did displeased the LORD: wherefore he slew him also” (Gen. 38:10).
“For I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the LORD” (Ex. 12:12).
“Thus saith the LORD of hosts, I remember that which Amalek did to Israel, how he laid wait for him in the way, when he came up from Egypt. Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass” (1 Sam. 15:2-3).
“And the others he said in mine hearing, Go ye after him through the city, and smite: let not your eye spare, neither have ye pity: Slay utterly old and young, both maids, and little children, and women: but come not near any man upon whom is the mark; and begin at my sanctuary. Then they began at the ancient men which were before the house” (Ezek. 9:5-6).
When Christ returns, Isaiah prophesied: “For, behold, the LORD will come with fire, and with his chariots like a whirlwind, to render his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire. For by fire and by his sword will the LORD plead with all flesh: and the slain of the LORD shall be many” (Isa. 66:15-16).
God is the Judge of the whole earth (Ps. 58:11, 1 Sam. 2:10, Rom. 3:6; 14:11-12). Judgment will begin when Christ returns (Isa. 40:10, Micah 4:3). No physical nation on this earth has been given this responsibility. God alone is the Supreme Judge.
The New Testament Teaching
Christians who participate in war have failed to take New Testament teaching into consideration. Does the New Testament sanction war? Isaiah prophesied of the Messiah: “The LORD is well pleased for his righteousness’ sake; he will magnify the law, and make it [glorious]” (Isa. 42:21). Christ came to magnify (expand) the Law. He taught the spiritual intent of God’s Law, not the Old Testament “Letter of the Law.” What He instructed is clearly outlined in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7). “And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine” (Matt. 7:28). They had never heard anything like it.
What did Christ teach about killing?
Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother [lightly] shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of [gehenna] fire” (Matt. 5:21-22).
To be guilty before God, murder does not have to take place. Merely hating another makes one blameworthy. Man is being judged today on the intent of his heart and mind. To harbor feelings of hatred makes one as guilty as if he had committed an act of murder. When nations go to war, the question of heart and mind is not addressed. In this world war will take place, and many casualties, both military and civilian, will occur (Matt. 24:7). Nations will hate one another. Here is what Jesus stated: “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matt. 5:43-44). While many soldiers not in involved in combat may not directly hate an enemy, those engaged in combat soon learn hate. Under these circumstance it is a rare man, indeed, who does not hate his enemy. If one does not hate the enemy, he is at risk on the battlefield.
It has been stated that the origin of war begins with theft. The Bible substantiates this. “From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not” (Jas. 4:1-2). Nations that do not obey God cannot expect blessings. War is generally the means to realize national interests. While patriotic feelings are often whipped up to incite the public, the causes of war generally run much deeper. War is a work of the flesh.
“. . . That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man” (Mark 7:20-23).
The Apostle Paul stated:
“Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:19-21).
Hatred and war will not cease on this earth until there is a basic change in human nature. This change can come only by means of the Holy Spirit, but that Spirit is not given unless one repents and is baptized (Act. 2:38-39). The repentant Christian enters into a New Covenant relationship with God. A change of heart and mind takes place. The old man-the carnal unconverted man -has been replaced by the “new man.”
Of that New Covenant God says:
Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah. Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. (Jer. 31:31-33)
The Apostle Peter wrote: “Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust” (2 Pet. 1:4). In the life of a true Christian there is no room for hatred and war. For the unconverted, such a change of heart and mind is impossible. This requires the Spirit of God.
The New Testament explains what is required of Christians:
For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them. And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same. And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. (Luke 6:32-35)
“Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head” (Rom.12:19-20). Even Old Testament instructions advocated New Testament teachings. “Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth” (Prov. 24:17). “If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink” (Prov. 25:21). New Testament spiritual requirements far exceed those required during the Old Testament period. Today, man is held accountable not only for what he does but also for what he thinks. Living the principles of the New Testament is a miracle in its own right. ” . . . With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26).
Keep God’s Commandments
Jesus was asked this question:” . . . Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” (Matt. 19:16). Jesus’ reply included: ” . . . Thou shalt do no murder . . . ” (v. 18). While killing the enemy is not the same as murdering, it is nevertheless a violation of the principles of the New Covenant. “Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom. 13:10). How broad is the meaning of the word “brother”? While it is applied to literal relatives and fellow Christians, in the general sense it refers to our fellow man. Jesus said: ” . . . all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword” (Matt. 26:52). Worldly nations generally engage in war to support their national interests, which are often selfish in nature. During the Old Testament period Israel was used as God’s sword to exercise His judgments. There were many great warriors at that time, but they were acting as God’s agents. Sanctioned by God, many of these wars were just wars. But we are now in the New Testament Dispensation. Today no wars are being sanctioned by God. Christians are called out of the world and no longer participate in its system. “For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord’s freeman: likewise also he that is called, being free, is Christ’s servant. Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men” (1 Cor. 7:22-23). One who serves in the military is not a free man.
The Apostle James said this about God’s Law. “But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors. For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law” (Jas. 2:9-11). We can add to this the Apostle Paul’s statement: “Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine” (1 Tim. 1:9-10). And the Apostle Peter wrote: “If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters” (1 Pet. 4:14-15).
Today, obedience to the Ten Commandments requires a new heart and mind. God promises that we will be rewarded according to our works (Jas. 2:26). The New Testament requires worship both in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24). Christians are being judged according to the intent of the heart and mind. So important is the keeping of God’s Commandments that we read: “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city. For without are dogs [used figuratively for sodomites], and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie” (Rev. 22:14-15). “He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death” (Rev. 21:7-8). Keeping the sixth commandment is an absolute requirement for entering the Kingdom of God.
Some may find this article to be unpalatable, objecting that if everyone took seriously what is stated above, we would have no military and would soon be destroyed as a nation. But there is little to worry about. Few today are truly being called, and the requirement to obey Jesus’ words takes a lot of determination. Few have that kind of determination. Jesus said: “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matt. 7:13-14). Will you be among those who find it?