Luke 22:35-36 says, “And he said unto them, ‘When I sent you without purse, and scrip, and shoes, lacked ye any thing?’ And they said, ‘Nothing.’ Then said he unto them, ‘But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one.’” The last couple of weeks we have looked at the subject of Biblical suffering. While studying “sufferology,” oftentimes the question comes up, “Does being a Christian mean I can never defend myself, my family, or my country?”. This is a deep question, and one that many wholly devoted Christians have wrestled with throughout the centuries. I don’t claim to have it all figured out, but there are some basic Scriptures we can look to for help. You study, and come to your own conclusions. Let’s get into God’s Word.
Except for some hyper-pacifists, I believe most believers would agree that it is our Christian duty to resist evil. The argument is, how, and to what degree, do we resist evil? In the verses mentioned above, Jesus told His disciples to sell their cloak and buy a sword. Why? To use as an offensive weapon against others? Of course not. To use as a tool to force conversion? Absolutely not. Did He want them to trust in the sword, and the power of their own might? No way. What about to defend Him against soldiers in the Garden where they would arrest Him? Certainly not. In fact, we know Jesus told Peter to put his sword back in its place, when he tried to defend Jesus with it (Mt 26:52). As a side note, notice Jesus didn’t say, “Peter! Why do you have a sword? Get rid of that thing. Surrender it to the soldiers.” No, Jesus simply told Peter to put it back in its place (sheath, in John’s Gospel).
Jesus did say at that moment to Peter that they who live by the sword shall die by the sword. Was that a threat - or perhaps a promise (prophecy)? The Jews, who took Christ by the sword, and the Romans, who executed Him by the sword - well, they perished by the sword, the Jews, about 40 years later, and the Romans, a few centuries later. Also, “dying by the sword” was mentioned again by John in Revelation 13:10. What did it pertain to? The “sword” of God’s judgment coming upon those who took the sword against Christians. I would hardly use these verses for proof text that self-defense is unlawful or unchristian.
Remember, the sword was the personal defense weapon of the day. We can exchange the word “sword” for “gun” nowadays. If the Bible were written today, it would read, “Peter, put your gun back in its holster, or shoulder it.” Why? Because people do not carry swords for personal protection any more (in the U.S., anyway). Jesus told His disciples to buy a sword (gun), because they were going out into a hostile world, full of bandits and wild animals, and they needed to be able to protect themselves. One thing that is obvious is that Jesus was giving them the right to defend themselves. Ultimately, they all chose a martyr’s death (John died naturally) - but they CHOSE. Having the right to carry a weapon and defend yourself is God-given, but it doesn’t mean you have to. It just means you can.
What about 2Cor10:3-5? It’s true, we do not do spiritual warfare with physical weapons, but with spiritual weapons. However, these verses have nothing to do with self-defense. They are only addressing spiritual battle.
What about Mt 5:38-39? Verse 39 should be understood in light of verse 38. Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth speaks of vengeance, or getting even. We are not to get even, but leave that up to God (2Tim4:14, Rom 12:17, 19). Defending yourself or someone else is not getting even, it’s protecting. Protecting the innocent against evil is noble, not unchristian. We are to resist the devil (the embodiment of evil), according to God’s Word (Jam 4:7). Evil prevails when good men do nothing. We are living that out today. Brethren, let us be silent no more. I know the night is far spent, but if we know our God, we will be strong and do exploits (Dan 11:32).
What about, “Love your enemies?” (Mt 5:43-44) Well, love them! Be concerned about their souls. Pray for them. It doesn’t mean let them murder you or your loved ones. “But the Bible says you shouldn’t kill” (Ex 20:13). Actually, that means you shouldn’t murder, according to Jesus (Mt 19:18). Self-defense is not murder. Even our legal system understands that.
I conclude that the Bible teaches us we have the God-given right to defend ourselves (Neh 4:14). However, in certain circumstances, and being sensitive to God’s Holy Spirit, we may be led to forego that right (read about Jim Elliot). Like other Christian liberties, though we have the right to defend ourselves, in certain circumstances, we may not exercise that right. Our trust is to be completely in Jesus, and not any natural thing. However, it doesn’t mean we should not posses natural things. Possessing a self-defense weapon and trusting in that self-defense weapon are two completely different things. I have money. I don’t trust in money.
I pray this has helped you in some way reconcile suffering persecution with Christ, and self defense. The lines are not always perfectly clear, but I believe that, when the basics are established biblically, we have a foundation on which to build. Our Western minds do not like any loose ends, but the fact is, there are some things that just aren’t going to be wrapped up as tight as you would like them to be. Ah, to be a child again, when all things were black and white! Help us, Lord, to be children in faith, and wise in your Word. Until next time, rejoice in The Lord!