A Christian Perspective of Self Defense
by Larry Fox
Links to other Fox Ventures pages: Home || Study Notes & Articles
Links within this article:
Is killing a person always murder?
Use of deadly force
Jesus' defense of himself
The apostles' response to threats
The new covenant
Peace is not always possible
What about revolt?
A perspective of life and self defense
Self defense is obviously a very controversial topic among Christians, with many godly people on different sides of the issue. It is a multi-faceted and complex issue, and there are Christians whose spiritual maturity I respect who take opposing stands. While scripture shows that I should pattern my life after those who are more mature in the faith -- the themes of discipleship and mentoring are strong in the New Testament -- it is also clear that I am ultimately responsible for my own growth, maturity, attitudes and behavior. Because of this, it is understandable there are so many different Christian perspectives on self defense. My conclusions are governed by my personality, my level of spiritual maturity and my interpretation of scripture.
Many questions immediately come to mind that need to be addressed. Should I defend myself and my family, and what forms of defense are appropriate? Do I defend passively or aggressively? With or without force? Should I defend or protect others? Should I prepare for possible emergencies, such as storms, civil unrest, economic turmoil and political instability? What is my responsibility toward others in these situations?
This article is the product of my own Bible study and research regarding self defense and is an attempt to clarify my position on the topic. Admittedly, this is a very long article, and I regret its length. But the issue is both complex and controversial, so I am trying to be thorough in my investigation, looking at as many relevant scriptures as possible.
We will point out the difference between the emphasis of the Old Testament and that of the New Testament. In particular, the covenants of the Old Testament were primarily about earthly existence, while the New Testament emphasizes the development of godly character and eternal reward.
We will see that the Bible prohibits murder, but not killing, and that the ownership and use of weapons are not prohibited. It seems the issue of self defense is less related to "defense" than to "self."
Godly character traits and attitudes receive the greatest attention in the New Testament; in particular, humility and agape. We will conclude that humility prohibits us from seeking vengeance, but not law enforcement and justice. There may be occasions in which humility prohibits you from defending yourself, however.
Agape, on the other hand, almost demands that you sacrifice yourself for the benefit of others, whether that involves working to meet their basic human needs, interests and desires, or actually giving up your life to prolong theirs. So defending another person, especially a family member, is not only appropriate but required of godly character.
I think it is important to begin by looking at the Old Testament, though we are not under Old Testament law, because it reveals much regarding God's standards and perspective. The Old Testament very clearly states that God created man in his own image and intended for him to rule the earth (Gen 1:26-28). Man's ability to make judgments and govern derive from his godly image and delegated authority. As we will see, man's God-like nature also leads to very strict standards regarding the treatment of people.
This issue seems to be at the root of many people's opinions regarding self defense. If one believes killing is synonymous with murder, then it is never appropriate to use deadly force, even in defense. This is a common argument against private gun ownership, for example.
God said to Noah, "from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man" (Gen 9:5-6). So God created a system of capital punishment to be implemented by mankind; man was to take the life of whoever sheds another man's blood. Because God made man in his own image, murder becomes a crime against God and demands capital punishment. There is no provision in the Old Testament for attempted rehabilitation of a murderer.
In the Ten Commandments, God did not say, "You shall not kill" but, "You shall not murder" (Ex 20:13, Deut 5:17). The Hebrew word specifically refers to murder and is never used of executing a criminal or slaying an enemy in battle.
God clearly distinguishes between killing and murder.
God specified more than one form of capital punishment in the Mosaic Law. Stoning was the most frequent mode and usually involved participation by members of the entire community, including the witnesses (Deut 17:7). Such public execution probably served as a strong deterrent, because people not only viewed executions by stoning but participated in them.
Offenses punishable by stoning included sacrificing one's infant to Molech (Lev 20:1-5). This passage even includes a warning to those who knowingly permit someone to sacrifice their child. Death by stoning was the punishment for anyone who was a medium or spiritist (Lev 20:27), who blasphemed the name of the Lord (Lev 24:15-16), who performed manual labor on the Sabbath (Num 15:32-36), who worshiped other gods (Deut 13:1-11; 17:2-5), who was a stubborn and rebellious son (Deut 21:18-21), or who committed adultery (Deut 21:22-24).
The sword was also a common instrument in capital punishment. For example, at Mount Sinai, when the people worshiped the golden calf, God directed Moses to have the Levites kill the people by the sword (Ex 32:26-28). After Israel occupied the Promised Land, if a community fell into idolatry, every person in that town was to be put to the sword (Deut 13:12-15).
Death by burning was specified if a man married both a woman and her mother (Lev 20:14) or if a daughter of a priest became a prostitute (Lev 21:9).
There were many other situations in which people were to be put to death. For example, showing contempt for a judge or priest who stands ministering to the Lord (Deut 17:12). If a person owned a bull that had a habit of goring people, but did not keep it penned up and the bull gored someone to death, the owner must be put to death unless payment is demanded of him instead (Ex 21:28-30). Death was warranted for anyone who intentionally killed someone (Ex 21:12-14), who was a sorceress (Ex 22:18), who had sexual relations with an animal (Ex 22:19), who attacked his parents (21:15), who kidnaped another (21:16), who cursed his parents (21:17), who struck a pregnant woman causing her to lose the child (21:22-25), who committed incest (Lev 20:11), who committed homosexuality (Lev 20:13), or who raped a woman (Deut 22:25).
God mandated capital punishment for a variety of offenses in the Mosaic Law.
God pledged to give the Israelites victory against their enemies. They were to annihilate the people who dwelled in the Promised Land (Deut 7:1-2; 20:16-18). They would kill their enemies even if outnumbered (Lev 26:8, Deut 20:1-4).
They were to have judges rule in cases involving bloodshed (Deut 17:8), which suggests not all bloodshed was to be punished. This seems to allow use of deadly force in defense.
If a thief was caught breaking into a home at night, the homeowner had the right to kill the intruder in protection of his family and property. But if the incident occurred during the day, presumably when the homeowner could properly judge the intruder's intentions and the intruder could see the homeowner was present and willing to defend his household, the homeowner could not kill in defense of his household (Ex 22:2-3).
We must realize that the Old and New Testaments are very different and have different purposes. The Old Testament was an earth-based covenant primarily focusing on human earthly needs for physical provision and protection. It's blessings and curses were physical and psychological in nature, relating to crops and herds, safety from enemies, physical health, sense of peace and so on. The old covenant related to a person's earthly existence.
The New Testament, on the other hand, is a new covenant that focuses primarily on repentance and spiritual development rather than physical existence. Repentance literally means changing one's mind -- changing one's attitudes, perspective, values and standards -- which will cause one's actions to change. In the new covenant, there is much less emphasis on physical existence because the focus has changed. It has been said the old covenant blessed a person on earth, while the new covenant prepares a person to leave the earth. The new covenant recognizes that God intends to use hardships and difficulties to help a person repent -- change their attitudes, perspective, values and standards -- and develop them spiritually with godly attributes.
Where the old covenant required obedience to a set of laws and promised protection from enemies, the new covenant requires loving one's enemies and blessing those who abuse you. The old covenant promised wealth and prosperity in exchange for obedience; the new covenant examines our stewardship, how we use whatever we have. The emphasis changes significantly from old covenant to new, and that is why we cannot assume all the Old Testament statements about protection and self defense are relevant to those of us under the New Testament. For that reason, we will look almost exclusively at the New Testament.
The New Testament says very little regarding enforcement of public justice; the emphasis instead is on personal behavior. Even Jesus' Sermon on the Mount addressed individual responses to injustice, not the state's responsibility for legitimate law enforcement, including the protection of its citizens. In his teaching on the mount, he upheld the authority and validity of the Old Testament law, as we see in Matthew 5:17-20:
"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will be any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven."
The Greek word translated "abolish" also means destroy or throw down. Jesus said he didn't come to destroy, throw down or abolish the Old Testament Law and Prophets; instead, he came to fulfill them, which means he shows us their ultimate expression. That is why he shifted the emphasis from external adherence to a set of rules to development of godly character. Regarding the Law, consider Paul's statement in Ephesians 2:15, that Jesus abolished in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. At first, this seems to contradict what Jesus said, that he didn't come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. Paul uses a very different Greek word, which means to destroy, nullify, fade away or abolish. So did Jesus abolish the Law or not? No. The context of Ephesians 2:15 is Christ destroying the wall that separated the Jews from gentile believers. A main purpose of the Jewish law was to serve as a barrier to separate them from gentiles. Paul does not say Jesus abolished the law as the word of God or as a moral guide. The part that was abolished was the law as a set of regulations that excludes gentiles from God's blessings or forces them to become Jews. The moral instruction of the Law is still relevant. Christ came to fulfill the Law; the moral code was still in place, but the secondary purpose of the law and ordinances (to separate the Jews from gentiles) is set aside or made useless.
Jesus repeatedly referred to the Old Testament Law. In Matthew 15:1-6, he quotes the fifth commandment and part of the Law (Ex 21:17). In Matthew 19:16-19, he quotes several of the ten commandments and part of the Law. He even discussed which was the greatest commandment in the Law (Mt 22:34-40). His greatest emphasis was on performance of God's will, which was the basis of the Law. In Matthew 5:21-48, for example, he contrasts the letter of the Law with God's intent, which is more exacting than the Law. Again, in Matthew 19:3-9, he clarifies God's intent in one item of the Law, which greatly affects a person's understanding and use of that item.
From this we can conclude that Jesus did not do away with all the provisions and requirements of the Old Testament, but he drastically changed the way we should view them. That is why this article will focus on New Testament scriptures relevant to self defense, in an attempt to understand God's intent for us.
The New Testament stresses the importance of Christians becoming Christ-like, or like Jesus. The term "Christian" describes a person who is like Christ; originally, it was a derogatory term meaning "little Christ." Let us examine Jesus' life and teachings as they relate to the topic of self defense, including one's reputation and physical safety. The following verses are presented in the order in which they appear in scripture and are not grouped by topic.
- Matthew 2:13. When Jesus was a young child, an angel of the Lord appeared to his father, Joseph, in a dream and warned him to leave the country because Herod wanted to kill Jesus.
- Matthew 2:22. Again, Joseph learned in a dream that Jesus' life was in danger, so he moved to another area.
- Matthew 4:2-3, 11. After Jesus had fasted forty days, he did not use his powers to provide for himself; instead, angels attended him.
- Matthew 8:23-26. Jesus and his disciples were in a boat when a furious storm suddenly developed. Jesus was unconcerned for his own safety and was asleep. When the disciples awoke him, he reprimanded the disciples for being afraid, then rebuked the storm and it became calm.
- Matthew 12:14-15. The Pharisees plotted to kill Jesus, so he left the area.
- Matthew 12:24-28. Jesus corrected the Pharisees who accused him. He knew they were plotting to kill him.
- Matthew 12:34-37. He harshly rebuked the Pharisees. Was this in retaliation for their accusations? No, but to correct their error and stubborn refusal to accept what God was doing.
- Matthew 16:21. Jesus knew he would suffer many things and be killed by the religious leaders.
- Matthew 26:50-54. At Jesus' arrest, Peter used a sword to defend Jesus. Jesus told him not to and he healed the man Peter injured. It was time for him to die and he was ready. He could have asked God for protection, but he did not (verse 53). His statement, "all who draw the sword will die by the sword," is often quoted today as a rejection of the use of weapons. But in another account of this incident, Jesus' point in having Peter put away his sword was his willingness to submit to arrest and death, rather than avoiding the use of weapons (John 18:11). If Jesus were a pacifist and opposed to any use of weapons, why would he allow his disciples to own them? In none of the gospels does Jesus rebuke his disciples for carrying weapons (swords). Jesus told Peter not to use his sword because (1) Jesus must be arrested, and (2) Peter was acting in the flesh rather than recognizing God's will.
- Matthew 26:62-64. Jesus did not defend himself when accused. Also see Matthew 27:11-14.
- Luke 4:4:28-30. A crowd tried to throw Jesus off a cliff, but he walked through the crowd to escape.
- Luke 13:31-33. The Pharisees warned Jesus Herod wanted to kill him, but he was unmoved.
- Luke 19:11-27. In a parable, Jesus describes a king who killed those who opposed him. Based on our understanding of scripture, the king in the parable represents Jesus himself when he returns to set up his kingdom on earth.
- Luke 20:9-16. Jesus tells a parable in which a landowner killed the tenants who killed his son. Notice the response of the people who heard the parable: "May this never be!" Jesus' position regarding death was stricter than the teaching of the religious leaders of his day.
- Luke 22:36-38. Jesus instructed each disciple to get a sword, even if he had to sell his cloak to buy one. They had two swords among them, and Jesus said that was sufficient. He clearly was not opposed to the possession and use of swords, yet he indicated two swords were sufficient for the 11 disciples; they obviously were not heavily armed.
- John 7:1. Jesus avoided an area because the Jews there were waiting to take his life.
- John 7:30. The Jews tried to seize Jesus in the temple courts, but "no one laid a hand on him, because his time had not yet come." In other words, they wanted to and tried, but were unable. See also verse 44.
- John 7:32, 45-46. The religious leaders sent guards to arrest Jesus, but the guards were strongly influenced by Jesus' teaching and did not arrest him.
- John 8:20. No one seized Jesus (though they really wanted to) because his time had not yet come.
- John 8:59. The Jews picked up stones to stone (kill) Jesus, but he hid himself and slipped away.
- John 10:39. The Jews tried to seize Jesus, but he escaped their grasp. There is no mention in any of these incidents of Jesus struggling or defending himself. This alone does not mean he did or didn't. Scripture also never says he put on his sandals, either.
- John 11:7-10. Jesus went back to Judea where the Jews had tried to stone him. His reply to his disciples about daylight may indicate they will be safe if they go when the time is right; or his reply might indicate a complete lack of concern for safety, even in broad daylight.
- John 11:53-54, 57. After the official governing body (the Sanhedrin) decided to kill Jesus, he avoided public exposure until it was time for him to die.
- John 12:36. Jesus hid himself from a crowd after speaking to them. This was after the chief priests and Pharisees gave orders for people to report if they see him so they could arrest him (John 11:57).
- John 18:10-11. Same incident as Matthew 26:50-54.
- John 18:22-23. An official struck Jesus and rebuked him. Jesus did not retaliate, but stood his ground.
- John 18:36. Jesus said his disciples would fight to prevent his arrest, except his kingdom is spiritual; the same is true today. By implication, it's not wrong to fight about matters of this world.
- John 19:6-12. Pilate was afraid to condemn Jesus and looked for a reason to let him go, but Jesus would not directly answer his question; probably because a direct answer would have encouraged Pilate to release him, which would abort the crucifixion.
Especially after Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection, the apostle's lives also were in danger. We see them facing many hostile situations, including people who tried to take their lives because of the gospel. Let us examine some relevant scriptures to see how the apostles responded to such threats. Why must we look at so many scriptures? God considered it important to record all these instances for our benefit, so we should benefit by reading them.
- Acts 4:3, 7-13. The religious leaders seized Peter and John, put them in jail overnight, and the next day questioned them. Peter spoke boldly, filled with the Holy Spirit, apparently unconcerned about his safety. He knew these same people had crucified Jesus a short time before and openly rebuked them for doing so.
- Acts 6:8-7:60. Men from one of the synagogues seized Stephen and took him before the Sanhedrin, the religious court, for questioning. Stephen boldly rebuked the religious leaders, who became furious and had him stoned to death.
- Acts 8:1-4. Immediately after Stephen's execution, great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem. Believers were imprisoned and many scattered to other regions.
- Acts 9:23-25. The Jews conspired to kill Saul (Paul), but his followers helped him escape.
- Acts 9:29-30. Saul (Paul) debated with the Grecian Jews, who then tried to kill him. When the other believers heard of this, they sent him to another area.
- Acts 12:1-10. Herod arrested some believers and had one of them, the apostle James, executed. He then arrested Peter and put him in prison. The church responded by praying earnestly. The angel of the Lord then released Peter from prison.
- Acts 13:50-51. Paul and Barnabas were teaching and many people believed in the Lord. But certain people stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas and expelled them from the region. They responded by shaking the dust from their feet in symbolic protest and went to another region.
- Acts 14:5-7. There was a plot to mistreat and stone Paul and Barnabas, so they fled to another region and continued to preach.
- Acts 15:26. Paul and Barnabas clearly risked their lives for the Lord.
- Acts 16:22-28. Paul and Silas were severely flogged and thrown into prison with their feet in stocks. During the night, they were praying and singing hymns to God, when a violent earthquake opened all the prison doors and everyone's chains came loose. Paul and Silas were then able to minister to the jailer and his family.
- Acts 16:36-39. The magistrates ordered Paul and Silas released from prison, but Paul announced that they had violated his legal rights as a Roman citizen. He insisted the magistrates personally escort him out of prison, which they did because they were alarmed at breaking Roman law. This shows it is appropriate to stand up for legal rights, including when the cause of Christ is involved.
- Acts 17:5, 10. A mob rioted against Paul and Silas; they slipped away at night.
- Acts 17:13-14. People stirred crowds up against Paul, and the believers sent him away.
- Acts 18:6. A crowd opposed Paul and became abusive. He shook out his clothes in symbolic protest against them and left.
- Acts 18:9-10. God assured Paul and told him not to be afraid.
- Acts 18:28. Apollos "vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ."
- Acts 19:8. Paul spoke boldly and argued persuasively about the kingdom of God.
- Acts 19:29-31. A mob seized Paul's traveling companions, and the believers prevented Paul from addressing the crowd.
- Acts 20:3. There was a plot against Paul, so he changed his plans.
- Acts 20:22-24. God had warned Paul repeatedly he would experience prison and hardships, but he considered his life worth nothing compared to finishing his task.
- Acts 21:1-13. Agabus prophesied Paul would be bound and handed over to the Gentiles. Paul responded he was ready even to die for the Lord.
- Acts 22:25-29. Paul invoked his rights as a Roman citizen to avoid being flogged. Notice Paul merely asked the soldier standing next to him whether it was legal to flog a Roman citizen who had not been proven guilty; he did not make any threats or demand appropriate treatment.
- Acts 23:1-5. Paul severely rebuked members of the Sanhedrin for violating the law by ordering to have him struck. Then he backed down when informed the man giving the order was the high priest; Paul honored the position of the high priest.
- Acts 23:6-10. Paul invoked his background as a Pharisee in his defense before the Sanhedrin, knowing it would be divisive.
- Acts 23:11-18. The Lord told Paul he would go to Rome. When Paul discovered the Jews were plotting to kill him, he sent word to the commander of the centurions guarding him. The issue was his going to Rome to testify about Jesus (23:11), not his personal safety (21:13).
- Acts 24:5-21. Paul was falsely accused before the governor and he gladly defended himself. When Jesus was falsely accused, he did not defend himself because his trial would lead to the fulfillment of one of his main purposes in life: death on the cross. Paul knew he would go to Rome, so he was free to defend himself.
- Acts 25:6-12. Paul acknowledged the state's right to execute him if he was guilty. He defended himself and invoked his right as a Roman citizen to appeal to Caesar.
- 1 Corinthians 9:2-3. The believers were Paul's seal (proof) of apostleship, his defense to those who judged him. Self defense against accusations is not always wrong.
- 2 Corinthians 11:23-27. Paul listed his hardships, but never condemned those who did these things to him nor sought revenge. He accepted these hardships as part of his life purpose.
- Philippians 2:17. Paul was being poured out like a drink offering, referring to spilling his blood as a sacrifice. Also 2 Timothy 4:6.
- Philippians 3:10-12. Paul wanted to experience or share Christ's sufferings and death, which lead to the power of the resurrection. He set his eyes on the resurrection, accepting the fact that hardship and death are prerequisites. He also recognized that those experiences perfect him, which motivated him to press on toward Jesus' purpose for his life. Rather than avoid hardship and death, he embraced them because he knew their benefits. We see this same attitude in Hebrews 12:2; for the joy set before him, Jesus endured the cross and its shame.
- Colossians 1:24-25. Paul suffered physically for the sake of the church and became its servant. He did not protect himself but instead rejoiced in his opportunity to serve the church through his sufferings.
- 1 Thessalonians 2:8-9. Paul and his companions expended themselves for other believers, rather than protect themselves. His toil and hardship was for the benefit of other believers.
- 1 Thessalonians 2:14-15. The believers suffered persecution from their own countrymen.
- 1 Thessalonians 3:4. Paul and his companions were destined to suffer great trials.
- 1 Thessalonians 3:7. Paul and Timothy suffered distress and persecution.
- 2 Thessalonians 1:4. Paul boasted about their perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials they were enduring.
- 2 Timothy 1:8. Paul urged Timothy to join him in suffering for the gospel.
- 2 Timothy 4:6-8. Paul faces death with confidence; his work is completed.
- Hebrews 10:32-34. The believers stood in the face of suffering; they accepted insult, persecution, prison, confiscation of their property. They accepted these joyfully, knowing they had "better and lasting possessions." They did not defend themselves or protect their belongings at any cost.
- Hebrews 11:32-39. Commends people for their faith. Some were delivered or victorious; others were rejected, abused or killed. All are honored for their faith, regardless of the outcome.
- 3 John 9-10. A believer opposed John and gossiped about him. John will "call attention to what he is doing," addressing the evil behavior, not defending himself.
- Revelation 11:3-7. The two witnesses destroy anyone who tries to harm them. After they have completed their work, they will be killed.
Now that we have examined Jesus' and the apostles' responses to threatening situations, let us consider Jesus' teachings about what we should do.
- Matthew 5:10-12. You should consider yourself blessed if you are persecuted because of your righteousness, if people insult you, or if people persecute you because of Jesus. This doesn't imply either retaliation or defense.
- Matthew 5:21. Not only are we prohibited from murdering (see above, "Is Killing a Person Always Murder?"), we are not to even be angry with someone or treat them with contempt.
- Matthew 5:25-26. If someone is taking you to court, settle the matter in advance. The context presumes you are guilty of the charge ("You will not get out until you have paid the last penny.")
- Matthew 5:38-41. You are not to resist an evil person or withhold what they demand. Some insist "turn the other cheek" is limited to a slap on the face and is not relevant to dangerous attacks. We must keep "turn the other cheek" in context, however, which includes "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (verse 44). The examples Jesus gives in these verses of people asking or requiring things of you are all legally legitimate actions: filing legal suit; the Roman law allowing soldiers to require a civilian to carry their armor; asking or borrowing from you.
- Matthew 5:44. You are to love your enemies and pray for (not against) those who persecute you. Your sinful nature's tendency is to reward those who are good to you and retaliate against those who treat you badly. Instead, you are to deny your sinful nature's demands by doing good and blessing those who intend you harm.
- Matthew 6:25-33. This requires a complete realignment of your priorities. Your sinful nature's priority is to take care of yourself. Instead, God's kingdom and his righteousness must be your top priorities, and let God take care of you as he deems appropriate.
- Matthew 10:16-20. Jesus sent his disciples out as sheep among wolves; that is, defenseless. They were to be "shrewd" (Greek word phronimos ); that is, thoughtful (giving thought to their ways), rational, clever, prudent and wise (in considering and preparing). They were to be "innocent" (Greek word akeraios); that is, give careful thought to their ways and be prudent in what they do, but be free of guilt. He told them, "be on your guard against men"; this is self-explanatory, because he said they would be arrested and beaten. He also said this all would have a purpose: they would have opportunity to speak in behalf of Jesus before authorities and leaders. He did not mention running away or protecting themselves, but he also didn't say not to.
- Matthew 10:21-22. Jesus told his disciples, and by implication all other believers, they would be hated and killed because of the gospel, even by their own family. He did not say whether they should defend themselves. But he did place great value on standing firm to the end.
- Matthew 10:23. If persecuted in one place, his disciples were to flee to another.
- Matthew 10:28. Do not be afraid of those who can only take your life; that is, don't be afraid to die.
- Matthew 16:24-25. Any disciple must deny himself (reject self-centered interests) and take up his cross (embrace or carry that which has the potential to destroy you). Self defense is not an option; be prepared to lose your life for Jesus' sake. Based on this verse and John 12:25, anyone who loves his earthly life (preoccupied with it, tries to protect himself) will lose his life (eternal life, based on the next statement). Conversely, anyone who hates his life (comparatively speaking) and is willing give it up for Jesus' sake will have eternal life. Also see Matthew 10:39; Mark 8:35; Luke 9:24; John 12:25.
- Matthew 18: 15-17. If another believer sins against you, you should talk to him one-on-one. If he does not listen, which means you are unable to resolve the issue, take another believer or two with you and try again. If you are still unsuccessful, take the issue before the church (presumably the church leadership, those who have the authority to state how the offending brother should be treated).
- Matthew 19:19; 22:39. Love your neighbor as yourself, which requires love for self. The Bible presupposes a level of concern for one's own well-being and uses that as a standard for treatment of others. For example, consider the Golden Rule: "In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you" (Matthew 7:12; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8).
- Matthew 21:33. In a parable, Jesus described a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a wall around it and built a watchtower. That is, the landowner built protection for his vineyard, which was a common practice. Jesus did not suggest this was inappropriate, therefore it seems acceptable.
- Matthew 24:15-18. When people around Jerusalem see the abomination in the holy place, they are to flee immediately.
- Matthew 24:43. If a thief might steal from you, it is appropriate to protect your possessions. This is such common sense, Jesus uses it as an example of being ready for his return.
- Luke 12:11-12. Do not worry about defending yourself when you are accused or arrested because you are a Christian.
- John 10:1-15. Jesus portrays himself as the great shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. He portrays his followers as sheep he protects and cares for, who cannot do this for themselves.
- John 16:2. Believers will be killed for their faith; their killers will believe they are justified in killing them.
- Romans 12:12. Be patient in affliction; that is, accept it and don't reject it or try to stop it.
- Romans 12:14. Bless those who persecute you, rather than curse them (the natural response). This clearly prohibits retaliation, but maybe not self defense.
- Romans 12:17-21. Do not repay evil for evil. As much as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, but allow God to respond to the other person as he considers appropriate. On the contrary, if the person who wishes to do you harm is hungry or thirsty, give him what he needs. Again, this clearly prohibits retaliation. If self defense is appropriate, these verses will definitely affect your motive.
- Romans 16:20. The God of peace will crush Satan under your feet. The God of peace doesn't cave in to those who seek to overthrow him or rebel against his kingdom. Instead, he crushes them (see Jesus' parables in Luke 19:11-27 and 20:9-16). Because we are part of God's kingdom and Satan's targets, God will use us to crush him. Notice God calls us to be at peace with all men, yet it is appropriate to crush evil.
- 1 Corinthians 6:1-7. Disputes between believers should be judged by other believers; it is better to be wronged or cheated by another believer than to take the dispute before unbelievers. This doesn't say we shouldn't try to resolve the dispute (defend our rights or property, for example); only that we should find other believers to judge the dispute.
- 1 Corinthians 10:24, 33; 12:7, 25; 14:4-5, 12. Repeated emphasis on what benefits others rather than yourself; that is, be less concerned about your own well-being. This is consistent with the themes of humility and agape.
- 1 Corinthians 15:30-32. Paul endangered himself "every hour"; he "died daily." He fought "wild beasts" in Ephesus, probably referring to the riot incited by a silversmith who made a lucrative living making shrines of the local deity (Acts 19). Because of Paul's faith in the resurrection, he was willing to face death every day.
- 2 Corinthians 1:8-11. Paul suffered great hardships in Asia, pressured beyond his own ability to endure. The purpose of that pressure: he had to learn not to rely on himself, but to rely on God alone. General observations: (1) God's work is evident most often at the limits of our ability; he may wait until we get to end of our rope before intervening. (2) Past deliverance gives us confidence that he will deliver us now and in the future. (3) God uses troubles to overcome our independence. He never gives us anything that will make us independent of him. We must be trusting and dependent as little children toward him, and he must be our strength and safety.
- 2 Corinthians 1:12. A contrast between worldly wisdom and God's ways and grace. This is a frequent theme in the New Testament. Worldly wisdom says you must be strong to protect yourself and defend your rights. In many cases, it is wise to identify the worldly way then do the opposite. God's ways seem foolish to the worldly perspective, because spiritual truths and principles cannot be grasped by human intellect (see 1 Co 2:13-16). That may be the case with the issue of self defense.
- 2 Corinthians 4:7-12, 16-18. "Jars of clay." We are fragile containers, easily destroyed, always given over to death for Jesus' sake, so (1) the all-surpassing power is shown to be from God, not us; and (2) Jesus' life may be revealed in our mortal bodies. Paul was humanly overwhelmed but sustained by God's power, outwardly wasting away (by appearance) but inwardly renewed continuously. From his perspective, he was hard pressed, perplexed, persecuted and struck down. But these are light and momentary troubles, comparatively speaking, achieving an eternal glory. Look past the temporal, and fix your sight on the eternal.
- 2 Corinthians 6:4-10. This passage contains a long list of Paul's' hardships. But he makes no complaints and no mention of trying to protect himself. Why not? Because of his perspective of mortality (2 Co 5:1-8). Also, these were hardships directly related to his ministry and service to God. So the question becomes: How much of your life is service to God (or should be)? Answer: You never stop being a Christian, Christ's ambassador, a minister of reconciliation, God's representative to a world dying in sin. Therefore, your perspective should be the same as Paul's, even if not in full-time ministry.
- 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. Paul delights in personal weakness because his weakness makes room for Christ's power to rest on him.
- 2 Corinthians 13:4. Jesus was crucified in weakness -- without self defense -- now lives in God's power; the same will be true of us.
- Ephesians 5:25, 28-29. A husband is to give himself up for his wife as Christ did for the church; this includes sacrificing himself to care for her and protect her.
- Ephesians 6:10-18. This passage describes the "armor of God." Notice that only the sword is an offensive weapon; all other armor described is defensive in nature. This implies there is nothing inherently wrong with defending yourself.
- Philippians 2:5-8. We are to have the same attitude as Christ: he did not consider his personal status or rights worth defending, and sacrificed himself for the benefit of others.
- 1 Timothy 5:8. The context is providing for widows in need. If this includes providing food and clothing, it certainly also includes protection from assault or abuse.
- 1 Timothy 6:17. Those who are rich must not be arrogant about their wealth or put their hope in it; they are to put their hope in God alone. This is a general principle: Whatever you consider your resources -- provision, defense and so on -- you must put your hope and trust in God alone, not your abilities or resources.
- 2 Timothy 2:23-26. Avoid arguments and quarrels; instead be kind to everyone and not resentful, gently instruct those who oppose you. These instructions are specifically for Christian leaders, but are relevant to all of us. Arguments and quarrels happen when we defend our position and try to prove ourselves right.
- Hebrews 2:10, 18; 5:8. Jesus suffered when tempted and became perfect through his suffering. Becoming like him involves suffering in a variety of ways, and one of our strongest temptations is to defend ourselves. Some may argue that self defense is a human need, not a temptation. From a Christian perspective, God has pledged to protect us far better than we could protect ourselves and even use suffering to better us. While self defense may not be wrong (that is, a sin), choosing to trust God exclusively will cause the natural human need for self defense to become a temptation in much the same way that fasting causes eating to become a temptation.
- 1 Peter 1:5-7. We are shielded by God's power. A natural interpretation might be that God will shield us from life's troubles, but in reality God uses our suffering in trials to prove our faith genuine and to bring praise, glory and honor when Jesus is revealed. If we try to protect ourselves from trials, we abort this process.
- 1 Peter 4:1-2. He who suffers in his body (flesh) is done with sin. The main purpose of suffering is to help you defeat your sinful nature, so reject evil human desires and live by God's will. Protecting or defending yourself reinforces your sinful nature rather than defeat it.
- 1 John 3:16-18. Christ's example was to lay down his life for us and we are to lay down our lives for our brothers (other believers). This passage refers to sharing material possessions, so it's not just referring to dying for another. We are to love with actions and truth rather than words. It is appropriate, even commendable, to sacrifice your own life to defend another. In fact, doing so is a proper response to the sinful natures of both the defender and the defended: the defender overcomes his self-centered desire for self-preservation; the defended does not have to defend himself and must accept the blessing from another.
Many of the scriptures we have examined relate to our interaction with other individuals; some relate specifically to interaction with other believers. But as we have seen, there also are statements in scripture about believers joyfully accepting imprisonment and confiscation of their property. We must realize it was the government that imprisoned the believers and seized their property; not thieves, not individuals. Even when individuals persecuted Christians, the persecutors often had the support of the government. Is it possible the issue in those instances was submission to authority rather than self defense?
Though we maintain that perfect peace will come on the earth only through God's direct intervention, scripture is very clear about our responsibility to introduce peace to this world. God is the God of peace (Rom 15:23; 1 Th 5:23; Heb 13:20), we have peace with God through Jesus (Acts 10:36; Rom 5:1) and he has called us to live in peace (1 Co 7:15; 2 Co 13:11). In his discussion about not paying back evil for evil and the taking of vengeance, Paul says, "If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men" (Rom 12:18; also Heb 12:14). If there is something we can do to avoid arguments or violence with others, then we are to do so.
This does not mean, however, that we are to consistently allow evil people to do whatever they want, simply to "keep the peace." For example, Proverbs 25:26 describes a righteous man who gives way to the wicked as a polluted well. If we are aware of someone's evil intentions that will bring harm to others, we certainly would not seek peace by giving in to their demands. For example, you do not turn your child over to a child molester just to "keep peace."
Similarly, some Christians feel that the western world should not disarm because this would allow totalitarian countries to take over and destroy the lives of millions. This is an issue of self defense, rather than an issue of faith alone. Because some individuals, groups or nations are clearly bent on dominating and abusing others, maintaining the peace at times may be impossible without a strong defense.
So "peace" cannot always be the Christian's response, due to the evil intent of others. For example, the term "tough love" has become a popular description of our responses to another's sin. In scripture, we see that Paul did not allow the immoral brother to continue influencing the Corinthians, though they may have felt it would keep the peace to allow him to remain. Instead, Paul said to expel him (1 Cor. 5:13). To another church, Paul instructed that if a person refuses to work, he should not receive the community's support: "If a man will not work, he shall not eat" (2 Th 3:10). And if someone did not obey Paul's instructions, the church was not to associate with him to make him feel ashamed (2 Th. 3:14). The apostle John wrote that we are to refuse to welcome a brother who is teaching a different Christ (2 John 9-10). These are corrective actions intended to eventually restore the peace between spiritual brothers, but the short term effect to is disturb the peace. Jesus himself, who brought us peace with God, stated "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword" (Mt 10:34). He then shows that the gospel will sever some relationships and create enemies within a person's own household. Yes, God is the God of peace and we are to live at peace to the extent possible, but as long as we live in a sin-dominated world that is hostile to our God and his kingdom, we will not always have peace. It is clear from these scriptures that our actions must occasionally and briefly disturb the peace so that long-term peace can be restored.
The New Testament is clearly a handbook for the individual, not a dissertation on the operation of government. As Americans, we recognize that a primary duty of the federal government is to provide for the defense of the populace. Likewise, God protects us so we don't have to protect ourselves; and he does a much better job of it. It appears this is a case of God requiring individuals to have very different responses than governments or even groups.
As with all systems of law, we see that a spiritual law may be superseded by another under certain conditions. In the natural realm, we understand that the law of aerodynamic lift can supersede the law of gravity under certain conditions, allowing an airplane to fly. I suggest we must see the law of peace superseded under certain conditions by other spiritual laws. Thus it occasionally is necessary for us act in self-sacrificing love, for example, even using non-peaceful means, to protect a principle or another person.
I think many people mistakenly believe that peace overrides all other factors, that we must do anything necessary to maintain peace. But that is not so; Jesus and the apostles certainly didn't do that. The New Testament clearly states that love overrides all other factors, but it does not say that about peace.
One of the biggest arguments against Christians defending themselves is that we are called to live in peace. It is clear from the scriptures and principles we have just examined that peace will not and cannot be the overriding issue in all situations. There are times when a Christian must knowingly and deliberately break the peace to achieve a higher good. This in no way condones anarchy or a hostile nature. But God's kingdom and his righteousness (his work and his character; Mt 6:33) must be our highest priority, and this sometimes requires us to respond non-peacefully to a sinful world. Peace is not always possible.
The existence of an oppressive government does not justify an individual's rebellion. But does it justify a united revolt? Are men justified in pledging their lives to protect others, dying to save others from oppression? Some would argue the Maccabees were wrong to revolt against Roman rule in 66 AD, that their defeat is evidence of God's disapproval. Some would argue the American colonists were wrong to revolt against British rule, that it was wrong to kill British troops in defense of the colonists' perceived rights.
But is it really wrong to be willing to sacrifice your life to protect the innocent, to defend their freedom, to throw off the oppression that threatens to crush them? Is not self-sacrifice for the benefit of others the basic definition of agape? Is violence never justified? Even in someone else's defense? Or is it only appropriate to stand by and watch someone being abused?
I think refusal to protect or defend another reflects a complete misunderstanding of agape, one of the most fundamental and obvious characteristics of godly nature. The only question in my mind relates to the use of physical force to protect or defend another.
Consider the following verses and what they say about believers in non-peaceful situations.
- Philippians 1:20-26. "To live is Christ and to die is gain." Paul was ready to die, but he was willing to stay for the benefit of others' progress and joy in the faith.
- Philippians 1:27-28. Do not be frightened in any way by those who oppose you.
- Philippians 1:29. The believers at Philippi were allowed to suffer for (on behalf of) Christ, as Paul had.
- Philippians 4:6. Don't be anxious (fearful) about anything; present your requests to God, by implication entrusting the results to him.
- 2 Timothy 2:3. Endure hardship as discipline.
- 2 Timothy 3:12. "Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted."
- Hebrews 12:7, 10-11. Endure hardship as discipline, which is unpleasant for a time but produces long-term benefits of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
- Hebrews 13:13. Let us be willing to bear the disgrace that Jesus bore: a torturous, humiliating death.
- James 1:2-4. Because you know having your faith tested develops perseverance, you can consider it pure joy to face many kinds of trials. This is turn leads to maturity and completeness.
- James 1:12. Consider the man who perseveres under trial to be blessed.
- 1 Peter 2:20-23. We may suffer for doing good, because God has called us to this. Jesus served as our example: he was sinless and without deceit, received people's insults but did not retaliate. He suffered without threatening those who abused him.
- 1 Peter 4:12-14. Rejoice that you participate in painful trails, anticipating the revelation of the Lord's glory in you now, not just when he returns. If insulted for the Lord, you are blessed and the Holy Spirit rests on you.
- 1 Peter 4:19. If you suffer according to God's will (in a manner that pleases him), commit yourself to him and continue to do good.
- 1 Peter 5:7. "Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you."
- 1 Peter 5:10. After God has allowed you to suffer a little while, he will restore you. He will use your suffering as a tool to develop godly character in you.
- 2 Peter 2:9. The Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials; this implies God's ability to do so. The grammar can mean God can cause us to avoid trials; it can also mean he can cause us to survive and exit our trials. The best interpretation may be that he can do both.
- Revelation 12:11. The Bible honors those who do not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.
- Revelation 13:7. The beast was given power to make war against the saints and conquer them. So, who could give such authority? Satan has the power to kill, but is limited by God's authority. God makes his people victorious and protects them. So who could give the beast authority to conquer the saints, if not God? If God allows believers to be conquered or killed, should they defend themselves?
- Revelation 13:10. Some believers go into captivity, others are killed. This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness by the saints.
- Revelation 13:15. Those who refuse to worship the beast's image will be killed. This says nothing about whether they defend themselves.
Acts 14:22 says "We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God." So if hardships are part of the process, how should we respond to them? Accept them as part of the process. Jesus said if someone wanted to follow him, "let him deny himself [and] take up his cross." It is neither appropriate nor desirable to defend yourself from something that helps you enter God's kingdom.
When a known danger existed, Jesus and the apostles generally avoided the danger; unless that particular danger was part of their mission. Jesus went to Jerusalem, knowing he would be crucified. Paul went to Jerusalem knowing he would be arrested.
Romans 8:28 is a very interesting and important verse: "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." It would be easy to interpret this to mean that God causes everything that happens to us to be good. I think that is a wrong interpretation. The phrase, "in all things . . . works," is from a Greek verb having the same meaning as the English word "synergy." Synergy means the combination of two or more items has a compounding, not just additive, effect. For example, one shall put a thousand to flight and two shall put ten thousand to flight, not just two thousand; that is synergy. That is the concept in Romans 8:28. Though everything that happens to us may not in itself be good, the combined effect of all that God allows us to experience will produce a compounded benefit.
We see a similar effect in Romans 8:36-37. On one hand, we face death all day and are to consider ourselves as sheep to be slaughtered. Yet there is a paradox in Christianity, because in all these things we are more than conquerors. If God causes everything to benefit us, who can do us harm? He synergistically compounds the effects of our experiences (both wonderful and catastrophic) to benefit us. As a result, we are more than successful, more than conquerors, benefitted more than could be expected from the experience itself. That does not make our hardships any more pleasant, but it does enable us to face them with confidence.
Let us consider how this might work. If in a situation you exercise your sinful nature, maybe by struggling to protect your belongings, you receive the results produced by your sinful nature and thwart the benefits of righteousness you could have gained. If someone seeks to do you harm, and out of concern for your own well-being you choose to defend yourself, you have invoked your sinful nature. Doing so produces results compatible with the sinful nature, such as conflict, harm and loss. If instead you trust God to take care of you, he will work this experience together with all your others synergistically for your long-term benefit. If you are willing to experience loss and suffering, this allows God to work for your benefit and make you more than a conqueror. How can you be more than victorious? One way is to receive all the benefits of total victory without having to produce the victory by your own efforts.
As we focus on defeating our own sinful nature (which is our responsibility, with his power), God is free to govern everything else that affects us (which is his responsibility). Because God honors the free will he gave us, if we choose to control our circumstances, he usually backs off and allows us to experience results of our efforts and the spiritual laws that work against us. If instead we entrust ourselves to his care, we allow him to work according to his power and glory, and the spiritual laws work to our benefit. Keep in mind that our covenant is not earth-based as were the Old Testament covenants. So our covenant benefits are not limited to the temporal or natural. In an earth-based covenant, we could expect results similar to Job's: his final result was greater prosperity (same number of sons and daughters as before, but twice as wealthy, very long life). In our new and better covenant, we are able to use tangible resources to create (lay up) intangible, spiritual, more valuable treasures. From this perspective, we should become willing to not defend selves, to accept tragedy and keep going. This defeats our sinful nature and allows God to do what is best for us in the long run.
Self defense is an area of concern among believers. It is controversial, and there are many mature and devout people on each side of the issue. Each of us must work out our own salvation with fear and trembling (Php 2:12), which suggests we will not all respond to these issues the same way. Each must find out what pleases God (Eph 5:10), and what he wants you to do in a given situation may be very different from what he would expect of me. Each must have a personal relationship with the God of all creation. This is not a matter of cookie-cutter Christianity, in which all of us behave and appear exactly same way. It is reasonable therefore to expect each believer to have a little different response to the question, "How much should I depend on God to do everything for me, and how much should I do on my own in a manner I believe pleases him?"
We buy clothes primarily for modesty and protection from the weather. We buy or rent homes to protect ourselves from weather, animals and people who might harm us. We buy insurance to cover potential health and medical expenses. We invest in retirement funds to provide for future needs. We expect protection from credit card theft and fraud. We lock our homes to protect ourselves and our belongings. Why do we take all these protective measures? Because we don't trust God to protect us? Do we protect our children from drug dealers and pedophiles because we don't think God can or will? Should we get flu shots? Should we stop killing bugs, fleas and mosquitos that can spread disease? Should we not be concerned about cooking meats and eggs to correct temperatures to kill parasites and bacteria? Should we stop washing our hands and cleansing food utensils? Should we not take food supplements to protect our bodies from illness or malnutrition? Should we protect our children from dangerous animals or circumstances? The point is this: We take a variety of measures to protect ourselves from circumstances, animals and people who might harm us. We consider these prudent measures, not lapses of faith.
One thing that should distinguish a Christian from others is the conviction that God provides protection that surpasses our ability to protect ourselves. This conviction motivates some of us to simply not take measures others consider essential, or to be unconcerned if we cannot afford them. What would your reaction be if I decided not to get health and medical insurance or go to a doctor, but instead put full confidence in Jesus as my healer? Would you consider me naive? Or would you consider me more spiritual than yourself? Or would you conclude that I simply had different convictions? (For your information, I have good medical insurance.) If it's wrong to protect ourselves, should we disable safety devices in our vehicles, such as seat belts and air bags? Again, how do we care for ourselves in a way that is both responsible and honors God? If it's wrong to protect ourselves, maybe we should have the same philosophy as the Muslims, who believe that whatever happens to them is Allah's will, so they don't concern themselves at all with safety. Do we really believe it's always wrong to protect or defend ourselves? Or are we saying it's okay to protect ourselves a little bit but not a lot, or from little threats but not big ones? Or do we believe it's inappropriate to protect ourselves from other people, but okay to defend ourselves from everything else? If that's the case, why do we lock our doors? What do we really believe?
On one hand, self-defense is a strong motivation of our sinful nature, which is inherently self-centered. My sinful nature or flesh wants to do everything possible to please myself, protect myself, promote myself and pamper myself. Crucifying my sinful nature involves rejecting its self-centered demands. On the other hand, self defense is responsible behavior, such as taking prudent measures to protect ourselves from harm. I don't think we can say that all forms of self defense are either right or wrong for all Christians. I also don't think we should criticize or judge other believers for defending themselves or for refusing to do so.
One concept that's basically lost in western culture is covenants, yet we enter into covenants without realizing it. Our relationships with our spouse and God are covenants. In a covenant, you do what you can but rely on your covenant partner to help you. For example, in other cultures it is common to make a cut on one's body representing a covenant and to produce a permanent visible scar. If threatened by someone, you could show the covenant scar as a sign the assailant will have to deal with your covenant partner, too. Often this is enough of a deterrent, and the assailant will leave you alone.
Old Testament covenants with God included the provision that God would protect his people from harm. Old Testament covenants focused on earthly existence and material blessing. The covenant of the New Testament is very different and superior to those of the Old Testament. It is a spiritual covenant rather than material one. In the New Testament covenant, we become members of God's family, not just recipients of his blessings. We participate in God's kingdom, not just observe his works. God lives within us, rather than just visit occasionally. In the Old Testament, material prosperity was a sign of God's blessing. In the New, the poor are considered blessed because they recognize their dependance on God. These are very, very different covenants, so we need to be careful about using Old Testament precedents for such issues as self defense. Jesus said, you have heard an eye for an eye, but I tell you turn the other cheek. There is a fundamental difference. The emphasis of the New Testament is on attitude rather than works and it requires specific attitudes in all believers: humility and agape.
In the context of self defense, humility suggests you should not protect yourself, strongly rejecting the demands of sinful human nature, which claims the right of self protection. In the new covenant, self-orientation is associated with sinful nature, which must be crucified or put to death. In the new covenant, we are told to deny self and take up our cross; figuratively, a cross is that which threatens great harm or destruction. The new covenant puts a premium on agape, which is self-sacrifice for the benefit of others. Considering the attributes of humility and agape, it seems a proper response to threat is not to protect self, but to give self to protect others; both of these counter the sinful motivation to protect yourself.
As we cited earlier, Romans 14:19 states we should make every effort to do what leads to peace and mutual edification. Does condoning criminal activity or withholding punishment lead to peace? Does allowing someone to steal or commit violence build them up according to scripture? The issue of self defense is rarely black and white; usually it is a question of which principles to follow in any given situation. Remember: there are times when one principle or law must supersede another.
Consider Ephesians 5:25, which says husbands should love their wives as Jesus loved the church and gave himself up for it, sacrificing himself to preserve it from death to sin. Would God hold a husband responsible for not intervening in his wife's behalf if her life were in danger? Jesus told his disciples a person cannot exhibit greater love for others than by laying down his life for them (John 15:13). This usually applies to sacrificing your own desires and interests, even your needs, for the benefit of others; but it also includes giving up your life for them. This kind of self-sacrifice includes such efforts as trying to bring a life-threatening situation under control, even if it means dying in the process of saving others. There is no room for cowardice in self-sacrifice.
I read an article while researching this topic that said we should not protect our family members, but entrust them to the Lord's care. The authors said that we are to regard our own bodies as living sacrifices, belonging to our Creator, so we are to view the mortal bodies of our loved ones in the same way. I wonder if the two ladies who wrote this article would want their husbands to stand by and do nothing as they get assaulted by thugs. Would they not want their husbands to love them enough to provide for their needs, including protection from disease, malnutrition, weather or thieves? The authors also quoted Matthew 10:37, which says that anyone who loves his relatives more than he loves Jesus is not worthy of him. It seems to me this verse is making a contrast; it does not say I should hate my family members and stand back passively, allowing them to be attacked or killed. It says I should love Jesus more than I love those who are closest to me on this earth.
Another article I read advocated learning martial arts for self defense, rationalizing that Satan will use any means to eliminate a believer, and a dead believer cannot fight the devil. I suggest, instead, that God is not dependent on us to defeat the devil. Jesus defeated Satan by dying on the cross and rising from the grave. Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords. All powers eventually will submit to him or be crushed by him. In the meantime, Jesus is still in control even if it appears evil is winning. The kingdom of God is a matter of power, but that power is spiritual authority, not human muscle or cleverness. If we put our confidence in marital arts or gun ownership or any other human-centered defense, we are thinking like the world and are already defeated. Jesus is victorious, with or without our participation and involvement. Those who look forward, as I do, to God's kingdom ruling the earth in righteousness and destroying every trace of evil will have to wait until Jesus returns. Because until then Satan is still prince of this world and evil still reigns. We cannot defeat evil with human force; that effort in itself would be a work of our sinful nature, an expression of the very thing we would be trying to destroy. The spiritual principle we are to apply is this: overcome evil with good, not greater effort by sinful human nature.
In 2 Corinthians 5:1-8, we read that the mortal body is temporary, and grossly inferior to our future eternal body. Being in a mortal body is separation from the Lord, and we would prefer to leave our mortal body and be with Lord. This has rather obvious implications for defense of the mortal body. When faced with a death threat, maybe our response should be, "Make my day! Send me home!"
In addition to the article I read about Christian martial arts, I also found Christian articles about private ownership of guns; articles strongly in favor and articles strongly opposed. Gun ownership is currently a civil right in America, and any right given by man is tentative. It may become illegal in America to own any type of firearm; it already is in an increasing number of previously free countries. To me, the issue is one of human nature, rather than the existence of a certain type of weapon. People kill people, whether they use traditional weapons, poison, automobiles or their bare hands. Because secular society will not and indeed cannot address sinful human nature, all attempts -- and I repeat, all attempts -- to eliminate crime by eliminating weapons will fail. From a human perspective, some consider private ownership of weapons a deterrent to crime and tyranny. From a Christian perspective, our confidence should never be placed in our own abilities, yet we are wise to take what we consider prudent measures.
He who fails to dress properly in freezing weather, claiming Jesus is his healer, is naive if not foolish. If God specifically tells him to go out without proper dress in a particular instance, that is a different matter. But to be presumptuous is to act foolishly. As Christians, we lock the doors of our homes. We keep our car keys in our pockets or purses, not in the ignition switch. Do these actions demonstrate lack of faith? No, they are prudent measures while living in a sinful world. Yet our confidence is ultimately in the Lord, not our prudent measures. If the government passes a law making household locks illegal, nothing really changes; our confidence ultimately is in the Lord. And under such a law, if anyone entered our house to take our property, whether a criminal or government representative, should the nature of our faith change? What if the person, either a criminal or government representative, intended us physical harm? Should our perspective change? My point is this: if our government strips us of any means to protect ourselves, whatever the motive might be, our perspective must not change. Christianity is relationship with God Almighty and is independent of the civil government under which we live. Civil government may influence the outward expression of our relationship with God, but can never take it away.
The Old Testament included a law regarding the use of deadly force against an intruder in your home, and the issue was the conditions under which the homeowner killed the intruder. Defending family and home was not the issue; use of weapons was not the issue; even killing the intruder at night was not an issue. The issue was whether the homeowner killed the intruder during the day, when he could better judge the intruder's intention and the intruder could see the homeowner was present and willing to protect his household. Displaying a weapon and being willing to use it can be and often is a deterrent. The right of the homeowner to defend his household was granted under specific conditions in the Old Testament. The New Testament does not clearly take away that right, which suggests it still exists.
Those totally opposed to weapons may cite the absence of swords or their use in the New Testament after the Day of Pentecost. Scripture also doesn't refer to sandals after the Book of Acts, but we can be certain believers continued to wear them. Swords were common in those days, so if it were wrong for believers to own or use swords, we can expect scripture to clearly say so; but it doesn't.
The New Testament includes incidents involving soldiers, which were perfect opportunities to oppose killing of any kind, but such opposition is absent. In Luke 3:14, soldiers asked John what they should do; this was a perfect opportunity for John to tell them to resign from the military or not to kill. But he responded by telling them not to extort money or accuse people falsely, and to be content with their pay. In Acts 10, we see Cornelius, a centurion in the Italian regiment, a devout and God-fearing man. An angel appeared to him in a vision, did not rebuke him for being a soldier, but instead indicated his prayers and gifts to the poor were special to God. The angel directed him to send for Peter. This lead to Peter overcoming his religious bias against non-Jews and to the first gentile believers being baptized in the Holy Spirit. Imagine: professional warriors being told to be content with their pay and being honored by God for their prayers and gifts to the poor!
The Old Testament Law recognized the legitimate human need to defend self, family and possessions. The reality is that we live in a hostile, dangerous world. The New Testament doesn't negate any of that and Jesus' teachings and parables even allude to weapons and defensive actions. But the new covenant is far superior to all of the old covenants; the old covenants were flawed, in part because they were oriented to earthly existence and didn't provide means for overcoming sinful human nature. The focus of the new covenant is reconciliation of man to God, which includes death of the sinful nature and development of godly character; these have eternal benefits. So the New Testament doesn't invalidate the Old; rather it supersedes the Old. Self defense is not prohibited under the new covenant, so you won't lose your salvation if you protect yourself and yours; but self defense may be an inferior response. There may come a time when you are faced with a threat, and you put your guard down because you know this affliction will be light and momentary compared to the long term benefit of rejecting your sinful nature's demand for protection. "Death to my sinful nature!" is always an appropriate response to hardship or danger. Why do you suppose Jesus set such an example? He was showing us the most effective way to overcome the sinful nature that enslaves us: deny yourself (the demands of your sinful nature), take up your cross (embrace that which is intended to cause great harm) and follow or emulate him.
The New Testament repeatedly tells us that God protects his people from harm. So why are so many believers persecuted and killed? We have mentioned several examples of a person living until his work is completed (Jesus, Paul, two witnesses of Revelation 11). I object to remarks that someone died before their time, or that Satan took someone's life. I really cannot imagine God having to apologize to someone for not protecting them from Satan's attack, allowing them to die prematurely. Either Jesus is Lord of all and knows how to protect his people, or the Bible misrepresents him. To think that Satan can steal someone's life before God is finished with them is to foolishly accuse of God of having less power or authority than Satan, or of not paying attention to what is happening to his people.
Let me offer some tentative conclusions. A person's position on self defense seems to be related to his spiritual maturity, to what God is requiring of him, and to the character God gave him. Scripture does not specifically prohibit a person from defending himself or his family from physical threat. Defending yourself is a natural instinct; some would argue it is natural to sinful nature. I don't think we can say self defense is any worse than any other self-centered action. We saw scriptures earlier that showed Jesus and Paul both avoiding danger until their tasks were completed, then they willingly gave up their lives. God calls us to deny ourselves (the self-centered demands of our sinful nature) and take up our cross (embrace that which is intended to do you great harm). As a believer grows in humility and agape, his emphasis shifts to serving others and self defense seems to become less of an issue because he so deeply trusts God's care, provision and protection; that should be the goal for all of us.
Defending yourself is not among the sins listed in the New Testament. Defending one's family is not only proper but expected. Defending one's spiritual brothers and sisters is proper by the same token. Defending one's neighbor should be an expression of "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Lk 10:27); this applies to a person in need, regardless of their spiritual condition or even whether you know them. How can you love someone as yourself if you offer him no assistance in an emergency? To stand by or walk away would be similar to the ways of the Pharisees, whom Jesus rebuked in the parable of the good Samaritan.
I see two fundamental character traits advocated in the New Testament: humility and agape. Humility is an attitude that considers yourself not to be more important than others. Agape is self-sacrificing love, a love that considers others' needs and interests more important than your own. Is protecting yourself from assault compatible with agape? I don't know, but humility might be the key in self protection. Is endangering yourself to protect others compatible with agape? Certainly, in fact this is almost the definition of agape. We see a similar point in Philippians 2:29-30, where Paul commends a believer who almost died for the work of Christ, risking his life to help Paul. So maybe the question of self defense has less to do with "defense" than "self."
In many of the articles and books I read, the authors tried to show that godly character would prevent a person from responding to an attack or using violence as a defense. Several used the scriptural reference to "the meekness and gentleness of Christ" as support for their pacifist position (2 Co 10:1). There is no question that Jesus was meek and gentle. But on occasion he became very un-gentle: publicly rebuking the religious leaders, using physical force to drive merchants from temple, maybe even using force to knock down those who came to arrest him before his crucifixion. Two of his parables referred to his killing those who oppose him (Lk 19:11-27; 20:9-16). His appearance on a white horse in Revelation 19:11-13 is not what we consider a gentle image: he judges and makes war, his eyes are like blazing fire, his robe was dipped in blood. So an accurate understanding of the words "meek" and "gentle" is important.
There are two Greek words we need to examine, which are translated "meekness" and "gentleness" in 2 Corinthians 10:1. One word (epieikes) refers to what is right or fitting, equable, moderate, reasonable, or gentle. Jesus has a gentleness that only one with full power may display. The weak want to assert themselves, but the Lord has absolute authority and power, yet he does only what is appropriate. This gentleness is clearly not derived from weakness; on the contrary, it describes a moderated, gentle use of overwhelming force when appropriate. The other Greek word (prautes) is applied to mild objects, tame animals, gentle or pleasant people, kind or lenient action. Like the other word, it has meaning only if the subject has great power or strength. Consider a tame horse, which has great strength but is under the control of its rider; that is meekness. The meekness of Christ has significance since he is King of kings and Lord of lords yet chooses to invite and persuade and even rebuke when appropriate, but not threaten. Keep in mind Jesus' gentleness and meekness on earth were relevant to his mission. He came to earth to defeat Satan by living a sinless life and offering himself as a perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world. He could have called thousands of angels to his defense, but did not. He had authority to invoke overwhelming power, but did not because doing so would have violated his mission. That is gentleness and meekness. This is the same Jesus who destroyed the earth with a flood, who destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah with fire, who drowned Pharaoh's army in the Red Sea. This is the same Jesus who will return as conqueror, destroy the armies that oppose him and throw those who reject him into lake of fire for eternal torment. He does not assert himself with arrogance, nor does he flaunt his power or brandish it for personal advantage. He is under control and yielded to the will of his Father. This is the meekness and gentleness of Christ.
Many would have us believe that meekness and gentleness mean we should never exhibit strength, but should be content to be the weakest and lowest. Instead, as we have seen, meekness and gentleness are relevant traits only if the person possessing them has great power and strength. Many would point to Jesus' use of a little child as an example, implying we should be devoid of power or ability. Instead Jesus used little children as examples of trust and dependence, not the absence of strength or ability.
Let's assume you are walking by yourself when someone steps out of a shadow, pushes a pistol or knife into your ribs and demands your money and jewelry. Your self defense options are very limited and you have a major disadvantage: the element of surprise and a great imbalance of power. Common sense indicates you have no alternative; submit out of weakness and hope to recover your possessions later. The godly trait of humility would cause you to choose not to protect yourself or your possessions.
Assume, instead, that the assailant is much smaller than you and is only carrying a small stick. Common sense says you have an advantage and can probably resist successfully. Humility again might dictate that you choose not to protect yourself or your possessions. Notice that your response may be the same, regardless of the balance of power, because the issue is not whether you can successfully resist. The bigger issue is whether you honor or reject your sinful nature's demand to protect yourself and possessions. It certainly is not worth risking major injury or death trying to protect a few material possessions.
Other questions then arise: Should you report the theft to police and provide a description of the assailant? Some would say you should not, because that represents asserting your sinful nature to get your possessions back or seeking revenge. Others point out that the issue changes. At the moment of the assault, the issue is self defense. But afterward, you are trusting the police to do their job of protecting society by administering justice and punishing the criminal. As I write this in the comfort and security of my home, considering this hypothetical situation, I suggest it is appropriate to aid the police in their job of administering justice. The alternative is to condone injustice. If the assailant is caught, however, it is appropriate to press charges (assisting the system of justice which protects society) and pray the experience will benefit the assailant in light of his or her eternal destiny. It is your decision whether to report the theft and pursue justice.
Someone broke into our home several years ago and stole valuables that could be converted easily to cash. We reported the incident but never recovered anything. I must recognize that if a similar situation occurs in the future, God may direct me to not even report the incident as an opportunity to reject my sinful nature's desires; that's entirely possible, but I would expect that to be the exception. Generally I believe it is appropriate to pursue justice, but we always need to consider our motives and what God requires of us at the time. Some may think it's hypocritical to claim humility prohibits self defense but allows helping the police enforce justice. I believe it's possible for humility to help the police, and leave the results in their hands and God's. Humility is willing to relinquish control to another.
In this article we made an in-depth examination of scripture to look at the various aspects of self defense and to avoid basing our conclusions on a few isolated verses. We recognized the uniqueness of the New Testament, the new covenant through which we are reconciled to God. We saw that the covenants of the Old Testament were primarily about earthly existence, while the new covenant emphasizes the development of godly character and eternal reward.
We saw that the Bible prohibits murder, but not killing. We also saw that the ownership and use of weapons are not prohibited. But it seems the issue of self defense is less related to "defense" than to "self."
The New Testament says not to defend yourself when someone takes legitimate legal action against you requiring you to do what the law requires, or simply asking to borrow from you. You also are not to defend yourself against actions by the government; this issue is dealt with in greater detail in the author's article on civil disobedience. This is different from someone who breaks the law trying to do you harm, because it is appropriate to defend yourself against illegal actions. However, you must pray for those who persecute you, and bless those who intend you harm.
In conflicts between believers, have other believers judge.
While it may not always be appropriate to defend yourself, scripture encourages you to care and provide for others, which includes defending them and giving your life for them.
Godly character traits and attitudes receive the greatest attention in the New Testament; in particular, humility and agape. We can conclude that humility prohibits us from seeking vengeance, but not law enforcement and justice. There may be occasions in which humility prohibits you from defending yourself, however.
Agape, on the other hand, almost demands that you sacrifice yourself for the well-being and benefit of others, whether that involves working to meet their basic human needs, interests and desires, or actually giving up your life to prolong theirs. So defending another person, especially a family member, is not only appropriate but required of godly character. In my opinion, suggestions that we must be weak and pacifist are based on misinterpretations of scripture or unfortunate translations of the original text. The New Testament presents Jesus and Paul as examples. Both were very powerful and bold men who were not reluctant to publicly confront those who opposed the work of God, and who willingly sacrificed themselves for the benefit of others.
We will not see everything the same way, nor will we act exactly the same, especially with regard to something as controversial as self defense. And that does not mean one person is right and the other is wrong. Instead, what we believe and do is based on the unique character God has given each of us, our spiritual development, our interpretation of scripture, and what God requires of us in a given situation. The real question is this: What is God requiring of me?
The simple fact is that the New Testament does not make a clear, universal statement prohibiting self defense. I think this indicates that God allows us and even expects us to take different positions on the subject, because we all have different God-given purposes in life.