Matthew 5:38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”
Matthew 5:43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”
As with most things in life there are two camps who swear their position is right and the other camps position is wrong with any issue we care to discuss. Many people I have spoken with on the issue of war, violence and MMA are in the camp that swears Jesus was a pacifist. What is even more entertaining to me is that some people swear I am in the camp that thinks violence is the only answer or that I just want war.
It is important when discussing any of these issues that we must approach the text with as little bias as possible and we must take the entire Bible into consideration. Many people on either side of this argument tend to focus just on the words of Jesus or the commands of God in the Old Testament with little or no thought at all about the advents of Christ. My hope is that I can show that both positions are correct when taken in their Biblical context and not universally applied to every scenario.
When we talk about pacifism there are usually three proof texts that they hang their hat on and then the crucifixion of Jesus. Many I have talked to make “Turn the other cheek” into a universal law that is applied in every single scenario. Contextually, there are a couple of issues here but, by and large, they are correct.
As the people of God we are not of this world and our citizenship is in heaven; for that reason we do not operate by the same set of principles of those in this world. When Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek he is quite literally telling us in the face of insults and persecution that we are to be Kingdom minded people like him and lay our lives down.
However, did Jesus mean that to be our response in every single scenario? For example if you are out on a walk and come across a situation where a woman is being mugged and aggression is the only way to get it to stop are you supposed to walk away? If a man enters your home to rob it and finds your family there, are you to peacefully stand by and allow him to kill your family?
These are not complex issues, unless you read the Gospels in such a way that you isolate the context and mission of Jesus Christ in His first advent with no backdrop of who the Father is.
The Old Testament is quite clear that when Jesus comes the first time He will be a suffering servant who will lay His life down on behalf of humanity so that they can be a part of God’s family through His sacrifice. It is also very clear from the Old Testament and New Testament that when He returns the second time He will be fierce Warrior King who doesn’t lay His life down anymore.
When we look at the issue of pacifism to a large degree I agree with the pacifists. I believe that as Christian people we are called to live as peacemakers. I think that where possible we should live in peace and conduct ourselves in the way Jesus did.
I personally have come to a place of balance and health in the issue of pacifism by understanding that as a representative of the Kingdom I am to act like Christ. Sometimes that requires laying my life down. If I am being persecuted because of Christ my answer is always to turn the other cheek. If it is because I live in a fallen world and evil men do evil things I have an obligation to not only defend the weak and the helpless, but my family as well. This could lead to violence, but when you have the strength to choose otherwise often times it doesn’t.
A great example of this was from my Bible College days. I was in Chicago “street preaching” with a youth team and a man charged me cussing and screaming. What I didn’t see was a knife. When he got close I put my hands up and refused to respond with violence. Thank God he left and then my friend told me of the knife.
On another night my friend and I were walking in the cold city of Minneapolis and roughly 6’6 280lb man walked up and said give me your @$& jacket. I said no. Take it from me if you want it. He looked at me for a second and then walked away. Why did I respond differently? Because one situation was persecution because of Christ, the other was an attempted robbery by an evil man.
“Peaceful, in a violent sort of way”
Image: courtesy of www.jesuitas.org.co/documentos/dominical/GabrielPerez/250606.html;
William Hole; public domain/copyright expired.