Love, peace, and forgiveness. These three core elements are essential to the Christian faith. However, with escalated racial tensions, inflammatory political rhetoric, and social media platforms stoking the flames of division, many have disregarded the biblical principles of love, peace, and forgiveness, and opted for hatred, violence, and bitterness. Thus, it is no wonder we observe countless riots in our nation’s streets, civilians losing their homes and businesses, police officers being murdered in cold blood, and mobs storming the US Capitol as an act of insurrection. As a follower of Christ, these events should greatly trouble you and provoke your spirit to prayer. And if you identify yourself as a Christian and have either endorsed and/or participated in these violent acts then you are in sin and need to repent. These malevolent acts of violence do not glorify God, nor do they honor the name of Christ.
The Bible speaks extensively on the topic of violence. When Jesus preached His Sermon on the Mount, He challenged the crowd to be countercultural. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9). Instead of calling His followers to violence, Jesus said that murder begins in the heart and all who allow it to manifest will be guilty of judgment (Matthew 5:21-26). Likewise, Jesus commanded His followers to love their enemies. Matthew 5:43-44 states, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you. ” Wow, that is powerful! How many do you see on social media practicing this? Where do we see this on the news? Sadly, many so called “Christians” have failed to love their enemies and have embraced the mindset of the world to hate their enemies and avenge themselves. The apostle Paul echoes the words of Jesus in Romans 12:17-21. Paul states, “Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. Therefore ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Likewise, Hebrews 12:14 states, “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.” Therefore, Christians should be compelled to refrain from violence and seek peace if at all possible. Christians are called to be change agents and should be conquering the world. However, we should be conquering the world not through physical force, but through acts of service. Jesus sums up all the commandments by calling His followers to love God and love others (Matthew 22:37-39). I believe one of the most tangible ways we can obey these commands is by taking part in the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20 and sharing the gospel with the world.
However, the question remains. Is there ever a time where a Christian is justified in using violence? As a pastor and 3rd degree Black Belt, I can confidently say yes. In fact, sometimes violence is the morally right thing to do. Since love is the driving force for Christians, violence should only be permitted when it is the most loving thing that can be done. How could violence ever be loving you may be asking yourself? Violence would be a demonstration of love, if it were done by a husband defending his wife from a home-invader or a mother protecting her children from a wild animal. Likewise, it would be loving to serve in the military to defend the freedoms of your country or to serve as a police officer to maintain peace and order within your community. JP Moreland and Norman Geisler note, “…to permit murder when one could have prevented it is morally wrong. To allow a rape when one could have hindered it is an evil. To watch an act of cruelty to children without trying to intervene is morally inexcusable. In brief, not resisting evil is an evil of omission, and an evil of omission can be just as evil as an evil of commission. Any man who refuses to protect his wife and children against a violent intruder fails them morally.” The apostle Paul said, “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” Our goal should be to avoid using violence whenever possible; however, Paul seems to indicate that there might be times when it is necessary. Thus, violence should be viewed as a last resort and only permitted in cases when it is the most loving thing to do.
Some may argue that we have come to the point in our country where violence is the most loving thing we can do. However, I find this to be very unconvincing. For violence to be loving and a last resort, we would have had to exhaust all other options. But that is certainly not the case in the United States of America. We still have the right to speak freely and openly. We have the right to defend and protect ourselves and our loved ones. We can vote to change laws and policies. We can peacefully assemble and protest moral evils and injustice. And last but not least, we are free to share and live out the gospel of Jesus Christ. Ephesians 4:26 states, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your wrath. I understand that there are many, like me, experiencing righteous indignation with everything that is going on in our world and in our country, however, it should never be an opportunity nor an excuse for sin.
Therefore, let us seek to be biblical peacemakers in our country and in our world and only resort to violence when it is absolutely necessary to fulfill the greatest commandment to love God and love others.
*Many thoughts were clarified by referencing Tim Stratton’s article, “An Open Letter to Christians Condoning Violence”.