Are Christians to Defend Themselves and Others?

Jesus was non-violent.

Can we honestly read the New Testament and come to any other conclusion?

Obviously, I can’t.

The cross was the ultimate representation of Jesus’ non-violence. The cross was also the fullest and most complete embodiment of God’s essence – love. Remember, God was in Christ on the cross (2 Corinthians 5.19)

Jesus willingly was crucified instead of doing violence, as was expected by everyone else, including the Pilate, the Jewish leaders, and his own disciples. He chose love – “greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” – over any semblance of violence. (John 15.13)

Christians are to follow Jesus.

Jesus says we should take up our own cross.

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”(Matthew 16.24-25)

Jesus says we should love one another as he loved us.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13.34)

Therefore, Christians should be non-violent like Jesus.

In my experience, I have found that many Christians will philosophically believe this and quote the scriptures above as well as others. Yet, when the discussion turns to living this out in their actual lives, they don’t really believe it and they don’t think it is possible.

Typically, when I profess that Jesus was non-violent (Isaiah 53.9 says “he had done no violence”) and we should do the same, I am almost immediately confronted with questions about self-defense. And, if I say that we should not use violence in self-defense, then I am confronted with the seemingly ultimate question, “What if a rapist broke into your home and attacked your wife?” For, isn’t it clear that everyone would use violence in that situation?

But, what does scripture reveal about Jesus?

And, what does scripture reveal about the followers of Jesus?

He and they never resorted to violence in any situation, even in self-dense.

Have you noticed that?

In every situation where we could expect some sort of violent reaction or self-defense, Jesus and his followers responded without violence and without defending themselves. They did not do nothing, but they responded in a way that did not involved violence or self-defense to express God’s love. And, keep in mind, that God’s love is most fully displayed by one laying down their life, literally in death if necessary, for another.

Here are just a few examples to prove the point.

In Matthew 2, the life of the baby Jesus was threatened by Herod and his edict to kill all the male children. Did God send someone to kill Herod? Did anyone rise up to do any violence to protect Jesus? No. Instead, God sent an angel to Joseph and told him to flee to Egypt with Mary and Jesus.

In Mark 3.1-7, Jesus entered a synagogue and healed a man. This enraged the Pharisees because Jesus healed on the sabbath. The Pharisees went and conspired how to destroy Jesus. “Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there.”

In Luke 22.47-53, Judas came with a great crowd with swords and clubs to arrest Jesus. The crowd laid hands on Jesus and seized him. Then, one of the disciples took out a sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Jesus said, “No more of this,” and he healed the ear of the servant. In Matthew’s account, Jesus said that those who live by the sword will die by the sword. Jesus neither defended himself nor needed anyone else to defend him. Also in Matthew’s account, Jesus asked if they didn’t realize that he could appeal to his Father and at once have 12 legions of angels to defend him. But, he didn’t do that.

In both Matthew 27.11-14 and Mark 14.53-65, Jesus was on trial. Yet, he said nothing in his defense. He did not answer a single accusation.

In John 8.53-9.11, Jesus defended the woman caught in the act of adultery without any violence.

In Acts 4, Peter and John were arrested for preaching Jesus. They were threatened by the authorities to never teach about Jesus again. But, just read their words to the other disciples in response.

“‘And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.’ And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” (Acts 4.29-31)

The disciples very lives were being threatened. Yet, they prayed that they would speak about Jesus with boldness. As they spoke, God will heal and do signs and wonders. Jesus had been crucified unjustly. That’s what the disciples were speaking about. It’s what Christians are to be speaking about today. How could they, and we, use violence to defend ourselves when Jesus never did.

The apostles were brought before the chief priest and the council again for preaching about Jesus. They were threatened again. They were beaten and told never to preach about Jesus again. “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.” (Acts 5.41-42).

They were teaching that the Christ was the one who was crucified, the one who willingly laid down his to life to show God’s love and forgiveness. How could any of them use violence to defend themselves and preach that message with any integrity at all?

Stephen was doing great signs and wonders when men from the synagogue argued with him. They seized him and brought him before the council. Stephen goes on a long speech about Jesus. This enraged the council and they had Stephen stoned to death. Yet, there is no account of any follower of Jesus defending Stephen. There is no record of anyone using any form of violence to stop his arrest or execution. Surely, some of the other apostles and disciples were present at his arrest. Surely, some of them tried to hear and see what was going on at his trial. But, we have no record of them doing any violence to stop it.

Saul approved of his execution. “But, Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.” (Acts 8.3) Here is the very example that gets thrown out by Christians in their arguments against being non-violent. Here, Saul, a great persecutor of Christians, is coming into their very homes and dragging off men and women to prison. Yet, we don’t have a single recorded instance of self-defense. There’s no statement of Christians protecting their families or their property.

Shouldn’t we ask ourselves why?

Paul, the converted Saul, went from barging into people’s homes to drag them off to prison to becoming one of those Christians that never defended himself. He was beaten and flogged. He was left for dead outside a city. He was lowered in basket over the city wall to flee his persecutors. Instead of defending himself at trial, he preached the gospel. Ultimately, he was beheaded for his following Jesus.

But, after his conversion, Paul never did any violence. Instead, he said talked about rejoicing and participating in suffering.

“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” (Colossians 1.24)

“That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3.10)

Paul routinely and repeatedly cited his sufferings and his willingness to undergo those sufferings as evidence for the veracity of the gospel that he preached. In other words, Paul’s words about Jesus would have had no power if he had remained the violent Saul. Paul could not have spoken truthfully about Jesus if he used violence to defend himself. Paul’s message of a Christ who died for you out of love to forgive you would have carried no weight. For, how would Paul be able to say, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” (Galatians 2.20-21)

Just as it was for Paul, so it is for Christians today. If we want to preach Jesus Christ, Christ crucified, then we have to lay down every violent tendency and every need and reason for self-defense. For, it is the willingness to suffer, to even die, for the ones you are preaching Jesus to that lends power to the gospel.

In my opinion, there is why the American church is seemingly so weak. We have lost the understanding of the power of suffering. American Christians negate suffering at every turn. Instead, American Christians seek to defend our families, our property, our rights, our country, and on and on. And, we kill you if necessary.

Yes, this sounds foolish, but “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1.18) “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Corinthians 1.25)

Therefore, if Christians today truly want to preach the message of the apostles, the early church, and Paul, we need to lay down all violence and self-defense (even in words). We need to be willing to lose our lives. This is to follow Jesus and pick up our cross daily. This is to have the same mind as Jesus (Philippians 2.1-11).

3 Replies to “Are Christians to Defend Themselves and Others?”

  1. “Pick up our cross daily” – Steve, this is and always has been the church’s foremost stumbling block. As a youth, I noted Germans, French, etc in WWII all praying for Gods strength to “defeat the enemy”. In Christian terms for sure, “we have met the enemy and it is us”!

    You can go into probably 99% of churches and hear the beat of the drums – thank and support our veterans, our active duty, our heroes. Having served myself decades ago, and a product of our American culture, it is very difficult to throw off the coat of patriotism.

    I admire our heroes, while wrestling with their duty. “Nothing is greater than giving one’s life for your brother” – I believe / hope that this includes the sacrifices of our military although I suspect that is not the case.

    Defending one’s family is practicly an instinct. Not being physical will take some soaking in the Holy Spirit. Sacrificing one’s self feels very likely. I know your subject will ruffle a lot of feathers, but I know in my heart it is a pure truth of Christ that cannot be denied.

    Thank you…

    1. Blaine – I really appreciate your last paragraph. This is a hard truth. But, I believe it is one we cannot gloss over. I just cannot get past how essential the idea of non-violence is to the gospel. I didn’t always see it that way, but I sure do now.

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