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Is Self-Defense Biblical?

Photo Credit to funnycuteanimal.blogspot.com
I recently got into an online discussion that prompted me to do some studying.  The discussion was about Luke 6:28-30, or at least it was initially.  As all conversations do, this one took many turns.  What started as a question (evidently not meant to be answered) became many statements of position from both the question's poser and a couple people, myself included, who read the question.

Let's start with the scripture (NIV):
28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.
 What wound up being supposed in the discussion was the following in no particular order:
  • that these three verses apply to martyrdom
  • that, as Christians, we have no right to defend or protect ourselves since we are not our own but have surrendered ourselves to God
The above list would have been longer, but every other argument made was purposefully open-ended or written with a built-in, locked and loaded disclaimer.  So, I haven't included them here, nor do I need to.  The above is subject enough for one blog.

So, let's start with the first point.  Jesus doesn't mention death anywhere in these three verses.  Therefore, I can safely conclude that any application of these verses to martyrdom or any death for that matter must be backed by other verses that do talk about death and must be supported by the overarching theme of the Bible.  None of this entire chapter speaks of death, save for one place, Luke 6:9.
Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?”
The only place in this chapter that Jesus mentions death, He makes it clear that to save life is good and to destroy it is evil.  The application of this is that the preservation of one's own life and of the lives around oneself is good (And, what is good but God alone?) and that destroying life (even your own) is sin.

Now, I'm not against pulling more meaning out of scripture than what it literally says.  On the contrary, I'm ceaselessly amazed at the amount of new revelation that comes out of some of the same verses that I have been reading all my life.  How God fit all that applicable and meaningful teaching into simple passages cracks me up to say the least.  But, of course, it's always new.  It's His word.  It's alive.  However, we have a tendency to impose our own beliefs upon scripture.  We can, will, and do come to the Bible with a set of ideals that we already hold to be true.  It's like wearing a pair of colored glasses with spots on them.  The Bible will all be colored a certain way and the spots will conveniently cover up the parts of it that challenge your predetermined belief.  So, the challenge is to remove the glasses first, and then read the Bible.  This way, God can teach you what He wants you to believe.

That said, it's important to always use scripture to interpret scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  I like new teaching being mined from God's word, but it must follow the theme of other clear biblical teaching.  Concerning the first point, that Luke 6:28-30 also refers to martyrdom, I ask how.  It was suggested in the conversation that these commands from Jesus would also include the scenario if someone was trying to kill you.  Now, I don't read that in there nor do you, I'm sure, but it was suggested that this was "the heart" of the teaching, reading between the lines, if you will.  Note, that Jesus was doling out commands in this passage, directions on how to live according to His teaching.  So, then, since He doesn't specifically say to willfully allow someone to kill you or others around you if they so desire, does another passage in the Bible specifically say it?  Does another passage even support the idea?  Or, perhaps, do other areas support protecting your life and the lives of others around you?

In the conversation, the word 'radical' kept being used.  It was assumed that Jesus was teaching an even more radical truth here than what He was clearly saying.  In other words, it was believed that He was saying one radical thing but implying an even more radical thing.  Why would Jesus do that?  If Jesus was giving out radical teaching (which He was) why do you suppose that He was saving the "really radical" teaching for only those who read between the lines?  Was He afraid that His disciples would be offended by the "really radical" commands so He just gave them the "moderately radical" ones instead?  That doesn't sound like Jesus.  Afraid to offend?  No, not Jesus.

Sometimes I wonder if we adrenaline-junkie-Americans have a desire to make Jesus even more radical than He is, as if we have a stronger desire to be radical than we do to be Christ-like.  Isn't giving to someone while they are robbing you radical enough?  Isn't loving your enemies, loving that co-worker who seems to stop at nothing to try and get you fired, radical enough?  Isn't praying for blessings for that neighbor of yours who is conjuring up curses against you radical enough?  Make no mistake, Jesus's teachings are radical.

Ok.  Moving on to the second point.  This seems obvious enough not to have to compile an argument against, but maybe it's necessary after all.  First, I think that anyone who has read the Bible at all will concede that God is said throughout it to be our defense and our strength, so much in fact that we can all agree on that.  We can conclude from this that it is good to be defended.  Where disagreements arise in whether it should always be left completely to the Lord our God to be our defense.  Arguments are made that to defend ourselves shows a lack of trust in God.  Or, in the scenario of the conversation that prompted this blog, arguments are made that say as Christians we are not our own and that we have given up our right to defend ourselves.  But, what does the Bible (God, himself) say about our responsibilities in regards to our self-defense and the defense of others in our care?
Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. - 1 Timothy 5:8
" But, this is about working to provide for one's family, not the physical protection of them!"  Maybe, but notice that God is our provider, Jehovah Jireh, (Luke 12:24) and yet we all still work jobs.  God even commands us to work and provide for our family, even calling those that don't "worse than an unbeliever".  Ouch.
“If a thief is caught breaking in at night and is struck a fatal blow, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed; but if it happens after sunrise, the defender is guilty of bloodshed. - Exodus 22:2-3
The reason that you were guilty in the daylight was that you would be able to see and discern that it was a thief not a murderer or a rapist and while you were expected to defend yourself and your family, you weren't allowed to kill over the potentially lost possessions.   But, in the pitch black of night, you were also expected to defend yourself and family and even acquitted of guilt if the thief died since there would have been no way to discern the intruder's intentions.
14 After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.” - Nehemiah 4:14
Fight in defense of your family and your homes.  That's pretty clear.  And, what were they doing throughout this book?  Building a wall of defense around their city.  And, God was good with that.
11 The king’s edict granted the Jews in every city the right to assemble and protect themselves; to destroy, kill and annihilate the armed men of any nationality or province who might attack them and their women and children,[b] and to plunder the property of their enemies.  - Esther 8:11
This came from the king's edict, yes, but from the direction and unfolding of events that God set in motion, of course.
36 He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. - Luke 22:36
Yes, Jesus said this.  Jesus also rebuked Peter a few hours later when Peter used the sword to cut off the man's ear during Jesus' arrest.  But, note that Jesus told Peter to put the sword back where it belonged, sheathed on his side.  Jesus could have told Peter to throw away his sword, but He didn't.  He told him to put it back where it belonged, on his side, for its proper use.  Jesus had already told his disciples, Peter included, that He was to die for it was the plan for the Son of Man to do.  Jesus said that He could call on the Father and that a throng of angels would come at His defense, but that He must drink from the Father's cup.  Why, you ask?  To save all of humanity, of course.  To come to our defense.  Jesus, the King of Kings, didn't need Peter to come to His defense.  That wasn't a proper use for Peter's sword.  Jesus also explained that "living by the sword" or putting too much trust in it was also a bad thing and it would lead to death "by the sword".
 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. - Matthew 24:43
Jesus was speaking about the second coming.  He used this scenario as an illustration to say that He would come at an unknown time therefore always be ready.  Note that, even to Jesus, it was an understood thing that you would defend your life, your family, and your home.  And, why wouldn't it be understood?  Scripture taught them that it was not only alright to do but that it was commanded of them, a responsibility of God's people to do for themselves and others around them.
23 When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another... - Matthew 10:23
You mean, Jesus didn't want them to stick around until someone put them to death?  Of course not.  He wanted them to continue their ministry in proclaiming the good news to as many cities as possible before the inevitable happened.

I think I've aptly made the point.  It's good to defend life.  We are to die to ourselves in the sense that we are to give our lives to God for God to direct and guide our lives as He wills, not by our own will.  But, God, doesn't want us to give up our lives needlessly.  He wants us to do His work here on earth.  Jesus already died for us, so that we don't have to.  He expects us to live and continue His good work.

P.S. - To answer the question that the title of this blog answers: Yes, sometimes.  Our goal to be Christ-like is to always be thinking about other people and apply love and the sharing of the gospel in both words and practice whenever possible.  This can include, as Luke 6:28-30 tells us, even while being robbed.  For example: Suppose John were robbed today (it's cold outside).  If someone demanded his wallet, he could potentially make a lasting impression on them by offering them his coat, as well, and saying "you look like you might be cold."  This shows that John cares about them as an individual despite what they are doing to him at the moment.  John should report the theft afterwards since he doesn't want to create an environment that enables people to sin without any consequence.  But, John should restrain himself from feeling good if the robber gets caught or bad if the robber doesn't.  Also, this is assuming that John has assessed the situation and doesn't feel that he is any grave danger.  Otherwise, I would advise John to flee or fight.  And, based on the above biblical reasoning, I would say that it would be well within God's approval for doing so.

1 comments:

Well done. Love will overcome the present system of things...keep steadfast, my friend! You are right to not settle for anything less than revelation today and HIS GOOD AND PERFECT WILL!

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