Category Archives: Encouragement

Did Jesus Call Us to Pacifism?

Every so often, some event (whether real or hypothetical) will bring about a flurry of responses about whether or not Christians should participate in some type of retaliatory action.  Perhaps the scenario given is one of someone breaking into a Christian’s house or a gunman at the mall. Every once in a while, we have the terrorist attack or a military action. What ensues is a discussion about pacifism, and the question tends to be “Did Jesus Call Us to Pacifism?” Generally, the questions comes from the sermon on the mount–Matthew 5:39, the turn the other cheek passage. I find that it is better to settle the matter about this or any other life-issue before one might have to act. Settle it in the heart before it must be settled with the hands.

To understand Matthew 5:39, one should understand its context. Going back to the two key verses that lead up to this lesson Jesus taught, we find that first, Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and Prophets (Matthew 5:17), thus He is the divine righteousness in the flesh, and being so He is able to articulate and clarify what was meant by the Old Testament law.  The second is that our righteousness must exceed that of that scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 5:20), which is in fact impossible if attempted without the Holy Spirit indwelling us.

The scribes and Pharisees were about outward acts.  They were about doing right, but not about being right in the heart.  So it would be no surprise then that if one were to humiliate or insult them in public, they would have to quickly regain the upper-hand and reinstate their reputation; this would be the eye for an eye mentality.  And there is no problem with the eye for an eye mentality.  It is biblical.  “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,’” (Matthew 5:38).  Jesus was quoting the Law.  In fact, He was going all the way back to Mt. Sinai, the same time God gave the Ten Commandments.  “But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe,” (Exodus 21:23-25).

It would seem that the problem was that the Pharisees took these verses and ran with them.  They forgot the context in which these verses were made. The context of these verses about an eye for an eye and so forth was that of judgment.  The immediate context is two people causing a pregnant woman to miscarry.  “When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine.  But if there is harm…” (Exodus 21.22-23a).  Note that there are judges involved in this act of retribution.  The entire context is exactly about that: how judgments from judges should be carried out.  What justice metered out in a court of law looks like.

The Pharisees and many people today take on a vigilante kind of interpretation.  If someone does something to me, I’m doing it back to them and then some.  Neither the motive nor the judgment is right.  The heart is wrong because it does not trust God’s justice to be carried out.  The action is wrong because it is no longer just, but goes beyond justice.  I love the words of Rachel Dawes to Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins.  A bad guy had been murdered and Bruce was expressing his approval, and saying how he should thank the guy who did it.  Rachel rebukes him, saying he doesn’t mean that.  She reminded him of the difference between justice and revenge, saying, “Justice is about harmony.  Revenge is about making yourself feel better.”  She’s right.  Justice is about making all things right, not just saving face and feeling better about situations.  God and God alone has the ability to bring those two things together into perfection, holiness, and righteousness.  When God takes vengeance, it will be just, and we will rejoice.  But if we take vengeance, we may rejoice, but it will not be just.

God has given us a system, though it is a broken and flawed system, of courts–broken and flawed because it is made up of broken and flawed people.  We may not like how it works always but it would be just as flawed and broken if we were part of it as it is when we aren’t.  God has left justice matters into the hands of the courts, and while they may fail and get things wrong, He never does and never will.

That being said. . .knowing now the context, no one likes to be mocked and just about all of us desire to save face.  We don’t like being insulted.  We don’t like being the butt of other people’s jokes or being made fun of.  We don’t like to be embarrassed.  So what happens when people do these things to us?  Jesus gave the answer: “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 5:39).  Now, before we get into what Jesus was saying, let’s tackle what He was not saying.  Jesus was not taking a pacifist attitude.  A couple of years ago, you may remember that little theological skirmish between John Piper and Jerry Falwell, Jr.  Dr. Falwell advocated that students should conceal carry in their dorms and such.  Pastor John advocated that they not and that this shows a lack of hope in Christ.  During the debate, this verse was used by many on both sides.

In the context of what Jesus was saying, Jesus was not advocating for a complete pacifist mentality or lifestyle.  The issue was not the slight injury to the face, but the deeper injury to the heart.  Thus, Jesus is not saying that you cannot defend your home or your family or even yourself from someone who desires to physically harm you.  Though I believe that the biblical principle is to flee whenever possible.

The point that Jesus was intending to make, due to context, is that of pride.  It is not the wounding of the face as it is the wounding of the flesh.  To be slapped in the face was an insult to the person being slapped.  It was to embarrass them in front of the community.  Its purpose was to humiliate that person. Jesus told the people that if someone wants to humiliate you, let them.

I know it goes against everything in us, but that’s the reaction Jesus wants.  Jesus wants us to take it.  He wants us to surprise everyone around us.  He wants us to be salt and light, holy and perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect.  He wants us to be so identified in Him that it doesn’t matter what people say or do to us, we know who we are in Christ.  We don’t have to defend ourselves.  We don’t have to retaliate.  And when we can be like that, the world (who is watching) will see our good works and give glory to our Father in heaven.

As always, I love reading your comments. Please feel free to do so. If this article has helped you out, praise God; I am thrilled. If you think it would help others, please feel free to share.

All Scripture was from the ESV, published by Crossway.

If You Linger, You Die!

I was reading my Bible today, and the story of Lot in Sodom struck me hard all over again. If you aren’t familiar with the entire story, I’d encourage you to read Genesis 18-19 and get the idea of what is going on.

Lot saw these two angels coming, strangers to the land, and immediately bowed down and invited them into his home to stay.  While hospitality was a big deal in this culture, Lot was not simply trying to be kind to the strangers.  He understood what the men of Sodom were capable of doing.  He was being protective.  He knew the ways of his city and he was ashamed and fearful.

Notice that Lot wanted to get the men in his house as quickly as he could and then get them out before anyone else in the city woke up.  In an age of hospitality, you didn’t simply invite people to stay the night, but you offered to let them stay well into the day.  Before they ever accepted his offer, as politely as he could, let them know they would be leaving early as if he knew where they were going and that they were in a hurry to get there.  To the point that when the angels declined his offer, saying they’d just as well stay in the square and set up camp.  “He pressed them strongly; so they turned aside to him and entered his house. And he made them a feast and baked unleavened bread, and they ate,” (Genesis 19.3).

He pressed them strongly.  The mental image that you should have is that of Lot nearly tackling the men as they turned to go into the square.  He lunged at them.  Perhaps picture in your head Lot grabbing the men roughly around the chest and then smoothing out there robes, saying, “What’s the hurry?  I insist.  I won’t take no for an answer.”  Lot would do anything to keep the men from seeing the sin in which he lived.  So he made them a feast and baked unleavened bread.  Once again, hospitality but fast hospitality.  A feast, but unleavened bread. There was no time for bread to rise.  He needed them to go to sleep.  It’s like the mentality of Christmas for little children.  The sooner you go to bed the sooner Christmas comes.  The sooner they went to sleep the sooner morning would come and he could send them on their way.

Can you see yourself in story?  I can.  God, or perhaps one of his representatives enters into my sinful life, and all I can do is try and hide the life in which I know I live.  Just hoping that I can get through this moment without my sin catching up with me.  Everything is fine.  It’s all good.  Great to see you; stay for a while, a little while.  Pretending that nothing is going on outside the doors of your house.

But as Numbers 32.23 says, “be sure your sin will find you out.” I am not saying that Lot was anything like the men of Sodom.  However, as we will see, he was aversely affected by them.  “But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house. And they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know them,” (Genesis 19:4-5).

Can you imagine the look of horror and shame on his face as he had to confront those men at his door?  Confronting sin is never fun.  It’s horrifying and it is shaming.  But sin is not something that will ever be hidden from God.  It is not something that one can pretend isn’t happening.  That sin is pounding at your door.  You hear it.  God hears it.  There’s no denying that it’s happening.  The question is, will you confront it?

Lot, mustered up his strength and confronted the men.

Lot went out to the men at the entrance, shut the door after him, and said, “I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Behold, I have two daughters who have not known any man. Let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please. Only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof,” (Gen 19.6-8).

Here is why I say he was aversely affected by the people of Sodom.  Rather than giving up the two men, he was willing to give up two of his daughters.  Let this be a lesson for us all.  Sin will not allow half-hearted, half-measured efforts to be satisfied.  Sin is not to be trifled with.  It is not to be bargained with.  We don’t compromise with sin.  John Owen once wrote:

Let no man think to kill sin with few, easy, or gentle strokes. He who hath once smitten a serpent, if he follow not on his blow until it be slain, may repent that ever he began the quarrel. And so he who undertakes to deal with sin, and pursues it not constantly to the death.

“But they said, ‘Stand back!’ And they said, ‘This fellow came to sojourn, and he has become the judge! Now we will deal worse with you than with them.” Then they pressed hard against the man Lot, and drew near to break the door down’,” (Genesis 19.9).  Half-measured, half-hearted, compromising trifles are never enough when dealing with sin.  It’s kill or be killed.  As John Owen said, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”  The phrase, “pressed hard” in verse nine is the same word that was used when Lot urged the angels strongly to come to his home.  I like the NLT’s way of translating, the “lunged.”

At this point, the angels pull their host back in, strike the men with blindness, and tell Lot Sodom will be destroyed so he had better get his family out of there.  Lot went to his future sons-in-law, but they thought he was joking and did nothing.  Which leads us to verse 15 once again.  “As morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, ‘Up! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, lest you be swept away in the punishment of the city.’”  This is the second warning for Lot.  Punishment is eminent.  There is no time to waste.

Oh that we would understand that we must flee from wickedness immediately!  The promise of judgment is assured.  It is coming.  John Piper did a series of blogs that he calls A.N.T.H.E.M.

A – Avoid all possible temptation.

N – (this is the one I’m focused on) No. Say no.  Piper says we have about 5 seconds to say no before the temptation gets lodged in our minds and hearts.

T – Turn your eyes toward Christ.

H – Hold on to a promise from God

E – Enjoy Jesus more than sinful pleasure

M – Move away from idleness and find something to do.

The warning is true.  Judgment and punishment is coming and it could come at any moment.  We don’t believe it and so we do nothing about it. We are betting our very lives that this is not the moment.  But we are assured that as every second goes by, we are one second closer, and we don’t know when.  Say no immediately.  Don’t hesitate.  Don’t linger. Don’t be like Lot. We see in the very next verse these horrifying, awful, but so relatable words, “But he lingered,” (Genesis 19.16).  I think the whole of chapter 19 revolves around those three words.  But he lingered.

As always, I’d love to read your comments, whether you agree or disagree with me. If you liked this or found this to be a blessing or helpful, please let me know that too. Feel free to share the article on your social media page or with someone you believe could be helped.