We had a good Sunday School discussion last Lord’s Day following lunch on the topic of what the Bible teaches about non-violence and retaliation. We also pondered the duties of Christians to government and whether or not a Christian can serve in the military, as well as the meaning of the sixth commandment.
Here is a summary of some of the points and passages we looked at:
1. There are places in the Bible where Jesus teaches non-violence and non-retaliation. In the Sermon on the Mount, he teaches his disciples to turn the other cheek and to love their enemies (cf. Matt 5:38-42). We must understand the context of Jesus’ teaching and consider that Jesus was preparing his disciples for how to respond to persecution. When arrested, he tells Peter to put away his sword (Matt 26:52).
2. Civil government is ordained by God to restrain evil and the civil authority “does not bear the sword in vain” (see Romans 13:1-7).
3. The apostles taught believers to pray for those in civil authority and to honor and obey them (cf. 1 Tim 2:13; 1 Peter 2:13-17). Note that they did this even when the government was clearly pagan!
4. When there is conflict between obedience to God and obedience to men, we must obey God rather than men (cf. Acts 4:18-20; 5:27-29).
5. As to Christians in military service, notice that when soldiers came to John the Baptist he did not tell them to leave their posts but not to misuse their authority (Luke 3:14). Likewise, when Cornelius became a Christian Peter did not require that he leave military service (see Acts 10—11). Paul urged believers to be content with their status in life (1 Cor 7:20-24).
6. We also discussed the meaning of the sixth commandment (Exodus 20:23 NKJV: “You shall not murder.”).
Here is a follow up from John D. Currid, a professor at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC, from his commentary on Exodus, Vol 2 (Evangelical Press 2001): pp. 45-46:
20:13: ‘You shall not murder.’
The Hebrew word for ‘murder’ is rasah. It occurs forty-seven times in the Old Testament. In every instance but one it speaks of one human being killing another. It is never used of a person killing an animal. In addition, rasah is never employed in contexts of war, capital punishment, or self-defence. Most often it denotes planned or premeditated murder in the form of revenge (Num. 35:27, 30), or assassination (2 Kings 6:32). Unpremeditated killing, known as manslaughter in English common law, is also prohibited in Numbers 35 because it is rasah.
It should be noted that the verb does not specify any particular person(s) as its direct object. The form is thus not qualified in that way. Consequently, it is likely that suicide is included in the prohibition.
Jesus’ interpretation of this law goes well beyond the physical act of murder (see Matt. 5:21-22). It also ‘forbids murder of the heart,’ as Calvin puts it. Indeed, it is the hand that gives birth to murder, but it is the heart infected and inflamed with hate and anger that conceives it! (cf. 1 John 3:15).
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle
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