Introduction: According to CBS TV Channel 11 in the Dallas-Ft. Wortharea, a man in Arlington, Texas was jogging when a truck pulled up beside him. A young person descended to the street and approached the jogger, displaying a gun and demanding money. Rather than comply, the jogger drew his legally carried pistol and fired on the robber, striking him several times in the groin area and putting him to flight. Police received a tip a short time later that led to the apprehension of the wounded robber, who quickly confessed. Police are investigating the incident as a robbery attempt with self-defense by the jogger, who is not expected to face charges.
We hear of these kinds of stories all the time. People victimized by a vicious attack who defend themselves with a weapon of some sort and gain the upper hand. Now let’s complicate it a little bit by suggesting that in this case the jogger was a serious and committed Christian who knew the words of Jesus from Matthew 5:39, “Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Does this change our opinion of how he responded? This isthe question for us to consider this morning: Did he as a follower of Christ do the right thing by defending himself? Obviously, it seems as if the authorities were saying he did since they had no plans to charge him, but what does the Bible say? Should he have chosen a path of non-violence and trusted Jesus to defend himas it says inPsalm 72:4, (speaking of the coming Messiah) “Hewill defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy; he will crush the oppressor.” Obviously, this is not an easy question to answer, but it’s an important one. Does Jesus teach that we should never take up a weapon against another person but always choose a path of non-resistance when we’re about to become the victim? Certainly, it seems like this was Hisapproach when a large crowd came to arrest Him with swords and clubs in their hands (Matthew 26:47-50). In fact, when Peter took up his sword, Jesus rebuked him for it. So, maybe you can see why there are people on both sides of the issue. Most of us want to defend ourselves, but we’re also called to be like Jesus and, at least in this case, He didn’t do a thing! That’s why I want to spend some time today explaining what the Bible teaches about defending ourselves and others. First, we’ll consider some scripture passages that address the issue. Then,we’ll look at what Jesus said about it. We’ll also tryto determine if it is right for a believer to defend himself in a court of law when wrongly accused. And then we’ll wrap it upwitha few applications for us when it comes to the whole matter of self-defense.
The Scriptures and Self-Defense. It may surprise you to learn that the Bible doesn’t endorse the idea of taking a passive approach and willingly suffering through an unprovoked attack. In fact, there are plenty of examples to the contrary.
- Sometimes, people chose to run away instead. This is what Daviddid when Saul tried to kill him. When an evil spirit from the Lord came upon the king so that he attempted to pin the young war hero to the wall, David didn’t stand around until Saul perfected his aim. He made his escape (1 Samuel 19:10). It is also what Pauldid when King Aretas launched a plot to arrest and kill him in Damascus (Acts 9:23-25; 2 Corinthians 11:32-33). He permitted some of his friends to lower him from a basket along the wall of the city so that he could avoid capture. Even our Lorddid not wait for people in the town of Nazareth to throw Him off a cliff, but passed through their midst and went on His way (Luke 4:29-30). Whatever that means, it tells us that He didn’t stick around to see what would happen.
- Sometimes, people fought back to protect themselves and their loved ones. Listen to these words from Exodus 22:2 –If a thief is found breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there shall be no bloodguilt for him.The law of the Jews defended the person who defended himself and his family from the threat of thief coming into their home at night.If the intruder was struck so that he died, no charges were to be levied against the homeowner because he was merely carrying out his duty to protect his loved ones. When Nehemiahled the people in exile to return and rebuild the wall around Jerusalem, he learned of a threat from the enemies of the Jews to kill them and put an end to the work. So, he armed the people at the lowest points and most exposed places in the wall with swords and spears and bows. And it wasn’t as if he didn’t expect them to put the weapons to good use if necessary (Nehemiah 4:17-18). Then there’s the story of When evilHaman and those with him gained permission to kill all the Jews,Mordecai and his niece sought and received permission from the king to arm God’s people so they could defend themselves from the attackwhich they did very effectively(Esther 8:10-11). If these examples aren’t enough to convince you that self-defense was a viable option for the people of God, listen to Proverbs 25:26 — Like a muddied spring or a polluted well is a righteous man who gives way to the wicked. Just as a troubled spring is a misfortune for the people who drink from it, so is a righteous man who does not take his stand against the wicked, but cowers in fear.
- Sometimes people were expected to defend others who could not defend themselves. This is what the Psalmist is talking about in Psalm 82:3-4– Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.Jesus said it like this in Matthew 22:39– Love your neighbor as yourself.This is when we have to ask ourselves, how loving would it be for someone to witness the oppression of the poor and helpless at the hands of the wicked and do nothing about it? Illustration: Ten-year-old Chiara Rufushad picked up the milk and bread her mother sent her for. As she left the store, a stranger (who had spoken to her in the store) was waiting outside in his car. Chiara’s stomach turned as he leaned out the window and asked, “Want a ride?” Chiara refused and hurried toward home. But then the stranger pulled up beside her and yelled, “Get in.” With her thoughts blurred, Chiara climbed into the car. At just that moment, Monique Williams, 34, was driving home. As she saw the young girl approach the car, she sensed that something was not right. A mother of three daughters herself, Williams had walked these streets before as a girl. She had also been approached by strange men who tried to lure her into cars. Williams stopped and asked the man if he knew the little girl. He said yes, but when she asked Chiara, “Do you know him?” Chiara, trembling, said, “No.” Williams exploded: “You get out of the car! Get out now!” As Chiara jumped out, Williams moved her vehicle in front of the stranger’s car. She began to yell: “You’re wrong! You can’t take a little girl!” Moments later, the police arrived. The stranger was arrested, and police discovered sexually explicit material on his home computer. They also determined that he had been reported twice before with unsuccessful attempts to lure kids into his car. Police chief Gary Miguel said of Williams, “She saw something wrong and refused to look away.” Ever since her own childhood, Williams had made it her business to watch out for others. Perhaps that’s why Williams has two plaques in her living room. One reads, “Civilian Commendation.” The other: “To my guardian angel Monique Williams. I love you. Chiara Rufus.” Sometimes being passive isn’t enough. There are moments when God wants us to take action and arm ourselves with whatever we can to right a wrong, to protect others. That’s why Monique Williams did for Chiara Rufus. And, heaven forbid, there may come a time when we have to as well. And if it happens to you, remember this: There may not be a greater demonstration of love than to defend the defenseless.
Jesus’ Teaching on Self-Defense. When our Lord refused to defend himself against His accusers was He giving us a model to follow? It seems more likely to me that He was fulfilling prophecy regarding His role as the Messiah of God from Isaiah 53:7 — He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. He did, however, talk about self-defense in a couple of passages that warrant our inspection.
- Matthew 5:38-39 — “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 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. This passage. is most often quoted to say that Jesus did not want His followers to defend themselves, but to be willing to suffer even greater harm for the sake of His kingdom. The only problem with those who view it this way is that it’s wrong. Jesus wasn’t talking about passivity in the face of a violent attack. Rather, He was telling His disciples that they were not to take vengeance when attacked because that would amount to returning evil for evil. Do you understand? Christians are not expected to stand by and let people physically abuse them at every opportunity, but in those times when we do suffer harm despite our best efforts to avoid it, vengeance is not ours to take, but God’s. “Vengeance is mine. I will repay,” says the Lord(Romans 12:19). By the way, this was the conclusion that David came to when he refused to harm Saul though the opportunity presented itself at a place called En Gedi. David and his cohorts were hiding out in a cave when they saw the king relieving himself nearby. Some saw this as the hand of God giving to David the opportunity to take revenge, but he refused to lift his hand against the Lord’s anointed (1 Samuel 24:1-7). If justice needed to be meted out, God was the one to do it, not David.
- Luke 22:36-38 — Jesus said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.”And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.” Our Lord was instructing the disciples to prepare for the conflict ahead when He would be arrested, suffer and die. In the past, he told them not to worry about money, food or a bag for other necessities when He sent them out (Mark 6:8-9), but now they needed to think about these things. And by including a sword in the list, Jesus was allowing for His followers to defend themselves.
The Courts and Self-Defense. In any discussion on self-defense, we have to ask if believers should defend themselves in front of legal authorities when wrongly accused or does the Bible teach we should remain silent?It’s clear that the Apostles, especially the Apostle Paul, did not feel the need to remain quiet. In Acts 5:27-42we read that Peter and the other apostles were brought before the ruling body of the Jews (the Sanhedrin) and accused of violating their orders not to teach in the name of Jesus. Listen to Peter’s reply as he defended their actions — We must obey God rather than men! The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead — whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him. It’s clear that they did not sit idly by and say nothing in their own defense. And as for the Apostle Paul … well, he was always giving a defense to one authority or another. Take what happened to him and Silas in Philippi. They were illegally stripped and beaten as Romans citizens without a trial. Did Paul take it lying down? Not at all. He said about the magistrates, “Acts 16:37 — They beat us publicly without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens, and threw us into prison. And now do they want to get rid of us quietly? No! Let them come themselves and escort us out.” Doesn’t sound very passive to me! He was making his case clear and who was in the wrong.
The Believer and Self-Defense. Let me wrap up our lesson on this subject by sharing a few principles from the Word regarding the matter of protecting ourselves and others.
- Whenever possible, we should be peacemakers(Matthew 5:9 – Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called Sons of God). If there’s a way to keep a situation from escalating to violence we should take it so long as it doesn’t involve sin. It is far better to bring peace to a conflict than to go on the attack ourselves.
- We should defend ourselves and others with the least amount of force to stop an attack. This is the law of love at work. Our goal should not be to maim and kill, though unfortunately, I suspect there could be a time when the victim has no choice in the matter. But for the most part, we should only use enough force to end the attack. Illustration: I’ll give you what I believe to be a good example of the right amount of force being applied, however, I recognize you might not agree. When I was in high school, we had a bully on our bus named Billy. He was bigger than everyone else and carried a knife with him which he used to threaten us on several occasions. One day when Billy was acting up, my friend, Denny, who was by nature a soft-spoken and friendly guy, determined he’d had enough of Billy’s antics. Without saying a word, he stood up and grabbed Billy by the shirt and punched him several times in the face in front of everyone else. When he was done, Billy the bully sat down and mumbled under his breath how his big brother was going to come on the bus and beat up Denny. It never happened, but that was the last day that Billy ever road the bus. There was no knife fight, no permanent damage except to his ego.
- We should defend ourselves and others when it will accomplish the greatest good. Christians are do-gooders after all(Ephesians 2:10 – We are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works that He has prepared for us).And guess what. This means doing good for everyone, including people like Billy. Who knows if that day on the bus didn’t end his bullying and contribute to him being a better and kinder person?
- Weapons used for self-defense are not prohibited, but our trust should always be in the Lord. This is the message of Psalm 44:6-8 – I do not trust in my bow, my sword does not bring me victory; but you give us victory over our enemies, you put our adversaries to shame. In God we make our boast all day long, and we will praise your name forever. Throughout history, many people have taken up weapons against others only to lose. Having the biggest spear or the most powerful gun does not guarantee you’ll come out of a conflict okay. That is ultimately in the hands of the Lord whom we trust with our lives and everything else.
Conclusion: Shirley Dobson, the wife of James Dobson, shares this story:When Focus on the Family was in its early stages and our children were young, my husband, Jim was often traveling. I had grown accustomed to his absences and was never really frightened while he was away. After all, I knew God was protecting us. Jim and I have prayed for our family throughout our marriage, and God always honored our simple trust with his protection. So even when Jim was away, I slept in peace. Except once. One night about 2:00 A.M., I awoke with a start. I was afraid and didn’t know why. For a few minutes (it seemed like hours!), I lay in bed worrying. Finally, I forced myself out of bed and sank to my knees. “Oh, Lord,” I prayed, “I don’t know why I’m so frightened. I ask you to watch over our home and to protect our family. Send your guardian angel to be with us.” I climbed back into bed, and in about half an hour I was able to fall back asleep. The next morning our teen-aged babysitter, who lived across the street, came running over. “Mrs. Dobson, did you hear what happened? A burglar robbed your next-door neighbor’s house last night!” It was true. A thief had broken in, entered the couple’s bedroom while they slept and snatched the husband’s wallet from a dresser. The burglar escaped with the family’s vacation money, about $500. Then the baby-sitter told me the police had determined the time of the robbery: about 2:00 A.M., the same time I had awakened in fear! My mind reeled at the thought. “If a burglar wanted to break into our house,” I said, “he would probably try to get in through the bathroom window near our children’s bedrooms. There’s a hedge, and he’d be shielded from view. Let’s go look.” When we walked to the window on the other side of the house, we saw that the screen was bent and the sill was splintered. Someone had indeed tried to break in! The police later told me if the burglar had really wanted to get in, he would have. What had happened to stop him? I am convinced God protected us through my panicked prayer. He discouraged the burglar from entering our house. I was surprised, but I should not have been. For years Jim and I had prayed and fasted, trusting God to protect our family. We knew God powerfully works through prayer. Then on that dark early morning my trust was tested in a frantic moment, and God again proved faithful. Amen.