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2006-07-23_The Sword_Matthew 5.38-48

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The Sword

Matthew 5:38-48   |   Shaun LePage   |   July 23, 2006

I. Introduction

A.   In Matthew 5:38-48, Jesus spoke some of the most challenging words in the Bible. Read.

B.    After examining these words over the past couple weeks, some of you have asked me some difficult questions about violence, self-defense and war. Was Jesus teaching that a disciple of Jesus Christ should never defend himself or his family? Was Jesus teaching that we should never condone war? Never be soldiers? Well, these are good questions. No, these are extremely important questions and I believe the Bible addresses them. So, I want to attempt to answer some of these questions today by looking at what the Bible has to say about “the sword.”

C.   This is a sword I borrowed from one of my new Kansas friends. It’s designed after the swords used in the Middle Ages. The earliest swords were daggers chiseled out of stone, but man has formed swords out of copper, bronze, iron and even gold. For thousands of years, the sword was the standard weapon for warfare. But the sword has largely been replaced by more sophisticated weapons and is used mostly just in ceremonies today—such as military honors funerals and knighting ceremonies. It’s just a symbol, really. A symbol of war. Of combat.

D.   The word “sword” appears over 400 times in the Bible, which shows its importance as a weapon in ancient times. Jesus Himself spoke of the sword. On the night before His death, He said two striking things about the sword.

1.     Before He was arrested, Jesus told His disciples, “…Whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one.” (Luke 22:36)

2.     Moments later, as Jesus was being arrested, Peter drew his sword and cut off the ear of a man named Malchus. “Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52)

3.     Which is, it? Shall we buy a sword or shall we put our swords away?

4.     That’s basically the question I want to try to answer this morning. If the sword represents violence and warfare, shall we put our swords away? Never resort to violence? Never defend ourselves? Never go to war? Let’s look for answers in three swords—swords found in Scripture.

II.  Body—Three Swords

A.   The Sword of Man. The sword of man can be a literal sword or figurative of something else: A gun. A tank. Two fists. An electric chair. A hangman’s noose. As we look at what the Scriptures have to say about the sword of man we find at least three principles:

1.     The sword of man may be used in self-defense.

a)    Luke 22:36. This is a difficult verse to interpret. Most scholars are puzzled by it, but admit that Jesus could have meant that His disciples should buy a sword so they could defend themselves. Persecution was coming and they were not to be aggressors, but they were allowed to carry a sword to defend themselves.

b)    Exodus 22:2-3

(i)   Verse 2 tells us self-defense is allowed. The principle behind this verse is: self-defense is not a crime. In this situation a person doesn’t know if his life or the life of his family is in danger. If he is burglarized at night, he is hindered from knowing what the intruder’s intentions are. Therefore, if he kills him, he is not guilty of a crime.

(ii) Verse 3a tells us not to kill over possessions. To kill someone for stealing a Rolex is not acceptable. Daylight changes everything. The intent of this law is that a man can presumably tell in daylight that the intruder is just a thief and poses no immediate threat to his life.  

c)    A few weeks ago, I used an illustration from the book, Wild At Heart, by John Eldridge. Let’s revisit that story he told at the beginning of Chapter 5. [Read] The problem I have here is with where Eldridge started—according to this story. As far as we know, his first advice to his first-grader was to “hit…as hard as you possibly can.” Punch the kid’s lights out! Let me suggest a more Scriptural approach…

(i)   Find out what’s hurt. The command of Christ to “turn the other cheek” is precisely dealing with the issue of revenge or retaliation in personal relationships where you have been insulted. It’s not a command to be a doormat. To stand and let someone pummel you without defending yourself. So, the first thing John Eldridge should have figured out was whether his son was in physical danger or whether he just had his feelings hurt. If he was not in physical danger, I believe Christ would say, “Don’t retaliate. Try to reason with the guy. Try to be his friend. Walk away from it. Don’t return evil for evil, push for push, shove for shove.” So are the boy’s feelings hurt? Or is he being physically hurt.

(ii) Love and pray for your enemy. The second thing he should have done was talk to the boy about Jesus’ words, “You shall love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Love is a choice—not a feeling. If we pray for our enemies, we will find that we have much more patience with them. The first thing we should say to our boys dealing with bullies is, “Let’s pray for that boy, son. Maybe he doesn’t have a Daddy and Mommy who tell him about Jesus and teach him how to be kind. Maybe some boys who are bigger than he is are being bullies to him and he’s just imitating them. Maybe he really wants a friend, but doesn’t know how to be a friend. Let’s pray for him, son.”

(iii)    Appeal to the authorities. If the bullying continues, we should go to the proper authorities—long before punching someone in the nose. Governing authorities—as we shall see in a moment—have been given the authority—by God—to deal with evil doers. The teacher, the principal in this situation had the authority to deal with this bully and those authorities should have been consulted. If we all take the law into our own hands, we’ll have anarchy. Chaos! Let the proper authorities have a chance to handle the situation properly. Since Columbine, school authorities have been a little sensitive to the issue of bullying. They’ll probably take care of the problem very quickly.

(iv)    Punch him in the nose. If the proper authorities don’t do their job, and the bullying continues, then punch him in the nose! A jab to the nose might be necessary. Most bullies are all talk anyway and a good pop in the nose might be just the medicine he needs to change his ways. My point is that this step should be way down the line. We should teach our children—and model for them—great patience and self-restraint. But, I do believe there comes a point where a pop in the nose is appropriate. But there is one other step:

(v) Help him up. Extend the right hand of fellowship and make it clear you don’t want to fight. You want to have peace.

d)    The bottom line of all this is that Scripture doesn’t say a lot about the issue of self-defense. This gives us a certain level of liberty to do what we believe is wise in a given situation. We are not to be aggressors, but we have the freedom to defend ourselves when backed into a corner.

2.     The sword of man should be used by authorities against evil-doers.

a)    Romans 13:1-4.

(i)   This does not give governing authorities the right to a reign of terror. They cannot use the sword against anyone whom they wish—but against the evildoer. Exodus 23:7, which I believe is written primarily to those who will be judges, says, “Do not kill the innocent or the righteous…” Be very certain that if you use the sword, it is with complete justice.

(ii) I believe Romans 13:1-4 gives justification to war as well. John Calvin and Martin Luther taught this as well. That governing authorities are not only to protect good citizens from bad citizens, but all citizens from bad aliens or foreign aggressors.

(a)  Throughout history, Christians have struggled with the issue of war. Many good Christians have taught that we should be pacifists—that we should never use violence. We should never go to war. But many other good Christians have looked to the Scriptures to see if there is such a thing as a “just war.”

(b) God Himself made it clear that there is a time for war. Ecclesiastes 3:8 says, “There is a time for war, and a time for peace.” Of course, God is the Sovereign Lord of the Universe and the Giver of Life, so He alone has the perfect wisdom to know with complete certainty when that time has come. But the point is, God often commanded His people to go to war and to put the wicked to death, so there is a time for such action. The key is to follow the principles which He has laid out in His Word for dealing with wicked men.

(c)   As Christians have struggled with this difficult matter, something known as the “Just War Theory” has been developed. This theory was usually attributed to Thomas Aquinas, though others played an important role in it’s history. D.J. Atkinson, an English scholar, explains that Aquinas “…emphasized the permissibility of war for defense and believed that in order for such a war to be just, three things are necessary: the authority of a sovereign; a just cause; and a right intention (to wage war not in order to conquer, but to secure peace).” According to Atkinson, there are several “Christian principles underlying the doctrine. (1)  God is a just God who cares about justice. It is a Christian obligation to work toward justice, especially for the poor and the oppressed (Ps. 98:1-2; Isa. 10:1-21; Luke 1:52). (2) The sinful nature of man and the fallenness of our social order mean that men and societies do act unjustly. There is an acquisitive and aggressive side to our nature that needs to be restrained (James 4:1-6). (3) True peace is based upon a right and just ordering of society (Ps. 85:10; James 3:18; Isa. 11:4-11). (4) God has ordained the authorities of the state to a specific and limited role in upholding order and punishing evil (Rom. 13:1; 1 Pet. 2:13-17). (5) At all times the state is subject to the authority of God and to the priority of human values (Rev. 13). War can only be waged as a lesser evil, in such a way that the “Spirit of the peacemaker” (Augustine; Matt. 5:9)is preserved. This requires, for example, the humane treatment of prisoners and the immunity of noncombatants that respects the divine commandment against the shedding of innocent blood (Exod. 20:13; Isa. 59:7-8; Rom. 3:15; Mafl. 27:4). (6) The cross of Christ displays the willingness of God to wage war on the powers of evil to the point of self-sacrifice (Col. 2:15; Eph. 6: 10-20). (Encyclopedia of Biblical and Christian Ethics, p.216)

(d) All of this highlights my next point:

3.     The sword of man should not be used too quickly.

a)    As we’ve already seen, when Jesus told us to “turn the other cheek” He was telling us that His disciples will exercise great restraint. They will leave vengeance in the hands of God and trust themselves to their righteous Father.

b)    In Matthew 26:52, Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword.”

(i)   The fact is, some of those who “take up the sword” are those who love the sword. They love violence. They love war. They can’t wait until someone steps across a line so they can whip that sword from its sheath and slice them into submission. Jesus says that kind of man will “die by the sword.” His violent ways end only in death.

(a)  Psalm 11:5 tells us how God feels about those who love violence: “The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked, And the one who loves violence His soul hates.”

(b) This is a subject we men need to explore in great detail. Some of my favorite movies have glorified violence. Dare I suggest that I’m not the only man or boy in this room who feels that way? That bothers me. Does it bother you guys that God “hates…the one who loves violence”?

(ii) My point is, if we “take up the sword” it should be a last resort. We should be backed into the corner before we resort to violence.

(iii)    How does this match up with Luke 22:36 where Jesus told His disciples to buy a sword? If, in fact, Jesus was condoning the use of a sword for self-defense in that passage, then by telling His disciples—a few minutes later—to put away your swords, He was making it clear that if we take up the sword, we must do so at the right time for the right cause. That was not the right time. That was not the right cause. Why not? It was in opposition to the Father’s will. Listen to what Jesus said right after He told His disciples to put away their swords, “Or do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels? 54 “How then will the Scriptures be fulfilled, which say that it must happen this way?” It wasn’t God’s will for them to fight at that moment against evil. Self-defense was not God’s will in that situation. Sometimes—perhaps most of the time—self-defense is not God’s will for us, and we must not be too quick to use the sword.

B.  The Sword of God’s Judgment

1.     I want to make this point very quickly. The Bible teaches us not to take vengeance. But it does not teach that vengeance will never happen—just that it belongs to God.

a)    Romans 12:19

b)    Isaiah 66:15-16

c)    In Psalm 94, God is called, “The God of Vengeance.” There is such a thing as “just vengeance.” But that belongs to God.

2.     And this is why I bring up the Sword of God’s Judgment: The disciple of Jesus Christ is to trust God to deal with his enemies. Trust God to deal with your enemies. Either in this life or the next.

3.     One of the most common things God has to say to us in His Word is: “Trust Me! Trust that I love justice. Trust that I can and will make sure that justice is done in the right way at the right time. Trust Me!”

a)    Psalm 44:4-6

b)    Psalm 33:16-21

c)    Turn to Revelation 19 as well. God has promised that some day He will bring judgment on this world. Listen to vs. 11-16. I don’t want to play God. You and I don’t want to come riding in on our little horses with our little swords pretending we’re in charge of delivering judgment. That’s God’s job and we need to let Him do it when He chooses.

C.  The Sword of God’s Spirit

1.     Ephesians 6:10-12. Remember: The real battle is spiritual. This is something else we need to believe ourselves and teach our children. The real battle is not against flesh and blood. Most of us will never face combat. I’ve lived my entire adult life and never needed to physically defend myself or my family. So, spiritual warfare is much more important. Our real enemies are not bullies or burglars. Our real enemies are not flesh and blood, but “powers and principalities.” Demonic forces attack us daily through lies and temptations. One of those lies is that punching people in the nose is the best way to solve problems. That cussing someone out or flipping them the bird is somehow the best thing to do. The “powers of darkness” around us want us to dishonor Christ, ruin our testimony and destroy our families.

2.     Ephesians 6:13-17. Remember: The spiritual battle is real. Most of us forget this and we need to be reminded that not only is the real battle spiritual, but the spiritual battle is real. It is real battle. An iron sword won’t do us any good. We need to arm ourselves with the Sword of the Spirit—the Word of God. It is our only offensive weapon. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith—these are defensive weapons against the lies of the evil one. But the Sword of the Spirit is an offensive weapon we can use to fight back against the powers of darkness. But, if you’re not armed, you’re going to lose. If you’re not reading it, you’re going to lose. If you’re not studying it, you’re going to lose. If you’re not obeying it, you’re going to lose the spiritual battle. Why don’t we take up the Sword of the Spirit? We don’t believe the battle is real. We forget the spiritual battle is real—more real and more important than any physical skirmish we’ll ever face. And many of those physical skirmishes can and will be prevented if we are fighting the spiritual battles first and foremost.

3.    Hebrews 4:12.

a)    As we seek to be Christlike in all our actions, we must open ourselves up to the scrutiny of the Holy Spirit. What are my motivations for taking up a sword or a gun? Do I really need to defend myself physically, or am I overly anxious to use my fists? Do we really have a just cause for war, or are we trying to take more land or get even for what their ancestors did to our ancestors? The Scriptures—the Sword of the Spirit—are our only hope of truly judging “the thoughts and intents of the heart.”

b)    Remember: The inner battle is primary. Only a man of inner strength can walk away from a fight. Only a man of inner strength can exercise self-control over the natural tendency to retaliate and get revenge. Only a man of inner strength can love his enemies and pray for those who persecute him. That kind of strength is the fruit of the Spirit. That kind of inner strength only grows as the result of walking with the Spirit, and being cut deeply by the Sword of the Spirit—the Word of God.

c)    Listen to what Zane Hodges has written about Hebrews 4:12: “The inner life of a Christian is often a strange mixture of motivations both genuinely spiritual and completely human. It takes a supernaturally discerning agent such as the Word of God to sort these out and to expose what is of the flesh. The readers might think that they were contemplating certain steps out of purely spiritual motivations when, as God’s Word could show them, they were acting unfaithfully as did Israel of old.” (Bible Knowledge Commentary, under commentary on Hebrew 4:12)

d)    I’ve criticized John Eldridge’s book, Wild At Heart. Let me now read a couple paragraphs I agree with. This is not an endorsement of the book, mind you—but I think John got this right in chapter 9, [ Read “Hanging On To The Truth” on pgs. 163-5. ]

III. Closing

A.   No doubt, I haven’t answered all your questions about the morality of self-defense and war. The fact is, there are no easy answers.

1.     When Jesus said, “But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also,” He was demanding a standard of self-control that is completely counter to our natural tendencies. A standard that will require a true disciple of Jesus Christ to endure insult when he would rather retaliate.

2.     When Jesus said, “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” He was insisting that His followers choose to fight spiritual warfare rather than physical warfare. Choose the Sword of the Spirit over the sword of iron. Choose love for others over love for self. That kind of love is much more difficult than hand-to-hand combat. It is much more effective than the sword. That kind of love has an eternal perspective that is willing to be persecuted for the cause of Christ.

3.     You have the right to defend yourself. But, instead of defending yourself, are you willing to have your rights trampled in order to extend the love of Christ? We have the right to go to war. But, instead of war, are you willing to endure suffering to win your enemies for Christ?

B.     I want to read a story for you that will help put all this in perspective. The story is told by Pastor Richard Wurmbrand, who spent 14 years in Communist prisons. The story is about one of his fellow prisoners named Annmarie. It is such an extreme story, I almost decided not to use it. But the fact is, Jesus calls us to an extreme life for Him. He calls us to the kind of extreme love He had for His enemies. This story illustrates this love like almost no other I’ve ever heard. [ Read “Baptize me or I’ll shoot” on pgs. 49-52 of From Suffering to Triumph. ]

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