Are Christians Allowed to Physically Defend Themselves?

Do Christians have the right to physically defend themselves, and if so, how far can they go? This is an important question, especially considering that Christians are being persecuted all over the world. The answer is simple. We have the right to defend ourselves (Exodus 22:2; Psalm 82:4; Prov. 24:11; Luke 11:21; 22:36) and an obligation to defend others (Psalm 82:3-4; Prov. 31:8-9; Isaiah 1:17; Jer. 22:3). But, we do not have the right to take vengeance (Rom. 12:19; Deut. 32:35; Prov. 20:22; Matt. 5:38-39). Self-defense is reactionary because it is taken to stop a threat. Vengeance is pre-meditated because it is an action taken when there is no threat.
Self defense Christian

Scripture tells us that God wants us to seek peace whenever possible (Psalm 34:14; Rom. 12:17-18; Heb. 12:14) and that we are to love our enemies (Luke 6:27, 35). In light of this, we have the option to flee persecution (Jer. 6:1; Matt. 10:23; Luke 21:20-21; 2 Cor. 11:32-33). But, if that is not possible and peace is not attainable, then physical force is permitted but it must be minimal with just enough force to stop a threat; otherwise, it becomes vengeance. Though we have the right to defend ourselves, it doesn’t mean we have the obligation. Think about this. Ultimately, our battle is “not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places,” (Eph. 6:12). This means that the dark spiritual forces want chaos, death, and to prevent Christians from preaching the gospel. For this reason, we should defend the true gospel (1 Pet. 3:15; 2 Tim. 2:15), and resist oppressors, whether they be small in number (Psalm 82:3–4; Isaiah 1:17) or as large as a bad government (Exodus 1:15-17; Acts 5:29; 2 Cor. 11:32-33).

Consider that in the New Testament Christians were persecuted for their faith and did not physically retaliate (Acts 5:40-41; 16:22–24; 2 Cor. 11:24-25). Sometimes they fled to avoid harm (Matt. 10:23; 24:15-16; John 10:39; 2 Cor. 11:32-33). Other times, they used the law in their favor (Acts 25:8-11). Nevertheless, scripture tells us that suffering has been granted to us by God (Phil. 1:29). This is why many Christians throughout history have accepted death as a testimony of their trust in and proclamation of Christ Jesus (Acts 5:40; 7:58-60; 16:22-24; Heb. 11:36-40). Yet, it is also true that when Jesus sent His disciples into the world, He told them to buy a sword (Luke 22:36). He knew that they would suffer violence for the sake of the gospel. He was not against violence. In fact, Jesus drove the people out of the temple using a whip of cords as he overturned the money tables (John 2:15). And let us not forget that in the Old Testament, Nehemiah instructed the Israelites to carry swords as they rebuilt the defensive walls of Jerusalem (Neh. 4:18).

Finally, we must consider how our resistance will affect unbelievers? Will it increase sympathy for the enemies of the gospel if we defend ourselves? Might it cause anger towards Christians and further hinder the gospel presentation? Undoubtedly, it will. But, we are not responsible for how unbelievers sinfully misinterpret biblical truths and our defensive actions. I would like to ask if dying for Christ is better than defending ourselves. Each person must determine what he or she will do when the situation arises – and that, after much prayer and examination of God’s word.

Summary Points

  1. Physical self-defense is permitted, but it is not an obligation (Exodus 22:2; Luke 11:21; 22:36).
  2. We have the right and obligation to defend others (Psalm 82:4; Prov. 24:11; Luke 22:36).
  3. We are not to take vengeance (Rom. 12:19; Deut. 32:35; Prov. 20:22; Matt. 5:38-39).
  4. We are to seek peace whenever possible (Psalm 34:14; Rom. 12:17-18; Heb. 12:14).
  5. We can flee to avoid persecution (Matt. 10:23; 24:15-16; John 10:39; 2 Cor. 11:32-33).
  6. We are to pray for our persecutors (Matt. 5:44).
  7. We are to love our enemies (Luke 6:27, 35).
  8. We are in a spiritual battle (Eph. 6:12)
  9. We must defend the true gospel (1 Pet. 3:15; 2 Tim. 2:15).
  10. We are to resist evildoers whether they be small in number (Psalm 82:3–4; Isaiah 1:17) or as large as a bad government (Exodus 1:15-17; Acts 5:29; 2 Cor. 11:32-33).
  11. Our suffering is granted to us by God (Phil. 1:29).
  12. Many Christians have accepted death as a testimony of their faith in Christ (Acts 5:40; 7:58-60; 16:22-24; Heb. 11:36-40).
  13. In light of possible violence, Jesus told his disciples to buy a sword (Luke 22:36). He even used a scourge to drive people out of the temple (John 2:15).
  14. Consider how our actions will affect unbelievers and their trust in the gospel of Christ.
  15. Suggested Order of Action:
    1. Pray for and love our persecutors (Matt. 5:44; Luke 6:27, 35)
    2. Seek peace with them (Psalm 34:14; Rom. 12:17-18; Heb. 12:14).
    3. Verbal self-defense (1 Pet. 3:15; 2 Tim. 2:15).
    4. Legal self-defense (Acts 25:8-11).
    5. Flee persecution (Jer. 6:1; Matt. 10:23; Luke 21:20-21; 2 Cor. 11:32-33).
    6. Use physical force if necessary (Exodus 22:2; Psalm 82:4; Prov. 24:11; Luke 11:21; 22:36)

M. Slick

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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