When faced with an immediate threat of bodily harm, what is the proper Christian response? Some, through probably not many, would say turn the other cheek. They would say, “resist not evil”. They may even site bible verses to the effect of giving also thy cloak to one who has already taken your coat. Others might proclaim that we have a right to defend ourselves. They could quote bible that speaks of using “the edge of the sword against men and women, children and sucklings, and oxen, and asses, and sheep,” (1 Samuel 22:19). This, and other such verses, would only be the beginning of their arguments. The leaders of the secular world might say accept a beating and then take it to court. The flesh would say fight now and go to court later. But on this matter, where should stand the Christian?
Now you know that I believe in bible balance. What follows is not a rule but rather a pointer. Every situation is different, and every response must be made in alignment with the measure of the situation.
In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus speaks in this wise:
“Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away,” (Matthew 5:38-42).
To many, this may seem clear-cut: submit to your enemies and resist not. But is it really so plainly laid out? Perhaps not, perhaps true bible balance demands a deeper look into this matter.
In the book of Acts, the apostle Paul stands before a council of men, brethren, and priests: his crime, in their eyes, is that of teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. In the course of the matter, the high priest makes command that they should smite Paul across the mouth. Listen now, to the reaction of this apostle who was once lifted, in body or spirit alone we know not, into the third heaven.
” Then said Paul unto him, God shall smite thee, thou whited wall: for sittest thou to judge me after the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law?” (Acts 23:4).
Perhaps you say that though an apostle, Paul was yet a mere man and that he lost control. The balance of that particular portion of scripture would indicate that this is exactly what happened, that Paul loss control that Paul messed up that Paul sinned. It also makes clear that Paul knew the law, and that his capturers were in violation of their own court. Now if you conclude that Paul was not fully aware of his choice and action in the matter, I suggest that you read again these verses, only this time read with an ear to what the Holy Spirit is herein making clear.
Perhaps this is still problematic; let us call upon another scripture so that we may further examine the depths of this lesson. For that purpose, we will visit the drama of yet another earthly trial.
In this trial, Jesus the Lord of Salvation stood before yet another high priest of men. Here too men stand in violation of their own truths and laws for here too the high priest, though not himself demanding the attack, stands in approval as a nearby officer ignores the law of the court.
“The high priest then asked Jesus of his disciples, and of his doctrine. Jesus answered him, I spake openly to the world; I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort; and in secret have I said nothing. Why askest thou me? ask them which heard me, what I have said unto them: behold, they know what I said.
22 And when he had thus spoken, one of the officers which stood by struck Jesus with the palm of his hand, saying, Answerest thou the high priest so? Jesus answered him, If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil: but if well, why smitest thou me,” (John 18:19-23).
Here we see that he who was without sin spoke likewise concerning those who ignore their own laws. Yet in neither event do we see a resistance beyond that of bringing forth words of conviction. He who said, “turn the other cheek” not only refused to fight back, but he also chooses to speak truth and therefore suffer even greater consequences.
What do you do when as a Christian, you stand on bible truth; and in return they beat you, and curse you, and kick you out of the church buildings, and burn you at the stake, and feed you to the lions? Rejoice, and speak truth more boldly so long as you are able to speak, for you have been counted worthy.
A Point of Difference
Christians know that they will suffer for Christ, if indeed they do labor for Christ. But what of innocent suffering? If someone or some group should jump you in the darkness of an alley, do you surrender without a fight? Do you permit yourself to be kicked and trampled? Do you give also your cloak as they walk away laughing at your pain?
This now becomes opinion, for I cannot use scripture as a firm confirmation of what follows. It seems that for a Christian to suffer unjustly is expected. If you do not believe this pause now for a late night visit into a certain garden over beyond the brook Cedron. See, in this place a man who is innocent by a measure that cannot be fully comprehended by the finite mind of man. Yet he submits without struggle.
Something unique happened when Jesus died. The greatest victory that evil has ever known was but a temporary flavor. Jesus had the right, he had the power, and he had the authority to end forever all of creation. But he knew that there are only two methods for ending evil: 1) fully thrash it by wiping out every trace of wickedness and in so doing he would have to take out the entire created world; 2) Overcome it by living a life of perfect resistance, dieing before its perceived power, and then rising again in total victory that many might win the crown of authority over evil.
What do we do when face to face with an enemy that is determined to assault us in a physical, mental, or emotional manner?
I can tell you of scripture that speaks of a woman’s right to separate herself, for a time, from her husband when need be. This surely deals with domestic violence. I can also write of how a woman must submit to her husband. The circumstances must balance.
But beyond that, I want to explain how that what Jesus did on the cross can teach us about confronting immediate threats of brutality upon our persons. You see, Jesus used only enough power to subdue the evil, and to overcome it. He forego that ultimate step, that total annihilation of creation; and rather used a limited yet more powerful method.
We too have the ability to use a limited force. We too can act only with as much strength and resistance as is necessary. This is the definition of meekness. It is to have power that you do not overuse. We can stop evil without rendering evil for evil. Justice is permitted, even required.
But a Christian is never permitted to act out of wrath, hate, or revenge.