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Selected New Testament Writings and Letters
“Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing” – 1 Peter 3:9 (ESV)
Jesus had a ministry in which nonviolence and redemption were intricately woven into his teachings, example, his salvific work on the Cross, and in the resurrection. The Lord God, Holy and blameless, became one of us, and took all of our sorrow upon himself so that we can be set free from sins that afflict us, and walk with God in this life, and in the next. Jesus taught His followers to love their enemies, and he showed the good in their enemies through the story of the Good Samaritan, in which someone who was an enemy showed one of their own people more love than their religious leaders. Additionally. Christ showed them how to respond to sinfulness in the story of the woman caught in adultery. He showed them how to respond to persecution by not harming those who harmed him, and by willfully carrying his cross on his aching and torn back, and taking the nails on the cross, while praying to God, “Bless them Father, for the know not what they do”. Christian Author Preston Sprinkle writes in his blog “Theology in the Raw” that:
“Christ defeats evil by submitting to violence—by dying rather then killing—and rises from the dead to tell the tale.”
In the cross, Jesus showed us the full expression of Love and Mercy, and in the resurrection, he showed us that that Love was true and hopeful.
The argument for Christians to live nonviolently should be able to rest within the words and example of Christ alone. However, many still are resistent, and for good reason. Nonviolence calls us to accept the seemingly improbable, impossible, and unlikely way to address a problem. Nonviolence takes away our first instinct and tells us to do that which doesn’t make sense.
It would be easier to dismiss Christ’s teachings if the rest of the New Testament did not advocate for nonviolence, or if it even endorsed a Christian’s use of deadly force against evil. If this were the case, one could say of Christ’s teachings “Well, he is talking about his millennial reign”, “that’s really only for Christians who are normal civilians and are not in government”, or even a vague statement like “It is a good teaching, but that doesn’t apply to…[name scenario]”. As someone who takes Christ’s words so seriously…I don’t think that I could make these conclusions, even if no other writings of nonviolence existed in the Bible, but it would at least be understandable. However, the other New Testament writings DO address nonviolence.
This chapter is going to cover some selected writings, and the next chapter will be a more specific chapter on Romans 12 and 13, and dealing with the question of Christians and Governments.
1 John 4:19-21 – Love one another
Christian love is unique in that it demands love when love is not necessarily our first response. It demands us to love those we don’t want to love. It demands us to love those who have wronged us. Why do we love?
“19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.”
Within the book of first John is a powerful call for Christians to radically love one another, and others. This Love was a defining attribute for these early believers.
1 Peter 2:21-25 – When He was reviled, he did not revile in return
The Apostle Peter wrote pretty plainly in the following passage about the influence that Christ’s example should have over our own lives.
“21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”
In context, this passage was written to slaves in first century Israel, within the broader context of Peter writing to all people to be subject to authority, and calling them to put away all sin – “all malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander”(1 Pet. 2:1). Despite harsh and/or powerful authorities over them, followers of Christ were expected to follow His example, and to not retaliate evil for evil.
1 Peter 3:8-12 – Seek Peace and Pursue it
Although that last passage, in my mind, refers to all Christians, some may think that it was originally written to Christian slaves, and therefore may be simply an instruction for slaves to not retaliate because that is not what slaves were expected to do in that time and culture. I understand that, and so I want to provide this next passage from the same book and author.
“8 Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 9 Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.
10 For “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; 11 let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it.12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
Peter states nothing to the new testament reader that had not been alluded to/taught before. He informs his audience to not repay evil for evil, to be unified, loving, tender-hearted, humble, as well telling them to bless the one doing evil against them. He also adds that the Christian is to not only seek peace, but to pursue it; for the Lord is against “those who do evil”.
This passage contains a repeating theme that I have been noticing during my study of this topic, which is: Go above and beyond the normal. Show the world that something about you is different. Be your “brother’s keeper” to your friends, as well as to your enemies; instead of cursing them, bless them. See the humanness in all. Evangelical Pastor, Brian Zahnd, affirms this truth in his book “A Farewell to Mars” by stating:
“Humanity’s worst sins and most heinous crimes occur when we follow the way of Cain as the founder of human civilization and refuse to recognize the shared humanity of our brothers and fail to acknowledge our responsibility to be our brother’s keeper. When vicious competition and blind commitment to tribalism become more valued than the brotherhood of shared humanity, we let Satan loose in our midst. When we denigrate those of differing nationalities, ethnicities, religions, politics, and classes to a dehumanized “them,” we open the door to deep hostility and the potential for unimaginable atrocities. If we believe the lie that they are “not like us,” we are capable of becoming murderers and monsters. And it’s been going on for a long, long time.”
Dehumanization leads to us being comfortable with that which Christ preaches against. For if our enemies, or those who have done us wrong, are forever cursed in our minds, than how can we have the desire to even think about loving them? Instead, we should see that all of us, if prompted enough, if desperate enough, if lost enough, can be guilty of the same evil; we can become murderers, racists, terrorists if we do not consistently fight against dehumanizing others.
“How can I kill the ones I’m supposed to love…
My enemies are men like me…”
-Derek Webb. From “My Enemies are Men like me” Album: Mockingbird
Acts 5:40-42 – Rejoicing in Persecution
“40 and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.”
In context, this quote is in reference to a meeting composed of the senate of the people of Israel (5:21), and was in reference to the Apostles who were put in Prison for preaching about Christ (5:17-20). The Apostles were then set free by an Angel, and were later seen preaching in the temple (5:25). They were charged for going against their jewish laws, and Peter’s response to them was this:
“We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
The apostles were not afraid to follow God, even unto death, and saw evangelism as incredibly important. Even when they were beaten and jailed, they REJOICED that they were worthy to suffer for their proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Please take note that they did not only refuse to revile, but they rejoiced in their suffering.
This is in harmony with the writings of James, which could speak of literal persecution, or going through another tough spot in our faith walks.
“2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
Acts 7:54-60 – The Martyrdom of Stephen
“54 Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. 55 But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. 58 Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.”
In carrying out the thrust of what Peter was doing in the previous section, Stephen went against the laws of man to preach the Gospel because His true authority was God. Not only is Stephen a great example of having a faith that lasts through suffering, but he is also a great example of how to love our enemies. While he was being stoned to death, Stephen echoed Christ’s own words and asked God to not hold the sin of stoning him to death against those casting the stones. His love for Lord, his passion for the Gospel, and his love for others was so great that he did not desire even God to punish his persecutors. It is a crazy enough thing to think about when Christ said this as he hung on a cross, but Christ was Divine. Stephen’s devotion to Christ and His teachings is an example for us all to follow.
The last two sections touched on not fighting violence with violence when you are being persecuted for your faith. Within these sections, we found that Peter told the council that was accusing him of breaking their laws that “we must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29)”. After being jailed for evangelizing, Peter evangelized once again after he was set free. In this way, he was saying to the authorities – “I do not care about your laws, I have to do what God calls me to do.” In the same fashion, Stephen was martyred in Acts 7 for preaching the truth of the Gospel, while knowing the consequences for doing so.
Many people believe that nonviolence is a worldview that does not allow for resistance; that we would allow people to trample our loved ones, or that we would passively stand by as we watch the world burn. But to assume such is to make the statement that the only solution to violence, is violence. To assume this goes against even the Just-War position, which is supposed to attempt many ways in resolving an issue before resorting to war/violent retaliation.
As I will cover more later on, the nonviolence ethic is not passive, but it quite active, and for this and other reasons, Pacifism does not accurately describe the nonviolence teachings and example of Jesus. American journalist and author, Mark Kurlansky in his book about nonviolence had the following thing to say about the the comparison between pacifism and nonviolence in regards to Christianity:
Nonviolence is not the same thing as pacifism, for which there are many words. Pacifism is treated almost as a psychological condition. It is a state of mind. Pacifism is passive; but nonviolence is active. Pacifism is harmless and therefore easier to accept than non-violence, which is dangerous. When Jesus Christ said that a victim should turn the other cheek, he was preaching pacifism. But when he said that an enemy should be won over through the power of love, he was preaching nonviolence. Nonviolence, exactly like violence, is a means of persuasion, a technique for political activism, a recipe for prevailing. It requires a great deal more imagination to devise nonviolent means—boycotts, sitins, strikes, street theater, demonstrations—than to use force.
One of the reasons why I am writing this book is to hopefully share what I believe to be God’s will for Christians on the matter of responding to conflict and our enemies in order to hopefully spark a movement in individual’s hearts to embrace the way of nonviolence. After this, I would hope that all of us can be motivated to show the Crazy Love of Jesus through nonviolent action to our hurting and broken world so torn apart by bombs and bullets.
Leaving Vengeance to the Lord
Just as we are to non-violently promote peace and seek resolution to conflict, we are also called to trust that the Lord is capable of carrying out justice – whether that be in this life, or the next. Recognizing that God will Right the Wrong makes accepting the call of nonviolence to the believer a little easier. In the New Testament, there are a couple examples of Divine Justice that I will go over briefly in this section.
The Case of Ananias and Sapphira – Acts 5:1-11
Ananias and Saphira sell some of their land, and agree to keep some of the profit, and give the rest to the church. However, they acted as if they were giving all of their profits to the church, but they only gave some of the proceeds to the apostles from the land which they had sold. The early Church shared all of their possessions, as seen in Acts 4:32-37, in order to support one another, however, it is not said that they were required to do so. And so, Ananias & Sapphira wanted to keep some of the money, but make it seem like they were giving up all of the money. They lied when they didn’t have to, and did so for their own social good – more money, and being recognized as giving all of the money.
The sins of Ananias and Sapphira are not only lying, but also hypocrisy. They were struck dead – not by a human hand, but they each fell down, and breathed their last upon being convicted of lying to God. We cannot fully grasp the extent of how offensive this incident was to God, for we still wonder in a quiet whisper, why did this have to happen, God? And as much as we may toss and turn over this passage, we eventually have to accept that what was written happened, and that it happened by the hands of a completely righteous and just God.
I know. It doesn’t sit right. It may not ever sit right with us. But in this instance, we see God carrying out justice through his own hand, and his followers played no part in issuing this lethal justice.
The Final Judgement – Matthew 25:31-46, Revelation 19:11- 20:15
Perhaps the most descriptive passages about Divine Justice comes from these passages dealing with Christ Jesus judging all of the earth, alive and dead. To separate the “sheep” from the “goats”.
It is hard to discuss these passages without going into interpretations about the end times, which is not what this chapter, or book, is about. Some believe these passages to be metaphorical, some literal. Many disagree on the order of events, and on a myriad of other things. But what we can gather, no matter what interpretation that you take, is that God will Right all Wrong, He will bring Justice to the Wickedness of the world, and in doing so, he will Redeem the world.
God will do this, and it is not said that he needs our help doing so; Christ and the heavenly armies are more than capable of handling whatever that they will handle. In the meantime, we have to trust that He will Right all Wrongs as we seek to live our lives following the Lord, and loving others.
Kurlansky, Mark (2009-01-16). Nonviolence: The History of a Dangerous Idea (Modern Library Chronicles) (Kindle Locations 163-168). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Sprinkle, Preston. “A Case for Christocentric Nonviolence.” Theology in the Raw. Patheos.com, 21 Nov. 2015. Web. 05 Feb. 2016.
Webb, Derek. My Enemies Are Men Like Me. Derek Webb. Fair Trade Services, 2005. MP3. Album: Mockingbird
Zahnd, Brian (2014-06-01). A Farewell to Mars: An Evangelical Pastor’s Journey Toward the Biblical Gospel of Peace (Kindle Locations 502-507). David C. Cook. Kindle Edition.