Redeemed Natures: Chapter Six – Nonviolence & The Early Church (Part 3 of 3)

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Chapter Six

Nonviolence & The Early Church (Part 3 of 3)

““If we are enjoined, then, to love our enemies … whom have we to hate?

– Tertullian, Apology. Chap. 37

(Be sure to read Part 1 and 2 of this chapter first)

Constantine & Shortly After – 306 – 380 A.D.

As written in my chapter on Romans 12 and 13, I believe that the Christian’s ultimate authority comes from God, and when that allegiance is divided, problems arise in the form of people accepting something as the truth, that is not with the Will of God.  The reason why Constantine is important in this discussion is because his relationship with Christianity started in the form of a vision, and his legacy led to Christianity being named the State Religion of the Roman Empire after his death.  

The Vision

The story of Constantine seeing a vision which instructed him to paint crosses on his army’s shields in order to win a battle took place in the year 311,   although I enjoy Mark Kurlansky’s thoughts on that story in his book Nonviolence: The History of a Dangerous Idea:

“Constantine had a dream in which Christ had appeared, commanding him to carry the sign of the cross into battle. By this time Constantine had numerous Christian soldiers in his ranks, and for the first time in history they went into battle with an emblem of Christianity, the cross, painted on their shields. Just a generation earlier, to have placed a symbol of Christianity on a weapon would have been an outrage for Romans and an unthinkable blasphemy for Christians. Before the battle, Constantine was said to have seen a flaming cross in the sky with the words “In this sign thou shalt conquer,” words that were in complete contradiction to Christianity and would have been unutterable for Jesus.” (Kindle Locations 407-412)

Kurlansky recognizes the conflict between the teachings of Jesus, as well as the early church, and the involvement of Christians and Christianity in warfare.  He correctly wrote that Christ himself would have been abhorred at the sight of crosses associated with him because used as a sort of “blessing” of war. The spread of this story within the Roman Empire would lead to Christians believing that Constantine possibly had some special connection with God, and because of that, their view of God might begin to become distorted by the belief that God was on the side of the Romans, and against its enemies.

The Edict of Milan

Because Christians were seen as cultish, and, in some cases, as rebels, persecution of them was a recurring issue in the Roman Empire. There were times, and areas, where this persecution was worse than others (Colosseum, anyone?), and there were times and areas where Christianity was just not as tolerated as other religious faiths were.

The Edict of Milan was issued in 313 by the Roman Emperor of the West – Constantine, and the Roman Emperor of the East – Licinius.  Its role was to put an end to less than tolerant behavior towards Christians, and those in other religions.  An excerpt from this edict, as seen in Christianity Today’s article on it, shows that the interest of stopping the persecution was not purely selfless, and it certainly was not because these two emperors were Christian themselves:

“Our purpose is to grant both to the Christians and to all others full authority to follow whatever worship each person has desired, whereby whatsoever Divinity dwells in heaven may be benevolent and propitious to us, and to all who are placed under our authority. Therefore we thought it salutary and most proper to establish our purpose that no person whatever should be refused complete toleration, who has given up his mind either to the cult of the Christians or to the religion which he personally feels best suited to himself.” – excerpt from The Edict of Milan as seen in Christanitytoday.com

The Edict came to be, at least partially, because these pagan Roman Emperors were basically trying to get all the blessings they could get over their territories and conquests. Nevertheless, it was a fundamentally good thing because it caused a spread of Christianity within the empire because Christians no longer had to fear persecution by the government.

The First Council of Nicaea

The first council of Nicaea happened in 325 A.D., and it was the first eccumenical council of the Christian Church in which they met together to discuss several things, particularly the rise and problem of Arianism – which was a heresy that denied the full deity of Christ and said that He was a created being, subordinate to the Father.  The council, desiring a document that established the basic truths of the faith that were agreed upon, created the first writing of what is known today as the Nicene Creed. Constantine called for this council to take place, presided over the opening of the council, and took place in the discussions, according to Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Though Constantine did not consider himself a church leader, he still desired to be a part of the Council because he was quoted in saying:

You are bishops whose jurisdiction is within the church,” he told them. “But I also am a bishop, ordained by God to oversee those outside the church.”  – Constantine, according to the article referenced before on Christianity Today.

Constantine was also very helpful in managing the event in arranging ceremonies, introductions, and in mediating the event. (Christianity Today)

This first eccumenical council improved relations within the Church, and was also a huge step in Christianity becoming more widespread.

Edict of Thessalonica

In 380 A.D., Roman Emperor Theodosius issued what is known as the Edict of Thessalonica amidst the widespread popularity of Arianism, and even Nicene Christians persecuting Arian christians.

“This edict commanded everyone to be a Christian–but not just any kind of Christian. A Catholic Christian, it said, was one who held that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one Godhead and equal in majesty. This, of course, was the position of the Nicene Creed.” – Dan Graves at Christianity.com

Theodosius considered himself to be a Christian in the Nicene Tradition, and was baptized as such.  However, this does not mean that his character and his works/fruit looked like a Christian’s should.

“In 387, When the city of Thessalonica rioted because a favored charioteer was imprisoned (for homosexuality), Theodosius ordered revenge: a chariot race was announced, citizens gathered in the arena, the gates were locked, and soldiers were set upon the crowd. By the end of the day, 7,000 had perished.” -Christianity Today

This is not to say that Theodosius was not a Christian, but to give perspective on how the Roman Christians must have felt in regards to Christianity and the military when they had a publicly declared Christian Emperor who made Christianity the State religion, while at the same time wielding a sword in a particularly violent manner.  

In the same way that celebrities have influence over people today, and their views on faith, if they are Christian, is idolized by their fans, the same could have happened with Theodosius who married the Church with the State, and Violence with Christ.

John Howard Yoder was a renowned Mennonite theologian, author, and professor who perhaps wrote some of the heartiest works on the subject of Christian Nonviolence, and he has this to say about the curious shift from the nonviolence of the early church fathers, to the acceptance of the use of violence post-Constantine.

“The progressive decay of the primitive Christian rejection of Caesar’s wars had many causes that built up gradually, although the Constantinian transition was the weightiest.  Instead of being a small band of believers, each of whom had counted the cost before making the commitment of discipleship, everyone who counted was now a Christian; it was now costly to be a pagan or a Jew. Since everyone was a Christian, Christian morality had to be tailored to the capacities and motivation level of “Everyman.” Instead of looking to their risen Lord to bring history to a triumphant conclusion in his own time and way, Christians now knew that the Roman emperor and their God were allies and that the forward movement of history was enforced by the legions.” – The War of the Lamb. Yoder, 45.

Yoder made the case here that instead of being a separated group from society, to be a Christian was now an important component of being a good Roman citizen, and so instead of theology being instructed from the church fathers, uninfluenced by the government, theology was taught by church leaders, and politicians alike.  To be a Roman was to be a Christian.  Thousands of pagan converts came into the faith out of following the Edict of Thessalonica, and would have outnumbered the Christians who were trying to follow the Will of God all along without the influence of the state.

The result is a Christianity that incorporates Nationalism, and Nationalism that incorporates Christianity.  In order for this to work, the components of the Church which conflicted with the State had to be diminished.  Nonviolence and Nationalism didn’t get along.

Chapter Conclusion

In the first section of this chapter, we went over several early church fathers who wrote against the Christian use of violence, and in the second section we saw how church and state began to mingle, and how that ultimately changed people’s perspectives on the issue of Christian Nonviolence.

My hope is that more and more people see the radical call of Christ for nonviolence in the Christian’s life, and if they accept it, for their allegiance to Christ to take precedence over all else.

Nonviolence is not a hippie idea implanted in theology by liberalism.  Nonviolence was something that was followed out of a literal interpretation of Christ’s words by the early church.  Nonviolence continues to arise in various movements within Christianity because of that same literal interpretation of the words of Christ; words that are worthy of our reflection.


 

Works Referenced

“Council of Nicaea”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2016. Web. 04 Mar. 2016

“Didache.” Early Christian Fathers. Christian Classics Ethereal Library. ccel.org, n.d. Web. 04 Mar. 2016.

“Didache”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.

Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2016. Web. 04 Mar. 2016

Galli, Mark, and Ted Olsen. “Constantine.” Christian History. Christianity Today, n.d. Web. 04 Mar. 2016. From the book: “131 Christians Everyone Should Know”

Galli, Mark and Ted Olsen. “Justin Martyr.” Christian History. Christianity Today, n.d. Web. 17 Feb. 2016. The text in the article was taken from “131 Christians Everyone Should Know”

Galli, Mark, and Ted Olsen. “Theodosius I.” Christian History. Christianity Today, n.d. Web. 04 Mar. 2016. From the book: “131 Christians Everyone Should Know”

Graves, Dan. “Theodosius Issued an Edict.” Christianity.com. N.p., May 2007. Web. 04 Mar. 2016.

“Irenaeus, The Proof of the Apostolic Preaching.” Trans. Roger Pearse. Tertullian.org, n.d. Web. 04 Mar. 2016. Text was transcribed by Roger Pearse, Ipswich, UK, 2003.

Kurlansky, Mark (2009-01-16). Nonviolence: The History of a Dangerous Idea (Modern Library Chronicles) (Kindle Locations 356-358, 407-412). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

McKnight, Scot. ““It’s Easy to Be Pacifist in Indiana. Try Gaza!”.” Jesus Creed. Patheos.com, 2 July 2013. Web. 29 Feb. 2016.

Sider, Ronald J. The Early Church on Killing: A Comprehensive Sourcebook on War, Abortion, and Capital Punishment. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012. Pages 24-25, 26, 28, 29-30, 45, 50-51, 70, 72, 110. Print.

Yoder, John Howard (2009-12-01). The War of the Lamb: The Ethics of Nonviolence and Peacemaking (p. 45). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Redeemed Natures: Chapter Six – Nonviolence & The Early Church (Part 2 of 3)

Click Here to see all posts in this series

Chapter Six

Nonviolence & The Early Church (Part 2 of 3)

““If we are enjoined, then, to love our enemies … whom have we to hate?

– Tertullian, Apology. Chap. 37

(Be sure to read Part 1 of this chapter first)

Origen – 185 – 254 A.D.

Origen was “one of the most important, and certainly one of the most prolific, Christian authors before the time of Constantine” – Sider, pg. 67.  He was a student of both Greek philosophy and culture, as well as the Scriptures and Theology, and so his writings had a profound impact on the Early church.  When he was only 18, he became the master of the Catechetical school at Alexandria, and he moved on to write extensively on theological and cultural issues of the day, landing him an important figure in Church History.

Homilies on Joshua

Origen expressed, specifically in Homily 15 in this work, his questions regarding the purpose of reading and preaching the war passages in a church when Christ gave a message and example of nonviolence and peace, and the Apostle Paul told his audience to not avenge themselves in Romans 12:19.

“In short, knowing that now we do not have to wage physical wars, but that the struggles of the soul have to be exerted against spiritual adversaries, the Apostle, just as a military leader, gives an order to the soldiers of Christ, saying, “Put on the armor of God, so that you may be able to stand firm against the cunning devices of the Devil” [Eph. 6:11].  And in order for us to have examples of these spiritual wars from deeds of old, he wanted those narratives of exploits [from Joshua] to be recited to us in church.” – Origen in Homily 15 of Homilies on Joshua.  Sider, 70.

To Origen – warfare and Christianity are simply not compatible and so his answer as to why the conquests of Joshua should still be read in church was because they conveyed an example in which God was with the people of God, and was actively involved in their conquests over those whom would corrupt them, just as he is with us in our spiritual warfare against the evil forces of the devil, which manifest themselves in temptations that would draw us away from God, and following His will.

Commentary on Matthew

In Origen’s commentary on Matthew 26:52, which is when Jesus told Peter to put his sword back into its place, he argues that Disciples of Jesus Christ should put down the sword of war, and pick up the sword of the Spirit, which again ties in the Apostle Paul’s description of the armor of God from Ephesians 6.  Origen argues the following:

“For Jesus wishes his disciples to be “pacific”, that putting down this warlike sword they should take up another pacific sword, which Scriptures call “the sword of the spirit.”  In a similar way he says, “all who take the sword shall perish by the sword,” that is, all who are not pacific but inciters of wars, shall perish in that very war which they stir up….But taking simply what He says, “those who take the sword shall perish by the sword,” we should beware lest because of warfare or the vindication of our rights or for any occasion we should take out the sword, for no such occasion is allowed by this evangelical teaching, which commands us to fulfill what is written, “with those who hated me I was pacific.”  If therefore with those that hate peace we must be pacific, we must use the sword against no-one” – Origen in Commentary on Matthew on Matt. 26:52.  Sider, 70.

Origen echos Tertullian in making the point that by disarming Peter, he disarmed all believers, though Origen utilizes this passage to also state that instead of Christians being armed with swords of war, they are to be armed with swords of the spirit; thereby, they still have a means to combat evil, but violent combat/vengeance is not their prerogative.

The last two sentences in this excerpt make the point that if Jesus commands us to be peaceful and nonviolent to those who hate peace, we have no right to use the sword against anyone, on any occasion.

Against Celsus

In Against Celsus, Origen refutes the second century Greek Philosopher Celsus’ arguments against Christianity, and he also defends Christianity, and the Christian way of life. Origen writes the following on the topic of Christians and violence:

“He[Christ] nowhere teaches that it is right for His own disciples to offer violence to anyone, however wicked. For He did not deem it in keeping with such laws as His, which were derived from a divine source, to allow the killing of any individual whatsoever.  Nor would the Christians, had the owed their origin to a rebellion, have adopted laws of so exceedingly mild a character as not not allow them, when it was their fate to be slain as sheep, on any occasion to resist their persecutors.” – Origen in 3.7 of Against Celsus.  Sider, 72.

In this excerpt, Origen is arguing against any accusations that the early Christians were a violent and rebellious group.  Like the quotes from Origen before this one, Origen writes strongly against Christians using violence.

Lactantius – 250 – 325 A.D.

Lactantius was an appointed teacher of Latin Rhetoric at Nicomedia, which is where the Emperor  Diocletian lived ( Sider, pg. 103).  When the Emperor issued a widespread persecution of Christians, Lactantius responded by defending and explaining Christianity in his Divine Institutes.

The Divine Institutes  

“For when God forbids us to kill, He not only prohibits us from open violence, which is not even allowed by the public laws, but He warns us against the commission of those things which are esteemed lawful among people.  Thus it will be neither lawful for a just man to engage in military service, since his military service is justice itself, not to accuse anyone of a capital charge, because it makes no difference whether you put a person to death by word, or rather by the sword, since it is the act of putting to death itself which is prohibited.  Therefore, with regard to this precept of God, there ought to be no exception at all but that it is always unlawful to put to death a person, whom God willed to be a sacred creature.” – Lactantius in 6.20 of The Divine Institutes. Sider,110

What is lawful is not always what is right.  This quote not only forbids Christians serving in the military, but it also forbids Christians from calling for the death penalty for reasons that would contradict following the Will of God.  Lactantius goes so far as to say that there should be no exemption at all to the command not to kill for followers of Jesus.

Early Church Writings – Summary

All of the quotes that I have provided in this chapter, from various sources dating from the first to the fourth century, give clarity as to the opinions of the prominent church figures in the early church.  All of these writings have a very literal interpretation of Christ’s teachings on nonviolence, and enemy love.  I say this not to say anything that is from an early church father is right, but I will say that the agreement among various writers in different times, and locations, SHOULD speak to the legitimacy of the argument.  These early writings, not far removed from the actual human presence of Christ on earth, not yet influenced by the marriage of church and state…should mean a lot to us.

I realize that the majority of my readers are not catholic, and so I know that most of my readers reject the weight of tradition, saints, and early church fathers that the Catholics place upon them… but even still, I believe that these quotes from the early church are interesting if nothing else.

For some, this chapter is insightful so far, for others, this chapter is boring as it’s a bunch of quotes, and is not about bible passages.  But regardless on where you fall, I believe that this chapter is important in our discussion about this topic because it shows that Christian nonviolence is not a hippie view that was placed upon Jesus in recent times by liberal Christians and society…Instead, Christian nonviolence was birthed out of the words of Jesus according to first through fourth century Christian leaders.

Scot McKnight, New Testament Scholar and author has this to say about the early church and nonviolence on his blog “Jesus Creed”:

“Early-church writers, living in various parts of the empire, all agreed: Christians should not kill. These writers didn’t just condemn immoral killing (abortion, murder, etc.), but all types of killing. Most of these same writers didn’t think Christians should serve in the military. But even those who allowed converted soldiers to remain in the service instructed them not to kill. This is because early Christians believed that enemy-love is the hallmark of Christianity. You can mock us. You can torture us. You can even throw us to wild beasts. But we will still love our enemies and pray for our persecutors. And the church increased. Without the sword, the church spread. With no religious freedom, the church grew—like a mustard seed—shouldered by the stiff, persistent enemy-love of martyred saints.” – from the article “It’s Easy to Be Pacifist in Indiana.  Try Gaza!”

So what happened?  Why did this seemingly popular opinion fade out?

*All Sources Quoted in parts 1-3 of Chapter 6 will be in the Works Referenced section at the conclusion of part 3*

Redeemed Natures: Chapter Six – Nonviolence & The Early Church (Part 1 of 3)

Click Here to see all posts in this series

Chapter Six

Nonviolence & The Early Church (Part 1 of 3)

““If we are enjoined, then, to love our enemies … whom have we to hate?

– Tertullian, Apology. Chap. 37

Throughout the Church’s history, there has been a lot of instances in which violence has been wielded through the arms of the church.  The Crusades are one famous example of the church wielding violence, but there has also been a lot of violence being done in God’s name through governments that have a close relationship to the Church.  The violence done in the name of God.  Whether that be The Crusades, or nations which claimed that every action that they committed was the will of God.  Regardless of if the violence came through the hands of the church, or through the hands of a country claiming to be doing the will of God, the resulting question remains:  How does this align with Jesus, who is the fullness of God (Col. 2:9)?  

When Nazi soldiers wore belt buckles that said “Gott Mit Uns”, meaning “God with us”, was that in the Will of God/Christ?

When the Crusaders fought in the name of God, through the arms of the church… was that in the Will of God/Christ?

Early Christians dealt with these issues as they found themselves, jews and gentiles, together united under a new faith.  In his book, Nonviolence: The History of a Dangerous Idea, author and journalist Mark Kurlansky examines the idea of nonviolence through several cultures, and religions, and has this to say about the early church, pre-constantine, on the subject:

“For 284 years, roughly the same span of time as from the end of Louis XIV’s reign in France to the beginning of the twenty-first century, Christians remained an antiwar cult. Christian writers emphasized the incompatibility of warfare with Christian teachings. Some characterized warfare as the work of evil spirits and weapons as cursed. They labeled the taking of human life in warfare murder.” (Kindle Locations 356-358)

Two hundred and eighty four years sounds like a lot, and just for perspective’s sake:  Americans declared independence from Britain in 1776, which is STILL not up to 284 years ago yet.  We will get to why things shifted in a little bit, but I wanted to point this out as a testament to the roots of the nonviolence movement – it’s not an idea imposed on the bible by “hippies and liberals”…It’s something that people DIED and were beaten for throughout Christianity’s history.  Early Christians who refused to fight back against their persecutors.  Anabaptists who refused to fight back against other Christians in the late 1600s.  Christian african-american activists who refused to fight back as they were beaten as they nonviolently protested the racist laws that governed the way that they lived. And many others.

The earliest Christians refused to take up arms, and had strong convictions about it.  Christians who were not too far removed from when Jesus walked the earth, or when Peter, John, and Paul were still preaching and writing, refused to take up arms when it sometimes costed them their lives.

For this chapter, I will be using several sources to point out specific examples of early Christians advocating against warfare, and/or violence, and advocating for peace, and nonviolence.  A wonderful sourcebook on the topic has been written by Ronald Sider, and it is this book that I will use predominantly.  Please see the book information below, and consider reading it for further study on this subject matter:

Sider, Ronald J. The Early Church on Killing: A Comprehensive Sourcebook on War, Abortion, and Capital Punishment. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012. Print.

I am not a historian, and so, this chapter will not be as weighty with my own personal interpretations as the chapters on the study of the Scriptures were, but it will more so serve as a glimpse of the opinions of the early church on the matter, and hopefully will encourage further research by the reader.

The Didache – 80-120 A.D.

“Didachē, ( Greek: “Teaching”, ) also called Teaching Of The Twelve Apostles,  the oldest surviving Christian church order, probably written in Egypt or Syria in the 2nd century. In 16 short chapters it deals with morals and ethics, church practice, and the eschatological hope (of the Second Coming of Christ at the end of time) and presents a general program for instruction and initiation into the primitive church.” – Encyclopaedia Britannica

The Didache served as a statement on how to live, as well as made statements on church order.  It is a glimpse into how the early church may have functioned, and a look into how they thought.  The work is broken down into 16 chapters, or sections, and the first section starts with saying that there are two ways – one of life, and one of death.  The way of life is described in the first chapter by Loving God, Loving your Neighbor, following the golden rule, and immediately after that, it says:

“Bless those who curse you,” and “pray for your enemies.” Moreover, fast “for those who persecute you.” For “what credit is it to you if you love those who love you? Is that not the way the heathen act?” But “you must love those who hate you,” and then you will make no enemies. “Abstain from carnal passions.” If someone strikes you “on the right cheek, turn to him the other too, and you will be perfect.” If someone “forces you to go one mile with him, go along with him for two” – From Didache 1 as seen on ccel.org

To the early Christian writers of the Didache, the Sermon on the Mount and more specifically these teachings from Matthew 5, were very important for the Christian to live the “way of life”.  The first chapter in this ancient work follows what Christ said were the two greatest commandments, which is are Love God, and to Love others, and it didn’t stop there, but it also instructed its readers of the love that doesn’t come easy – loving our enemies, praying for our persecutors, and going the extra mile of good for the person who shows you no goodness in return.  Not only did the New Testament text confirm Christian nonviolence, but this early church document did as well. Nonviolence is not a new idea.

Justin Martyr – 100 – 167 A.D.

Justin Martyr is known for being one of the earliest Christian Apologists, or defenders of the faith.  He started out as a philosophy student, and then came to find Christianity to be the truest philosophy, and so his arguments incorporated philosophical reasoning.

A few of his writings have lasted through time, and I will be quoting excerpts from his First and Second Apology, and from his Dialogue with Trypho.

First Apology

“We who hated and destroyed one another, and on account of their different manners would not live with people of a different tribe, now, since the coming of Christ, live familiarly with them, and pray for our enemies, and endeavor to persuade those who hate us unjustly to live according to the good precepts of Christ, to the end that they may become partakers with us of the same joyful hope of a reward from God the ruler of all” – from Chapter 14 of Justin’s First Apology, as quoted in “The Early Church on Killing” by Ronald Sider, pg. 24

The above excerpt is from Justin’s First Apology, written to Antoninus Pius, Emperor of Rome, which was a plea for the emperor to not persecute the Christians by explaining the faith to the emperor, and how this faith does not make Christians disloyal citizens, or rebels as they were seen.

In the excerpt quoted, in part 14 of his Apology, Justin conveys the transformative nature of the Christian faith by highlighting how their quarrels with those different from them has ceased, and how they even have begun praying for their enemies. This would have conveyed that the Christians were not violent rebels, but a people of faith focused on peace and reconciliation.  In the face of persecution, prejudice, and social alienation, Christians were praying for their enemies, and making amends with those who may have wronged them.

Second Apology

“We have been taught that God did not make the world aimlessly, but for the sake of the human race; and we have before stated that He takes pleasure in those who imitate His Properties, and is displeased with those that embrace what is worthless either in word or deed.  If, then, we all kill ourselves, we shall become the cause, as far as in us lies, why no one should be born, or instructed in the divine doctrines, or even why the human race should not exist; and we shall, if we so act, be ourselves acting in opposition to the will of God.  But when we are examined, we make no denial” – from Chapter 4 of Justin’s Second Apology. Sider, 25

The Second Apology of Justin was written “to show that the Christian faith alone was truly rational. He [Justin] taught that the Logos (Word) became incarnate to teach humanity truth and to redeem people from the power of the demons.” – Christianity Today

The excerpt above showcases how Christ redeemed people from their sinful natures so that they are able to go against their desire to kill their enemies, or others.  Justin argues that if Christians kill their fellow human beings, they take away those person’s lives, the lives of their possible unborn children, and their chance to hear the Gospel.  He then follows the logic through that if retaliation was resorted to by all whom wrong was done against, the human race would dwindle so much that we should question why we even deserve to exist.  If Christians, he says, kill their fellow human beings, they are acting in opposition to the Will of God.

Dialogue with Trypho

Justin’s “Dialogue with Trypho” was written to a Jewish man with the purpose of arguing that Christianity should be accepted if one properly understood the Jewish scriptures. Within this dialogue, after quoting Micah 4:1-7, which is a passage about turning swords into ploughshares, Justin says the following:

“We who were filled with war, and mutual slaughter, and every wickedness, have each through the whole earth changed our warlike weapons – our swords into ploughshares, and our spears into implements of tillage, – and we cultivate piety, righteousness, philanthropy, faith, and hope, which we have from the Father Himself through Him who was crucified” –   from section 110 of Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho. Sider, 26.

In order to prove that Jesus was the Messiah, that Christianity is the true carrying out of the Hebrew scriptures and prophecies, Justin stated that Christians gave up their yearnings for violence, and embraced the way of peace through changing the way that the lived and interacted with others in order to be obedient to God’s Will.

Irenaeus – 130 – 202 A.D.

Irenaeus was the Bishop of Lyons France from 177 – 202 A.D.  He is best known for his work “Against Heresies” in which he refuted Gnosticism, and in doing so, he provided a look at second century Christianity, and the issues that it was trying to combat.

I am going to highlight two excerpts from Irenaeus’ writings that highlight his positions on the topic of Christian Nonviolence.

Against Heresies

“But if the law of liberty, that is, the word of God, preached by the apostles (who went forth from Jerusalem) throughout all the earth, caused such a change in the state of things, that these nations did form the swords and war-lances into ploughshares, and changed them into pruning-hooks for reaping the corn, that is, into instruments used for peaceful purposes, and that they are now unaccustomed to fighting, but when smitten, offer also the other cheek, then the prophets have not spoken these things of any other person, but of Him who effected them.  This person is our Lord.” – from 4.34 in Irenaeus’ Against Heresies. Sider, 28.

Jesus is the Messiah who conveyed messages focused on instructing the Will of God on how His people ought to live, and gave his life in order to reconcile fallen human beings.  Jesus’ messages of enemy love, and nonviolence were radial to his audience, as we covered before, and as seen in this quote from Irenaeus, the writings of Justin, and others, his teachings of nonviolence, and the early Church following these teachings, were seen as a fulfillment to the prophecies of Isaiah and Micah about swords into plough shares.  

Proof of the Apostolic Preaching

“Therefore also we have no need of the law as pedagogue….For no more shall the law say: … thou shalt not kill, to him who has put away from himself all anger and enmity….Nor an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, to him who counts no man his enemy, but all his neighbors, and therefore cannot even put forth his hand to revenge.” – from chapter 96 in Irenaeus’ Proof of the Apostolic Preaching. Sider, 29-30.

The previous chapter, chapter 95, in this work ended with the following sentence: “Now the love of God is far from all sin, and love to the neighbour worketh no ill to the neighbour” (as translated by Roger Pearse) , and so the next section would then be the fulfilment of that ethic, which would be the transformation of a follower of Christ so that they would not have to be told to not kill, for they would not have the desire to do so, as they have been radically changed by the power of Christ and the Holy Spirit.

Tertullian – 160 – 225 A.D.

Tertullian is regarded as one of the most important early church authors and theologians who wrote in Latin prior to Augustine, according to Sider on page 42.  It is in Tertullian’s writings that we find perhaps the most convincing arguments against Christian’s going to war, or utilizing violence.

Apology

“If we are enjoined, then, to love our enemies … whom have we to hate?  If injured, we are forbidden to retaliate, lest we become as bad ourselves: who can suffer injury at our hands?’

‘For what wars should we not be fit, and ready even with unequal forces, we who so willingly yield ourselves to the sword, if in our religion it were not counted better to be slain than to slain” – Two excerpts from chapter 37 of Tertullian’s Apology. Sider, 45

Again, we see an early church father take Jesus’ teachings on nonviolence quite literally in asking, how can we hate, when we are told to love our enemies? Or how can one be a soldier when our faith teaches us that it is better to die, than to kill?

On Idolatry

“But now inquiry is made about this point, whether a believer may turn himself unto military service, and whether the military [man] may be admitted unto the faith, even the rank and file, or each inferior grade, to whom there is no necessity for taking part in sacrifices or capital punishments.  There is no agreement between the divine and the human sacrament, the standard of Christ and the standard of the devil, the camp of light and the camp of darkness.  One soul cannot be due to two masters – God and Caesar’

‘But how will a Christian man war, nay, how will he serve even in peace, without a sword, which the Lord has taken away?  For albeit soldiers had come unto John, and had received the formula of their rule; albeit likewise, a centurion had believed; still the Lord afterward, in disarming Peter, unbelted every soldier.  No dress is lawful among us, if assigned to any unlawful action” – Two excerpts from chapter 19 of Tertullian’s On Idolatry. Sider, 50-51

In this chapter, Tertullian writes that Christians should not be in the military, no matter the position, or likliness of involvement in violence, for two reasons.  

The first reason Tertullian gave against Christians joining military was because a Christian has no business taking part in Sacrifices, which were to a pagan god(s).  Essentially, being a part of the military necessitated involvement in pagan religious ceremonies, which a Christian could not do, due to fact that there is only one God.

In modern American times, the military is divorced from any sort of religion on an official level.  Chaplains exist for soldiers to find spiritual guidance in whatever faith they follow, but there is no state-sponsored religion.  And so the question comes down to:  Does Tertullian’s first argument against Christians in the military still hold any weight?

I would argue that it does because the root of the problem was Christians being commanded by their government to do that which is contrary to the Will of God, and that the government would demand allegiance of that Christian’s life in all things.  Patriotism/Nationalism can be extremely damaging to the Christian faith if the love, or devotion, of country overrides their love and devotion to the Lord.  I doubt many sincere Christians would renounce their faith if their government tells them to…it’s not as obvious as that.  The danger happens when political views and religious views meet and politics come into theology, and starts whispering in the ear, “Jesus didn’t mean it like that” so that Christians become more willing to go to war, support its government’s wars, and utter the phrase “For God And Country”.  

Nationalism hard-wires the brain to believe that we are better than people in other countries because of lines on a map, and when that mindset infiltrates our theology, our interpretation of the scriptures and their calling to our lives, become, in part, dependent on what we believe is congruent with our political and social identity.  This is why Christians were Nazis. This is why Christians owned slaves. This is why, currently, some Christians in the hard political right look in disgust and scorn at the poor, instead of out of a place of compassion – regardless of who they believe is responsible to provide them aid.  This is also why some Christians in the hard political left accept the pro-choice rhetoric as a societal good – without advocating against abortion and for adoption within the walls of their churches.  Politics can infiltrate theology like how a cancer can gradually take over the body.  And so serving in a governmental position, or any position for that matter, where you would be expected to do/support things contrary to the Will of God is not wise for the Christian, just as it wasn’t wise in Tertullian’s day.  

The Second reason Tertullian gave against Christians joining the military was that Christianity, as he understood it, did not allow for the taking of life.  His basis for that belief came from Christ’s teaching, and in how he told Peter, after Peter struck the ear of one of the men trying to capture Jesus, “No more of this!” (Luke 22:51), and “Put your sword back into its place” and “all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matt. 26:52).  His writing, as quoted above, says that by disarming Peter, Jesus disarmed every soldier who identified as Christian. And if that was not enough to give his audience pause, he wrote “No dress is lawful among us, if assigned to any unlawful action”.  Note that he was not talking about governmental laws, for he was speaking about the enforcers of those laws, and agents of a government.  He was talking about the government committing unlawful action against the law and Will of God for the Christian.

What is confusing then is why many other Christians throughout Church History advocated for their country’s military, and for the Christian’s involvement in it, when the texts that Tertullian used to found his arguments were available to all of his predecessors.  We know through my covering of the Old Testament that there are some passages within it that could cause someone to believe that Christians can go to war, but when it comes to Jesus, there is simply no permission to do so. Christians have debated this conundrum for centuries, saying we have to look at Scripture holistically, or saying that Jesus is the prime authority on the matter, but the debate still continues.

I would like to submit a question:  If this debate has been going on for centuries, and if you can see, at minimal, how both sides arrived to their conclusion, which side would be safest to take, theologically?

If a Christian decides to join the military because they do not see a conflict with their faith, but the Will of God is for them to abstain from it, they would be going against the Will of God, and would be held accountable for any blood on their hands.

If a Christian decides to abstain from joining the military because they see a conflict with their faith, but the Will of God allows for them to join the military, they commit no posible sin in abstaining, and are merely wrong in their understanding God’s Will, without going against it themselves.

The debate of self-defense, or the defense of others, is not to be had at the moment; we will get to that in the Appendix section.  This question is purely asking – what measurable good comes out of a Christian joining the military, when the Church has been divided on whether or not killing in warfare is a sin for centuries?

From a pastoral perspective, how a pastor, or church leader, handles this topic hypothetically is also very important.  For many church goers, their church leaders are their prime source for spiritual guidance, and some will make whatever decision their church leader points them toward, believing that it is within the Will of God.  This is one of the reasons why this debate should not be glazed over to be left up to personal choice, but should be deliberately thought about by church leaders.

*All Sources Quoted in parts 1-3 of Chapter 6 will be in the Works Referenced section at the conclusion of part 3*

Redeemed Natures: Chapter Five – On Christians & Government: Romans 12 & 13 (Part 2 of 2)

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Chapter Five

On Christians & Government: Romans 12 & 13 (Part 2 of 2)

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”  – Romans 12:21 (ESV)

**Please Read Part 1 first! Click Here**

On Romans 13

Romans 13 is a chapter that is often quoted to provide “evidence” that a Christian going to war is justified, for they are serving their government, and governments are permitted to “bear the sword”(Romans 13:4).  The passage that is referenced does not encompass all of chapter 13, but just the first seven verses.  I will go through these verses exegetically, just as I did with Romans 12.

Romans 13:1-2

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.

Chapter 13 verses 1 & 2 state that we should be subject to our governing authorities, for God has appointed those in positions of authority.  We tend to ignore this truth when the elections come along, and when a president is in office that we do not like.  It is perfectly okay to not like who is the governing authority over you, but we are to be subject to them, which Paul explains later by stating that we should pay our taxes, respect them, and honor them to some extent; even if this simply means not blatantly slandering a ruler because you may not like their political policies, or them as a person.  

Romans 13:3-5

“3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.

These verses are essentially saying: do good and you will not fall under their (the government’s) wrath.  But if you do wrong, the government does not “bear the sword in vain”(v.4).  Many Christians use this passage to justify their support of the Death Penalty, however, though I agree that God could very well use the death penalty to carry out His wrath on some individuals, being a mere man, I cannot know what is the will of God, and what is the will of man, so I would never put myself in a position where I would have to decide which criminals are to be put to death.  I also cannot help but wonder what advancement for the Kingdom of God could be done if His children trusted the judgment of governments more than the judgement of God.

Romans 13:6-7

For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

Paul states that we are to pay taxes, repay what we owe, and respect and honor those who it is owed, and beings that governing authorities were appointed by God, I would take this to mean that we are to respect and honor our governing authorities.  The passage does not say that we have to be patriotic or nationalist, it merely says to respect and honor governing authorities; to respect their position, pay your taxes, and do good.  Things get messy when patriotism and nationalism penetrate into our faith.  And so the question is this: If the Word of God tells you to do something, and the Government tells you to do another, chose the Word of God.  If doing something for, with, or against the Government goes against the Word of God, chose the Word of God.  The Lord is Ruler of All, and we are to follow His Word.  The NLT Study Bible notes on Romans 13:1-2 (in reference to the Christians subjection to the government) state:

“Our submission to them [the government] will usually take the form of obedience.  However, because God stands over all governments, our submission to governing authorities must always be in terms of our ultimate submission to God (see Acts 4:19-20)”.

Therefore, if the government desires for you to enlist in the military, then, the Christian should refuse to do so based on the understanding of the Scriptures that I am convicted by. Thankfully if a draft ever happens again in the U.S., a person can chose to be a conscientious objector for religious reasons, and simply work in hospitals and the like in order to serve their country without violating their convictions.

As I pointed out earlier, many will use Romans 13 as justification for Christians to serve in the military because the military is permitted to “bear the sword”.   In the case of Romans 13, I believe it is mainly about, if not all about, domestic policy (governments, police, and judicial systems), and not so much about foreign policy (international conflicts/wars, military, etc.).  However, this doesn’t mean that God using a nation militarily is unbiblical, for other places in the Bible certainly indicate that God can use even a pagan nation to carry out His Will (Babylonians/Chaldeans, Assyrians, and Persians in the Old Testament, for example). In this fallen world, war is, at times, necessary for a nation to go into; not to make a statement whether or not certain ones are necessary, but to say that as a political body, a nation must defend itself and its people in order to survive. Therefore, I believe that God can use the United States (or any government, better or worse) in the form of war, if He so deems.  However, even if they do carry out God’s will in carrying out His wrath, they may still be held accountable for what they have done, as seen in the Old Testament with the Chaldeans in Habakkuk 2:2-20.  The NKJV MacArthur Study Bible notes on this passage state:

“In response to Habakkuk’s second complaint (1:12-2:1), the Lord announced that He would judge the Chaldeans as well for their wickedness. His reply included: 1) the instructions to write it down, as a reminder that it would surely occur (vv. 2,3); 2) a description of the character of the wicked in comparison to the righteous (vv. 4,5); and 3) the pronouncement of 5 woes describing the Chaldeans’ demise (vv. 6-20)”.

Therefore, it is seen that even in specific instances of God using a pagan nation and peoples to carry out His will, they are still to be punished for even those actions.  For Habakkuk was crying out to the Lord to administer justice on the Chaldeans (Babylon) for being an oppressive and violent people.  To carry this idea further, we see how God used Pharaoh in the Exodus of the hebrews to carry out His will, and then later punished Pharaoh and his people.  

Therefore, in light of the passage in Habakkuk, Romans 12, Christ’s words, and what I have found in the Old Testament, I believe that a Christian ought not to involve themselves in any office, organization, or position that could cause them to take a life.  For God will have His will accomplished, and we must leave vengeance/wrath to God and through the governments that he has appointed.

Romans 13:8-10:

“8 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

Romans 13 starts by speaking of how the citizens are to respond to the government, specifying the roles of the government, and then the chapter closes with words that are reflective of the message in Romans 12:9-19 in regards to the Christian’s response to their enemies, and how they are to interact with one another; setting a moral code to follow.  The inclusion of the final passage that was quoted confirms to me that Paul, in speaking of how the Christian is to respond and interact with others in Romans 12 and 13, referenced the government as an extension of this theme, and then concluded this theme by restating how the Christian is to act, as a contrast to how the government acts.  

Conclusion

I will restate that my purpose was to communicate the stance that I take on the role of Christians, government, and Christians serving in a position that may cause them to take a life, through the context of Romans 12 and 13.  I have done so exegetically in order to write in direct relation to the text itself so as to give the reader a view of how I view these apparently contradictory chapters, and how I honestly wrestled with each chapter.  The topic is important to me because I intend to always serve the church that I attend in whatever capacity that I am able, and I would like to at least be able to present them with my view, if asked or required, because to me, if a Christian kills another person outside of the will of God, even if they are within, or serving the government, they are committing murder.  If we are all created in the image of God, then all life is sacred.  

As stated before, I hold the views that I have because I have found them to be the most biblical through my own study, and through many discussions, on the subject matter that has lasted for several years.   I have been presented with views from other sides of the argument by my peers, pastors, and professors, however, none has seemed to be as biblically based as Christian Nonviolence.  I understand this because most people have a hard time letting go of the natural inclination that humans have towards violence and vengeance, and some have too much of an allegiance to their country that they are not even willing to consider the argument which I present.  I certainly would not naturally choose to believe in this argument if I did not firmly believe it to be what God would have me do.    I view this topic as I do others: pray about it, seek the scriptures, examine multiple passages- even ones that may seem to initially contradict, and then seek out opinions written by other people of God throughout the centuries.  

We are to follow God and His Will, regardless of our own personal stances. Are we willing to change our stances if God calls us to do so?


Works Referenced (In Parts 1 & 2)

Barker, Kenneth L. “Notes On: Romans 12:17.” Zondervan NASB Study Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Pub. House, 1999. 1654. Print.

Cranfield, C. E. B. “VII. 3. A Series of Loosely Connected Items of Exhortation (12:9-21).” Romans, a Shorter Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 1985. 316. Print.

Grudem, Wayne A. “Chapter 1: Five Wrong Views About Christians and Government.” Politics According to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010. 54. Print.

Henry, Matthew; Bible, King James Version; Bureau, Better Bible (2013-10-24). Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible (Linked to Bible Verses) (Kindle Locations 230574-230579).  . Kindle Edition.

MacArthur, John. “Notes on Habakkuk 2:2-20.” The MacArthur Study Bible: New King James Version. Nashville: Word Bibles, 1997. 1319. Print.

“Notes on Romans 13:1-2.” The NLT Study Bible. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2008. 1916. Print.

Redeemed Natures: Chapter Five – On Christians & Government: Romans 12 & 13 (Part 1 of 2)

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Chapter Five

On Christians & Government: Romans 12 & 13 (Part 1 of 2)

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”  – Romans 12:21 (ESV)

There exists an apparent contradiction in viewing Romans 12 and 13 as a Christian; for we see that the very things that Paul instructs the Christian to not do, he states that the government has the authority to do.  A good amount of Christians today look at these chapters as independent and uncorrelated with one another, at least in practice, and most would pick the chapter that seems more akin to their own personal position on the subject of government and war, and nearly ignore the other.  The political pacifists will harp on Romans 12, and the Christian Political Right will harp on Romans 13; we are naturally drawn to what fits most comfortably with our own views.  However, to view these passages as independent of one another is a hermeneutical(interpretive) error; those who seek to come to the scriptures honestly must look at and wrestle with them both; not as two separate ideas, but as one idea related to various peoples.  The purpose of this chapter of my writings is to communicate the stance that I take, which is best defined as Christian non-resistance, by going through Romans 12 and 13, and honestly wrestling with each chapter.

As mentioned before, most people side with the chapter that is most akin to their current position. This is not to say that there are no exceptions to people choosing one chapter or the other, for there are Christians who are pacifists in their personal lives who believe that Christians should never kill, regardless of whether they are a mere citizen or a government official, but they may also state that the secular government does have the authority to issue justice in the form of violence and even death.  There are also those who believe that Christians in the government are permitted to kill when the government is issuing justice, but who feel that the Christian civilian should act the same as the Christian pacifist civilians and not take violence into their own hands.  This group would push for Christian involvement in politics because they feel that they need to maintain the law of God through their nation’s politics.  Wayne Grudem in “Politics according to the Bible” states:

“Good government and good laws can prevent much evil behavior, and they can teach people what society approves, but they cannot by themselves produce good people”(pg.54).

Grudem states this in order to convey that although pushing for God’s law within politics can prove to be beneficial, people are still sinners who need a Holy God.  Both of the positions described are honestly seeking what they believe the Lord desires, and they each wrestle with the question of how Christians respond to government and injustice.

As stated many times in this book already, the position I hold is one that states that the Christian is not to commit violence under any circumstance unless directly commanded, blessed, or instructed by God to do so (Something that seems highly unlikely).  Therefore, in presenting my view, the reader has to understand that I believe that in order to understand Romans 13, it must be viewed in light of Romans 12.  Any good book written on biblical interpretation (hermeneutics) should inform you that the surrounding text of a verse, passage, or chapter is useful to understanding the meaning behind the portion of scripture you are studying.  

On Romans 12

The context of Romans 12 is that it was written after the Apostle Paul explained the mystery of the Gospel (Romans 9,10,11), which is that Gentiles were grafted into God’s plan and household, and this is why Paul writes the following transition:

Romans 12:1-2

“1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

The “therefore” is there as a bridge between Paul’s previous point about the mystery of the Gospel, and his point in chapters 12 and 13, which is broadly summarized as instructions to the Christian on how they ought to live.  Paul writes that we are to present ourselves as living sacrifices that are willing to lay down our lives metaphorically and physically for our devotion to Jesus Christ and His work.  He then goes on to verse two which states that we are to be transformed in our mind and lives because of our belief and adherence to God, which would then strengthen our ability to discern what is, and is not, the will of God with careful study, counsel, and prayer.

As English speakers, readers, and writers, we have the Bible in many different versions and translations to read from.  These Bibles are the God’s words to humankind, and are worthy of our study, and our application of its words to our lives.  Through the Bible, we can begin to discern what would be, and would not be, the Will of God. However, we must remember, in as much possible, to seek to put our political, religious, and personal opinions aside, and seek to understand what the text says; a troublesome concept for us all.  

Coming back to Romans 12, after writing about unity in the church in verses 3-8, Paul moves on by stating something that is quite reflective of Christ’s life and ministry on earth, and is quite challenging for most of us if we truly look at the passages that follow.  

Romans 12:9-13

“9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

This first passage is in reference to how Christians should treat one another, as well as how they should view faith; by being “fervent in spirit”, serving the Lord, rejoicing, patient through trials, constant prayer, and to not be “slothful in zeal”. Paul is telling his audience here that God desires more from His people than simply going to church, and having belief; God desires for us to act out our faith by adhering to His Son’s example, and following the other guiding words of Scriptures, and the Holy Spirit.  Paul states that we are to contribute to the needs of the saints, and to show hospitality; how often does the church ask of the needs of its congregation’s members, be it financial, housework, or other things?  We must love our brethren better.

Romans 12:14-21

“14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

In this passage, Paul is writing about how the Christian should act toward those who persecute them, as well as all people in general.  In verse 14, Paul writes that we are to bless those who persecute us, and not curse them.  He continues this thought in verse 17 by stating that we should not repay evil for evil; that we are supposed to do the honorable thing [to “overcome evil with good” – v.21].  It is important to note that the statement “repay no one evil for evil” is a quote from the Old Testament in Proverbs 20:22.  This is important because it shows that the message of the believer’s command regarding vengeance is the same in the Old Testament, as it is in the New Testament.  For as we discovered in the chapter on the Old Testament, Humankind is always subject to God, and violence was only permitted with God’s command and blessing.  The Zondervan NASB Study Bible in its notes on Romans 12:17 state the following about the high moral call to the Christian:

“Christian conduct should never betray the high moral standards of the gospel, or it will provoke the disdain of unbelievers and bring the gospel into disrepute (See 2 Cor 8:21; 1 Tim 3:7)”.

Many people that you come across who have negative views towards Christianity, usually have the same frustration:  Hypocracy.  They are tired of Christians saying one thing, and doing another.  They are tired of Christians who claim to follow Christ being the voice of hate in our culture.  It is in this observation that the relevance of the above quote comes into play; when Christians betray their high moral standards, unbelievers disdain them, and the message of the Gospel is injured.

To further this idea of a high moral standard, and repaying no one evil for evil, Romans 12:18 states that as much as it depends on us, we are to live peaceably with ALL.  Keep in mind, Paul was writing to Christians in Rome who were being persecuted when he wrote them this message.  But what is most alarming about this passage is found in verses 19-21, which state in verse 19 that we are never to avenge (which is a synonym for taking revenge for) ourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is his to pay, for He is Just.  In addition, C.E.B. Cranfield in his Romans: A Shorter Commentary writes on the topic of the Lord’s Vengeance in verse 19 by stating the following in why the Christian ought to allow for God to have vengeance, and not take matters into their own hands:

“If one is to continue to live by grace, then one cannot do other than make way for this wrath – to do otherwise would be to cease to live by grace.  To give place to the wrath is to leave vengeance to God in the knowledge that He is the God who smites in order to heal”(pg. 316).

Cranfield reminds us that God is perfect and just, and if we were to live as if we understood that, we would live by grace by not taking God’s place in avenging people that are just as vile as we are if we were without the salvation of Christ.  Cranfield also reminds us that God desires for all to be saved, and God’s wrath may be a way to reveal himself to them for God smites “in order to heal”.

Moving on to verse 20, Paul instructs us to even feed, and give water to our enemy (basically looking out for their best interest) to “heap burning coals on his head”.  The burning coals on his head part of this verse seems completely out of place here because many people’s first thought is: We should be nice to them so that they get angry at us, so that they are punished, etc..  However, Matthew Henry gives the following interpretations for this part of the verse:

Thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head; that is, “Thou shalt either,”

  1. “Melt him into repentance and friendship, and mollify his spirit towards thee” (alluding to those who melt metals; they not only put fire under them, but heap fire upon them; thus Saul was melted and conquered with the kindness of David, Sa1 24:16; Sa1 26:21) – “thou wilt win a friend by it, and if thy kindness have not that effect then,”

  2. “It will aggravate his condemnation, and make his malice against thee the more inexcusable. Thou wilt hereby hasten upon him the tokens of God’s wrath and vengeance.

The two reasons that Matthew Henry gives is that being kind will either conquer your enemy’s hatred to spur them to love you, or it will continue to show the corruption in their heart, and they will therefore have to answer to their maker one day.  The role of the Christian is not to take vengeance, but to love others, leaving vengeance up to God, and seeking His Will each day.

Verse 21 summarizes these points by stating, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”.  By instructing us to not be overcome by evil, Paul is meaning that we should not be passive in our dealing with evil against us (we are to pray, look out for our enemies best interest; showing them undeserved Grace), but we should not add to the evil being done by committing evil ourselves.  Again, Christians are called to rise above our natural instincts in the pursuit of following Jesus.

Based on this study of Romans 12, a Christian is not permitted to “play God” and carry out violence without His blessing.  I add “without His blessing” because that is the only way that violence was permitted in the Old Testament.  I will say, however, that there is no instance in the New Testament where followers of Christ were ever told to carry out violence.  Instead, God, and His heavenly armies, are the only ones who did, or were foretold to carry out judgement.

Continue Reading – Click Here

*Works Referenced in this post will be within the Works Referenced section in Part 2*

Redeemed Natures: Chapter Three – The Teachings of Jesus (Part 2 of 2)

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Chapter Three

The Teachings of Jesus (Part 2 of 2)

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” – Matt. 5:9 (ESV)

John 2:14-17 – Overturned Tables

I would be dishonest to not address the passages that seem to contradict the viewpoint which I am advocating for.  This passage about Jesus in the temple is one of two that are commonly brought up in a discussion about this topic because some claim that  Jesus was also whipping the moneychangers. Let’s take a look at this passage:

“14 In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. 15 And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16 And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”(ESV)

I would like to start off by saying that if Jesus made the whips, and whipped the flawed human beings behind the tables…that would contradict everything that he preached about which is referenced in this chapter up until this point.  It would also contradict his common responses to sin, which is to love and welcome the individual, not the sin; examples being woman caught in adultery, woman at the well, and the man hanging next to him when He was crucified. Whipping people would make Jesus seem like a hypocrite and a lunatic.  

With that being said, I believe that Jesus made the whips like it is written, and drove out the animals with them.  Whether he whipped the animals, or cracked the whip in the air to drive them out is not clear in the text itself.  When it comes to the money changers, I believe that they would have chased their animals which were valuable assets to their business and livelihood, and were thus driven out with them.  I do not believe that Jesus whipped the moneychangers in any way.

If Jesus whipped the moneychangers to drive them out – why did he not do the same to the ones selling the pigeons/doves?  Instead, he addressed them after seemingly driving everyone else out and told them to take their things and leave.  He did this because he obviously would not whip a bird, or throw their cages out of the temple while driving the other animals out, and if he were to whip all of the other animal merchants, he more than likely would have whipped the dove merchants, and released the doves afterward.

To believe that Jesus whipped the moneychangers would require the reader to abandon reason, and context.

Luke 22: 35-38 – Sell your Cloak, Buy a Sword

“35 And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” 36 He 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. 37 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.” 38 And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.”

This is another passage that is often seen in conflict with Christ’s message of nonviolence.  The issue lies in Christ telling his disciples to buy swords.  At the surface, in that verse alone (v.36), it would be the equivalent of Martin Luther King Jr., who grounded his civil rights movement on faith and nonviolence, instructing his closest men.. “Look guys, I know I said this before, but now, I need you guys to sell whatever you can to buy some guns to protect us”.

It just doesn’t make sense why Jesus would tell them to do this, especially at the end of his ministry, when he was accepting what would be done to him.

So, how can we explain this?

At this point, I’d like for us to re-read verse 37, which says:

“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.”(ESV)

This verse is in reference to a prophecy of the messiah that is found in Isaiah 53:12, and it explains to the reader why Christ would tell his disciples to buy swords; he needed to be counted among those that seemed to go against the law.  If this is not clear, the next verse will clear it up more.

Verse 38:

“And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.”(ESV)

If Jesus was telling his group of 11 disciples (because Judas had betrayed him) to buy swords to defend themselves, or Him, how would two swords be enough?  When the people that would oppress them would either be roman soldiers, or religious zealots…how could two swords be enough to protect 11 people?

Two swords was enough for the group to be seen as rebels.  Two swords was enough for Jesus to be “counted among the transgressors”.

To imply that this passage is supportive of Christian self-defense is to completely ignore verse 37, as well as not carry verse 38 to its logical end. When a message and example of peace is so consistently given by Christ, this passage would go against that message if interpreted to mean that Christ told his followers to buy swords to defend themselves.  Essentially, that argument would be making Christ a God who doesn’t stick to his own word when times get rough. Such a view makes Christ appear weak.

The Influence of Christ’s Example Of Nonviolence

There can be no doubt about the influence of Christ’s nonviolence teachings to the early church and beyond.  As I will get to in later chapters, the New Testament writers, the early church, and many early church fathers all seemed to understand Christ’s nonviolence teachings, and sought to follow after them.  Some leaders and theologians during our our time are teaching the same.

Martin Luther King, Jr. urged his followers to not use violence as a means of protest during his civil rights movement, and he based everything on his deeply held Christian faith.  He said the following in his “I have a Dream” speech in 1963:

“But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

Followers of Christ were expected to go against their natural tendencies in order to serve and worship God. Followers of Christ are expected to do the same today.

If Christ is God, than His words are worth reading, and His example is worth following.


 

Works Referenced

Berman, Mark. “‘I Forgive You.’ Relatives of Charleston Church Shooting Victims Address Dylann Roof.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 19 June 2015. Web. 14 Dec. 2015.

Fletcher, Phillip. “The Good Muslim.” Gospel and Humanity. Phillipfletcher.org, 8 Dec. 2015. Web. 26 Jan. 2016.

King, Martin Luther, Jr. “Martin Luther King I Have a Dream Speech – American Rhetoric.” Martin Luther King I Have a Dream Speech. American Rhetoric, n.d. Web. 18 Jan. 2016.

Morris, Leon. “The Gospel According to Matthew.” Ed. D. A. Carson. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 1999. 100-01. Print.

“Opus Imperfectum in Matthaeum.” Ancient Christian Texts. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Academic, 2009. 107. Print.

Shapiro, Joseph. “Amish Forgive School Shooter, Struggle with Grief.” NPR. NPR, 07 Oct. 2007. Web. 14 Dec. 2015.

Sprinkle, Preston (2013-08-01). Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence (Kindle Locations 2103-2107). David C. Cook. Kindle Edition

Wink, Walter (2003-04-01). Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way (Facets) (pp. 10-11). Fortress Press. Kindle Edition.

*The Works Referenced list above includes all resources from part 1 and two of Chapter Three*

Redeemed Natures: Chapter Three – The Teachings of Jesus (Part 1 of 2)

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Chapter Three

The Teachings of Jesus (Part 1 of 2)

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” – Matt. 5:9 (ESV)

When the typical evangelist talks about Jesus to someone who is not a Christian, they usually speak little to nothing about who Jesus actually is, and more about what he has done for those who believe in Him by saving them from Hell.  But  this method of evangelism is lacking in content, and it needs a follow up.   

Christians have to be careful to not only use this simple evangelistic method as the basis for their theology of Jesus.  We have to be careful that our theology of Jesus goes beyond emphasizing the importance of Christ’s miraculous birth, the last supper, the crucifixion, and the resurrection.  If we leave this theology with only those four points, our theology is only based on what God has done for us, when it does little in showing us who God actually is, and how he wants us to live, as revealed in Jesus.  I say this not because I know a secret formula, but because I have observed Christians become so consistently hateful towards others that it consumes them, while Jesus commands his followers to always put other people first, to treat them kindly, and to care for the poor and the oppressed.  I have been that jerk of a Christian…I am sure that many of my readers have as well…But Jesus calls you and me to MORE.

When a new member is officially a part of a Church in a ceremony, the congregation is usually called by the pastor to follow up with this new member; to make sure that he or she is cared for, as well as to hold that person accountable for the beliefs in which they had professed during that ceremony. Likewise, when a person is baptized in a church, the congregation is called show that same care and guidance to that individual, or in support of their parents if a child is baptized.  And so, my question to all of us is:  Do we, as Christians, follow up with others, and with ourselves, to see if we are truly seeking to live for Christ?  Or do we simply say “the prayer”, go to church, and keep on going through our normal lives? It is easy to follow a god who doesn’t demand anything radical..Jesus is not that god.

If you believe that Christ is Lord, that He is the promised Messiah, that He is GOD, then His words are incredibly important.  His teachings are worth following.  If we are to go against His teachings, we go against God in the most direct way that is possible at this current time; for in Christ, the fullness of God dwells (Col. 2:9).  However, though His teachings are important, it is essentially impossible to avoid going against them.  From that anger you hold towards a car in front of you in traffic, to the little “white lies” we tell, or in harboring hateful, prideful, or impure sexual thoughts; we are sinful people.

But the road doesn’t end there with us saying “oh well, it’ll never stop”; Jesus calls us to more because there cannot be a true relationship and connection with Him if Jesus keeps trying to get our attention, and we hit “ignore”. We are desperately in need of a Holy God to redeem us, restore us, and to give us the power to overcome evil within our own lives.  

If Christ is God, and If Faith is serious, Then His teachings are worthy to be followed.  For the purpose of the topic we are studying in this book, I would like to delve into some of the passages that seem to support the idea of a Christian not being involved in killing of any kind, and even to not be involved in violence apart from the Lord’s command or allowance.  The scripture passages presented to you in this chapter are Christ’s Words, and should be taken seriously.  

The Beatitudes – Matthew 5:2-12

“2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons[a] of God.

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (ESV)

In these famous beatitudes, Christ elevates the weak to showcase how transformative the Gospel can be to those who follow Him.  He blesses the merciful, the peacemaker, and the ones being persecuted, and He tells them how their persistent faith will be rewarded.  

The beatitudes are a collection of statements that convey blessings for people throughout time to give them hope, and to give them a purpose. The later blessings are things that all Christians should strive to be:  Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, those who are merciful, those who are pure in heart, those who are peacemakers, and those who are so faithful to God that they are willing to face persecution because of that faith and desire for righteousness.  As Christians, we can read these blessings and see that we are to be more than what the world expects from us, and should always strive to be identified as having the attributes amidst persecution.

“Blessed are the peacemakers”

Matthew 5:9 is the verse which I would obviously point out here with the line “Blessed are the peacemakers”.   We must examine what it means to be a “Peacemaker” because violence is innate in our human nature; we seek justice, and we desire to give justice with violence because it appears to be the quickest solution to overwhelming problems.  Therefore, to be a Peace-Maker is in contrast with the natural inclination of humankind.  In The Pillar New Testament Commentary “The Gospel According to Matthew”. Leon Morris writes the following on what it means to be a Peace-Maker:

“There is a quality of peaceableness, a disinclination to engage in disputes, that is admirable, but Jesus is talking about more than that.  He refers not to peace-keepers but to peace-makers, people who end hostilities and bring the quarrelsome together”(pg.100-101).

Morris writes that a peace-maker is active, not passive, when he states that they “end hostilities and bring the quarrelsome together”.  To be a peace-maker is to be in the pursuit of peace; seeking to end things that hinder the progression of peace through means consistent with Christ’s ethic of nonviolence.  The Christian is called to this type of active role, and is told to rise above the norms of natural response.

It is extremely easy, when we are talking about Christ’s teachings on the subject, to water down the words to fit our current understanding.  For instance, I am sure that when some of these familiar passages like “Blessed are the peacemakers”, “Love your enemies”, and “turn the other cheek”, were read to us as children, our well meaning Sunday School teachers, youth leaders, or even our Pastor may have explained it by saying, “Don’t be mean back to a person who is mean to you”, or in relating the word “enemy” with the school bully, a gossipy friend, or someone you just don’t like…  But just a reality check here:  Jesus was addressing Jewish people who were under the thumb of Rome, and who desired independence; so much so that some formed a group called the Zealots who sought to overthrow the government violently (Source: http://www.britannica.com/topic/Zealot).  In fact, the Jewish people of the day were so focused on breaking free from roman rule, that they desired a militant messiah who would lead them out of Rome’s grasp, and establish them as their own nation once again (which is one of the reasons that many did not accept Jesus as the Messiah).  Jesus told people who felt oppressed to love their enemies.  Jesus was radical.  Jesus is still radical today.

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you…”

Matthew 5:11-12 says:

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (ESV)

Jesus was instructing his followers that although they will go through persecution..that they are to rejoice because their reward in heaven is great, and He reminded them of the great men and women of God who were before them who were persecuted.  In these two verses, we discover two things of great importance.

The first point is is that followers of Christ will be persecuted.  In His audience’s time, they would be persecuted by their jewish peers who did not accept Christ as the Messiah, and by the romans who eventually would hunt them down under the rule of Nero from 54 – 68 A.D.  These followers of Christ would at times be verbally, physically, and socially persecuted all for believing that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, and that He is God.  Even at the point of death, these believers refused to renounce their faith in Him.  

Throughout time, men and women of the Christian faith have been persecuted by nations, societies, and  even from other sects of Christian belief (Catholic vs. Protestant, the persecution of Anabaptists, etc.).  Today, there are still countries where Christians have to meet in secret in order to escape persecution.  

American Christians are even crying out that they are being persecuted by the secularization of America!  Wait a second, side bar: for these American Christians, I have news for you – you are extremely fortunate to live in the country that you do, and it’s time to grow some thicker skin.  Jesus told us that we would be persecuted for following Him, and what you may think is persecution, is but a scratch while others experience tragedy each day.

The fact is, despite what prosperity preachers and some others would have you think, the people of God will be persecuted against, and we need to accept that.  And not only do we have to accept it, but we should rejoice in that we are following God faithfully if persecution happens (easier written than implemented, I know).

This leads to the second  point, which is what is left out of this verse: We are not to respond to persecution with violence, but instead trust that God is in control, and that we will be with Him for eternity, on this earth, as well as in heaven.  Notice how God did not tell the persecuted “Blessed are the persecuted, for I will give them strength to overthrow their enemies”.  God did not give them a manual on overthrowing their enemies, but instead essentially told them, “blessed are you who are persecuted in my name for your faith…don’t worry, I got this – you will be rewarded in heaven”.  

Some of you may be saying that this is a stretch.  I admit that my thoughts on this are attempting to read between the lines, but they are not unfounded.  I arrived to them through thinking about the context of the Sermon on the Mount, including the  “Love your enemies” verse, which we will get to soon.  I also came to this thought through passages such as Romans 12:19, which says: “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”(ESV).  As much as we think we can take revenge, and as much as we feel that revenge is justifiable…God is in control, and we should trust His judgement, and keep our eyes on heaven.

Anger: Matthew 5:21-22

“21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.(ESV)

Jesus tended to take things just one step further that what people thought he was going to.  In this section, Christ equates anger with murder by saying that if a man has anger towards another, they murder them in their heart.  Likewise, In Matthew 5:27-28, Christ tells this same audience that if a man even looks at a woman with lustful intent, he has already committed adultery in his heart.  Jesus looked beyond actions, and went into how what a person thinks about another can be just as terrible as an angry, or lustful action.  

But is all anger bad? Is all lustful thinking bad?  

Certainly some anger is good; our reactions to injustice, our anger towards words that mock our God…and certainly some lustful thinking is good – a married couple sharing the joys of one another.

What is being addressed in these passages is anger and lust in the wrong contexts, and Jesus was against both.

Matthew 5:38-42 – Turning the other Cheek

“38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’39 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. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.(ESV)

When Christ states “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”, He is referring to a passage in Exodus 21:22-25, which is in reference to paying back a man or group of men who beat a pregnant woman; it is about giving punishment to a crime, even repaying life for life.  This law was given to the budding Israel, and as we covered earlier, God did not reveal his perfect Will all at once, but instead worked with His people at their time.

In the next verse, Christ revealed the complete revelation, which is to “turn the other cheek” when struck.  However, before we get there, the beginning of that verse says: “Do not resist the one who is evil”, which sounds like followers of Christ cannot be a part of bringing about change at all, if that change means resisting evil.  But this does not make sense because Christ himself seemingly went directly against the first century Jewish understanding of the laws of God; thereby resisting the pharisee’s whole religious construct while being proclaimed to be the messiah of their faith.  And so, not resisting evil at all does not make much contextual sense, so this passage may have been be an incorrectly translated, dating all the way back to the KJV, which is what a lot of translations, ESV included, use to base their phrasing off of.  Walter Wink, author of Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way, says the following:

“When the court translators working in the hire of King James chose to translate antistēnai as “Resist not evil,” they were doing something more than rendering Greek into English. They were translating nonviolent resistance into docility. Jesus did not tell his oppressed hearers not to resist evil. That would have been absurd. His entire ministry is utterly at odds with such a preposterous idea. The Greek word is made up of two parts: anti, a word still used in English for “against,” and histēmi, a verb that in its noun form (stasis) means violent rebellion, armed revolt, sharp dissention. In the Greek Old Testament, antistēnai is used primarily for military encounters— 44 out of 71 times. It refers specifically to the moment two armies collide, steel on steel, until one side breaks and flees. In the New Testament it describes Barabbas, a rebel “who had committed murder in the insurrection” (Mark 15: 7; Luke 23: 19, 25), and the townspeople in Ephesus, who “are in danger of being charged with rioting” (Acts 19: 40). The term generally refers to a potentially lethal disturbance or armed revolution.

We can see through the point made in this quote that a Christian is not permitted to resist evil through violent means.  In accepting this idea, the whole passage makes a lot more sense: Jesus was all about revolution…but he wanted the heart of that revolution to be love and light in order to bring about change in the hearts of His followers’ enemies.

Finally, in getting to “turning the other cheek”, we come to a bizarre scenario.  Imagine that the school bully was picking on someone right in front of you, and slaps them in the face.  The struck person then turns his other cheek to the attacker, as if to say “go ahead, I have another”.  The scenario sounds bizarre because it is.

Getting slapped in the face is always both hurtful, and insulting;  it is a dehumanizing act that makes the attacked feel trampled on.  It is only natural to strike back. But Jesus says not to.

There is an ancient Christian text called the Opus Imperfectum in Matthaeum, written in the 5th Century A.D, that has a good thought on these verses.  It is a commentary on the Book of Matthew and I am drawing the text from a commentary collection aptly called “Ancient Christian Texts”.   The author states the following as a commentary on verses 38-39 on Matthew 5:

“But you say that the one who struck you contrary to the law deserves to be struck back. True.  But you do not deserve to be the one to strike back because you are the disciple of the one who, when reviled, did not revile in reply and who, when struck, did not strike in return and who, when crucified, prayed for those crucifying him”

The author makes the correct reasoning in stating that vengeance is up to God, and that we do not have the right to administer justice, even if it does need to be done.  I will explore this issue of vengeance further in my writings on Romans 12 & 13.

Verses 40-41 are about the idea of going the extra, undeserved and unasked for, mile, even for someone who has done you wrong.  It is about showing God’s love to someone who doesn’t deserve it, and it is in doing so, that we see how undeserved God’s love is for even us to receive.  “Going the extra mile” humbles us, and beckons us to overcome our selfishness for the sake of serving God, and serving our neighbor – which is a term which we can apply to any person whom we cross paths with, or shares our world with us; in short, our “neighbor” is everyone.

Verse 42 beckons the follower of Christ to be charitable of their resources, and to not show partiality to the poor, but to help all.  This flies in the face of some who would refuse to aid the poor at all because of fear that “their” money would be used to buy drugs or alcohol.  However, there are other ways in which to help, and Christ does not give us the privilege of picking and choosing the receivers of our aid.

In short, this passage that contains “Turn the other cheek” says a lot more than encouraging followers of Christ to be nonviolent in the face of trouble; it in fact advocates for active resistance through Love.

Matthew 5:43-48 – Loving your enemies

“43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.(ESV)

Like the preceding passage, Jesus took a current understanding, and provided God’s perfect Will on the matter.  We cannot blame anyone who would hate their enemy; especially because in the Old Testament, the Israelites killed their enemies with the blessing of God, but Jesus, again, takes things further than where we would naturally go.  He tells us to not only love our enemies, which is hard enough to grasp, but he also tells us to pray for those who persecute against us.

Did he mean for us to pray for our enemies to be killed?  No.

He meant that we should actually pray for them as we would our neighbor; as we would those who we do not have a problem with.

The purpose of praying for our persecutors and loving our enemies is to be Holy as God is Holy.  For just as God sends nourishing and refreshing rains to our land…he also sends that same rain to the land of our enemies.  Loving our enemies goes above and beyond anything that we would do on our own volition.  Loving our enemies is therefore an evidence of a “redeemed nature” which goes against our natural nature. Just like how “going the extra mile” in the passage before this one is evidence of our redeemed natures to the world, the notion of loving our enemies and praying for them is even more foreign to our natural natures that are filled with revenge, pride, and hate.  For just as the passage states (paraphrased) :  “What good is it to love only those who are good to you?  Doesn’t everyone do that? “

Therefore, following Jesus in his teachings on nonviolence and caring for the needy is meant to make us look and be so different from those around us, that we are living examples of Christ doing amazing works within us.  Our obedience is meant to be a way in which we show Christ to our world.

Preston Sprinkle says the following:

“The Sermon on the Mount constitutes Jesus’s radical kingdom ethic. Heads will turn as we turn our cheeks. Our inexplicable behavior will call attention to our inexplicable God. Light will beam across our dark world as we love the spouses who don’t love us back, keep our word when it hurts, judge ourselves rather than others, and— most shockingly— love our enemies who are harming us. When we are cursed, we bless. When we are hated, we love. When we are robbed, we give. And when we are struck, we don’t strike back with violence. A person who chooses to love his or her enemies can have no enemies. That person is left only with neighbors.” (Kindle Locations 2103-2107)

Does anyone dare to scoff at the truth of this?

In recent times, there are two popular real-life examples in which a faith community did the impossible and forgave and prayed for people who killed their loved ones.

In October of 2006, a man went into an Amish schoolhouse and shot 10 young girls, killed five of them, and then killed himself.  One would expect the attacked community to react in anger, to possibly go after the home of the attacker to find some type of revenge and closure.  However, the Amish said that they forgave the shooter, but not only that…some of them attended his funeral, and hugged his grieving wife.

This incident sparked a huge reaction from the media because they could not believe that ANYONE would go to such great lengths as showing love to the shooter’s family, and in even uttering that they forgave the shooter.  Before the days when social media consumed our lives, this act of undeserved forgiveness was widely recognized and known, and it shook everyone to the core.

In June of 2015, a white shooter attended a wednesday night bible study at Emmanuel AME church in Charleston, SC (A predominantly African-American church).  After the bible study was over, the young shooter opened fire and killed nine people.  After the incident, when the shooter was in custody, some family members were able to speak with him, and they used this time to express their confusion as to why he would do something like this, but they also used this time to offer their forgiveness to the young man who killed their loved ones in the name of racism.

In both of these instances, the affected family members did not negate their hurt, or their confusion as to why this sort of thing would happen to them; they chose to love the shooter intentionally…even though a natural, and understandable reaction would be to hate them.

In both of these instances, the world was flabbergasted by the Crazy Love and Forgiveness of these people affected by a horrible evil, and in both instances, their faith in God was highlighted as the reason for their undeserved showing of Grace. They were able to look past the evil committed, in order to see the humanness in their enemy.

Luke 10:25-37 – The Good Samaritan

The story of the Good Samaritan conveys this humanness in a people group that his Jewish audience did not like. Please read it below to keep things fresh in your mind.

“25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.

In asking Jesus what needed to be done to enter heaven, the reply was to love God, and love their neighbor. The snarky listener then asked “Okay, well, who is my neighbor?”, and then Jesus replied with something that the listener did not want to hear.

The Story of the Good Samaritan is more than just a story about what it means to do good.  This Story told Jesus’ audience about the good in the people that the Jewish people despised and rejected based on their different culture, faith, and ethnicity.  In a sense, this story helped them see the good, or even the humanness, in their enemies.

In recent times, with the 9/11 attacks, the many middle eastern conflicts and wars since, as well as the rise of ISIS, there is a disturbing hatred/scepticism towards all muslims coming from the Christian Right in America based on the actions of extremist muslim terrorists.  

Because of this hatred and scepticism, blogger Phillip Fletcher wrote an article retelling the Good Samaritan as The Good Muslim.  He conveys the story as such:

A man was going from Washington D.C. to Philadelphia, and he was car-jacked by several persons, who stole his clothes, seized his smartphone, broke his ribs, cracked his skull, leaving him unconscious on the side of the road.  Now it happened to be the time of a great conference and a pro-life group was passing by, and when they saw the man, they passed on by. Likewise a missionary group who just returned from India, when they came to the exact same location, they too passed on to the other side.

But a Muslim, as he traveled to work, saw the man on the side of the road, and when he saw him, he entered into his suffering. He pulled out his first aid kit, tended to the man’s injuries and then called 911 for emergency assistance. He followed the ambulance to the hospital and sat over night with the man in ICU.  Next morning he told the hospital billing office, “Here is my credit card. Take care of him and whatever he needs.

In this retelling, fletcher accurately captured the cultural distrust of Muslims by the Christian Right, and related it to the Good Samaritan.  This parable is really about non-hostile cultural differences, and less about nonviolence, though it brings to light the humanness is those that people dehumanize.   If Christians are called to love our enemies, how can we do so through the barrel of a gun?  If Christians are to love our enemies, how can we do so by actively dehumanizing them?

*All sources will be compiled into the “Works Referenced” section at the end of “Chapter Three (Part 2 of 2)”*

Redeemed Natures: Chapter Two – Addressing The Old Testament (Part 1 of 2)

Click Here to see all the posts in this series

Addressing the Old Testament

(Part 1 of 2)

“Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence.”  Gen. 6:11 (ESV)

In nearly every instance where the subject of Christian Nonviolence/Pacifism is discussed or brought up, someone in the room has the understandable question: “What about all of the violence in the Old Testament?”.  Their question is reflective of a broader question, which is: how do we reconcile the call of Jesus to love our enemies with the call of God (the Father) in the Old Testament to slay them?

Before I go on, it is important to note that I do not believe that the Old Testament by itself teaches the ethics of non-violence as portrayed by Jesus, but I do believe that the Old Testament is heading in that direction, and because I believe Jesus is God, I interpret all Scripture through his message and teachings.  In his book “Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence”, evangelical pastor Preston Sprinkles says the following on the subject of how to address these hard differences between the Old Testament and the message of the New Testament:

“Not everything in the law was intended to embody God’s ideal ethic— His perfect way of doing things for all people of every age. The law, rather, was intended to meet the Israelites where they were and set them on the right path toward the ideal. Many laws given in Exodus through Deuteronomy, in fact, were not God’s ideal moral code— His Edenic ethic, if you will. Rather, they were glimpses of God’s ideal that would be revealed fully in Christ. In other words, the law of Moses was designed to guide a particular nation, living in a particular land, for a specific time and in a specific culture.  What we have in the law of Moses is a moral code that both accommodates to and improves upon the ethical systems of the surrounding nations.” (Sprinkle – Kindle locations 488-494)

As an example of his argument, Sprinkle uses the issues of polygamy, slavery, and divorce to show how God tolerated His people’s flawed views, but that He also worked to improve them, and how the new testament continues that transformation of culture.  However, as tempting as it would be to just say “Eh, different times, different revelations”, that still would leave too many stones unturned.  Sprinkle recognized this as well, and he did a good job in addressing the hard questions and passages surrounding this argument.

The purpose of this chapter is to attempt to communicate that while the Old Testament does not, by itself, support nonviolence, it does communicate the following: God’s perfect will as revealed in the Scriptures, the way God dealt with the Israelites back then and for that purpose,  instances where things were done that seem to be contrary to that perfect will, and it point us to the full revelation of the nonviolent ethic through Christ.  

I will break this chapter up into five segments:

  1. Starting at the beginning: Cain and Abel
  2. The Great Flood
  3. Egypt, Captivity, and Liberation
  4. God’s use of government to carry out His Will
  5. The Canaanite Conquest

Starting at the beginning: Cain and Abel

The Lord created the heavens and the earth… everything was created to be “good”.  God created a Man named Adam, a Woman named Eve, and they lived together in a perfect paradise of plentiful harvest, and they had the opportunity to live like this for the rest of their lives.  They only had to follow one rule: Do not eat the forbidden fruit.  But we all know the story…they ate the forbidden fruit.

This act of disobedience broke their chances of staying in this perfect paradise, and their punishments for eating the apparently tasty looking fruit made life harder for them.  But God did not break communion with them; He still desired to care for them, and to love them.

Later on in their story, they had two sons, Cain and Abel; Cain worked the fields, and Abel tended to the livestock.  These two desired a relationship with God as well, so they wanted to make an offering to Him of the best things in their respective responsibilities;  Cain brought some of his fruits and veggies, and Abel brought in the best animal he could.  (Gen. 4:3-7)

But Cain’s offering was not accepted…And this is where the fallen nature of man comes in; instead of being distraught that God did not accept this sacrifice, Cain became angry.  This anger is reflective of Cain’s heart at the time;  if Cain truly loved God, he would be upset with himself that his sacrifice was not accepted, and he would plead with God to show him what to do to make it right.   The motive behind his sacrifice must not have been pure, and this is most likely why the Lord did not accept his sacrifice.  And so, Cain’s focus turned to his brother as he became enraged that Abel’s sacrifice was accepted.  This then led to what we all know happened:  the first murder in human history happened when Cain killed Abel in a field out of jealously and rage (Gen. 4:8).

One would think that God would simply smite Cain for what he had done, and the situation would be resolved; after all, Adam and Eve did have many other Children (Gen. 5:3-4).  However, God doesn’t do this, but instead punishes Cain while letting him live:

“9 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” 10 And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. 11 And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.”  -Gen. 4:9-12 (ESV)

In this passage, God punished Cain by taking away the ease of his labor in working the ground; making it harder for Cain to do what Cain knew how to do best.  This would serve as a regular reminder of the wrong which he had done, along with the second punishment he received, which was for Cain to be seen as a fugitive, and for him to be a “wanderer on the earth”. We see in this punishment that God is neither a God who is unforgiving, or a God who never punishes those he loves; God recognizes the wrong, forgives the wrongdoer, but at that time before Christ, Cain had a real earthly punishment that he had to receive upon himself.

The story could end there, but it doesn’t.  God’s Grace extends even further past what we could imagine when the following conversation between Cain and God transpired:

“13 Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. 14 Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”15 Then the Lord said to him, “Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him.” Gen. 4:13-15 ESV

We see here that not only did God spare Cain’s life, but He also protected it from others.  This is undeserved Grace in clear form, and it is in this that we see that although Cain took a life, and according to the Old Testament laws that would come later, he deserved death, God spared his life, and protected it; God boldly declared that even the life of a murderer was worth saving.  

God declared, in this instance, that retributional killing is against His perfect will.  It is in this example that we can see the perfect will of God apart from a culture that had been corrupted by generations of paganism and barbarism.

The Great Flood

I would like to briefly touch on the context surrounding the bible verse that I placed under the title for this chapter.  To refresh yourself, please read it again below:

Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence.” – Genesis 6:11 ESV

This verse is within the greater context of God becoming disgusted by the evil ways of man, and these ways included their use of violence.  Contrary to all of the rainbows and happy animals that we remember on the flannel-graphs of our Sunday school classrooms, the story of “Noah’s Ark” and the Flood is actually a pretty problematic story for the Christian to consider;  God was willing to kill all of the earth’s inhabitants, except for one family, in order to start over because he was disgusted by the corruption of humankind; their godlessness and their violence.  

Through the earth’s history, we have personally seen how violence begets violence, and how it consumes humanity with its enticing lure for revenge, but that revenge is never quite satisfying.  It is like when we were all children, and we do something to get back at someone if they wronged us, scared us, or whatever it is, and then that person somehow refuses to see that we are now “even”, and they retaliate back.  Violence is an enticing “cure” that never heals, and it can, in many instances, cause even more problems.  

God’s perfect will for the world and its people does include violence.  We see this with Cain, with the Great Flood, and in Revelation when violence is no more…it’s time that we Christians start acting like what God ultimately desires for us to act.  We have the Blueprints, we just keep pushing off the project until a later date…

Egypt, Captivity, and Liberation

Alright, I want everyone to get serious here:  Imagine that your people group has been in slavery for 400 years, and that you have seen the slashes and bruises on your relatives backs and bodies all of your life, and then suddenly, two guys named Moses and Aaron come along and basically tell you, “God told us to go to pharaoh and say “Let my People Go!”.

I feel like after all of that oppression, the Hebrew people desired more of a “bang” than two guys coming back and saying they’d ask Pharaoh, and when Pharaoh said no, God would intervene.  It is kind of like how the Israelites of the first century expected a militant messiah to free them from Rome, and then along came Jesus who had another motive.

In all seriousness, the story of the Exodus is very important in this topic because it informs us that God is more than capable of fighting for His people, and freeing them of their slavery without the need for them to take up arms themselves.  And while at other times, God used Israel in battle and conquest, in this instance, he chose not to.

Here are the plagues that God sent upon Egypt:

  • Water into Blood (Exodus 7:14-24)
  • Frog Infestation (Exodus 7:25 – 8:15)
  • Lice/Gnats/Fleas – depending on how its translated (Exodus 8:16-19)
  • Swarms of Flies (Exodus 8:20-32)
  • Diseased Livestock (Exodus 9:1-7)
  • Boils (Exodus 9:8-12)
  • Thunderstorms of Hail (Ex 9:13-35)
  • Locusts (Exodus 10:1-20)
  • Darkness (Exodus 10:21-29)
  • Death of the firstborn (Exodus 11:1 – 12:36)

At this point, it is important for the reader to note that each of these plagues were administered because Pharaoh refused the request of Moses and Aaron to let the Israelites go each time before each plague struck.  In knowing this, we should also look at the types of plagues poured out, and the order of them.

The first plague is in turning the water to blood.  This killed the fish and other aquatic life, and made a big stink, but otherwise, the Egyptians still had livestock and grain to keep them going.  The second, third, and forth plagues were more of a nuisance than a life altering event.  However, a great nuisance they were, and they got in the way of everyday life.

Starting at the fifth plague of diseased livestock, the plagues begin to become more drastic and life-altering, until finally with the tenth and final plague, God takes away the life from the firstborn of every family who did not have the blood of a lamb painted above their doors.  

FINALLY, Pharaoh lets the people go, and a short while later, Pharaoh’s heart was hardened again, and he ordered his men, chariots, and horsemen to chase after them to bring them back to Egypt.  The Lord put a pillar of cloud behind the Hebrews and the approaching Egyptians as He made a way for the Hebrews to cross the red sea on dry land.  The Egyptians followed, and in the morning, the Lord put a pillar of fire and cloud that caused the Egyptians to panic, and as the Hebrews were making their way across the floor of the sea, the waters came together again where the Egyptians were crossing, and the Egyptians, consumed with rage, perished in the sea. (Exodus 14:15-31)

Throughout the whole Exodus story, not a sword was raised by a Hebrew against an Egyptian…GOD freed the Hebrew people.  And this story not only communicates God’s capacity to work FOR his people, it also communicates God’s divine authority to take life from those who are defiant to His will.

Since I hold the position that I do in regards to believers of God taking life, it is easy to place myself in a box that doesn’t allow for God to take life, or administer justice violently…but I simply cannot do that if I am honestly reading the scriptures.  On this point, I could change my understanding (Lord knows that I would love to be able to write off divinely administered death), but for the moment, I stand in my statement that God has the authority to take life no matter how uncomfortable that makes me. However, even in this example, Pharaoh was given ample time and opportunity to let the Hebrew people go peaceably, and so the Grace of God shines through.  


All Works Cited from parts 1 &2 are posted at the end of part 2. 

A devotional on insecurity hindering potential

On their album, “Continued Silence”, Imagine Dragons produced a song called “Demons”, and the lyrics of the chorus are shown below:

 “When you feel my heat
Look into my eyes
It’s where my demons hide
It’s where my demons hide
Don’t get too close
It’s dark inside
It’s where my demons hide
It’s where my demons hide” – Imagine Dragons – “Demons”

In the song, the band conveys an honest aspect of humanity: Imperfection.  The “Demons” mentioned in the song are insecurities and past mistakes that make a person vulnerable.   We try to hide the dark parts of ourselves from others, and in some instances this self-censorship becomes a hindrance to our progression as friends, spouses, and even as Christians.  We think we are not “good enough”, so we hold ourselves back.  We think people won’t like us, so we remain silent.

In another song by Jon Foreman called “Equally Skilled”, Foreman laments over his own and humanity’s imperfections, but he ties it up with some ending lines that tell of God’s perfection:

“Both of His hands are equally skilled
At showing me mercy, equally skilled
At loving the loveless, equally skilled
Administering justice, both of His hands, both of His hands” – Jon Foreman – “Equally Skilled”

These two songs communicate humanity’s imperfections, but Foreman’s lyrics give us a hope that at least God has got it right.  Which brings me to the following point:

Humans can be good, or bad.  We can have insecurities and imperfections, BUT in being made in the image of God…we have GREAT potential.  Our “Demons” can hold us back, while God, accepting who we are – including our imperfections, calls us to move forward and to be His Hands on earth.

The early church wasn’t perfect.  The early church was composed of a bunch of new people who needed a lot of direction and correction to keep moving forward together, and to advance the faith.

In Acts 4:22-37, a passage which I wrote about HERE, the early church is spoken of as sharing their possessions so that there was “no needy person among them”.

They weren’t perfect.  They likely worked hard for their money, and were hesitant to share.  But they got past their “demons” of pride and selfishness, and became self-less in order to be God’s caring hands to those around them.

What can YOU do to help your fellow person?

Following God’s Calling: What does that even mean?

**To my readers: Please excuse my lack of any posts over the last few weeks, I intend to get back to my Sermon On The Mount series soon, though I realized that I needed to post something today so that I remain motivated to continue posting and to get back to a regular schedule. 

If you are new here, please take some time to read some of my other posts, including the start of My Sermon on Mount series, which you can read by clicking here.**

What is a “Calling”

A “calling” to me is where your passions or talents, and God’s will for the world, come together.  This is usually something that you do that causes you a lot of joy, and/or a sense of great purpose, even though it could be really challenging.  A calling can either be vocational, or non-vocational; therefore, a priest is following his calling just as much as the full time working woman who teaches softball in her spare time is following hers.  A person in business who has dreams of helping people, and helping his or her customers/clients is following their calling just as much as an international missionary.  As long as we are pursuing what we believe God wants us to do, or doing something that we feel advances the Kingdom of God, it does not matter if its related to our Job or not; your calling does not have to be your job, but it can be.

I am not trying to over-spiritualize things here because, as I stated before, a calling could simply be you doing what you feel most passionate about, and that thing happens to be something that can be used to show love to those affected, and perhaps even show them Jesus through you.

For me, my “calling” is helping people by encouraging them to be independently interested in matters of faith, family, community, and many other things.  I would like to do this through church ministry, bible studies, missions trips, financial budgeting, music, etc..  I have a degree in Business, many college courses in biblical studies, a lot of music experience, and a decent amount of ministry experience; therefore, my “calling” is taking what I can do, and using it for the betterment of others, and for the advancement of the good news of Jesus and his Kingdom through words, actions, and deeds.

I have recently accepted a full-time position as the “Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries” at a church in the town that I grew up in.  I am beyond excited to start this new venture in my life because the job description incorporates everything that I would like to do in order to help people, and in order to share the good news, which is transformative and wonderful (Read my blog post on a transformative Gospel here)

I will be afforded the opportunity to fulfill my calling within my vocation.  Before this ministry position, I was working a desk job within an international corporation, and I had little time to really invest in any other things besides my work and my new marriage to my lovely wife.  The workplace was negative, and I did not have a lot of time to talk to others, so I felt pretty burned out at the end of the day. However, I know of others who’s calling can be fulfilled in the workplace, and they do it well.  I know of others who may work a job they hate because they desire the betterment of their children and family; my dad is an incredible man for showing my own family an example of sacrifice in order to provide for us.

Follow Your Calling

Your calling may be, or is fulfilled in, teaching, finances, construction, music, art, full-time ministry, providing for your family, or a long list of other things.  The importance is that A) You follow it somehow in some way, and B) You use it for God’s glory.  Each Christian is called to be a light in the darkness, a city on a hill, and a lantern revealing the Hope that is present in Christ.  God Can and WILL use you for His purposes , and when you sense a direction that you should go: follow it!  Each one of us has spiritual and practical gifts, talents, and abilities, and not one of us is more qualified to be used by God than any other.

What is your calling?  Are you following it?