Do Christians have a duty to defend their families? Evidently, Syrian Christians think so:
- “A group of about 50 Syrian Christian women have left their homes, jobs, and children to form a new battalion to fight the encroaching ISIS terrorists… ISIS, which has forced many women and girls into sexual slavery, has also driven thousands of Syrian Christians from their homeland since civil war began in the region in March, 2011.” (CNSNews.com)
Some cite Jesus’ teaching to turn-the-other-cheek against self-defense. However, Paul argued that taking care of one’s family is our duty:
- If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. (1 Timothy 5:8; All verses from the NIV)
However, providing support for our families is the focus of this verse. Could this principle also pertain to defending our family? It must! Just think of the absurdity of telling your daughters:
- I will gladly provide you food, clothing, and shelter, but if ISIS comes to make you their sex-slaves, I must turn-the-other-cheek.
This, of course, is absurd! But some will argue that the Christian faith is absurd and that we should be willing to live according to its alleged foolishness. Really?
Embodying God’s wisdom in our lives is intended to win the respect of the skeptic. Therefore, Paul instructs Titus to:
- Encourage the young men to be self-controlled. In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us. (Titus 2:6-8)
Turning-the-other-cheek to ISIS by letting them take our wives and daughters as sex-slaves will win no one’s respect but rather their contempt and disgust.
Likewise, Peter argues:
- Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us… For it is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. (1 Peter 2:12,15)
Sometimes, to love the oppressor is to hate the innocent. If we fail to do good by protecting our families and even our pagan neighbors against the horrors of ISIS, we will be regarded with the contempt as we would deserve. It will bring humiliation, not honor! This will also bring disrepute upon our faith by showing that it lacks wisdom.
But didn’t Jesus teach passivity in the face of death? While He did teach non-retaliation, as did Paul (Romans 12:14-21) and the rest of the NT, He never taught against self-defense, either for ourselves or our families. Instead, He acknowledged that we have a right to protect our families:
- “But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into.” (Matthew 24:43)
Jesus acknowledged that it is understandable and legitimate to protect our families. His teaching is in keeping with the Hebrew Scriptures, which Jesus fully endorsed (Matthew 5:16-19; 22:29; 4:4). The Israelite had a legal right to defend his household:
- "If a thief is caught breaking in and is struck so that he dies, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed.” (Exodus 22:2)
Today, we can’t even consider defending our family without a firearm, especially in view of the current threats. But I do not own a firearm; nor do I plan to obtain one. My wife and I have no one else in our household, but if I did have children, I believe that it would be my responsibility to obtain one.
But shouldn’t loving one’s enemies take precedence over self-defense? Aren’t we supposed to overcome evil with good?
- Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (Romans 12:17-18)
We have to “do right in the eyes of everyone.” However, doing right might entail defending our families and neighbors. Yes, we are to “live at peace with everyone.” But only “if it is possible!” Sometimes, it is not, and evil must be resisted. Paul resisted the evil of Elymas, who was speaking against the Gospel, by striking him down, by the grace of God, with blindness (Acts 13:11).
Paul didn’t live at peace with the Philippian authorities who had him unlawfully arrested and beaten him. Instead, he had them put to shame by demanding and receiving an official escort out of the city (Acts 16:37).
There are times when passivity isn’t appropriate. Instead, self-defense is sometimes the appropriate response. Did Jesus denigrate all forms of violence? Certainly not! While He wouldn’t allow Peter to drive away His assailants with a sword, He drove the money changers out of the Temple with a whip (John 2:15). There are times when force is appropriate. For this reason, God had ordained the rule of law to exercise God’s wrath upon evil (Romans 13:1-4).
How then should we understand Jesus’ command to turn-the-other-cheek? Most commentators agree that Jesus was correcting the unbiblical Jewish practice of personally taking revenge. Instead of revenge, Jesus taught that it is better to suffer indignities and to turn-the-other-cheek than to seek revenge:
- In the present case, Jesus aims to correct the revengeful spirit and practice to which the Jews were greatly addicted, and which they justified by a loose application of the law of Moses. (2) Our Lord here, as we have observed in former instances … selects an extreme case, in order to exhibit more vividly the principle by which we should be guided. So far from vengeful resistance and retaliation being right, it would be better, if that were the alternative, voluntarily to submit ourselves to a yet greater wrong. Better to turn the other cheek, to give up the other garment, to double the impressing officer's requisition, than to permit ourselves to practice that passionate resistance and that revengeful retaliation to which we are all prone, and which the Jewish teachers defended. (Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew.)
Ideally, we are to leave retaliation in the hands of the police and the armed forces. However, what do we do when these ordained powers are collapsing? We must restore order, even with force.