Guns, Swords, and Inspired Words

Whenever a random act of violence occurs, debates about the 2nd amendment and gun control are sure to follow. This isn’t surprising. People have different opinions about is best for the country. Some think that it would be in the best interest of American citizens if people had less access to guns. Others think it would be in the best interest of the citizens of this country if we had more guns in the hands of responsible citizens. As long as people have disagreements about the direction the country should go, debates are unavoidable. But despite all the arguing, the problem of violence continues, and often seems to grow worse.

As Christians, there are two ways to approach gun control debates. The first way is to ask what we, as American citizens, think would be best for our county. That is, we could join in the same debate that everybody else is having. The second way is to ask what we, as Christians and citizens of God’s kingdom, think would be best for advancing God’s kingdom. This second discussion receives far less attention, despite the fact that the kingdom of God offers real world solutions to the problem of violence.

Jesus had a lot to say about how his disciples should respond to evil. They are to love their enemies (Lk. 6:27, 35; Mt. 5:44). Love is defined in the New Testament by pointing us to Jesus dying for his enemies (1 Jn. 3:16). They are to do good to their enemies (Mt. 5:44; Lk. 6:28). They are to forgive them (Lk. 6:37; 11:4; 23:34). They are not to resist with the same kind of evil that their enemies use (Mt. 5:39; Lk. 6:29). They are to pray for them rather than seeking to injure them (Mt. 26:51-53). Since God loves and blesses others indiscriminately, we are expected to love and bless others indiscriminately (Mt. 5:45-47; Lk. 6:36-37)

Jesus’s apostles echoed these teachings. Peter wrote that we should follow Jesus’s example by being willing to suffer unjustly at the hands of our enemies, even when we have the power to defeat them (1 Pet. 2:18-23; 3:15-16). Paul wrote that we should never return evil with evil, or take vengeance against our enemies, but always return evil with good (Rom. 12:17-19). Instead of harming our enemies we should provide for their physical needs, and overcome their evil by doing good (Rom. 12:20-21).

To the best of my knowledge, this represents everything the New Testament has to say about how Christians should think about and treat their enemies. What’s more, there’s never an exception clause. The New Testament never says anything along the lines of “love and do good to your enemies, unless you run in to the really nasty, violent, life-threatening kind.” To a first century audience, it would have been clear who they talked about when they said “love your enemies.” First and foremost, they would have thought of the Romans, who enforced Pax Romana by fear. They were the kind of enemy who could crucify your friends and family just to flex their muscles. They were the nasty, violent, life-threatening kind of enemy.

The early Christians were not simply concerned about protecting their rights or fixing unjust Roman laws. In fact, they had a reputation of rejoicing when they were wrongfully beaten and imprisoned and plundered by their enemies (Heb. 10:32-34). That’s not to suggest that Christians should minimize the wrongfulness of denying other people their rights. It is right to be deeply concerned when we see the government passing wicked laws that cause more people to be harmed. These Christians responded to violence with joy, not because they didn’t care, but because of their confidence in God’s promises (Heb. 10:35-36). In the meantime, they actively showed compassion towards those whose freedom had be wrongfully taken away (Heb. 10:34).

Ultimately, the problem of violence will never be solved by endless debates about what the government should do about violence. Since rulers and authorities gain their power from the implied threat of death, they were left disarmed when death was defeated (Col. 2:15). As Christians, our relationship to earthly government is defined by an attitude of submission. We submit to them “for the Lord’s sake”, recognizing that “this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people” (1 Pet 2:13-15). We submit, because we recognize that God uses government authorities as his ministers to execute wrath and vengeance on evildoers (Rom. 13:1-4).

It is our duty to solve the problem of violence, not by arguing about what Caesar should do about it, but by spreading the peaceful principles of the kingdom of God. As we spread the boarders of his kingdom, we recognized that “the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Cor. 10:4). Swords and guns are completely unnecessary to be a disciple of the prince of peace. Unlike earthly governments, which at best can argue about who should have the right to carry a gun, the kingdom of God provides a real solution to the problem of violence by pointing us to Jesus. Jesus defeated evil, not by carrying a sword or gun against his enemies, but by loving his enemies, dying for his enemies, and by rising from the dead to show just how powerless their violence really is.