A Question I Was Asked:

How Can We Love Our Enemies and Turn the Other Cheek?

Is This About Pacifism?

The Question:

How can I love my enemies and turn the other cheek? What did Jesus mean anyway? Is it possible to be more specific? Is this about pacifism? Did He mean not to go to war? Please clarify this for our study group.

UK Apologetics Reply:

Actually, no, I don't think that Jesus was talking about whether or not one should go to war if one's nation requires it, although many have - incorrectly, in my opinion - explained it that way, or partly explained it that way. The pacifism explanation, for example, is quite a big thing with the Jehovah's Witnesses. They are strict pacifists. They, and certain other cults and sects, put these comments of Jesus alongside the commandment, "Thou shalt not kill," and make a case for a complete, blanket pacifism.

They are wrong, of course, because the Holy Bible is simply not a book which advocates total pacifism. Moreover, 'kill' should clearly be translated 'murder,' after all, Israel were instructed by God Himself to have the death penalty as a punishment for several crimes, So, if one gives this matter just a little thought, 'kill' cannot be correct; it is obvious that 'murder' is what is meant. A look at the Hebrew soon confirms this. In Exodus 20:13, when we consider 'kill', we are looking at Hebrew word No 07523 in Strongs Concordance. The meanings are: slay, murder, manslay, kill or assassinate. It clearly refers to unlawful killing by private and unauthorised intent, therefore 'murder' is a better word than 'kill.' The NIV correctly uses the word, 'murder' as it also does in Deuteronomy 5:17 (the Ten Commandments are repeated in Deuteronomy 5).

During the present dispensation of time we are instructed not to go to war in order to make the kingdom of God a reality - it cannot be done at present. The history of the medieval church confirms for us what a big mistake this is! We spread the Gospel but we are to do it in humility and respect, not calling upon armies to back us up.

Let us take a fuller look at what Jesus actually said,

"You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.'
But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.
Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'
But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:38-45, NIV throughout).

The whole context here shows that Jesus was talking about the behaviour of Christians as they go forward with the Gospel. They were not (and we are not) to behave as the Scribes and Pharisees did; those people did not love their enemies and, in fact, hated all foreigners, especially the Samaritans. As I have put this in the past, we must determinedly not give offence! To be frank, I think we all fall short on this from time to time.

It is wrong to bully, or to go to war with people just because they don't believe, or understand, the Gospel. We should have a 'turn the other cheek' attitude in all our evangelistic work, seeking to serve others just as Christ Himself did.
In an earlier century, the Jesuits told the south American Indians that they had to accept Christ. The Indians asked, 'What is the alternative?' The answer was, 'Our army will simply wipe you out.' The Indians replied, 'Okay, then we will accept Christ!' But of course nobody can become a believer like that. Three or four hundred years earlier, the papal armies had wiped out many of the Proto-Protestants of the French alps. Why? Because they were not their sort of Christians. Yet both sides fully supported The Apostles Creed! - that is quite incredible!

None of this was the way that Christians were supposed to behave as they took the Gospel to the world.

But, now, here is the bigger question: Does that mean that Christians should be complete pacifists in every area of life?

Actually no, and Jesus made that plain:

Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place." (John 18:36).

Jesus was saying that if the time and place were right, it would not be wrong to go to war for the Gospel! So He certainly did not advocate pacifism in principle, but rather, He was keen that His disciples should correctly understand the 'times and the seasons.' As Ecclesiastes states,

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8).

In fact, we should just check out Revelation 19:11 which describes Jesus as being prepared to 'judge and make war' (but only when the time is right):

'I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war.' (Revelation 19:11).

Throughout the Holy Bible it is obvious that justice is a big part of the will of God, if one totally excludes that and just has the principle of 'turn the other cheek,' yet without justice, one perverts an important part of biblical teaching and an important part of the character of God. Ultimately you can never consider any single Bible verse, or group of verses, without taking the entire book into account.

It is true that - at the present time - Jesus warns that those who live by the sword shall die by the sword (Matthew 26:52), that refers to the reality of indulging in warfare which we all understand, or should understand, is a very dangerous business - but the text doesn't necessarily say more than that.

So the specific words of Jesus in Matthew 5 address the behaviour of all Christians who would carry forth the Gospel of Jesus Christ, all Christians of all times should conform to these high behavioural standards wherever possible.
But to suggest that the words of Matthew 5 should be seen as a charter for a complete and blanket pacifism is to show a very restricted understanding of Scripture and a denial that justice is a vital facet of the character of God, which it clearly is.
Robin A. Brace. September 28th 2010.