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What is the Bible’s stance on war? Can killing people to protect your country be justified?
Tom: My name is Tom from Bremerton, Washington. What does the Bible say about military personnel who kill for their country?
Brother Bob Pellien: Thank you very much Kyma, Tom, and all the others who have emailed in and asked very similar questions regarding this particular topic about military service. You know, dear friends, we’re really sure that there’s a lot of people in the military or the armed services, or maybe even have friends and family members that are in the military. And you know, they are also God fearing people. People who have these same questions as you in their mind.
And dear friends for those who might not see the conflict or maybe are wondering why so many are asking these questions about the military, let’s start off by asking first—what is God’s command in the Bible regarding killing or taking another’s life? So let’s get right to it. The Bible clearly states here in Exodus 20, verse 13, the following:
“You shall not murder.
[Exodus 20:13 New King James Version]
Brother Bob: So here Dear friends, God gives a very simple, very short, yet nevertheless very direct answer. We can see that God prohibits anyone from committing murder or taking the life of another.
Brother Bob: Which brings all the questions regarding being in the military, of course or the armed forces. Why? Well, we know because if one is in the military, they’re prepared, of course to defend the nation in times of war. And if war occurs, unfortunately, killing may very well be involved. Therefore, is serving as a soldier for your country, is it against the teachings of the Bible?
The direct answer to that question is no. But what’s the proof that God is really not against that? Let’s continue our study. We can read the Biblical evidence here, dear friends wherein God is distinguishing the difference between committing murder and serving in the military for one’s state or nation. What does He say? Let’s turn to the book of Joshua chapter 4, verse 12 and 13. Wherein it says this:
And the men of Reuben, the men of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh crossed over armed before the children of Israel, as Moses had spoken to them.
[Joshua 4:12 New King James Version]
Brother Bob: Well, let’s pause for a second, dear friends because we’d like to point out here briefly that Reuben, Gad, Manasseh—were Israelites. And Israel was God’s nation before these people. They were God’s people. It was God’s nation. Let’s continue:
About forty thousand prepared for war crossed over before the Lord for battle, to the plains of Jericho.
[Joshua 4:13 New King James Version]
Brother Bob: So you can read in these verses God’s people before, they did not only compose a religious organization, but [also], they were a nation. They were a nation with a military; they were soldiers. Therefore, we are sure, serving as a soldier for one’s country—[is] not against the Bible. Obviously fighting in battle to serve your nation and just committing murder—they are not the same thing, they’re different.
You know, there are instances in the Bible where God’s nation went to battle with numerous armies and sometimes against many armies all at once. And they had God’s protection, God’s guidance.
Many of you may still remember one well known servant of God, a shepherd named David. What did he do? He defeated and killed the giant Philistine warrior, Goliath. But you know dear friends there are those who pose the argument, “Well, this is a completely different era of time from those events of David killing the soldier Goliath or God using His nation against others in time past.”
Brother Bob: In the New Testament times dear friends, that we are living in today, is there a different instruction from God regarding soldiers? Has it been changed? Has it been updated in any way? Let’s also ask this: Is serving in the armed forces in the New Testament time forbidden by God? Let’s again turn to the Holy Bible for answers to these questions. And here we can read the instruction of God to some soldiers in the New Testament times. God’s will was made known through His servant, John the Baptist; and that conversation is recorded here in Luke 3:14. Let’s take a look:
Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, “And what shall we do?” So he said to them, “Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages.”
[Luke 3:14 New King James Version]
Brother Bob: Dear friends, we can notice the instructions here given to the soldiers. Soldiers who were asking what they needed to do to be worthy of forgiveness. John the Baptist said, “Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages.” We can also notice here what he did not say. He did not say, “Stop being a soldier.” If being a soldier is prohibited in the New Testament he would have answered, “Quit being a soldier. It is against God’s law.” But that’s not what he said. Therefore, although there might be people that strongly believe that being a soldier or joining the military is against the Bible, we can clearly see that there is no such prohibition given by God.
Brother Bob: But then the rebuttal of some to that Biblical truth, sometimes goes a little bit like this, “So you’re saying that it’s okay for us to hate each other. It’s okay for us to kill anyone that we consider an enemy of the state?” We want to make clear, that’s not what we’re saying nor is that what we read here in these verses of the Holy Bible. In fact what’s the Lord Jesus Christ’s instruction to His disciples regarding their enemies? We can read here in Matthew 5:44 this from the words of our Lord Jesus:
But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you,
[Matthew 5:44 New King James Version]
Brother Bob: Dear friends, according to Christ we, we’re the disciples, we’re the followers, we’re not given the liberties to hate our enemy and all the more be the ones to take revenge, all the more be the ones to kill them. That’s not our place. It’s not for us, the followers, to do that. We’re the disciples. So what was God’s instruction in Romans 12:19 the Bible says this:
Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.
[Romans 12:19 New King James]
Brother Bob: But dear friends, how will God repay those who have done wrong? Because He said very clearly, “Vengeance is Mine,” said the Lord. Is it God Himself that will come down and implement His wrath or will He send or use instruments to implement the vengeance or the punishment? Again, we turn to the Bible and we can read the Bible’s answer likewise in the book of Romans, and what we can read here is chapter 13 verses 1 through 4:
Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist who will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.
[Romans 13:1-4 New King James Version]
Brother Bob: Dear friends, the Bible is clear and teaches that governing authorities are appointed by none other than God Himself. And those appointed to rule, as the Bible mentioned, they will be a terror for evil doers. The appointed authorities bear the sword that God uses to avenge and to execute His wrath. Therefore we’re not to take it upon ourselves and decide to end someone else’s life. This is the reason why serving as a soldier in the military and just simply committing murder, it’s not the same thing.
Although God clearly states in the Bible, is strict prohibition of committing murder; this does not mean He forbids his people to enter the military or the armed forces.
Fighting for one’s country is not the same as simply murdering someone. The governing authorities, they’ve been appointed by God to lead and therefore should be granted the respect and the loyalty of those under their jurisdiction. We follow our nation’s leaders up to the point that they are aligned with what God commands. If there’s a contradiction between the two, true Christians follow God and not man. These are the teachings and the commands that we should believe in and follow. Why? Because that’s in the Bible.
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