HAS GOD CHANGED?
A Brief Look at the Unity of the Bible
on the Subject of Personal Retaliation and Justice.
Which Testament Do These Verses Belong?
1. "Thou shalt not kill."
2. "Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of they people, but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself: I am the Lord."
3. "When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself"
4. "He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. So show your love for the alien"
5. "Vengeance is mine, I will repay... If I sharpen My flashing sword, and My hand takes hold on justice, I will render vengeance on My adversaries, and I will repay those who hate Me."
6. "If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink: For thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head, and the Lord shall reward thee."
Some would lead us to believe that these verses must only be found in the New Testament; even as God somehow became more merciful at that time. But here we can see that God did not require something new towards those who personally wrong us, towards strangers, towards our neighbor, or even our enemies. If God commanded in the Law (Lev. 19:18--point #2) not to take vengeance into our own hands back then, why do some suppose this was only a new testament teaching? And if these commandments were given by God back then, then how could God command the taking of life in the very next chapters? It is obvious God was not contradictory --all these commands were given to people as individuals and not for those leaders appointed to stand as God's "Ministers" for the well-being of society (not that they could take personal vengeance either). Thus we see that there is no contradiction between the commandments to "not kill" (Ex. 20: 13, etc., and those that commanded the taking of life (Ex. 21: 16-17...).
Notice also that a chief passage in the New Testament that people use to insist upon the sinfulness of Christians being in government, or in that office taking a life, this passage borrows all its argument from the Old Testament! As we read this passage think about the fact because this is so, there is nothing new being taught to the children of God regarding involvement in such public offices.
Is This a New Testament Teaching only?
"Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. If it be possible [What can this mean?], as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine; I will repay, sayith the Lord.' (from #5 verse, Dt. 32:35) 'Therefore if thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink: For thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head.' (from #6 verse, Prov. 25:21) Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good." Rom. 12: 17-21.
All can see plainly that there is no evidence for this being a new teaching--even as it is based on Old Testament commands--but was a reminder that we are still to be unselfish towards our neighbors and enemies. There is therefore no reason for people to use this to encourage policemen to give up their office if they desire to become Christians. And just so that people would not make such a conclusion the apostle Paul gives us next the plainest passage in both testaments for Divine approval and necessity of governments. We will not turn there (Rom. 13) yet, but only say that there is also nothing in these passages that forbid Christians in any parts of government. It is obvious if this was Paul's view of things that he would have said something about it! The burden of proof lies on those who say so.
We notice the other passage that people base all their non-involvement upon--Matt. 5. Here we will have to remove one common misunderstanding of the Old Testament people often have who hold this doctrine. These people often think that when Jesus said "You have heard that it was said..." He was quoting from the Old Testament; and thus when He said "but I say unto you" that He was bringing in a new teaching. This is a baseless assumption needing to be proved. Scholars who have understood the debates and misunderstandings of the Jews at that time understand that Jesus' masterful teachings were not off the cuff new teachings but old teachings specifically rebuking prevailing selfish twisting of scripture. For instance, when He says, "you have heard that it was said, 'you shall love your neighbor and hate you enemy', He was not rejecting what He had given in the Old Testament to Moses, but was rejecting the Jewish prejudice that twisted the scripture to teach such. The common misunderstanding I was referring to above was the fact that this statement is not found in the Old Testament.
After this is seen it will also be seen by a fair mind that there is no reason to suppose that Jesus' other statement was a new teaching rejecting the Old Testament: "Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth." If we look up the occurrences of this phrase in the Old Testament we see that there are no instances of this given in the Law for people to take the law into their own hands, and so repay the individual who personally wronged them. The only purpose for this verse was for those given permission by the authorities for this task. And the reason why this was to be done was not for allowing the injured to have revenge, but because when a crime is committed against society God has always ordained that the same society must punish them to restore the well-being of society (the punishment matching the harm done to society and individual).
Any supposing that God allowed people to act selfishly and so immediately smite their aggressor by these words, would be a gross misunderstanding and ignorance of the Old Testament and God's nature.
Again, if we study the controversies of the times we will see that people were trying to use this to support selfish retaliation. And all that can be fairly supposed by Jesus' statements is a rejection of such selfish interpretations and not a rejection of His commandment--an essential precept of all governments. Let us be reminded that in the same Law forbid all avenging on a personal level so it is obvious that this can be the only interpretation of this passage. And in light of the fact that Christ said emphatically in the very same chapter before He quotes this, that He did not come to contradict and "destroy the Law but to fulfill it." Once again there is rejection of Old Testament teaching here and the only thing added is new applications that can even be seen by Old Testament saints.
What Should We Pray For In Our Government Leaders?
"I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth." 1 Tim. 2: 1-4.
Here stands our first positive support of government. Some who have been stumbled by the obvious implications of these verses have suggested that our only prayers for our authorities of State shall be for their salvation. And they point to verse 4 to prove it. Now such logic will not stand for two reasons--reasons that give a fatal blow to the belief that Christians should not be employed in government (or certain parts of it).
1. If this passage was only about prays for individual people's salvation in government, etc., then it would mean that we would be praying for them that they would leave their positions (as it is supposed that Christians should not be in such positions). But who could suppose such an idea from these verses? And how would this at the same time involve thanksgiving for them? Strange reasonings.
2. No, we are to pray for them in their office: "that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty." It is for the well-being of society, so that there may more opportunity to save the lost. Here we see that government is required for the good of all, and a good government essential for the gospel advancing. To suppose we are to pray everyone out of office would be gross misunderstanding of this passage and such teachings would work against what God has established for everyone's good.
Therefore, if we are not praying for them to leave government, then we are praying for them to continue in it for the good of all. And if people should not leave government to become Christians than it is acceptable for Christians to be in government.
But let us return the most obvious proof of our position. Keep in mind that everything God ordains is because we really need it:
"Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.
1. Can one suppose only a sinner can be a "minister of God"? Shall they be the best for such an office?
2. Can an essential "ordinance of God" only be held by sinners?
3. Are these offices in contradiction to our first 6 verses?
4. If their laws state that you shall report evil-doers, and God has here given his approval of taking their lives, can we be disobedient to the State and God because we cannot feel comfortable in their punishment? Is not this and many similar things "resisting the power," and thus "resting the ordinance of God"?
5. Does not such a philosophy equal to a rejection of this chapter, and that amounts to saying "Sinners bear the sword in vain"? For if no Christians should be in government then truly every sinner vainly continues in his office.
6. Does anyone who holds such positions really honor such people when they see no need for government, but that all people should be saved and thus there be no government.
7. If government is essential "for our good" who can suppose it could ever be dispensed with in this side of heaven?
8. If it cannot be, as God here says, then the best men must fill the offices, and every citizen contribute to the highest well-being in its purest establishment and continuance.
Those who have supposed Christian cannot be in government or even that governments should be abolished, have done so because they have wrongly supposed that the basis for government is sin. Thus to remove sin would remove the need for government. But there are many more reasons that God saw fit for giving us government. Whether anyone transgressed a law and thus needed to be punished, there is still numerous laws that must be made for the billions of business transactions of this world. And because people have property, there is need to bring order and regulation in this area as well. Government is primarily needful for the simple fact that all people differ in their states of knowledge and vision, and there is needed such men who will best set forth standards, regulations, and give information to the people in order to avoid numerous troubles and unimaginable wastes even if all were Christians and without sin. Government was ordained of God before the Law came (Gen. 9) as a necessity. The bible nowhere discourages Christians from taking such offices, and if needs be use force, than it does forbid parents from using any force against their children. In fact Jesus did not encourage a centurion from his office but said he had greater faith than any in Israel! Here even Jesus most clearly approves of believers in such offices. (Mat. 8 right after Sermon on Mount)
Those who have held to the contrary position have supposed that they have more love than those who uphold punishment. But behold, all their love is for the guilty! They are so swallowed up with the guilty that they have not even loved the rest of their poor neighbors whose welfare will continually be threatened by their neglect. But can it really be love for a child to let it go unpunished? Certainly not, and all the less towards the rest of the children, family, and world with whom it later deals with.
Let us not be thought to reject true self-denial, and nonresistance on a personal level. But where there has been an injury to society man has no right to cover deed and let it continue to destroy the community.
Let us finally see that the sixth commandment condemns only all unnecessary taking of life; and that God has not changed as Jesus and Paul taught. A Christian may be called to be an avenger without ever personally revenging wrongs against them.