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But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
(Matthew 5:39 – ESV)
(Matthew 5:39 – ESV)
When Christians are attacked are they supposed to defend themselves? Does our Lord’s word here mean that we are to be complete pacifists? This is a very misunderstood concept, and we need clarification. This word from Our Lord isn’t intended to teach us to invite more attack upon being attacked, but to rather take it and not strike back. In demonstration, when smitten on the face, Jesus did not strike back but He did answer (John 18:22-23).
What Christ is teaching is the principle that we are not to seek absolute retribution, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but rather to allow space for God to judge (Romans 12:19/ 1 Peter 2:21-23). This is about our means of defense. We can speak up for our position (Acts 22:1, 25:8, 26:2 / 1 Corinthians 9:3). We can defend ourselves from being killed (Luke 22:36-38) but not look to be on the offensive (Matthew 26:52).
This situation Jesus is speaking of is different than self-defense. Self-defense is preventative, not retaliatory, and retaliation is what the admonition to “turn the other cheek” addresses. When Jesus says we are to turn the other cheek, He is saying that as Christians we are to act differently, not looking to do as we once did as unbelievers (Matthew 5:40-47). We are not supposed to try and protect our honor, our reputation, and our dignity at all costs (1 Peter 3:14-17).
Otherwise, if we are never to defend ourselves, the full armor of God isn’t something we should use, is it? No, on the contrary, we are taught to resist the devil (James 4:7). We do not wrestle with flesh and blood in the sense that the forces behind the attacks on our mind are orchestrated by the devil (Ephesians 6:12). When the enemy attacks our minds we are to battle back with the truth of God’s Word.
Sometimes, however, attacks can come against our physical person, and the full counsel of God must be brought to bear. We are not supposed to return fire when fired upon for witnessing of Christ. We are not supposed to be aggressors, of that we can be certain. We defend the faith (Jude 3 / 2 Corinthians 10:3-5), but not fight tooth and nail for our own self-interests (Romans 12:16-21 / Philippians 2:3-4 / 1 Peter 3:9). In other words, we don’t fight to prove we’re right.
However, we may fight to prevent wrong. It depends on the situation, of course. When someone physically attacks us they are under the influence of the enemy. If it is while we are witnessing, then yes, we shouldn’t retaliate if they insult us or even if they hit us (1 Peter 4:13-14). However, if it is an “unprovoked” incident, say during a robbery or break-in of your home, then it is our duty to fight off the intruder with the necessary force. You may be able to talk the person out of it, but sometimes you don’t have time to talk.
When the enemy uses a person to attack we need to understand the truth of God’s Word concerning these matters. Defend the faith from false religion, definitely. Defend your honor with physical violence when someone falsely accuses you because you are a Christian? No, turn the other cheek. Defend your wife and children when someone breaks into your home at night and is trying to kill them, yes, and do it tooth and nail.