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27. God said "Peace on earth", so why do we have so much war? And should we fight wars anyway.

My life (put) alongside God's word. Protecting peace section.

A huge mob of angels crowded into dark space. They shone with God’s glory. They spoke praise to God, Luke 2:13-14. They were responding to the news their spokesperson had just announced: God Himself, the provided Saviour for mankind, was incarnate,

Luke 2:11-12. “Peace on earth” was part-promised, part-predicted and part-prayed for, by the heavenly choir. But, being brutally honest, there have been terribly bloody wars before, during and after that momentous first Christmas day. Bombs and bullets from

machine guns to mines have shredded God’s glorious banner of “Peace”! Was God wrong? Is the world out of His control? How should we respond to wars around us? This is a big subject. I will only offer some keys opening our minds to God’s ways, so we can try to follow God’s thoughts about this.

I started writing this in England, a few days before “Remembrance day”. In several countries of the world, at 11am on the 11th day of the 11th month (November) every

year, activities stop for two minutes as people remember when guns fell silent, ending the “Great War”, the 1914- 1918 First World War. It is sometimes called, “Armistice

day”. Millions of people from all sides died in the fighting. I recall attending very moving services at the British wargrave in Khartoum, the three Novembers I was there.

German, Austrian, Italian, friends and officials joined with

us as well as “the Allies”. Everyone loses in war.

In 1987 a friend of mine had half his face and head blown off while he attended a similar Remembrance service at Enniskillen, Northern Ireland. 11 people died and 63 were injured by the explosion. Later, my friend’s wife said to me, “Jim is no longer the man I married”. He is disfigured and, although a strong Christian, is very, very bitter toward “the other side”. The fight between Republicans and Loyalists – those who want to be citizens of Ireland and those who wish to remain citizens of the United Kingdom – was very violent. I ministered many times in that country during “the troubles”. I heard and saw fighting. Our meeting hall, the old Cinema, Markethill, was once the target of an Irish Republican Army bomb. It blew up. Thank God the place was empty at the time. Today we may think of Syria, Somalia, Israel, Gaza, Afganistan, Ukraine, and sadly among many others, Sudan with South Sudan.

A Christian response?

What does Scripture say to help us make informed decisions about how to respond Christianly in these situations we may find ourselves in? Let there be no doubt God commanded, and used, wars in Old Testament history.

From many examples we could choose, see Exodus 14:23- 31; Numbers 33:50-56; Deuteronomy 1:29-31; 2:31-37; Joshua 1:1-9; 6:20-21; 1 Samuel 15:2-3; 17 & 18:7;

2 Chronicles 6:34-35. However, there is nothing in the Old Testament that tells us we can go to war. How can we kill people made in God’s image? Exodus 20:13; Genesis 1:27;

Genesis 9:5-6.

Incidentally notice it was under the blessing of peace that Israel and Judah often forgot to worship the true God. See all through Samuel, Kings and Chronicles. Sadly, this has also been true in my country (England) since World War Two ended in 1945.

Nowhere has God promised a world without war, this side of our Lord Jesus’ return to earth.

In fact, wars are promised by our Lord Jesus! Matthew 24:4-8, note especially verse 6, “see to it that you are not alarmed”.

Two other truths must be clearly understood, because they form a foundation for other choices we may have to make.

1. The State is given “the sword”, not the church, nor any individual

In Romans 13:1-7 Paul teaches “the authorities that exist have been established by God”. Verse 2 uses the word “instituted”. This means God started human Government. Our Lord Jesus said the same when He told those who questioned Him, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s”, Mark 12:17.

Government in Jesus’ day, at the time the New Testament Church began, was mainly hostile to Christianity. The secular Roman power and the religious authority of the Jews, both strongly persecuted godly Christians. Yet Paul urged submission to their authority up to the point where, to disobey them would clearly breach God’s code for Christian living. I think the key verse in understanding his writing on this subject is, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”, Romans 12:21, see vs17-21. See also Romans 13:3-5.

In everything obey authorities, but because also God tells us certain things we must or must not do, we have to hold a balance in our lives. Examples are, meeting together, Hebrews 10:25; evangelising outsiders, Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 4:17-20; providing for the social needs of all classes, Luke10:30-37; etc.

I also believe that when we disobey the State in order to (as we believe) obey God, we must accept the consequences of our actions. My father was a conscientious objector to fighting in the Second World War. As a result he was enrolled by the British government, without any choice, into the Fire Brigade. His job was to go to bombed areas and put out the fires. Dad saw more “front line” fighting than many soldiers in the British army! He was often sent into danger under the bombing blitzes of several big cities. He took all this as a consequence of the stand he had made. Others suffered much more he did.

2. Defensive war may be justified on occasion, but not offensive war

If someone attacked my wife, my children or grandchildren, I think I would fight to protect those I love. I am not usually a fighting man. Put into a situation where I had a responsibility to act, it would be wrong not to do so. This is surely part of husbands giving themselves up for their wives? Ephesians 5:25-29. Jesus said I can “buy a sword” for this, Luke 22:36-38.

Our Lord Jesus also said we are to “love our enemies”, Matthew 5:44, and “do good to those who hate us”, Luke 6:27. Both verses are followed by strong commands to pray for those who are against us, however nasty they may be. As Christians we should always want their spiritual good.

In Matthew 5:38-39 our Lord tells us our reactions to aggression are to be constructive, towards peaceful relations, not simply seeking revenge. Accept the pain upon yourself. Jesus exemplified this. He could have called the army of heaven to deliver Him, but He submitted to the cross of His Jewish accusers and the Roman authorities.

He never called His followers into armed rebellion on His, or on their own, behalf. New Testament writers such as Luke, Paul, James, Peter and John follow this example, even though all they suffered persecution. Paul spent time chained to Roman soldiers, and he witnessed to them! 2 Timothy 2:8-9. This is a clear challenge for us to follow.

A Muslim cleric from Somalia defended the attack by Al Shabaab on the Westgate shopping mall, Nairobi, Kenya, September 21-24th 2013. Some think he may have been the recruiter, or at least the inspirer, of those who did it. The BBC broadcast: “It is revenge for the Kenyan government attack on Kismayo, Somalia,” he said. “Western targets are legitimate for us as Western governments torture people in Somalia.”

“For the attacker it is allowed in Islam. We cannot be slaughtered everywhere in the world and just sit and cry. We have to react. Islam is not moderate”. This Abubaker followed a Sheikh Aboud Rago, killed (martyred) in 2012. Both believed in, “the religion of weapons”. It is strange to remember our own young people’s ministry at Khartoum International Church was known colloquially as “Al Shabaab”. Names, words, titles, must always be carefully defined and distinguished!

How can Christians be positively different to others in our response to armed conflict?

Christianity believes in peace through sacrifice. This is how our Leader led us.

My twelve suggestions are:

  1. Where possible work hard for peace, entering into discussions and negotiations with the other side. Negotiations involve compromise, with each side giving up, sacrificing, something – Matthew 6:19-21.

  2. Sacrifice property in order to save people – 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.

  3. Pray for your government, as you pray for peace – 1 Timothy 2:1-2.

  4. Obey your government wherever possible – 1 Peter 2:13-15.

  5. Do everything you possibly can to stop war from starting – Hebrews 12:14-15.

  6. Test your own desires, lusts and prayers – James 4:1-2. War is not sin as such, but it is an overflow of humankind’s sin against our Holy God.

  7. Accept the consequences of standing out for Jesus Christ – Luke 9:23-25.

  8. Try to bless your enemy and help him to see God’s love – 1 Peter 2:11-12. God is concerned about all peoples’ souls.

  9. Use violence as little as possible, when protecting your own – James 1:19-20; Galatians 5:22-23, especially note “self-control”.

  10. Suffer physical defeat, to keep your Christian moral integrity intact – Matthew 5:38-41, this is called “creative resistance” by Samuel Kunhiyop in his African Christian Ethics. See also Philippians 1:29-30.

  11. Suffer yourself, rather than be the cause of others’ suffering – 1 Peter 4:12-16.

  12. Use alliances with friends on the powerful world media etc. Pressure can be put to bear from one country to another. I had a reply from my Member of Parliament just this morning. I regularly bring to him the situation in the Nuba Mountains, where Anotnov planes bomb almost daily. When I can share facts (and they must be verified facts) from on the ground in Nuba, he has to keep up the British Government pressure on Khartoum because he is my democratic representative – Acts 25:11-12.

Two final thoughts:

What is a ‘Just war’?

John Stott argues for three conditions in his 'Issues Facing Christians Today':

  1. “Its cause must be righteous, defensive not aggressive, with a just objective in protecting the innocent”. There must be no personal hatred or uncontrolled revenge.

  2. “The means must be controlled, proportionate and discriminate”. There should be less suffering involved compared to if there was no resistance. Lethal force must be controlled, only military can be targets.

  3. “The outcome must be predictable”. There must be a reasonable chance of success, within a time frame, so the war will end quickly.

What if going to war is the lesser of two evils?

For examples: religious tension, confronting a Muslim military take over of South Sudan? Or ethnic tension, stopping the Dinka dominating the Nuer? I am drawing from Stott again, although in 1984 he was dealing with a Communist takeover of the West, whose imaginary resistance released nuclear bombs on the Soviet Union!

  1. Before Christians take up arms to fight against this threat, they must consider how much suffering will it bring to civilians on all sides? Is it a price worth paying, and worth our children paying?

  2. We must also consider alternatives: how can Christians and Christianity survive and grow under a Muslim-controlled State? Can tribes peacefully coexist? Be creative (as God is) in your thinking.

  3. We should ask: “Is it better that we change and “go underground”, and are still able to stand secretly before God, with a clear conscience?” Stott writes: “For in His sight, integrity is yet more valuable than liberty”.

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favour rests”,

Luke 2:14.

Discussion questions

1. God used wars in the Old Testament, and He even commanded His people to wipe out others. Why can’t we take this as a command for us to do the same today? See introduction point 1.

2. When can you fight? When can’t you fight? Say ‘why’ in each case.

Use Scripture where you can.

3. Comment on John Stott’s three arguments for a “Just War”.

Do you agree or disagree?


4. Comment on his “Lesser of two evils” approach.

Do you agree or disagree?


Use Scripture where you can.

For further reading see:

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, 'Why does God allow war?'

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, 'Romans: Life in the Two kingdoms', chs. 4-5.

Wilbur O'Donovan, 'Biblical Christianity in African Perspective', p.259-263.


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