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Is fighting in the military wrong?


Is fighting in the military wrong?

Steve Answers:


Fighting is wrong, whether it’s in the military, in your family, with your friends, or within yourself, because it’s the opposite of what Jesus shared about His kingdom as described in the Sermon on the Mount: “God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God” (Matthew 5:9, NLT).1

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:43-45, RSV).2

“Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12, NLT).

When dealing with this topic, some people refer to the 10 Commandments, especially the sixth commandment, which says: “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13, KJV). More recent translations, such as the New Living Translation, the New International Version, the New Century Version, The Good News Bible, the New American Standard Bible, and even the New King James Version, say that we should not “murder.” I point out this distinction between “kill” and “murder” because some people don’t see fighting in the military as murder, even though it may involve killing. Of course, there are other people who do see fighting and killing in the military as murder.

In Old Testament times God instructed His people to kill others, as in Joshua 8 and 1 Samuel 15:2, 3. Once He even kept the sun from setting so that His people had more time to kill their enemies (see Joshua 10:13).

Sometimes God’s people totally annihilated the enemy—killing, burning, and utterly destroying all trace of the people. This is what happened to the city of Jericho shortly after the Israelites crossed the Jordan River. “They completely destroyed everything in it with their swords—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep, goats and donkeys” (Joshua 6:21, NLT).

In seeking to redeem people on this planet, it was not God’s intention to destroy all nations and to leave just His people on the earth. Genesis 12:3 shows that His intention was to bless all nations through His chosen people. But God’s people left the system He set up for them and copied the heathen’s way of life. Later, they tried separating themselves from the heathen. Neither approach was what God had in mind.

So, after the death and resurrection of Jesus, in order to spread the gospel to the rest of the world, God chose to reach others through His church, instead of through one particular nation—Israel. You can see right away that since God’s church is composed of people from lots of different countries, being part of a military for one country no longer has the same implications as in Old Testament times.

I was on a mission trip in the Dominican Republic when the United States entered Kuwait. At church one of the nationals asked everyone present to pray for our fellow believers in Kuwait, because they were in danger since the Americans had entered the country. I thought that Americans were the good guys, because I was thinking as an American rather than as a Christian.
I have something to learn from what Jesus told Pilate when He said: “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36, NLT). Since that time, there’s no record of God asking His people to go and fight against another group of people.

Yet there is still a war going on! Actually, it’s much bigger than anything happening on this little planet. Paul used the metaphor of military armor to describe the protection that God provides for us while fighting our spiritual war. This is why he wrote: “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor. . . . We are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world. . . . Put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy” (Ephesians 6:10-13, NLT).
This sounds more serious than fighting in the military to me!

What’s your motivation?

I’d like to know what’s behind your question. I’d like to know what your motivation is for fighting in the military. Is it about defending your country? Is it about wanting to kill the enemy? Is it about desiring to be a hero? Does it have to do with the benefits that come from being in the military, such as a job, a paid-for college education, etc.? Is it about wanting or needing some structure in your life? The military provides lots of structure! I’d like to know if your question about killing in the military comes from your desire to kill, or because you lack a desire to kill.

We as Americans are facing a unique situation. In World War I and World War II the U.S. fought against a particular country. The U.S. has also fought in Korea and Vietnam against Communism, since we wouldn’t admit that it was the Soviet Union we were really fighting.

Right now, with the threat and fear of terrorism, I believe the official U.S. position is that America will fight against terrorism in whatever country the U.S. thinks there may be terrorists. The war going on in Iraq is a good and bad example of this policy.

With the mounting number of dead Americans, the U.S. is finding out that those who “live by the sword, die by the sword.” When you go out to kill others, others are more apt to kill you. Who’s doing the fighting now? Who is defending what? Is it wrong?
People in the military are not always fighting. In the same way, local police or sheriffs aren’t always shooting, as it may appear in the media. Mostly they are trained for fighting in case it’s necessary. Lots of preparation goes into learning how to follow orders and function as a unit. But the orders always come from somebody above you in the military hierarchy.

Sometimes the military does service projects. Often the military saves lives. Ironically, sometimes people have to be killed so that more people can live. That makes it hard to provide a simple answer to your question.

It is sometimes difficult for people to separate their loyalty to God from their loyalty to their country. The enemies of Jesus tried that when they asked if taxes should be paid to the enemy—the Romans. Jesus responded that they should pay to Caesar what belonged to Caesar, and to give God what belonged to God (see Luke 20:22-26).

God and country aren’t the same thing. Place your priority on God first, and live for God in the country where you are. If you can’t do that, then I recommend that you switch countries before you switch gods.

1Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.
2Bible texts credited to RSV are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, 1971, by Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission.

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