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I happened to reconnect with an old friend the other day, who attended the last church at which I was senior pastor. We spent quite a bit of time catching up, and during that conversation, he told me about his conversion.

Mark (not his real name), was a very violent man in high school. He not only wanted to hurt people—which he did—he wanted to kill them, which, thankfully, he didn’t. After a friend suggested that Mark talk with his pastor, he gave his life to Jesus. Mark is not a complex sort of fellow. Things are black and white for him. He confessed to the pastor that he got angry very easily, and when he did, he wanted to punch people in the face. The pastor told him that he didn’t need to fight because the Lord would protect him. That was a straightforward truth to this new believer, so he left trusting that the Lord would do just that.

One day shortly thereafter, one of Mark’s old nemeses started an altercation in the school’s hallway and shoved Mark against a locker. Mark reacted in anger, but remembering what the pastor had told him, put his hands in his pockets. Mark’s adversary threatened to punch him in the mouth. Mark said, “Go ahead. The Lord will protect me.” Mark told me he closed his eyes, so he wouldn’t see what was about to happen. Suddenly he heard a loud bang against the locker behind him, and his enemy started yelling in pain. “Ow! I broke my wrist!” He fell to his knees and started crying.

He had broken his wrist.

Afterward, the principal questioned Mark. “What happened?” Mark told him that he didn’t fight. The principal was skeptical, since he knew his history. However, he told the principal that he didn’t fight because he knew the Lord would protect him. “I knew the Lord would do this. Do you?”

Apparently, that ended the conversation; at least that’s where Mark ended it.

What shall we do with this account of responding nonviolently to a physical attack while trusting the Lord?

Great question. I think the issue of defending oneself is relatively easy to answer. If you want to deny yourself the impulse to defend yourself and trust solely in the Lord, you are free to do so. As you may be aware, Jesus taught, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 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. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you” (Matthew 5:38–42).1 It seems clear Jesus is talking strongly about humility and self-denial. In addition, we know that many Christians throughout the centuries and even now have not resisted and been martyred.

However, the issue of defending others under attack is a bit trickier. The first biblical instance that comes to mind is Peter cutting off the ear of the high priest’s servant when a small force came to capture his master. Jesus told him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:52). Doesn’t that prove that we shouldn’t defend others? Well, I hold that this case is unique. I’m unsure of Peter’s motive. Was he fighting to defend someone who was defenseless or protecting someone whom he thought was soon to launch the kingdom of God by force—which is the only political power Peter understood.

I am certain I could not simply stand by and watch my wife, daughter, grandchildren, or any other weaker person be raped or beaten. I just couldn’t do it. If it is truly sinful (I’m not sure it is), I would have to intervene and ask for forgiveness later. The only reason I would not step in would be because the Lord had clearly told me not to.

Did Jesus protect my old friend, Mark, in a miraculous way to prove His love and reality to a graciously saved new believer? I think so. We are not promised in Scripture that the Lord will always protect us from physical harm. Scripture—the martyrdom of James and Stephen, for example—bears this out, as does reality.

Thus, what should Christians do and remain obedient to the Lord? I have no Scripture from the New Testament to back up my stance about defending others. However, I cannot shake the belief that to do so is the honorable and right thing to do. If you have a biblical truth to cause me to re-think or reinforce my position, please inform me.

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

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