Some Christians refuse to serve in the military on religious grounds. So what of those who do serve? Are they disobeying God? In honor of Veteran’s Day let’s look into God’s Word and see what HE has to say.
Note: Because this is such a complex issue and because the topic so deeply impacts the lives of many men and women who are serving in the armed forces, this topic deserves greater attention and this post is much longer than most.
1. What did Jesus say?
John the Baptist and Jesus both spoke to soldiers in an army that was oppressing God’s people. Certainly, if it was wrong to serve in the military, it would be extra wrong to serve in an army oppressing God’s chosen people and either John or Jesus would have addressed the issue. Neither John nor Jesus said the soldiers should change careers. In fact, soldiers specifically asked John what they should do and he never mentions getting out of the military.
Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely — be content with your pay.”
When God wanted to introduce the Holy Spirit to the gentile world (Acts 10) He specifically chose a soldier, a “devout and God-fearing” man who “prayed to God regularly.” Cornelius sent “a devout soldier” with other servants to find Peter. Surely the Lord would have addressed the need for Cornelius to change his profession if God was opposed to military service. Neither the angel, nor Peter, however, made any reference to a need to get out of the military if one is to fully serve the Lord.
2. The Bible says “Thou shalt not kill”. Participation in the military supports death and killing.
Due to the confusion it has caused it is regrettable the King James Version translated the passage in Exodus 20:13 and Deuteronomy 5:17 as “kill”. Most other translations, including the New King James Version, translate the Hebrew as “murder”. That Hebrew word is used 47 times in the Old Testament and nearly every other time even the King James Version translates it “murder”.
Is there a difference between killing and murder? Most certainly! In the Old Testament, if a man murdered another, God demanded the murderer be put to death. Death (executing the offender) was God’s commanded punishment for certain other crimes as well. If there is no distinction between murder and killing then God would be requiring people to violate His law by killing the offender, to fulfill His law.
C.S. Lewis explained that all killing is no more murder than all sexual intimacies are adultery. God promotes, even commands, proper sexual relationships but condemns adultery. Likewise, God commands some killing but condemns murder.
Even our court systems recognize -as did the Jewish law – that a man might have to kill in self-defense or in defending another and, while it is a tragic situation, it is not accounted as wrong or as murder.
3. Ministers of God?
God established governments to punish those who do wrong and reward those who do right (1 Peter 2:14). Government officials are said to be “…God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” (Romans 13:4)
Government officials who “bear a sword” are called “God’s servant, an agent of wrath” to carry out God’s plan. The “sword” they bear is an instrument of God’s wrath.
4. What about “turn the other cheek”?
But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
Notice this was a commandment Jesus gave to the individual – “I tell you” . He was not changing the law or how a government is instructed to treat wrongdoers. A government must still fulfill its God given reason for existence – to punish and reward. It cannot “turn the other cheek” on crime or chaos would ensue.
Representatives of the government (military, police and others who bear a “sword” ) must still fulfill their role as representatives of the government sent by God to protect society and punish evil. To fulfill its mission, a government and its representatives might need to kill to stop or punish offenders.
Is it right for a Christian to serve in the military?
As strange as it seems, in Romans 14 Paul makes it clear that even well-meaning Christians can disagree on certain “disputable matters” and both be right! In matters not directly addressed in Scripture one may feel a conviction a certain activity is wrong while another person has liberty in that area. To the one who feels something is wrong, it is wrong. To the one who feels no conviction he is free to participate. “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” (Romans 14:5)
There is no direct command in Scripture prohibiting or mandating military service so this is a “disputable matter”. In that case, Paul directs that one person should not “look down on” the other nor reject him “for God has accepted him.” (Romans 14:3)
In essentials – unity.
In nonessentials – liberty.
In all things – love.
Sincere Christians, who read the same Bible and pray to the same God, can have differing understandings of how the Bible answers the question of military service. Because it is a disputable matter we need to respect those who view the matter differently and accept them though we may adamantly disagree with their convictions.