Is It Right To Serve In The Military?
Does the Bible Speak Against Military Service?
In a recent letter to the editor of the Washington Herald, a writer wrote about his convictions regarding the role of Christians when it comes to war. It was his conviction that we should not be involved in wars as believers even to the point of praying for victory over our enemies. He feels wars are wrong because they “kill and destroy leaving carnage and sorrow behind and instilling hatred that comes back on future generations.
To support his conviction he appeals first to the armor of God mentioned in Ephesians 6:10-17. It is his conclusion that the weapons that the Christian receives are not offensive weapons but only defensive weapons. As he writes “They are weapons that uplift, enlighten and have the mysterious power of conversion to a higher way of life.” Likewise he appeals to passages that speak of us loving our enemies and using of good to overcome evil.
This on the surface sounds good but is this view consistent with the teaching of Scripture? Let us evaluate this question using the whole testimony of Scriptures and not just selective passages.
1) First of all, God makes a distinction between the individual Saint and governments or nations. God expects different responsibilities of the believer than he does government. This difference can be illustrate with a brief overview of the Scriptures.
Scriptural passages that talk about the armor of God and loving ones enemy are given to individual believers to follow. This can be demonstrated in both the Old and New Testaments.
a) Ephesians 6:10-17 is clearly written to believers. Paul begins by addressing his words to “believers” and he speaks of the believer needing the armor of God that he might stand his ground against the attacks of Satan and his forces (verse 12). Though many of these parts of God’s armor are primarily defensive in nature, some of them have an offensive dimension designed to inflict wounds upon the enemy. For example the sword is primarily an offensive weapon that has two sharp edges that can cut deep into the body of the enemy (Heb. 4:12). Likewise the shield of the Roman soldier was often used for mounting an offense as it was locked together with other shields to make an impenetrable shield when the troops were advancing on the enemy.
Let it also be noted that this passage address not physical conflict but spiritual conflict. Paul says we “war not against flesh and blood but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). To apply this to the realm of conflict between nations is to miss the target of what Paul is communicating.
If we do apply spiritual conflicts to national conflicts then we must also include other passages of Scripture that speak of the believer taking the offense in battle. For example the Apostle Paul writes “wage the good warfare” (1 Tim. 1:18-19), “Fight the good fight of faith,” (1 Tim. 6:12-13), and “endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.” (2 Tim. 2:3-5). Let us therefore keep in mind that spiritual warfare is for the believer to fight and physical warfare is for nations to fight.
b) As in the New Testament (Matt. 5:44), in the Old Testament God command the Jewish Saint to treat his enemy with kindness. For example:
Ex 23:4-5, “If you meet your enemy's ox or his donkey going astray, you shall surely bring it back to him again. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden, and you would refrain from helping it, you shall surely help him with it.”
Prov. 24:17-18, “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, And do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles; Lest the Lord see it, and it displease Him, And He turn away His wrath from him.”
Prov. 25:21-22, “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; For so you will heap coals of fire on his head, And the Lord will reward you.”
Exodus 20:13, “You shall not murder”. Some of have used this verse to condemned everything from war and the death penalty to the killing of animals for food. However the Hebrew used by God has only on known meaning. God was forbidding the murder of people regardless of who they are.
Like the Saint of the NT, these commandments were given to be followed on the individual level and are a part of the Saints spiritual battle against Satan and his forces. The fact that God does call for the taking of human life in some circumstances shows He did not expect this to be practiced on a national level.
i. God called on His chosen people to go to war and to at times to kill not just the enemies soldiers but all of the enemy. For example in Judges 13:2ff, God tells Manoah and his wife that they are going to have a special son and it would be his mission to begin the deliverance of Israel from the hand of the Philistines. This son was named Samson and it was his calling to kill literally thousands of Philistines as a one man army. In 1 Samuel 15:3, God told Saul “Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them. But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.” Two chapters later, in 1 Samuel 17, God calls upon David to kill Goliath to bring about a great victory over the Philistines.
God called on Gentile nations to go to war against His chosen people in order to chastise them their disobedience (Leviticus 25:14-18). God used wars with Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, Rome and most recently the Arabs to teach His people obedience. In fact this will be the lot for the Jewish people until the “time of the Gentiles” is complete and Israel is finally restored to God (Luke 21:24).
God answers pray for victory over the enemy in times of war. One good illustration of this is Joshua’s prayer that God would allow the sun to stand still so that they might destroy the Amorites (Joshua 10:12-14).
This is not to say that God condones all wars for their evidence that He is against some wars because they do not fulfill His purpose. In 1 Kings 22 when God warns Jehoshaphat, King of Judah, not to go into battle with Ahab, King of the Northern Tribes. God clearly calls nations and their citizens to at times go to war but to the individual Saint He calls him to love His enemy.
ii. God commands nations to enforce the death penalty for the most serious crimes and sins. Under the Mosaic law there were 18 sins that God demanded death. (See “OT Law” under Bible Study Tools, Death Penalty on this website for a complete list of these sins) But even before Moses and his law, God had given the death penalty for murder to all the descendents of Noah. That covers all the people and governments since the end of the flood to the present and into the future (Genesis 9:5-6). In Romans 13:1-7 God says that he has given the responsibility of enforcing the death penalty to the governments of this world. Again there is a distinction made here for it is not the individual’s responsibility to enforce the death penalty but that of government.
2) Loving one’s enemy and other such commandments were never intended to override more important priorities. Takes for example the matters of self defense and the protection of the innocent. If my enemy is found entering my home with the intention of raping and killing my wife and children does not God mandate call me to protect my family? Of course He does! Our Lord alludes to this in Matt. 24:42-44. My responsibilities to my family should always override my love for my enemy.
The same holds true for governments. In Romans 13 God gives government the responsibility to protect its citizens and at times this may mean going to war. Likewise God gives government the responsibility to bring judgment upon the evil person. Take WW II as an example. Hitler had to be stopped before he completed his conquest of the world and the annihilation of the Jews. Our role as a nation in doing this was not just for our good, but for the good of the Jewish people, God’s chosen people.
Though many wars are started for wrong reasons, many are fought for the right reasons. It was through the Revolutionary War that we gained our independence and freedom and through the Civil War that the slaves were set free. God has blessed America for defending other nations and for restoring our enemies back to the condition they were in before they started a war. Take a look at all the aid we sent to rebuilding Germany and Japan after WWII and all the aid we have given to Iraq and Afghanistan. That is a clear demonstration of an a nation loving its enemy. With this said God commands us to to give “what is due” to our government, the one He has placed over us. This means military service as well as paying taxes.
3) God knows that we live in a sin cursed world full of sinful men and women. He understands that war is never pleasant or good, but that war is still necessary at times. God illustrates this in Christ Second Coming where he comes riding on a white horse with the armies of heaven behind Him as they take on the forces of Satan on earth (Revelation 19). He wages war at this time and the devastation that he inflicts will be greater than any war previous. God also considers war necessary to rid heaven of Satan and his forces (Rev. 12:7-12). God understands the sacrifice and the horror of war personally as He paid the price of the greatest conflict ever, the war between Himself and Satan, by willing giving of His life so that man might go free.
4) Finally, please note that if God was against believers praying for victory and serving in conflicts and wars, He would have spelled it out in the New Testament. He would have been very specific about it but He is not. In fact the NT is silent on the matter of military service. The only thing it does mention is the presence of soldiers. There are no specific commands regarding the believer’s role in war nor is any soldier ever told to leave his calling by the Lord or any of His Apostles.
Though we live in a time where war is sometimes necessary and the cause is just and believers must be enlisted to fight for their nation. But there is good news, for the Lord’s return to set up His government will usher in a time of peace that the world has never know. There will be no wars and no making preparations for war.