The Christian Calling to Resist Evil

The Sermon on the Mount Carl Bloch, 1890

In Matthew 5 Jesus offers some challenging words: “Do not resist an evil person” (Matthew 5:39). I want to offer today some first thoughts of a conversation rather than just a post to read. Please offer comments as you process these ideas and “leave a reply” below.

The ever thoughtful Adam Mills engaged this word with our staff as he pointed out the distinction offered in the New Testament about “resisting evil.” Matthew 5:39 tells us not to resist an evil person while James 4:7 tells us to “resist the devil.” There is a difference between an evil person and the evil they are acting upon or even the “evil one.” Jesus elevates the person, whether good or evil. After all, God “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45). We are called to love all, because the Father loves all and we reflect His heart in the world. We war against the one who is unseen and seeks to destroy the good creation of God by provoking humans to all kinds of evil.

In the United Methodist tradition, we affirm the following vow at our baptism:

“Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever form they present themselves?” (United Methodist Hymnal, p.34)

We are to resist evil in this world as we proclaim with our words and actions the goodness and mercy of God revealed in Jesus Christ as He brings His Kingdom.

I honor the wrestling of our service men and women as they seek to honor their primary allegiance to Jesus Christ and their allegiance to their nation, laying down their lives for the sake of others. Is Jesus calling for total pacifism? Would Jesus call a nation to relinquish its military force in order to truly follow His teachings? Is there a way to love our enemies when we are charged to fight against them, even take lives? These are some great questions. While the following notion may not seem to apply directly I believe it does. When Jesus’ accusers were attempting to trap Him they asked about taxes. Jesus asked, “Whose face is on that coin?…Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Matthew 22:20-21).

Graduation day

Jesus acknowledges that we have a duty individually and as the community of His followers to the Kingdom of God. Yet, our national duty is also a part of our witness. We should reflect on the heart in which we comply with each duty – do we do it out of hatred or vengeance or even religious obligation, or do we comply with each out of love and humble service, caring especially for “the least of these.”

Romans 13, 1 Peter 2, and Titus 3 are among the chapters of the New Testament which admonish the early Christians to submit to governing authorities as far as it does not conflict with obeying the laws of God, which John Wesley summed up as “the holy law of love.” I am mindful that some of the earliest converts were even Roman centurions, officers, and soldiers. The call to follow Jesus did not demand they give up their vocation, but rather reflect the character of God in the carrying out of their duties. For this is truly what it means to be “salt and light” (Matthew 5:13-14).

These are not easy concepts to wrestle with, but I believe we must if the Church is to take seriously the teachings of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and other New Testament teachings. After all, staying at the level of children is not an option. In Eugene Peterson’s words, “it’s time to grow up.” We must mature into the call of Jesus: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). I’m so encouraged to think that Christ, in offering Himself and the Holy Spirit the Father would send in His name, would make this possible for us. Let it be so in Jesus’ name!

Father, your Holy Spirit work within us, that same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead. May He raise us to new life also, even this side of heaven that we might be its citizens upon the earth. Amen.

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