Citizenship 101: Ethics in War

This blog was inspired by an experience I had the other day.  I plan on sharing the experience itself soon, but for my own understanding, I had to process it on a philosophical level first.  Thus, even though this post is largely theoretical, just know that it serves as a reaction to a practical scenario.  

I believe that life in the Kingdom is marked by the fruit of the Spirit:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  And yet, I can’t help but notice a lot of martial imagery, even in the New Testament.  Reading Paul, it would appear that as citizens in God’s kingdom, we are also soldiers.  At least, that’s how Paul refers to his fellow Christians:  in Phil. 2:25, he calls Epaphroditus his “fellow worker and fellow soldier”; he also describes Archippus as his fellow soldier in Philemon 1:2.  Similarly, he instructs Timothy to “endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus,” and reminds him that “no one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs–he wants to please his commanding officer” (2 Tim. 2:3-4).  Perhaps you could argue that Paul is just using figurative language, but it seems to me that Jesus’ kingdom talk could be viewed similarly.  Right now, my conclusion is that as much as one is a metaphor, the other is a metaphor; as much as one is real, the other is real.

But wait–how can we be soldiers when Jesus tells us repeatedly to do such wussy things, like,

 “Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. 43 You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matt. 5:38-45).

Seriously?  What kind of soldier does not resist his enemies??  Why would Paul refer to us as fighters, if we are not supposed to fight?

The reason for this seeming discrepancy is that in Paul’s language, people are not our enemies.  According to him, “ our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12).  And thus, he tells us to outfit ourselves in such a way as to wage war with these enemies:

13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.”  (Eph. 6:13-18).

Okay, so our enemies are not people, and our weapons are not guns, hatred, anger, or poisoned words; instead, they are truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, God’s Spirit, His word, and prayer.  Those might sound kind of lame and ineffective compared to brute strength or biting rhetoric, but Paul assures the Corinthians that God’s weapons are all we need:

“For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. 4The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. ” (2 Cor. 10:3-5).

Our weapons are powerful, and they are perfectly suited to our mission.  But what is the mission?  Reading Paul’s words about our enemies, I must admit I get a little confused.  “Spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms”?  What the what?  And demolishing strongholds?  Huh?

I get some insight into the big picture from Paul’s words just a chapters earlier in the same letter.  Here, Paul does a great job of clearly laying out what we are supposed to be doing as Christians.  In these verses, I find the ideas that hold everything else together:

“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  (2 Cor. 5:14-21)

See, our mission is not to destroy people; it is to save them.  Our number one goal is to reconcile the people to God.  And strongholds?  Those are the things that separate people from God.  Paul says as much when he describes strongholds as “arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God” (2 Cor. 5:5).  In short, the picture I get is that our “enemy” is anything that separates man from God.

Here’s another big point:  it seems that God’s system has evolved in this area.  See, in the Old Testament, the Law commanded that the Israelites stone people for several different offenses.  The purpose of that brutality seemed to be to cut off evil from the group.  According to the Law, it would seem that the enemies of God were people, and that you overcame said enemies by literally bludgeoning them to death with rocks.  And, you know, that gets confusing when you compare it to Paul’s words (not to mention Jesus’).  In fact, I don’t really know what to say about that besides two things:  it didn’t work (evil was always present in the Israelites), and the New Testament gives us more sophisticated weaponry.

To me, it’s the difference between fire bombing a city and using strategic missiles to take out specific, high-value targets.  For all the casualties that the first causes, the second is actually more effective.  You can stone people all day long, but you aren’t going to beat the devil that way.  And also?  Stoning people is horrific.

So Jesus and Paul aren’t backing down.  They aren’t being wusses.  They are being more precise in their definition of enemy and more sophisticated in their tactics of taking him down.  Their ways have far less civilian casualties.

Here’s one way Paul describes our new fighting tactics:

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.

21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  (Rom. 12: 17-21).

Here is another way:

“We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. 4 Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; 5 in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; 6 in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; 7 in truthful speech and in the power of God;with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left;8through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; 9 known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; 10 sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything” (2 Cor. 6: 3-10).

Okay, that’s all I have for now.  Here’s my (current) conclusion:  as citizens in God’s kingdom, we are also called to be soldiers.  Our mission:  to reconcile man with God.  Our enemy:  the devil and his schemes to separate man from God.  Our weapons:  righteousness, goodness the “armor of God” in Ephesians 6.  Our tactics:  loving people.

Right now, this is all theoretical, not to mention constantly evolving in my brain.  Hopefully, I’ll give you a scenario that puts some flesh on these ideological bones soon.  Until then, I’m open to any suggestions/revisions!

19 responses to this post.

  1. Kim, this is awesome! I really appreciate how you drew a connecting line from Jesus’ teachings on the kingdom to Paul’s use of the sodier/military metaphor. Here’s a passage that I think really brings the two concepts together: “… on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” (Matthew 16:18.) The kingdom of God is truly a force to be reckoned with – like a military contigent bashing down armored gates – but Jesus says it is a spiritual might and not temporal power.

    Thanks for giving us this, Kim. I am really looking forward to hearing the rest of the story!


    P.S. Did you mean to cite 2 Corinthians 10, as opposed to chapter 5, in the quote about not waging war as the world does?

    P.P.S. Is it shameless self promotion if I mention the guest piece I did for Keri Wyatt Kent? She asked me to do an article on the Bride of Christ in response to John Piper’s suggestion that Christianity needed to be more “masculine”: I’d love to hear what folks here (like bekster!) think about the issue.


    • Thanks for the correction, Tim. I fixed it. I realized when I was putting my argument together and hunting down the verses that were in my head that a lot of them came from the picture painted in 2 Corinthians. Somewhere between all the rearranging I did, I switched one of the references. I also like Matthew 16:18. I didn’t think of that one, but it is a good example of military imagery by Jesus, as well.


      • Thanks for checking out my article KWK’s blog, Kim, I appreciate your comments a lot. I put up a response to you there.



  2. Tim (Kim, I’ll respond to you in a minute): I can’t be sure of Piper’s intentions when he said that, but I’m more bothered by his suggesting that the Church needs to have a certain “feel” than his actual use of the word “masculine.” I think that’s looking at it the wrong way; however, I do think that there is a marked lack of masculinity in the Church. I don’t care what it “feels” like as a whole, but I am concerned that 1) men are less likely to be a part of the Church than women (especially where I am here in Nicaragua, but I think it can be true in the States too), and 2) as suggested in books like “Wild at Heart,” Christian men are often encouraged to reject masculine traits in favor of feminine ones. My observation is that “going to church” and being “spiritual” are viewed (incorrectly) by the World as being feminine. Obviously this needn’t be the case, and there are plenty of men who are Christians. Nevertheless, I believe that a lot of people think this way. It’s hard talking in generalities because there are always exceptions (and some of them are pretty large), but I would say that, in general, men in the Church have a hard time figuring out how to balance what they perceive as being “masculine” with what they perceive as being “spiritual” or “righteous.” There is so much talk of love and being nice to people and (as the American culture seeps in) not offending people. There is, of course, the chauvinistic extreme that is all “man” and no “love,” but I do believe that a lot of Christian men shirk their responsibilities of being spiritual leaders and leave more than they should of that work to the women. (Like I said, this is a generalization and is not true across the board, but I do believe I see this happening.) As far as what a good, male Christian leader should be, I agree with some of Piper’s descriptions, though I would say they need to apply to individual men, not the “feeling” of the Church as a whole: “tender-hearted strength, contrite courage, risk-taking decisiveness, and readiness to sacrifice for the sake of leading and protecting and providing for the community.” What I see in all of these things is great strength (manliness?) tempered by love. It is a good blending of physical masculinity and spiritual righteousness without sacrificing anything of either. The men I am most inclined to follow as leaders have these qualities. If they veer too far to either extreme, I tend to lose respect for them, but when they (like Jesus) are both masculine AND full of love, it inspires me as a woman to be both FEMININE and full of love, creating a good working relationship for whatever we are trying to accomplish at the time. Unfortunately, so many women (who I would venture to say make up the greater percentage of Church members) are so discouraged and end up stepping over the boundaries of what their roles should be because a lot of the men just aren’t stepping up to the plate. (There are, however, those who ARE, and I am very privileged to get to work with them now.) Basically, the problem isn’t that the church as a whole needs to have a more “masculine feel,” it is that the each man individually needs to figure out what it really means to be a Christian man so that the whole organism (women included) can operate as it was intended. (No offense to any man reading this! Like I said, there ARE Christian men out there who DO get it right.)


    • Exactly, bek! If he had written about what the Bible says men need to do in their faith, he’d not have set himself up for criticism in the same way he did by saying that Christianity itself needs to be masculine. Thanks for taking such a careful read of the article.



  3. Kim, so far I completely agree with you. Before you said it, my response in my head to the Matthew 5 passage was exactly the same: that the PEOPLE are not the enemy. I have thought this for a while, but I was a little fuzzy on who/what the spiritual enemy was. I think you fleshed that out very well. It is still VERY hard to live this out in practice because retaliation comes so naturally to the human. But, what you said actually makes me feel a little better about the whole turning the other cheek thing because there still IS an enemy, just not the person doing the striking. If we pray for the person, we are, in fact, waging war on the spiritual forces that led to the person striking us in the first place.

    I think, though, (and this is just an opinion, I haven’t looked into it in any great depth) that war between countries is probably different. It is the responsibility of our government/military leaders to keep us physically protected. Sometimes that requires killing people in countries that are our enemies. Obviously that is something we should hope to avoid, and as our technology improves (like you were talking about) we can be more precise about which people do and don’t get killed. However, I don’t think the Bible condemns war between nations. (Not that this is what you were talking about, but I felt the need to distinguish between physical, international wars and spiritual wars.)


    • Thanks for chiming in, Becky! I deliberately steered the discussion away from politics and war because I think that when we (I) get too caught up in that arena, we (I) often relegate the discussion to the theoretical realm and overlook the real life, day-to-day implications. That said, I do think there has to be some greater connections to combat, but I honestly don’t know what those are. For one thing, I am not a soldier, nor do I have a deep understanding of the military or international relations. I would think that if I were, though, I would have to grapple with Jesus’ words here just as much and use them to guide me as much in my military as in my civilian life. One thing I have recently come to believe wholeheartedly, though, is that our Christian fighting tactics do NOT mean that we capitulate to the enemy. We just overcome the enemy by different (and I would argue, greater) means. More on that in a day or two…


  4. well said, kim, absolutely agree! and to be honest, the spiritual battle of bringing man to God and keeping the enemy out of our lives seems more difficult and more eternally important than any other battle we face. (to some, that statement could be hurtful, especially if they have fought other battles, with death of loved ones/cancer/drugs & alcohol, but when you think about it, what ARE you really battling when you go through those trials?? those trials ARE spiritual battles of a sense…)

    and on another note, after reading what bekster posted to tim, i’ve been wondering about why i can’t seem to get many of our christian brothers involved in community outreach…it’s all women! thoughts?


    • Ann, I really don’t know. Thankfully, like Becky, I am currently surrounded by godly men who serve “the least of these” in strong, dare I say “masculine” ways (full disclosure: not being a man, I’m not really sure what that is supposed to mean:)). And I don’t think that everyone’s area of service needs to look the same. That said, it does seem like helping the poor is pretty central to our mission, and as such, would attract both men and women? I really don’t know, Ann. I have no answers.


    • Maybe men feel like helping “needy” people is more of a nurturing, feminine thing? Also, maybe they feel like they are busy with their jobs and don’t have time, even though many women are busy too. I think women expect that they will be busy anyway because especially the “mom” role is really a 24-hour job. I get the feeling that men think that they just need to do their paid job and then they are off the hook.


      • “I get the feeling that men think that they just need to do their paid job and then they are off the hook.”

        Hey now, bek! Ouch!



      • I also read that as a bit harsh, but I’m assuming that was not your intention, Becky. That said, work ethic would not be my first guess for a culprit. Men like Tommy and Greg are able to focus on ministry 24/7 because that is their job. My hat goes off to the other 99% of men in the church who work 40+ hours a week and then spend untold extra hours serving as elders, deacons, Sunday school teachers, worship leaders, chaperones, landscapers, drivers, repairmen, and so on for the church. Same with women who have jobs and still serve: that’s awesome. To me, the issue somehow centers on priority. If men are not involved in things like Community Outreach, I would guess it is because they either a) don’t view it as important, or b) don’t see it as part of their role as men. If any man is reading this and has a “c,” or an explanation to a or b, I’d be interested to hear. Like I said earlier, though, the dearth of male servant-leaders is not my current experience at all, thank God:).


        • The first two options would be cop-outs in my opinion. Here’s one that might apply to an individual man (or woman, for that matter): c) don’t see it as within their gifts.

          But the problem even with option c is that sometimes we are called to serve in areas outside our gifts, and that’s because God calls the available as well as the able. It may not be a long-term assignment, but it is still service in the kingdom.


          P.S. To bek: I think I know what you meant, because believe me I’ve entertained the same suspicions at times! Happily, my experience overall has been the same as Kim’s in that there are a ton of men in my circles who step up and take on all sorts of jobs.


        • Just thought of a “c.” Since the other three of us (Tim, Becky, and myself) are not experiencing these problems, then perhaps the issue is a design flaw in the COM. Being the original designer, I couldn’t tell you what it was, but apparently, the COM’s scope of activities does not appeal to men. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it needs to be revamped, but perhaps investigated? Might be worth asking a few men at church for their advice…


    • I think part of it depends on what you define as “community outreach”, Ann. There’s a lot to do in God’s kingdom, and each of us is equipped for various tasks. While some of these things may seem to come more naturally for women and some for men, I think that is often more a construct of gender roles than sex since there are examples of both men and women who do things we commonly associate with the opposite sex and do them quite well.

      Anyway, the way I look at my own role as a servant of God is that I’m supposed to do the things he’s given me to do. I don’t get wigged out if the task is one that someone else would say is women’s work, because in my experience there isn’t much in this world – or in God’s kingdom – that fits that restriction.



  5. hhhmm, what’s funny it that my HUSBAND noticed that not a lot of men are involved in COM! he said he found it interesting that only women seem to be involved. however, i noticed that our MEN are volunteering with the prison ministry…and fewer women! maybe it IS a talent issue, that we are gifted in different areas, and helping orphans and homeless and pregnant/battered women is more a female-driven talent, where prison ministry is more male-driven?? or maybe it’s more about comfort zones…hhmm…


    • Another possibility is that men are not volunteering for COM because it is women who are doing the asking, not that the men don’t want to work with women but simply that they feel like it has already been established as a ladies’ thing and they don’t want to mess up the dynamic. Just a thought.

      BTW, no offense meant with my previous comment. Just trying to figure it all out…


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