How should Christians approach interacting with other groups with whom they strongly disagree?
For example, recently there was a clash between anti-Muslim protest in Arizona’s capitol of Phoenix and others who came to support it in the face of the antagonism. Some of the anti-Muslim protestors wore profanity-laced T-shirts, and the head of the group urged people to draw cartoons of Muhammed. Police stood between the two sides, and, thankfully, violence did not break out.
But how should a Christian view such a protest from a biblical perspective?
In the Old Testament, the Israelites existed as a sovereign nation. They were originally intended to have God as their King, but they rejected this notion and demanded that they be given an earthly king like all of the other nations (1 Sam. 8:5). However, their law was still structured to serve God as their King and to honor Him as holy. Whenever the holiness of God was not upheld, the people were punished by God. Any following of false gods, marrying of foreign women who worshipped false gods, or any other blatant discarding of God’s commands resulted in punishment.
However, in the New Testament, God’s people found themselves under the rule of a separate, secular nation that did not see God and His law as supreme. How were the early Christians to live in response to the people around them?
Jesus gives us insight into how we should live around those who hold differing views with us, even when those views lead to animosity and hostility. He said, “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” (Matt. 5:38-42).
By saying this, Jesus exposed their misuse of the command for judicial punishment for crimes (Ex. 21:24). The people in Jesus’ day likely were using this command as justification for retaliation (much like people do today). Instead, Jesus makes the statement, “Do not resist the one who is evil.” Many people take this verse to mean that Christians should be pacifists. However, this is not what Jesus is saying. The Greek of this verse can also be rendered “Do not resist with evil.”
Additionally, Jesus says, “But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” It would have been assumed that the right hand was being used, and Jesus makes it a point to specify the right cheek. In order to strike someone on the right cheek with your right hand, you must backhand him or her, which is a blatant sign of disrespect. Jesus is painting a picture of not retaliating in kind when someone mistreats you or disrespects you. Ultimately, what Jesus is getting at is the fact that it is OK to stand for what is right, but it is not okay to do so in a sinful manner.
So then, how can one resist that which is evil without doing so in a manner that is evil in itself? Jesus follows up His statements in verses 38-42 by saying, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (v. 42-48). Nowhere in the Bible does it say, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” This was a contrived saying to justify rebellion. Instead, God made it very clear that we are to love those who oppose us by praying for them, acknowledging their humanity, and sharing the truth of God’s Word with them. God cares for them in the same way that He cares for you and me. The fact that these people believe something different does not make them immune to the work of the Holy Spirit, nor does it make them unworthy of the Gospel.
In an age of tolerance in which to tolerate someone is now understood as acceptance, Christians should not tolerate that which is wrong and against the truth of God’s Word. However, in any age throughout human history, Christians should oppose that which opposes God’s truth, but do so in a loving way that communicates care for the individual and love for God most of all. It is not an easy thing to do, but Jesus never said that following him would be easy, did He?
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