“Always turn the other cheek;” “the individual’s right to Self Defense;” “Measured Response;” “Escalation;” “never let an attacker survive the encounter;” and several other doctrines, philosophies, and even plain ol’ “Red Neck common sense” vie for a substantial place in our world view. Interpreting, understanding, and applying the lessons of scripture is paramount in this category of life.
In some cases we are dealing with life and death issues: the wrong person might be met with no resistance when there should have been (scripturally) plenty of resistance; an innocent person might die and a murderer might live through an encounter; there are many variations to the outcomes. Naturally, we desire a scriptural outcome.
Jesus Regarding Personal Attacks
“But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also…
But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father 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.”
( Matthew 5:39,44-45 )
How can we, or how should we, respond to someone who is hurting us physically?
Insult vs. Injury: Different Responses
In verse 39 the reference to “an evil person” is defined in the verses that followed. Unfortunately some have misconstrued the “evil person” as including those who might attack us with intent to inflict extreme physical injury or even death.
The “evil” person’s actions defined in this passage are related to insults, not injury. A slap in the face in the biblical sense is that of an insult. Other passages refer to injurious attacks as striking with fists, rocks, or weapons.
Responding to Insults
We are called upon to respond to those who verbally and/or physically insult us with offering our other cheek (physically or proverbially), with love, with blessing, with goodness, and with prayer for God’s blessings upon them.
As “sons of [our] Father in Heaven” our response is to be unbiased with regard to how the other person thinks of us and treats us: enemy or friend.
The world’s pattern tends to promote an extreme reaction to being insulted, especially if the person even touches us physically. It is an attitude that says, “You slap me, I’ll break your legs. You punch me, and I’ll shoot you dead!”
Self Defense against Injury
If harm and injury are intended toward us, self defense is a biblical right (and even a mandate when it involves protecting the weak) and is perfectly appropriate; a measured response on our part for the purpose of self defense, not for retribution or vengeance.
As Jesus was preparing His disciples for future ministry, He gave an interesting instruction to them:
“He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you donʼt have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.”
( Luke 22:36 )
Yes, Jesus Himself told His disciples to self-arm for self defense. He even made it a point to say being self-armed is more important than being warm in cold weather!
Also, the swords were not for forcefully subjugating people into the Christian faith (like some false religions or political ideologies continue to do for their own survival), they were for personal self defense in a world that is at times very dangerous and very violent, attempting to inflict injury at-will.
We must know the difference between an attack of intended insult and an attack of intended injury. Our proper response is predicated upon our quick and proper (accurate, truthful) interpretation of each event.