The Cross and the Sword (Thanks, Greg Boyd)

Romans 12:9-21

9Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.


 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear 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.”


 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.


            I’ve felt good about our sermon series thus far.  We have been wrestling with some challenging teachings from our Anabaptist ancestors as recorded in the 1527 Schleitheim Confession of faith, some of which I have agreed with, some of which I have not.  Today’s article is one that I agree with and I know that many of you will not.  And my goal today is not for you to agree with me at the end of the service and my goal isn’t to try to beat you over the head with scripture references until you submit to the teachings of Jesus (though it might seem like that is my goal).  My goal today is for us all to walk out of here with a better understanding of the Bible’s teachings, specifically Jesus’ teachings on this topic.  Today we are dealing with the issue of violence and how Jesus calls us to live peacefully.

            I don’t have any doubt that everyone here will say that peace is a good thing and that killing is a bad thing.  You don’t need to be a Christian to believe that peace is a good thing.  Even in secular society we see that peace is popular.  Little girls carry around their handbags with pink peace symbols on them.  When Zumba classes let out, it is popular to have the group get together and have a team cheer of “Peace, love, Zumba!”  Please don’t ask me why I know this.  It is complicated.  Every Miss America, Miss Universe, and Miss Understood contest seems to include the question, “If you could have anything at all, what would it be?”  Of course, the answer given is “World Peace.”  There is even a professional basketball player that changed his name last offseason to “Metta World Peace.”  And this is in no way hypocritical in light of his numerous suspensions throughout his career for fighting in games.

            So surely none of us has a problem with peace.  The issues arise when we begin to ask what that means and how do we arrive at a peaceful place.  Questions that are usually asked have to do with whether or not Jesus calls us to live non-violently and if it is ever okay for a Christian to participate in or support violence at the personal, national, or international level.  And to be honest, I’m not even going to try to answer those questions.  Let’s see what the 1527 Schleitheim Confession had to say about violence or “The Sword”:

VI. We are agreed as follows concerning the sword: The sword is ordained of God outside the perfection of Christ. It punishes and puts to death the wicked, and guards and protects the good. In the Law the sword was ordained for the punishment of the wicked and for their death, and the same (sword) is (now) ordained to be used by the worldly magistrates.


In the perfection of Christ, however, only the ban is used for a warning and for the excommunication of the one who has sinned, without putting the flesh to death – simply the warning and the command to sin no more.


Now it will be asked by many who do not recognize (this as) the will of Christ for us, whether a Christian may or should employ the sword against the wicked for the defense and protection of the good, or for the sake of love.


Our reply is unanimously as follows: Christ teaches and commands us to learn of Him, for He is meek and lowly in heart and so shall we find rest to our souls. Also Christ says to the heathenish woman who was taken in adultery, not that one should stone her according to the Law of His Father (and yet He says, As the Father has commanded me, thus I do), but in mercy and forgiveness and warning, to sin no more. Such (an attitude) we also ought to take completely according to the rule of the ban.


            The first thing that I want to point out is that the 1st Anabaptists believed that Christians killing other Christians was a bad thing.  This really shouldn’t be a surprise because at the time of the writing of this confession of faith it was other denominations that were killing Anabaptists.  If you are on the receiving end of the killing, it is quite common to denounce that killing as wrong.

            Since the 4th century, killing people became a popular way of making sure that people taught the right thing in the church and lived the right way according to the teachings of the church.  If someone was found to be a heretic, you burnt them at the stake, fed them to the lions, or drown them in the river.  That, my friends, is a really good deterrent.  There just isn’t anything Christ-like about it!

            So what we see throughout church history is one group of Christians killing other groups of Christians and non-Christians.  The group that happened to be the strongest physically usually got to decide what the correct interpretation of scripture was.  I can hear the conversation in my head, “I believe in the virgin birth.”  “I don’t.”  “I have two million men carrying swords and spears that agree with me.”  “I meant to say I believe in the virgin birth also.”

            So here in the middle of the Protestant Reformation we have all of these religious groups jockeying for power and killing people that disagreed with them, and the Anabaptists were being killed left and right.  And the Anabaptists say “In the perfection of Christ, however, only the ban is used for a warning and for the excommunication of the one who has sinned, without putting the flesh to death – simply the warning and the command to sin no more.”

            I was pretty tough on the ban, or excommunication, a couple of weeks ago.  But I need to give the early Anabaptists credit; at least they weren’t killing people!  They said, You may kill us for our beliefs, but we will never return the favor.  I think we would agree that theological differences is not sufficient reason to take another’s life.

            Michael Sattler writes in the first paragraph about the sword being ordained by God outside the perfection of Christ.  What is he referring to?  He talks about how the sword, and in this context he is talking about church discipline, was used to uphold the Law, that is the teaching of Moses.  We will come back to that in a few minutes.  He also says that now the sword is ordained by God for use by the magistrates in the punishing of the wicked.  What he seems to be saying here is that God allowed the use of violence in the Old Testament and that the New Testament even says that the use of violence is understandable by the magistrates or the government.  This seems to be a reference to Romans 13 where Paul says that people need to submit to the governing authorities.  But as Sattler emphasizes, and I agree, the sword should not be used by the Christian.  Sattler is saying that God chose to use this method in the Old Testament, and it may still be used by the governments of this world, but as Christians we are no longer a part of this world.  We are first and foremost members of God’s kingdom.  John 18:36 says this, “Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.’”

            For those that think that I am saying that we are to do nothing about the violence in our world, I want to draw your attention back to the verses from Romans 12 that were read for us earlier, “17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear 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.’  21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

            I don’t know that I just love heaping burning coals on the head of your enemy, but Paul is clear that we are not to take revenge.  That’s not our job when someone harms us.  It is up to God to decide what that person deserves, not us.  We are to overcome evil with good, not return evil with evil.  If your enemy is hungry, give them some food.  If they are thirsty, give them something to drink.  It is the upside-down nature of the Kingdom of God.

            Jesus is full of these creative ways to subvert hatred and violence.  He teaches us to turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, and give your undergarments when someone wants to take your coat.  Jesus and Paul aren’t suggesting that we be passive.  They are saying that followers of Jesus aren’t going to just continue in the fallen nature of this world.  We are to find creative ways to help people realize that they are harming us and work for reconciliation with them.  I’ll be honest, the sword seems a little bit easier.  But when are we ever told as Christians to take the easy way out?

            1 John 23-6 is an important passage to remember.  It is something that we already know, but we can use a little reminder from time to time. “3We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. 4 Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. 5 But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: 6 Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.”

            The old saying still speaks a lot of truth today: What would Jesus do?  Would Jesus seek to kill everyone that disagreed with him? 

            The name Tony Campolo is pretty well-known in Mennonite circles, particularly because we Mennonites really like it when non-Mennonites like Mennonites and Mennonite theology.  Tony is a professor at Eastern University in Philadelphia and he is an ordained Baptist preacher.  I read recently about Campolo’s early years as he was coming to terms with what it means to be a follower of Jesus.  Campolo came before a draft board during the Korean War and Campolo shared some of his reservations about whether or not he could kill another person with a cantankerous colonel in the Army.  Tony said, “If I got into a plane and flew over an enemy village, just before I pulled the lever to release the bombs, I would have to ask, ‘Jesus, if you were in my place, would you drop these bombs?’”

            Tony said that the colonel answered him gruffly, “That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard.  Everybody knows that Jesus would never drop bombs!”  Campolo concluded, “Perhaps that Colonel knew more about the nature of Christ than most theologians and preachers I have known.”

            We follow the Prince of Peace who taught us to love our neighbors and our enemies.  He told Peter to put away his sword.  He said that all who live by the sword will die by the sword.  My friends, it is pretty hard to love someone when your arms are filled with swords, bombs, and guns.

            So what do we do with all of the violence in the Old Testament?  We believe that the scriptures are inspired by God, so how can we reconcile the differences between what Jesus taught and what God commanded of the Israelites in the Hebrew Bible?

            I have taught this before and I believe it all the more today.  Many people in the church will agree that there are two different “wills” of God.  There is God’s permissive will and God’s perfect will.  The perfect will of God is what we should strive for.  If we don’t live up to God’s perfect will we are sinning.  God’s permissive will is what God allows to happen, even if it isn’t what God would really want to see.

            I believe that we see a progressive ethic through the Old and New Testament.  For instance, I believe that monogamy is God’s perfect will.  For those who are married, God wants us to have one spouse.  But in the Bible, God allowed people to have multiple spouses.  God allowed polygamy and God even allow harems.  David and Solomon both had wives and a harem.  Abraham had children with his wives and with their servants.  That doesn’t look right to me and I am going to guess that most of you would have a problem with your spouse coming home and asking for more spouses.  Awkward! 

            I don’t think that was ever God’s will.  But God recognized that the people were not ready for monogamy, so he permitted polygamy for a time.  But by the time of the writing of the New Testament, we find monogamy (at least for overseers) being taught.  I think the same principle is at hand when we look at violence.  God knew that if he commanded the people to live non-violently that they would have never listened.  So what God does is to slowly call them toward non-violence.

I was caught off guard recently when I was reading through the book of Genesis from the Contemporary English Version of the Bible.  The CEV is a version that tries to explain the ancient idioms and sayings in today’s language, much like The Message.  I read Genesis 4:23-24, which says this, “One day, Lamech said to his two wives, ‘A young man wounded me, and I killed him.  Anyone who tries to get even with me will be punished ten times more than anyone who tries to get even with Cain.’”  The literal saying there is that if anyone tries to get even with Lamech for killing someone, Lamech will then get even by killing seventy-seven others (which is actually 11x).

We then move to Exodus 21 where God has given the moral Law to Moses.  Just a chapter earlier we find the 10 Commandments and in 21:23-25 we find this, “But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.”

            This is often called the “Lex Talionis.”  The punishment is equal to the offense.  You see how we go from Lamech declaring that if anyone tries to avenge the killing that he committed that Lamech will then kill 77 others, to God telling Moses that the punishment cannot exceed the offense.  This is progress.  The problem that I see is that many people, many Christians, stop at an eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth.

            I really like Country Music, particularly songs that are older than I am.  And one guy I really like is Charlie Daniels.  Charlie Daniels is best known for his good, Christian song, The Devil Went Down to Georgia.  It is a great song about a fiddle contest between a young boy named Johnny and the devil himself.  But that isn’t the song that I want to talk about.  The song that I want to talk about was released in 1989 and is titled Simple Man.

            In this song Mr. Daniels mentions things that are wrong with the world “today.”  And I agree with him 100% that these are issues.  He mentions drug dealers, child abusers, rapists, and thieves.  Mr. Daniels has a solution to the problem: find a tall tree and a short piece of rope and let them swing till the sun goes down.  So much for the punishment fitting the crime.  The chorus goes a little something like this:

Well you know what’s wrong with the world today

People done gone and put their Bibles away

They’re livin by law of the jungle not the law of the land

Well the good book says it, so I know it’s the truth

An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth

You’d better watch where you go

And remember where you’ve been

That’s the way I see it I’m a simple man. (source:


            He even quotes the lex talionis: an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.  Yet the punishment for any offense in Mr. Daniels’ eyes is death.  He goes so far as to say that the problem with the world today is that people done gone and put their Bibles away.  And as much as I love Charlie Daniels, I have to say that he is a part of the problem.

            Matthew 5: 38-48 says this:

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them 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 children 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. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.


            I’m not saying don’t do anything about those sins.  I am not saying don’t do anything and just let people walk all over you.  But rather than getting back at people that do you wrong, Jesus and Paul teach us to do creative things that reveal the sinfulness of other’s actions to call them to repentance.

            I know that not everyone is going to agree with me on some of the details of how we are called to live out this calling to live peaceably.  But I hope that we can all affirm what Paul said in verse 18 from our text for this morning, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”  Are we doing what we can to live at peace with everyone?  If you take the Bible seriously and you take Jesus seriously, we must seek to be a peace with everyone.


About Kevin Gasser

I envision this site to be a place where I can post my weekly sermon text and invite feedback from anyone who is interested in the church, theology, or life in general. Please note that these sermons are rough drafts of what I plan to say from the pulpit, so typos are common.
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