One area of confusion about war is the apparent discrepancy between Jesus’ words and God’s approval of battle in the Old Testament. Can such dissimilar teachings be reconciled? How can the God who told Israel to destroy the Canaanites be the same one who said, “Love your enemies,do good to those who hate you” (v. 27)?
To clarify this issue, we must distinguish between commands issued to nations and instructions given to individuals. The Lord has bestowed certain responsibilities upon governments. He calls them ministers of God for good and entrusts them with avenging evil (Rom. 13:4). But to individuals, He says, “Never take your own revenge” ().
People are killed in war, but this isn’t the same as murder. A soldier on the battlefield carries out his duties under the authority of his government (Rom. 13:1-2). Murder, on the other hand, is an individual’s vengeful response to anger or jealousy and is motivated by a desire to destroy another person.
When governments avenge wrong, innocent people are protected, but when individuals seek their own revenge, they destroy themselves and others. In Luke, Jesus was speaking about personal conflicts, not national wars. He knows that loving our enemies is the only way to protect ourselves from bitterness.
Would we prefer to turn the responsibilities around—are we quick to fight personal battles, but slow to affirm the avenging of evil nationally? Sometimes the only way for a country to have peace is to go to war, but we’ll never experience inner peace if we battle with individuals who wrong us.