Declining to ‘Live by the Sword’—A Protection
“RETURN your sword to its place”! This firm command of Jesus came at a time when the use of force seemed a logical choice. Standing before Jesus was “a great crowd with swords and clubs,” seeking to arrest him and subject him to a legal travesty. One of Jesus’ disciples drew a sword, intending to protect him by force. Would you blame him for that?
Jesus, however, would have no part in such violence. Commanding Peter to put away his weapon, he explained: “All those who take the sword will perish by the sword. Or do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father to supply me at this moment more than twelve legions of angels?”—Matthew 26:47, 52, 53.
Christians today likewise abstain from trusting in weapons such as guns and knives—even during these dangerous, “critical times hard to deal with.” (2 Timothy 3:1) They take seriously the Bible’s command to ‘beat swords into plowshares,’ and they do not seek to harm their fellowman. (Isaiah 2:4) Because they do not carry weapons for purposes of self-defense, instead of resorting to violence they are more inclined to try to reason with people who would do them harm. “If possible, as far as it depends upon you, be peaceable with all men,” is the counsel they follow. (Romans 12:18) Nevertheless, it is not always easy to refuse to ‘live by the sword.’ Situations can develop that severely test a Christian’s desire to “be peaceable with all men.”
This is what happened in an African nation a few years ago. A power struggle developed within the nation. Civil war raged, with widespread guerrilla attacks. Citizens were therefore compelled to enter the security forces. On the other hand, enormous pressure to join the guerrillas was placed on some by their fellow countrymen. Indeed, citizens were at times caught in a squeeze between guerrilla recruiters and government soldiers who brutalized any who aided the guerrillas.
Violence began to sweep the country. A pioneer couple recalls that the danger of attack was so imminent that, when driving in field service, they would place their book bags at chest level between them and the car door as a sort of bulletproofing. But while they were able to escape harm, an elderly couple they had called on did not fare so well. The husband was shot to death. Another family they called on had their home and its contents burned by guerrillas one evening. (This family later wrote and asked for the Watch Tower Society’s book, appropriately entitled, True Peace and Security—From What Source?)
In such an emotionally charged atmosphere, it is no wonder that many wished to take aggressive steps to protect themselves. ‘Should a person stand by idly and let himself or his family be murdered?’ such ones reasoned. Many began carrying weapons. And witnesses of Jehovah in that war-torn nation wondered what they should do.
Facing the Threat of Prison
By and large, Jehovah’s Witnesses came to a united conclusion: to remain entirely neutral in the civil war and desist from carrying dangerous weapons. But was not this decision impractical—dangerous? Their experiences underscore the rightness of their decision.
One young man named Tony had previously served in the armed forces. After becoming a Christian, however, he concluded he could not conscientiously ‘live by the sword’ and cause harm to a fellow human. So when called upon to serve another term he declined, and a fine was imposed. Shortly thereafter he was summoned again, and this time he was given a six-month prison sentence. Yet a third time he was called and sentenced to ten months in prison. However, he appealed this sentence to a higher court. For the next two years he was in and out of court, each time preparing himself and his wife for a ten-month separation. “My wife and I said ‘good-bye’ some 13 times in two years, but each time something happened to delay the carrying out of the sentence,” he commented.
In the interim, he and his wife became special pioneers, and he was granted recognition as a minister. But the law still required that he serve his ten-month sentence. Finally he received a letter offering a suspended sentence if he would plead guilty. “I told them I could not do that, since I was innocent,” explained Tony. He braced himself to go to jail. To his surprise came a letter stating that the justices of the High Court had analyzed the case and had thrown it out of court on a technicality! Tony felt blessed for declining to ‘live by the sword.’
Many Christians, however, were subjected to a seemingly endless series of prison sentences. No sooner would they be released than they would be called up again for service, and the cycle of court cases and prison would start up again. Imagine what a hardship this was on married men with children! Nevertheless, those who maintained their neutrality not only were protected from the violence of a brutal civil war but were also able to “hold a good conscience” before Jehovah.—1 Peter 3:16.
Protecting One’s Family—Without Weapons!
Refusing to participate in violence proved a blessing to a family man named Will. He, his wife and five children owned a farm some 40 miles (64 km) from town. Traveling to meetings and other business exposed this family to great danger. It seemed tempting to rely on firearms as a protection. Nevertheless, Will had already experienced blessings from relying on Jehovah. Years ago he had been a successful tobacco farmer. When he learned through the pages of The Watchtower that such employment was improper for a Christian, he took the courageous step of switching to other crops. The community was shocked at this seemingly foolish decision. Nevertheless, good weather—even during bad seasons—helped him make a success of his new venture. The community was amazed! And Will and his family experienced firsthand God’s promise that he would not ‘leave or forsake’ his servants.—Hebrews 13:5.
As the warfare got started, Will faced another test of Christian integrity. But strengthened by his past experience, he decided he would not resort to carrying a gun. He chose, instead, to rent a house in town for his wife and children so that school and Christian meetings during the week would be handy, and they would not have to travel the 110 miles (177 km) each day through dangerous territory.
While they were away one night a guerrilla group broke into their farmhouse and stole some of their belongings. Yet, surprisingly, they did not burn the house down or do serious damage to the property. Why was this? The guerrillas told Will’s farm workers that they knew “Boss Will” was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and that he was a good man who treated his workers with fairness! How much more powerful his Christian reputation proved to be than reliance on dangerous weapons!
The Real Source of Protection
Experiences such as these highlight the fact that Jehovah blesses those who maintain Christian neutrality and decline to ‘live by the sword.’ True, at times Jehovah permits one of his servants to die, even as a circuit overseer in that country was murdered. Nevertheless, it is better to die showing full reliance on Jehovah than to allow fear of man to govern our course. (Matthew 10:28) These violent times should not cause us to ‘live by the sword’ or rely in any way on dangerous weapons for deliverance. The Bible assures us: “Trembling at men is what lays a snare, but he that is trusting in Jehovah will be protected.”—Proverbs 29:25.
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Christians take seriously the Bible’s command to ‘beat swords into plowshares’
[Blurb on page 15]
“If possible, as far as it depends upon you, be peaceable with all men”