Living @ ease in an Uneasy World Part 1
What Does the Bible Say about War?
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
March 23, 2003

In the last 3,434 years there have only been 268 years that have seen no war. During the last 5,573 years – recorded history – there have been over 14,530 wars averaging a little over 2.6 wars each year. And here we are watching another one unfold on our TV screens.

A number of weeks ago I planned to begin this message series on Living @ Ease in an Uneasy World. Of course, at the time tensions were high and the U.S. was attempting to persuade the United Nations to forcibly move into Iraq. But who could have known then that just a few days before we would begin this series that the U.S. would lead just a few countries in a war against Iraq, while at the same time facing opposition from countries around the globe including Canada and battering popular opinion at home and abroad?

But here we are. Many of us watched late Wednesday evening when the bombing began. We watched the news coverage from both Canadian and American perspectives. We’ve seen the beginning of the Air Assault and watched as troops sped across the Iraqi desert.

It’s amazing to see the variety and the extremes of opinions regarding this war. You’ll find people who are horrified by the war and are protesting in huge numbers. Perhaps you saw some of the news coverage yesterday of protests in Toronto, Vancouver, New York, Atlanta, San Francisco, and Chicago. There was one protest in Montreal with upwards of 200,000 participants… a number I can hardly imagine. So you’ll find thise people who are horrified by war, you’ll also find those who wish the UN had been given more time. They would have been happy with containment while the inspectors continued to search for weapons of mass destruction. And you’ll find people who will tell you; “It’s about time! This war was coming sooner or later, and it’s best to happen on our time schedule.”

This morning, we’re going to look at some questions you may have regarding war. And as we do that, we’ll explore some verses in the Bible which may be applicable to this war and any other war, and which may give you the framework to form your own opinions and guide your actions.

So let’s get going. The first question we’re going to look at is…


What Are the Causes of War?


Well, to answer that, let’s look at what the Bible says.

James 4:1-2 (The Message)
Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from? Do you think they just happen? Think again. They come about because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves. You lust for what you don't have and are willing to kill to get it. You want what isn't yours and will risk violence to get your hands on it.
You wouldn't think of just asking God for it, would you?

I believe from these verses and from observation, there are a couple of causes we can identify for war. The first one is…



Somebody wants more land, more resources, more power than they already have. And they’re willing to do whatever it takes to get it. Perhaps they look at another society and is jealous of their way of life, their prosperity, their freedom. Time and time again we’ve heard that this is the reason for the terrorist attacks leading to the War on Terrorism. People looked at our society, saw the freedom we enjoy, became envious of it, and ended up hating us for it.

When Iraq invaded Kuwait over a decade ago, it was because of the oil fields they wanted to control. They were acting on their selfish envy for what Kuwait had.

I read a story this week about Abraham Lincoln. According to the story, he was walking down the street one day with his two boys. And both of his sons were quite upset and were crying. A man walking by stopped Lincoln and asked what was wrong with the boys. Lincoln looked at him and replied, “Just what’s wrong with the world. I have three walnuts and each wants two.”

Selfishness. Selfishness can be a cause for conflict. The second cause is…



Proverbs 13:10 (NLT)
Pride leads to arguments; those who take advice are wise.

Pride. Somebody has made a mistake and is too proud to admit it. Or they want to be a heavyweight in the international community and they’re willing to go to war to achieve it. Or they think they’re better than their adversary and want to impose their way of life on them.

Think back to the Second World War. What was the deal with the Nazis? They believed they were a superior race and it was their duty to dominate the world and eradicate whoever was inferior.

So those are causes of war: Selfishness and Pride. You’ll find this in battles between nations, between businesses, between husbands and wives, between friends, between, parents and children, between labour and management… wherever there’s a conflict, you’ll find that somebody, maybe both, is exhibiting selfishness or pride.

That's the first question: What are the causes of war. The second is...


When Is It Right to Fight?


Some people are always game for a fight. Thankfully they’re in the minority, but some people would vote for war every time. In fact, some people would even claim it’s their religious duty to instigate conflicts and forcibly convert anyone who does not share their religious bias. That’s what’s been happening with militant Islamic groups. And that’s what was happening in the Crusades a thousand years ago. But they were wrong. God did not condone what they did, and I don’t think there’s anyone here this morning who would defend this view.

Some other people, though, would tell you that there’s never a time to fight. They would say that war and conflict is never okay, and that the Bible itself speaks against it. They would use verse like…

Matthew 5:38-39
You have heard that the law of Moses says, `If an eye is injured, injure the eye of the person who did it. If a tooth gets knocked out, knock out the tooth of the person who did it.' But I say, don't resist an evil person! If you are slapped on the right cheek, turn the other, too.

But the argument is, does this refer to only interpersonal conflicts, or does it also include nations and governments? I wholeheartedly believe in the wisdom of this passage and the morality of this passage for my own life, and I try to live by it. But I’m not convinced that when Jesus spoke those words that He implied that nations should never consider war, and that they should take no steps to protect themselves. In fact, in other passages it seems clear that governments are responsible to protect their citizens and take steps to punish wrongdoers.

Romans 13:4 (NLT)
The authorities are sent by God to help you. But if you are doing something wrong, of course you should be afraid, for you will be punished. The authorities are established by God for that very purpose, to punish those who do wrong.

Was Jesus a pacifist? No. Jesus encountered many Roman soldiers, but not once did He tell a soldier that he should get out of the army. In fact, Jesus once made a whip and chased people out of the temple by force. He even once told his disciples to sell their coats and buy a sword (Luke 22:36). So while He taught forgiveness and restraint, it seems apparent that even Jesus believes there’s a time when war may be necessary.

So the question is, when is it right to fight? Let me give you three occasions:


In Order to Free the Oppressed

Isaiah 1:17 (NLT)
Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the orphan. Fight for the rights of widows.

You’ll notice this verse talks about helping the oppressed. But there’s also another important word in there: justice. Tyrants, evil dictators, and wicked rulers need to be brought to justice. Yes, the Bible does say a lot about peace. But it also says a lot about justice.

Rick Warren, an author and pastor of a large church in California, says…

“Christians are not just interested in peace. We want peace, but we want peace with justice. Peace at any price is no peace. Peace at any price is appeasement… God is not only a God of peace but He is a God of justice.”
~ Rick Warren


In Order to Protect the Innocent

Proverbs 18:5 (NIV)
It is not good to be partial to the wicked or to deprive the innocent of justice.

There are a lot of people in the world who can’t stand up for themselves. The don’t have the strength, the support, or the courage. And they need our help.


In Order to Stop the Spread of Evil

We looked at this verse earlier.

Romans 13:4 (NLT)
The authorities are sent by God to help you. But if you are doing something wrong, of course you should be afraid, for you will be punished. The authorities are established by God for that very purpose, to punish those who do wrong.

It is the responsibility of our nation to stop the spread of evil whenever and wherever we can. But there need to be rules in how we do it.


Way back in the fourth century, a man named Augustine introduced the concept that there are times when going to war is honourable and right… no longer a matter of choice but a matter of necessity.

He summed up this concept when he wrote…

“Peace is not sought in order to provoke war, but war is waged in order to attain peace.”
~ Augustine

This concept has been expanded and refined over the centuries into what’s called the Just War Theory. Basically, this theory states that participation in a war can be morally justified under certain conditions. Let me share with you what those conditions are:

Just War Essentials

  • A Just War Must Have a Just Cause

    If the current war is about oil, that’s not a just cause. If it’s to free the Iraqi people and protect innocents from weapons of mass destruction, that’s a just cause. I don’t know which is the case. I expect it’s a little of both.

    A just war must have a just cause. It’s not about what we’re willing to kill for; it’s about what we’re willing to die for.

  • A Just War Must Have a Just Intent

    The intent should be to secure a fair and lasting peace for everyone involved. It should not be for economic exploitation, revenge, or ethnic cleansing.

  • A Just War Must Have Legitimate Authority

    In other words, I can’t declare war on Iceland. I don’t know why I’d want to, but even if I did I couldn’t. Only our government has the authority to declare war. We can petition our government and express our views and vote them out if we don’t agree with them, but as long as they’re in office it’s their call.

  • A Just War Must Have Limited and Achievable Goals

    Total annihilation of the enemy and destruction of their civilization is not good. That’s neither limited, nor really attainable.

  • A Just War Must Be Proportional

    You don’t burn down the barn to roast the pig. You don’t win at all costs. The good resulting from the war should be worth the loss of lives, the injuries and the property damage.

  • A Just War Must Not Intentionally Harm Civilians

    That’s one thing that so far seems to be going well in this war. The coalition forces seem to be taking extreme care to hit only military and political targets, and there’s even speculation that they’re allowing the Iraqi government to know where they’re going to hit so the loss of life can be limited.

  • A Just War Must Be a Last Resort

    This is probably the biggest area of disagreement with the current war. Did the Coalition allow the inspectors enough time? Chief Weapons Inspector Hans Blix says he would have preferred a few more months. May nations feel like not all diplomatic avenues were pursued. I don’t know all the details and I’m not in a position to say one way or the other, but the reality is that none of us should ever crave war. And if after all other options have been pursued we conclude that war is absolutely necessary, remember that war in any form is a tragic and undesirable event.


There are times for war, but there is never a time to dispose of our morality or our ethics.

Let’s move on. The third question is…


What Should Be Our Response?


Five things…

We should never thirst for war

We should not only fear war, we should grieve it.

Again, we need to see war only as a last resort. Explore all other possibilities first.

There was a competition held last Saturday just north of San Francisco. It was the annual Southwestern contest of the Toronto-based World Rock Paper Scissors Society. About 120 people took part, and Ana Martinez of Oakland, California, won the $1,000 prize. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could hold Rock Paper Scissors competitions to settle all disputes? Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s going to work. But hey, it’s worth a shot.

We should never thirst for war. We should pursue all possible alternatives first.


We should seek peace, nationally and personally

As a country our goal should ultimately be to live in peace. But the reality is that most of us don’t carry a lot of weight with our government. We can write letters and take part in peaceful protests and that’s all fine and good. But our desire for peace should be most evident in our relationships with other people… how we treat them, how we talk to them… Seek peace in all your relationships.

It’s like the old song says, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”


We should honour our authorities

You may not agree with them, but there are proper ways to express your disapproval. We elect our leaders to make tough decisions, and I’m not sure it’s a good thing that no matter what they decide we disagree. But if you do disagree, keep your arguments to the facts, and don’t make it a personal attack.

1 Peter 2:13-14 (NLT)
For the Lord's sake, accept all authority—the king as head of state, and the officials he has appointed. For the king has sent them to punish all who do wrong and to honour those who do right.


We should pray for everyone involved

Whether you agree with war or not, it’s important to pray. Pray for the soldiers, the generals, the politicians, the victims, the civilians, the news correspondents, the enemy, everyone.

1 Timothy 2:1-2 (NLT)
I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. As you make your requests, plead for God's mercy upon them, and give thanks. Pray this way for kings and all others who are in authority, so that we can live in peace and quietness, in godliness and dignity.

Matthew 5:44
But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!


We should guard our hearts against hatred and bitterness

Because if you’re not careful, that’s exactly what will happen to you.

Let's Pray.



Copyright © 2003