How is a Christian to understand teaching from the Bible that seem to present a contradiction? Let me say at the outset that I don't think the Bible has any contradictions. And I don't say this from a naive, “bury my head in the sand” type of hermeneutic. To the contrary, the Bible presents many Old Testament passages and prophecies that are fulfilled in the New Testament scriptures. And there is a big difference between a contradiction and a fulfillment. But what about two passages from the New Testament that seem to conflict? Take for example Jesus's call for us to be meek; compared to Jesus's cleansing of the Temple when he turned over tables and ran out he money changers. How do we reconcile these two seeming contractions? And which one of these examples is the Christian to follow? Or does our response depend on circumstances? These are some of the questions I will attempt to wrestle with in this article.
To begin with, I would point out that Jesus, as the Son of God, has a divine status that no person has. In other words, there are ways in which we should seek to imitate Jesus; and there are ways in which we never could. We imitate His humility. But we dare not imitate His authority. We imitate His holiness. But we dare not try to imitate His sovereignty. Jesus has the right to say, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (John 15:14) We, on the other hand, have no right nor reason to say such a thing.
As it pertains to meekness, we will find no better example in all of history than that of Jesus. While being divine by nature, He condescended to such an extent that He allowed Himself to be beaten, persecuted, and crucified. He had the authority to stop it; but He had the meekness to see it through. It was the Father's perfect plan to pay for the sins of His sheep. And as such, it was also in accordance with Jesus's desires; which always submit and agree with those of the Father. (“Thy will be done.”)
So let us consider the words, “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matt. 5:5) Here we see a clear summons from the Lord that His followers should be “meek” or “gentle” or “humble.” And we are told that when this meekness occurs in genuine, Spirit-inspired humility; reward will follow. Christians are not called to be arrogant but rather selfless. We are not called to seek our own interests first; but rather that of others – all under the glory of God. We are to live our lives in such a way that the world marvels at our gentle spirits and even wonders for a reasons for the hope that is within us. (1 Peter 3:15) In general, we are to live our lives in humble submission to God's sovereignty over what comes to pass in our lives. We are to live in peace and submit to authority; as long as it is in our power to keep peace (Rom. 12:18) and does not contradict God's Word. We are to live in a spirit of meekness. Yet within that spirit of meekness there is a time to get mad as well. Not a “blow your top” out of control rage; but rather a righteous indignation that knows full well why it is upset. This was what we saw in Jesus when He cleansed the Temple.
Can the meek ever exhibit anger? Apparently so, as evidenced by Jesus's Temple activity. But a deeper question we should seek to answer is: What motivated Jesus to cleanse the Temple? Was it a personal insult, or was it His Father's glory? Here's the account from Mark: “And He entered the temple and began to drive out those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves; and He would not permit anyone to carry merchandise through the temple. And He began to teach and say to them, “Is it not written, ‘MY HOUSE SHALL BE CALLED A HOUSE OF PRAYER FOR ALL THE NATIONS’? But you have made it a ROBBERS’ DEN.” (Mark 11:15-17 NASB) The motivation here is His Father's glory. The Temple was intended to be used as a “house of prayer” but instead they had turned it into a “robber's den.” Corruption and greed marked the Temple rather than God's glory and prayer.
Another aspect of the Temple cleansing that should be considered is the symbolic act of the Messiah destroying the Jews false hope in the Temple and the Law. The Jews had placed their faith in the Temple and their "special" relationship with God as a people. Jesus was showing that the Temple had actually been turned into a place of corruption. He had also expressed that he would leave the Temple with no stone that wasn't thrown over (Matt. 24:2). The physical Temple was coming down; because something far greater than the Temple had come.
But how does this apply to us? Does it mean we should trash every church building that's made up of charlatan phonies? No, because we don't have the authority of Christ to do so. But it does mean we have a right to be indignant when we see God's glory besmirched in such a way. We have a right and even a responsibility to speak out against the evils of our day. Not evils that involve personal slights; but evils that involve harming and killing innocent people (abortion for example). We have a right to speak out against false preachers who preach a false gospel. We have a right to warn others with strong words and, if given the opportunity, warn the false preachers themselves with strong words as well. Our motivation is not anger or harm, but rather God's glory and the possible repentance of the evil doer. We speak in love. But we speak firmly and boldly. It might not appear meek. But in all honesty it is, for we are not calling sinners to be like us; we are jointly confessing our worthlessness and pointing all to Christ. Sometimes the most loving and meek thing you can do is confront the sin of a loved one and tell them of the grace found in Christ alone.
Another common question that arises is whether or not a Christian is allowed to defend themselves, or is Jesus's admonition to “turn the other each” a universal commandment for every situation? Here's the text: “You have heard that it was said, ‘AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.’ “But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. “If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. “Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. “Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.” (Matt. 5:37-42)
It should first be noted that Jesus is contrasting his commandment with the “Lex Talionis” (law of retribution) from the Old Covenant. Clearly Jesus is giving a “new law” for the “new covenant” that He has instituted. Mosaic Law called for retribution to be doled out in proportion to the crime committed. Of course this could easily get out of hand with every perceived slight causing a person to cry for justice. Jesus teaches that being a born-again, New Covenant Christian creates a different mindset than the Old Covenant idea of perpetual vengeance. Christians should be selfless and accommodating. They should be focused on eternity rather than this world (Col. 3:1). And they should be willing to suffer for the sake of another person's welfare. But is there ever a time when this maxim is not mandated? What about Christians serving in law enforcement, the military, or defending their home and family? Must Christians “turn the other cheek” in such situations? I say no.
The Bible gives guidelines for those who serve in such vocations. When soldiers came to be baptized by John they asked what they should do in “keeping with repentance.” The Bible says, “Some soldiers were questioning him, saying, “And what about us, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages.” (Luke 3:14) He didn't tell them to resign. Nor did he even tell them they could not use lethal force in the line of duty. He told them to be honest and content with their wages. Romans 13 gives a clear mandate for governmental use of force in some cases; and there is no prohibition against Christians serving in this capacity. Obviously, if a police officer comes upon the scene of a mass murderer wreaking havoc on a community, it is not only allowed, but expected that he will use force to end the massacre. It is righteous of him to do so. Jesus's admonition applied to such a situation would be to lift Jesus's words out of the context in which he expressed them. In a Christian's daily walk, as members of the New Covenant, we are to have an attitude of grace and submission and even sacrifice for the sake of others. But within the context of upholding justice, Christians might play a role as well.
One other area I would address would be the topic of self-defense. Is a Christian entitled to defend themselves when attacked? Or is this a case for “turning the other cheek?” I have written on this more in depth in another article. So I will simply sum up that argument here. In 1 Timothy, Paul writes: “If anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Tim. 5:8) What is it that a person is supposed to “provide” for his own? Food, shelter, protection, love? Certainly all of these. Why do we build houses for our families to live in, rather than simply live out in the openness of nature? One reason is to protect our families from the elements. Why do we build houses with doors that can lock? One reason is to protect our families from evil people who would seek to harm them. Locked doors may not be active resistance to evil. It may be merely passive resistance by “heading off robbers at the pass.” The same could be said of carrying a gun. I'm not actively pulling a gun and threatening anyone I see as a potential danger. Nor am I to pull a gun every time I'm insulted, in “John Wayne” fashion. Rather, I carry the gun passively and only draw it when it becomes necessary. Can I do it in self-defense? Jesus's words from Luke 22:36 (“But now, whoever has a money belt is to take it along, likewise also a bag, and whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one.”) seem to say I can. Can I draw a gun in defense of my family? Paul's words in 1 Tim. 5:8 about providing for my family seem to indicate that I can. In fact to neglect to protect my family might be construed as an act of infidelity.
So to conclude. Jesus's admonition to “turn the other cheek” is a teaching He gave in contrast and in fulfillment to the heavy-handed retribution of Mosaic Law. Jesus fulfilled the Mosaic Law and thus we look to Christ as our Lawgiver. So He gives us His Law. While governmental law still plays a role in punishing criminals (Rom. 13); the Christian is to live their life as members of the New Covenant. And as such we seek not our own good primarily; but rather we seek God's glory while thinking of others ahead of ourselves. With that said, there is a time and place for righteous indignation and for defense of self, family, neighbor, and country. It requires great discernment and a knowledge of God's Word to know when one verse applies and another doesn't. But God provides this wisdom for us through the Word and the Spirit. There is a time to be meek; and there is a time to get mad. Yet we must be careful not to let our righteous indignation devolve into sinful wrath. Jesus was able to be both meek and mad in perfect harmony. But then again, he was perfect. We must seek to imitate Him. And by His grace we can grow in understanding and in Christ-likeness.