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5 Essential Aspects of a Biblically-Just War

5 Essential Aspects of a Biblically-Just War

Dear Readers,
I’ve received many requests this week to share my thoughts on the current turmoil abroad. So, I will share a small part of my own opinions of the current political and strategic analysis and then lay out the five Biblical guidelines for a Just War. With these guidelines in hand, I think you can better draw your opinions about how the President and Congress can attempt to develop a workable and godly foreign policy—or not. Remember, these are my thoughts. Pray and determine yours.
Love, Roger

Wicked, selfish, power-hungry, evil, men are loose in the world. Psychopaths and/or sociopaths are on the loose in places of leadership in many nations. Vicious attackers roam in Ukraine, Syria, Somalia, Yemen, Turkey, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Ukraine, Kenya, Uganda, Sudan, France, England, Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, Tunisia.

Vladimir Putin attacked Ukraine unprovoked, bombing civilians, including a children’s and maternity hospital.

Terrorists attacked the Trade Center on 9/11 and killed thousands.

Hitler’s Holocaust murdered over six million Jews, Homosexuals, and Gypsies.

Saddam Hussein set out to destroy an entire race when he used poison gas against the Kurds in northern Iraq.

Joseph Stalin murdered, shot, and tortured to death an estimated 40,000,000 Russians during and after World War II. He was psychotic and paranoid, with a borderline personality disorder.

The Khmer Rouge utilized genocide in Cambodia to wipe out over one-half of a nation’s innocent citizens.

It makes my heart hurt to imagine the pain and suffering so many have experienced… and until Jesus returns and we see a new heaven and a new earth, suffering will continue on a global scale.

But don’t miss this. America is not exempt from inflicting mayhem.

  • American settlers decimated the Cherokee Indians in Kentucky in 1790.
  • What we did to the Sioux Indians at Wounded Knee was unquestionably immoral and wicked.
  • We slaughtered Philippine freedom fighters as we invaded the Philippines in the 1920s and 30s for political conquest.

We continue to face terrorism on the home front. Russia and ISIL have crossed the line, attacking innocent civilians, and we do little to defend the defenseless. More significantly, our Christians pray little and cower in fear. Our leaders stand aside, mired in political posturing. How embarrassing for America.

I have not even begun to scratch the surface of the racial tensions and problems facing us at home and abroad.

Teddy Roosevelt’s foreign policy was characterized by his slogan: “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” He used it to complete the Panama Canal, send the Great White Fleet on a world tour to demonstrate American power, and negotiated an end to the Russo-Japanese War, for which he won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Today we are doing the opposite. We are speaking loudly and carrying a little stick.

So, let’s take a moment to look at the guidelines for war God provided in His Word. They are CLEAR. They are RELEVANT. And they are COMMANDS.

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/kevron2001 

God’s Promised Victory Is Not Possible Unless We Return to Him

2 Chronicles 7:14 clearly states:

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

Jesus said there will be “wars and rumors of wars” until His return.

Over the years, we have utilized one of three basic options to guide us in war.

Our First Option Was to Kill, Massacre, and Plunder the Enemy and All Non-Christians.

This retaliatory burning of a mosque in Coachella, California occurred recently.

While there were many Crusades, the most famous were the religious conflicts in the High Middle Ages which were conducted by Catholic Europe against Muslims, pagans, and heretics. The specific intention was to retake Jerusalem from the Muslims. 70,000 civilians were butchered in Jerusalem.

Pacifism Was Our Second Option

Leave the enemy alone, and hope that love and a non-violent attitude will induce them to stop their wicked ways.

I was in San Francisco when the first Gulf War commenced. Peace demonstrations sprang up immediately. Bridges were blocked, fires were set.

Anti-American posters were everywhere. “We won’t send our children to die for no reason,” one proclaimed.

I wondered if anyone cared about the thousands of Kuwaiti children who had been murdered? And about the threatening growls of Saddam Hussein to murder and kill every Jew in Israel? Saddam had no intention of stopping, no matter how much some wished and prayed that he would come to his senses and stop.

Millions died.


Finally, the “Just War” Is Designed to Stop and/or Neutralize Those Who Cause Trouble

St. Augustine codified these in the late fourth century, bringing together all of the biblical principles regarding war and the accounts of wars fought throughout Scripture. They have been useful guidelines for a just and warranted war ever since.

I believe that the just war is the only response that makes sense. But before we move through the essential aspects of a just war, these two principles are important.

First, God’s Ideal Is a World at Peace

Exodus 20:13: “Thou shall not kill.”

God is fundamentally committed to peace, not war, as is reflected in his rejection of David as a builder of the temple because David was “a man of war” (1 Chronicles 28:2-3).

Second, God Declared That Some Circumstances Warrant the Use of Force

Exodus 22:2 states that if a man finds a thief in his house at night, killing the thief on the spot is an acceptable means of protecting one’s home and property.

Here are five essential aspects of a biblically-just war:

1. The Primary Purpose Is to Defend Those Under Attack

Rescue those being led away to death;
hold back those staggering toward slaughter.
If you say, “But we knew nothing about this,”

does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who guards your life know it?
Will he not repay everyone according to what they have done? Proverbs 24:11-12

I am walking down the street. I see a great big, burly man who is beating a helpless little girl to death. I come up and I plead with him to stop. If he won’t stop, what does love mean? Love means I stop him in any way I can.

There are times when Christian love means using whatever means necessary to rescue and protect helpless people who are gripped in the power of those who oppress and destroy.

According to this principle, America must do all it can to rescue the tortured, oppressed, and enslaved.

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/ktsimage 

2. Vengeance Is Tempered by Justice

Romans 12:19: “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.

Two keywords have been used regarding the limitation of violence.

One is “proportionate.” That is, the degree of injury inflicted must be less than that incurred. It is not just or right to nuke a country over an assassination.

The other word is “discriminate.” Police action is essentially discriminate, namely the arresting, bringing to trial, and punishment of specific criminals—not innocent civilians and/or political opposition.

Similarly, a war could not be in any sense “just” unless directed only against enemy combatants, leaving civilians immune.

It is right for our leaders to actively defend those who are beheaded, burned, conscripted into slavery, and brutally tortured.

It is also right to target only the perpetrators of carnage. Nevertheless, some collateral damage will often occur.

3. There Must Be a Reasonable Prospect of VICTORY – of ACHIEVING the Ends for Which the War Is Fought

Jesus said, “Suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace” (Luke 14:31-32).

Can we win just wars?

God asks us to turn to Him first. We have lost our way. In the Old Testament, only repentance insured victory.

This in no way means that we withdraw from the battle; it just means that we must be judicious in how we choose our battles and how we marshal our resources.

On April 19, 1952, General Douglas MacArthur stood before a joint session of Congress to deliver his famous farewell address. “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.” His speech, however, is much more than a farewell. It includes the following thoughts on war and peace.

“It has been said in effect that I was a warmonger. Nothing could be further from the truth. I know war as few other men now living know it, and nothing to me is more revolting.

“I have long advocated its complete abolition as its very destructiveness on both friend and foe has rendered it useless as a means of settling international disputes.

“But once war is forced upon us, there is no other alternative than to apply every available means to bring it to a swift end. War’s very object is victory, not prolonged indecision. In war there is no substitute for victory.”

Hands holding a white heart

4. The Motives Must Be Pure

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on yourselves (James 4:1-3).

One of America’s motives after World War II was to take as much oil from the Middle East as we could before they “woke up” and stopped us. For years we pumped out their oil for pennies and got rich while no one in the oil-rich countries got anything. Like it or not our motives toward the Middle East were impure. We are reaping today the whirlwind of our past Middle East foreign policies.

There is no doubt that the first and second Gulf Wars were undertaken to keep Saddam from killing more of his people. We had humanitarian reasons for the wars we fought there. However, don’t forget, we ignored Saddam’s totalitarian massacres until the day he invaded Kuwait and took over all the rich oil deposits there. We raced to retake those valuable oil deposits while making the liberation of Kuwait and the destruction of Saddam our stated reason for being there.

5. The Post-War Attitude Is One of Mercy

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7).

America really is a great country. It has been a refuge of freedom and security for millions. It gives hope to the world.

America’s finest hour may well be rebuilding Japan and Germany after World War II.

When earthquakes devastated Haiti, the relief dollars came pouring in from concerned and compassionate citizens.

Unfortunately, it seems to me that the American national anthem has devolved into, “Give me, Give me, Give me.” We want everything given to us. And we expect it. “It is my right . . .” we cry, “And if I don’t get my rights, I will sue you to get them.”

Somewhere along the line, we’ve forgotten that with rights come responsibilities.

Somewhere along the line, we've forgotten that no one ever had anything unless it cost someone something.

Our United States is free today because it cost someone his life yesterday.

This week I remembered a quote that I had filed away years ago.

An American helicopter pilot was killed during the Vietnam War. On his tombstone in New Hampshire, his parents had these nineteenth-century words of John Stuart Mill inscribed:

“War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling, which thinks nothing is worth a war, is worse. A man who has nothing which he cares more about than his own personal safety is a miserable creature, and has no chance of being free unless he is made free and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.”

Yes, some things are still worth living and dying for.

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Gajus 

Ask RogerDr. Roger Barrier went to be with the Lord on Friday, February 16th, 2024. He was a faithful servant of Christ with a lifetime worth of ministry and mentorship. Dr. Barrier held degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. He used his immense expertise daily to guide and mentor others in their spiritual walks. He had a global impact with his book Listening to the Voice of God, which is available in both Thai and Portuguese. His newest book, written with his daughter Brianna Barrier Wetherbee, is Look Like Jesus: A Guide to Spiritual Growth. He and his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier, founded Preach It, Teach It, a pastoral teaching site that provides countless resources, including articles, sermons, podcasts, sermon starters, Bible studies, and devotionals. His family will honor Dr. Barrier’s legacy by continuing the ministry of Ask Roger and preachitteachit.org for years to come as they share more than two thousand still-unpublished sermons and Ask Roger articles.