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by David Phelps

“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa

January, 2013

Late last year, less than two weeks before Christmas, a young man walked into the previously-unknown Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut and shot and killed twenty children and six school employees. He had previously shot his mother and then gone to the school with guns that his mother had legally owned. In the hours and days following the incident, there were numerous calls to “do something.”

Some wanted to ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines, such as the young gunman had used. Others reacted by dismissing such bans as an infringement of their Constitutional rights and said the focus should be on violent video games. Over the next few days, they announced plans to arm teachers and other school employees. Still others said there should be more spending on mental health since the young man was clearly disturbed. In the end, as conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer observed, we’re all going to have to give up something if there is to be serious change.

One gun proponent said that since the disciples carried swords Jesus would probably want citizens to be armed today. But people of that time also owned slaves, stoned adulterers, and considered women and children property. Surely that doesn’t mean Jesus would want us to do the same today. The more important point is whether Jesus would be for or against “gun control.” I’ll try to keep my own biases out of it but let’s look at some of what the New Testament actually says about disciples and swords. Jesus said “‘I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.’” (Matt. 10:34b ESV). What I believe he meant by that was that people would either follow him or not and there would be conflict between the two divisions, which there was and still is. “Sword” here is only a symbol for conflict.

The night he was betrayed, Jesus told the disciples, “‘And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: “And he was numbered with the transgressors.”’” (Luke 22:36b-37a ESV). The Common English Bible renders the middle part of verse 37 like this: “And he was counted among criminals.” It seems that the reason he wanted the disciples to have swords was so that they could be considered lawbreakers. The disciples said to him, “‘Look, Lord, here are two swords.’” (vs. 38 a ESV) and he replied, “‘It is enough.’” (vs. 38b ESV). Two swords were enough for a dozen people to appear to be lawbreakers. Later that night, when the authorities had come out to arrest Jesus, Peter, who apparently had one of the two swords, cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant (John 18:10) but Jesus rebuked him and said, “‘Put your sword into its sheath;’” (vs. 11b ESV). Peter had missed the point. Or perhaps Jesus knew what Peter would do and that was the lawlessness to which he referred. Surely he allowed the notoriously short-tempered Peter have a sword for a reason. Two of twelve people carried swords as what appears to have been a symbolic gesture, hardly a mandate for us. And when Peter actually used the sword, Jesus rebuked him.

Other mentions of swords are references to the Word of God. Paul referred to it this way to the Ephesians: “. . . the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,” (Eph. 6:17b ESV). And the author of Hebrews wrote, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Heb. 4:12 ESV). By studying the Scriptures, we can know how to respond to the things that happen around us.

The real problem isn’t too many or too few guns. It isn’t too much or too little mental health care. The problem is in the human heart. Too little God. Too little peace. Too little of God’s Word. Too few Christians armed with “the sword of the Spirit,” and ready to speak out in truth and love. I pray that each of us will always be “. . . a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” (2 Tim. 2:15 ESV).

“In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. . . . and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel,” (Eph. 6:16-18a, 19 ESV.)

Copyright © 2013 by David Phelps