The Iraq War: Is it Right to Fight?
Psalm 23 : Romans 12:9-21

Given the grave events of the last few days I felt it was more appropriate for us to consider what our response should be. I realize that some of you believe that it is right that we go to war and others who feel that we should not. I want us to consider what God has said about war and see if the Bible can guide us in how we should understand these events or respond to questions friends or family may have.  Most of us have been glued to the TV or radio this last week as the war broke out. If you have children you will know how difficult it is to shield them from the awful reality of what is happening, or to have answers for their questions.

I am grateful to David Cockburn for his very helpful and informative seminar last Sunday afternoon on the ethical issues surrounding the Iraq crisis. I commend to you the tape of his seminar which is available from the reception. This evening I am going to take a more reflective look at Psalm 23 and God’s antidote for dark days. This morning, however, I want us to consider what the Bible says about war by asking a series of questions. What is the real cause of war? 

Is it ever right to fight?  How should we respond to this particular war? Please look at the very first verse on your outline, Romans 12:18 "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone."  Circle "if it is possible".  I think the Bible is very practical here. 

It says "as much as it depends on you... as far as it's possible on your behalf, live at peace with everybody."  However, I think this is also implying that sometimes it is impossible to live at peace.  Have you ever met somebody that, no matter what you did, you just couldn't get along with them?  No matter what you did, they could not be appeased.  The Bible says, "If it is possible."  If somebody abused my children, I wouldn't have peace with them at all.  I don't think God would expect me to be at peace with them. I would expect justice. Genuine repentance might lead to forgiveness but without it there would be no peace.

1. What is the real cause of war?

The Bible says that most wars are caused by two things: greed and pride.  Greed and pride are at the root of most wars.
“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God.” (
James 4:1-2)

It was greed that led to the Gulf War.
Saddam Hussein wanted something that wasn't his.  He wanted the oil fields in Kuwait so he just took them.  They weren't his but he took them anyway.  And for the last twelve years he has reneged on the commitment he made, and the Un imposed in 17 resolutions, that he disarm and destroy his weapons of mass destruction. Whenever there is a battle between two nations, a battle between two businesses, a battle between an employer and employee, labour and management, husband and wife, parent and child, whenever there's conflict, somebody (maybe both) is exhibiting selfishness, greed or pride.  I want it my way.  You want it your way.  We're going to have conflict or somebody is going to have to compromise.  The Bible says in Proverbs 13:10 "The effect of pride is fighting."  Pride causes conflict. 

Visualize the word sin. What is the middle letter?  -  “I”.  When I want my way and ignore you and your wishes it leads to pride and pride causes conflict because sooner or later I am going to meet someone who says… ‘no’.

How many times in the last few months have diplomats and UN inspectors gone to Iraq to say, "Why don't you back down?  Why don't you comply?" Proverbs 13:10 (New English Bible) "A brainless fool causes strife by his presumption."  Presumption on someones part has led to this war. So what are the real causes of war? Answer? Greed and pride.  That is why war is always a tragedy. Always.

2.  Is it ever right to fight?

The short answer is - “Yes”.  There are times when it is the lesser of two evils.  There are times when it is appropriate and there are times when it is inappropriate.  Ecclesiastes 3:8 "There is a time for war and a time for peace."  The Bible is very realistic.  Sometimes war is the right thing.  Sometimes war is the wrong thing.  "There is a time for war and there is a time for peace."

There are many, many examples in the Bible where God commanded a war, where God specifically says, "Go to war!"  When you look at the heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11 -- Joshua, David, Gideon, Samson  -- these people were all warriors.  When you look at the Bible you find that sometimes war was the right thing to do.  When you study the ministry of Jesus you see a number of things. In the first place, He never told a Roman soldier to leave the army.  If Jesus had been a pacifist, He would have said to the soldiers, "Leave your army!  Come follow Me." Not once did He ever say it was morally wrong for them to be in the service.

Nor did
John the Baptist. When soldiers came to him and asked what they should do, what did he say? Luke 3:14. "Don't extort money and don't accuse people falsely—be content with your pay."

Jesus teaching in the Sermon on the Mount is directed primarily at the individual Christian not a government or nation. In Matthew 5:38-48 Jesus commands us not to retaliate, not to resist an evil person, but love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. However, on two occasions Jesus cleansed the Temple in Jerusalem by force.  John 2:15 says Jesus made a whip. A whip made out of chords and used it to drive all from the Temple area. He didn't politely ask them, "Would you please stop what you are doing and kindly leave". He forced them out.  They were in the wrong.  So He forced them out. 

On Maundy Thursday when
Jesus explained to his disciples that he was about to be murdered and that they will be scattered he tells them to do what? “If you don’t have sword, sell your cloak and buy one.” (Luke 22:36)

What was more important? A cloak to keep you warm at night or a sword? What a choice. Perilous times lay ahead for the disciples and
Jesus wanted them to be prepared.   The Bible says there is a time for war and a time for peace. So the question we ask is, “when's the right time?"  How do you know a good war from a bad war?  The “Just War” tradition, which Augustine developed provides a very useful set of criteria.

1. A legitimate authority must declare the war.
In other words, wars must not start because of a personal grudge or an accident. A sovereign head of state must make the decision.
2. The war must be carried out with a right intention. The purpose must be to protect or restore peace, not to seize land or oil.
3. The war can be approved only as a last resort. Other alternatives must be tried first.
4. The war must be waged on the basis of the principle of proportionality. The good to be accomplished by the war must outweigh the suffering and killing that will be unleashed by the war.
5. The war must have a reasonable chance of success.
6. The war must be waged with all the moderation possible. That is, the accepted rules of
The Hague and Geneva Conventions must be followed. To the greatest extent possible, civilians and prisoners of war must be protected. Augustine based his six principles on biblical principles. Two or three times the Bible says we ought to fight:

2.1  In order to preserve freedom
In Genesis 14, for example,
Abraham risks his life in battle to rescue his cousin Lot and his family who have been taken captive. You have to decide what's worth dying for.  If you don't know what's worth dying for, you don't know what's worth living for. There are some things that are worse than war. Many historians believe that if Britain and France had intervened in 1936 when Hitler illegally occupied the Rhineland, the Second World War might have been averted.

2.2  In order to defend innocent people 
Proverbs 21:15 "When justice is done it brings joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers."  Circle "justice".  Christians are not just interested in peace.  We want peace, but we want peace with justice.  Peace at any price is not peace.  Peace at any price is appeasement.  God reveals in Scripture that he is not only a God of peace but also a God of justice.  Things should be done right.  That's why the Civil War was fought.  Blacks were being treated unjustly. It was necessary to use force to liberate people being treated unjustly.

2.3  In order to stop the spread of evil 

The Bible makes very clear that God has authorized the government to enforce the law and punish offenders. ”For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. (Romans 13:4)

There are three facts of life:  We live in a fallen world.  Every person has sinned. And wherever there is sin, people hurt each other.  So there must be laws enacted to prevent people from hurting each other.  God has authorized law and government as part of life.  He started by giving us the Ten Commandments.  "You shall do this and you shall not do this..."  God has established laws to restrain evil.  God has authorized government to enforce those laws, because if there's no enforcement, laws are worthless. 
Paul assures the Christians living under Roman rule, “if you are doing good you have nothing to fear from good government.” However, "If you break the law you may well have fear."  Have you ever been driving and seen a blue light flashing in your rear view mirror? How did you feel? Fearful? Then the police car overtook you and ignored you!  Why did you get uptight?  Because you have a guilty conscience.  If you have never broken the law, you’ve no reason to be afraid of law enforcement.

The Bible says that God has established government to be the agent of enforcement to maintain the peace, because we live in a world where people will hurt each other.  So God says there are laws.

For instance, the eighth commandment, "You shall not steal." That means you have a right to private property.  So do other people.  Most of the world would agree that Saddam tried to steal Kuwait, just as Turkey appears to be stealing the Kurdish homeland, just as Israel wants the land on which the Palestinians live.  That is why the impartial implementation of international law is so important.  You don't go in and take over somebody's country by force.  We shouldn't do it.  They shouldn't do it.  So God has instituted governments to punish evildoers.  "Doesn't the sixth commandment say, `You shall not kill.'"  No it doesn't.  It says "You shall not  murder."  The word is used 47 times in the Bible and it always means murder.  Is there a difference between killing and murder?  Absolutely. 

C.S. Lewis said, "All killing is no more murder than all sexual intercourse is adultery."  There is a world of difference and it has to do with intent.  Many times in the Old Testament, God commanded capital punishment for certain kinds of crimes.  When is it right to go to war?  To bring about justice.  To preserve freedom. To reduce evil in the world.  I will leave it to you to decide whether the present war with Iraq is therefore a just or unjust war.

Right now the world’s media is focused on Iraq. But it was not the first war, it is not the only war going on right now and it most likely won’t be the last. According to Rick Warren, in the last 3,421 years there have only been 268 years that have seen no war.  During the last 5,560 years of recorded history -- there have been 14,531 known wars which averages out to a little over 2.6 wars for every year of recorded human history.  In the history of 185 generations, only ten of those generations have experienced unbroken peace.  So when Jesus said "There's going to be wars and rumours of wars" He knew what He was talking about.  We live in a fallen world.  Last question:

3. How should we respond during war? 
What's the Christian response? Four things:

3.1  Pray 
Timothy 2:1-2 says "First of all pray for kings and all others who are in authority, that we may live a quiet and peaceful life."  The first thing you're to pray for are our leaders.  They make decisions on our behalf.  Pray for our prime minister, pray for our Parliament, pray for our military leaders. Notice the benefit of praying for your leaders:  You'll end up living quiet and peaceful lives.  We're to pray for leaders. We ought to pray for our soldiers, the men and women who are over there.  The Bible also says we also ought to pray for our enemies. Matthew 5:44.  We need to pray for our enemies.  "Pray for those who hurt you and despitefully use you and persecute you."  We ought to pray that they will have a change of heart.

3.2  Trust God
Trust God in all situations.  The Bible says "The Lord is my light and salvation.  Whom shall I fear?  Though an army besiege me and war break out against me, even then I will be confident."  (Psalm 27:1, 3)  While we pray for our soldiers, we also accept the fact in reality when war happens, there are casualties. There will be people who lose their lives.  So we're to pray and trust God realizing that God is in control, that God knows what He's doing, and that God will carry us through whatever situation we face. We have families in our church whose husbands, sons and daughters are in the Gulf right now.  God is with you.  He will help you face whatever the future brings.  So we pray and we trust God.

3.3  Seek peace 
What does it mean to seek peace?  "Turn from evil and do good.  Seek peace and pursue it."  (Psalm 34:14). Seek peace means do whatever you can to bring about peace.  Not only peace between nations but peace everywhere.  You need to seek peace in your family.  You need to seek peace with your husband/your wife.  You need to seek peace with your children. You need to seek peace with people you are estranged from at work.  That's the mark of a Christian.  "Blessed are the peacemakers, they shall be called the sons of God."  During the Second World War,
Bishop William Temple said "We Christians in war are called to the hardest task of all -- to fight without hatred, to resist without bitterness and in the end if God so grants it, triumph without vindictiveness."  We seek peace.

3.4  We need to support each other 
The Bible says "Carry each other's burdens and fulfill the law of
Christ." (Galatians 6:2).  In a crisis time like this, the church really shows itself as a family.  We are a family, an extended family, an extended network of support for those lives influenced and affected by this war.  We need to support those serving in our armed forces and their families and also look for ways to support the people of Iraq, especially the Christians of Iraq.  If you're not in a small group, I encourage you -- get in a small group. If you missed last week’s sermon on small groups, please pick up a tape at the reception and find out how important being part of a small group is. You need one especially in a time of international crisis like this.

Let me close with a scene from one of my favorite films, "High Noon" starring Gary Cooper. The film is at least forty years old, but well worth renting from the classics section of Blockbuster. Gary Cooper was the sheriff of a small western town. Earlier a gang of four outlaw brothers had terrorized the town. The sheriff had brought them to justice and sent them to prison.

In prison they vowed that when they got out they would kill the sheriff. The movie focuses on one particular day. The sheriff has just married the beautiful
Grace Kelly. She happens to be a devout Quaker utterly opposed to all violence. The sheriff resigns from law enforcement and the couple is about ready to leave town on their honeymoon. He is going to start a new life as a rancher. Suddenly word comes that the outlaw brothers have been released from prison and are due to arrive that very day on the noon train. Everybody urges the couple to get out of town quickly. They ride away, but the sheriff is troubled. Finally, he turns the wagon around and heads back to town, much to the consternation of his bride. He cannot stand to run away from his old enemies. He pins the badge back on his shirt. Quickly he tries to round up a posse. It's a Sunday morning and lots of people are in church. The sheriff interrupts the service, explains the emergency, and asks the men of the congregation to help him form a posse. Several people stand up and respond. One of them says, "We'd like to help you, Sheriff, but we're not trained gunmen. That's what we hire sheriffs for." Then another says, "You know, Sheriff, we Christians don't believe in violence." Still another says, "Sheriff, you're a brave man but it would probably have been wiser if you had not come back to town."

The Sheriff turns and walks out in disgust. In the background you hear Tex Ritter singing the theme song-"I do not know what fate awaits me; I only know I must be brave, and I must face the man who hates me, or lie a coward, a craven coward, or lie a coward in my grave." In case you haven't seen the movie, I'm not going to tell you how it turns out.

How does the movie relate to the crisis with
Iraq? Nations are so interconnected now that the world could be compared to a small western town. The United Nations through countless resolutions has declared Saddam Hussein to be an outlaw. The job of sheriff has been thrust on President Bush and Tony Blair. We are like those citizens in church. We must prayerfully decide how big a threat the outlaw is, and what we should do about it as our leaders have called us to support them. May God grant us wisdom and courage and may freedom and justice be His gifts to the entire world.

Lets pray.

Lord, we do pray for peace in Iraq.  We pray that the war may be over quickly.  We pray for strength and wisdom for our leaders.  Help them to lead with compassion, integrity, sincerity, and wisdom.  We pray for our enemies, that peace and reconciliation may come quickly.  We pray for the families in our church and for those who are affected by war right now.  We ask for your protection and grace and blessing on them.  Help us as a church family to reach out to our community and to all who need encouragement and support during this time.  In Jesus' name.  Amen.

I am deeply indebted to Rick Warren for the inspiration and much of the content of this sermon. For more information on his ministry visit: The image is taken from the BBC website