The well-known song poses the question, “War! (huh-yeah) What is it good for?” It also provides the singer’s opinion as to the answer: “Absolutely nothing!”
Whether we agree with the singer’s conclusion or not, war is an ongoing occurrence in our world today, and will continue to be until Jesus returns (Mark 13:7). Such a reality may lead us to question whether or not it is acceptable in God’s eyes for a Christian to fight in a war.
In Scripture, we do not find a nice, simple list that God gives of acceptable reasons for fighting in a war; neither do we find a list of unacceptable reasons. So we are left to apply some biblical examples and principals to help us arrive at an answer to the question at hand.
As God guided his people throughout Old Testament history, there were many occasions on which he commanded his people to wage war against enemies. Often times this was an effort to keep the sinful practices of neighboring nations (e.g., idolatry or sexual immorality) from influencing Israel. Not only did God specifically tell his people to go to war in some cases, but he also gave his blessing by granting them victory. It would seem to be a contradiction then for God to command the Old Testament believers to go to war if fighting in a war was unacceptable to him.
In the New Testament John the Baptist preached a sermon once. Afterward, some soldiers approached him and asked how they could show that they were sorry for their sins. John didn’t tell them to stop sinning by serving as soldiers or that they couldn’t go to war, but said, “Don’t exhort money and don’t accuse people falsely – be content with your pay” (Luke 3:14). Certainly we would expect some sort of admonition if it was wrong or sinful to serve as a soldier. Moreover, we would hardly expect to hear the apostle Paul use the term “soldier” in a complementary manner in his letters if serving as a soldier was contrary to God’s will (Philippians 2:25; 2 Timothy 2:3,4).
Finally, war is a responsibility given to governments by God. “[The government] 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). God has given governments the responsibility of upholding justice. Governments then carry out that responsibility by enlisting people to serve in various agencies, like police forces or the military. Therefore, when a person serves in that capacity, the person is serving as a representative of the government. The Christian then can in good conscience serve in such a role knowing that he is both serving God’s representatives in the government (in keeping with the 4th Commandment), and serving and protecting his fellowman (in keeping with the 5th Commandment).