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As we continue in our series The Big Ten, our goal is to learn the precepts and the principles of the Ten Commandments to help us become more like Jesus Christ. Today we find ourselves on the sixth commandment: “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13). To understand this commandment, we need to focus on the word you. And the question we need to ask is, who has the right to make the decision to take a human life?
It’s important to understand that each person is made in the image of God. He created us, and each human life is precious. He made us in His image, for His purpose, and He wants us to be like Him in character; to be holy as He is holy.
Our world talks a lot about the value of life, but most often societies treat life with indifference. Think about it:
- We kill millions through unnecessary wars.
- We often see an unwanted pregnancy as an inconvenience, and millions of unborn babies are aborted—killed—every year.
- Killings from gangs and criminals ravage many of our communities.
- Thousands are killed around the world each year through mass murder in the name of politics, ideology, race, and sometimes religion.
- Murder touches the life of almost everyone on earth.
Our “enlightened” societies use television and movies to glorify murder, and in the process, we’ve become desensitized to human suffering. Violence is glamorized in our literature and entertainment. Today, our news media decides which acts of murder are justified and which are not.
I find it interesting that in spite of our fascination with murder, most cultures throughout history have strict laws against it. It just depends on who is killed. In 82 BC the Romans had the law of dolus malus. If you killed “as part of an evil design” you would be executed. But at the same time, Romans were murdering people in the colosseums for entertainment.
The Law of God is written on our hearts, so very few people need to be convinced that murder within their own community is wrong. But human life will only find its true value as we understand and live by God’s Word. Without that firm foundation, our hearts become hardened and judgments about murder become arbitrary. The sanctity of human life will depend on our feelings, selfish desires, and warped values. It’s easy to dehumanize others when we dull our conscience.
For example, many will argue that capital punishment is the same as murder, while at the same time they passionately fight for the “right” to murder their own living, unborn child. The main reason for this double standard is that one situation affects them personally (an unwanted pregnancy) and one does not.
The question once again is, “Who possesses the authority to take human life? Who has the right to make that decision?” It’s why I said earlier the emphasis in the Sixth Commandment is on the word you. YOU shall not murder! Taking another person’s life is not our right to decide. That judgment is reserved for God alone. That’s the heart of this commandment. God does not allow us to choose to willfully, deliberately take another person’s life. The Sixth Commandment reminds us that God alone is the giver of life and has the authority to take it or to grant humans permission to take it.
You are not to deliberately kill premeditatedly or in the anger of the moment. In the Bible there’s a difference between premeditated murder and deaths that are caused by accident, manslaughter, carelessness or other unintentional actions.
God’s desire is for us to be merciful, because He is merciful. He’s especially merciful to anyone who repents. In Ezekiel 33:11 we read, “Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?’ He showed the same mercy to the people of Nineveh in the book of Jonah.
God desires to show mercy, and He wants us to show mercy as well. When Jesus walked the earth, He gave us many examples of this.
Remember the story of the woman caught in adultery? What was Jesus’ reaction when they brought her before Him? According to the Law, her accusers could stone her to death, and had Jesus gone along with that punishment they would have gladly done it. But Jesus knew their hearts, their desires, their thoughts and their motives. He in no way condoned the woman’s sin, but we know from the story that He did not condemn her to death. Instead, He showed mercy, and commanded her in John 8:11 to “go and sin no more.” He gave her the opportunity to reconsider how she was living and change her life to avoid judgment. This was the same way God treated the Ninevites in the story of Jonah. The God of the Old testament is also the God of the New Testament.
Do you remember the conversion of Paul? It shows us once again God’s mercy and forgiveness. Paul was responsible for the deaths of countless Christians before his conversion (Acts 26:10). But God forgave him, and Paul flourished after being given mercy. In 1 Timothy 1:13-16 Paul tells us, “Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.”
Now we know that for certain offences, God’s law permits government authorities to impose capital punishment. When the country is following God’s principles and precepts, this action does not violate the Sixth Commandment. For example, a person’s guilt must be undeniable, based on solid evidence and/or testimony of witnesses before they are put to death. The apostle Paul reaffirms the state’s authority to inflict capital punishment in Romans 13:3-4: “For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” When a system becomes godless and corrupt, however, that permission is revoked.
In Matthew 5 Jesus shows us the spiritual intent and application of the Law, and in doing so He makes the Law even more demanding. The Sixth Commandment is an example. Jesus said in Matthew 5:21-22, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”
Raca was a derogatory expression meaning “empty-headed,” insinuating a person’s stupidity or inferiority. It was an offensive name used to show utter contempt for another person. Jesus’ point is when you say “raca” or “you fool” it expresses the evil desire of your heart. He’s saying murder finds its root in your anger. To use words like these means there is hatred lurking in your heart.
So, Jesus expanded the meaning of murder to include anger, bitterness, contempt, or hatred toward others. He said if you harbor a malicious attitude toward another person it violates the intent of the Sixth Commandment. Why? Because this is mental and emotional warfare, the desire to see another person suffer. Jesus is trying to help us guard against dehumanizing others, which makes it easier to dull or sear our conscience. When that happens, evil of every kind is unleashed.
You may be thinking, “I think you’re over-reacting, Pastor.” So let me give you an example of how this attitude of the heart has killed millions. In the Twentieth Century the theory of evolution was happily adopted by communist and totalitarian countries as a new enlightenment. They said God is dead, and in their passion to kill the Creator they seared their consciences and dehumanized anyone who didn’t measure up to the new thinking or was in the way of their goals. Human value came from the ideologies and or opinions of other humans. The result was that the Twentieth Century was the bloodiest century in the history of mankind.
Without God, human value, purpose, or identity is at the whim of culture or those in power. Remember the Romans: Kill one of us…death. Kill thousands of you…fine. Jesus knew that given an opportunity, our sinful nature would allow our minds to be consumed with destructive intentions. Our thoughts and motives would drift away from love and mercy. The spirit of murder can live in our hearts, and Jesus warns us the consequences for those thoughts and actions could be our own destruction.
Instead, Jesus wants us to show love and mercy to those who have caused us harm. Paul tells us in Romans 12:17-19, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 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.”
Even in times of war a Christian is expected to live by a higher standard than the world around them. I remember a story that Deb’s grandfather told me about World War II. Sometimes enemy soldiers were taken prisoner and they needed to be moved to a holding camp. The journey to the camp was a long one, and it was dangerous. So, soldiers would sometimes shoot prisoners they didn’t want to deal with. In the fog and brutality of war, the evil that surrounded everyone often took over.
Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:43-45, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”
God wants us to go far beyond avoiding murder. He calls us to not purposefully harm another person with our words or actions. He wants us to rise above those around us. He tells us to treat even those who choose to hate us as compassionately as we can. He wants us to build others up, not tear them down.
Jesus also wants us to do everything in our power to live in peace and harmony with others. In Matthew 5:9 he declares, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
Paul tells us in Romans 12:21, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” This should be the approach of every believer. It’s our mercy and love that fulfills the intent of the Sixth Commandment. We need to focus our hearts each and every day on becoming more like Christ. We must see each life as a creation of God with value and purpose, and try with all of our hearts to respect the precious gift of all human life.
Pastor Jeff Greer