The Sixth Commandment: You Shall Not Murder
In such polarizing times it is difficult to maintain a godly posture towards those we disagree with. We are quick to allow our political allegiances to determine how we think about and treat others. If we follow the attitudes of many of our favorite radio and cable tv pundits, we may find ourselves not only in fundamental disagreement with our opponents, but we will begin to despise everything about them.
What is most discouraging to me is the fact that this polarizing attitude has entered into the church across the nation, and likely around the world. There is not a pastor I know who is not dealing with various levels of tension within their context. In some cases it has impacted the leadership. In other cases it has put the congregation at odds with the leadership. In almost every case, it has led to some kind of division. Several people become so offended that they no longer see any possibility for unity, and they leave the church.
I’m convinced that much of this division has been caused by the elevation of our commitments to secondary and tertiary matters. If those matters have become more important to us than our primary purpose, we should repent. I would also acknowledge that there are cases where the division was over a matter of first importance. Sometimes division is inevitable, but we should all seek to maintain the unity of the church as a witness of our love for Christ and his bride. Where discord exists, we should defer personal preferences for the sake of others, and ensure that our convictions are grounded in Scripture. That doesn’t eliminate all tension, but it should lead to much greater unity.
Now, what does this have to do with the sixth commandment? God desires unity among his covenant people so much, that He forbids anyone from eliminating their personal opponents in thought, word, or deed. This is a practical issue that must begin with our understanding of Scripture before it involves any political or social position regarding our present crisis. Opinions about the appropriate response to the coronavirus will differ across every sphere of society, but we must not allow those differences to destroy the covenantal relationships that God has established.
I realize most people are not resorting to hatred and physical violence, and I don’t know of anyone who has been murdered over a disagreement about the coronavirus. But many relationships have been severed. And what boils underneath those outward divisions is oftentimes a heart that has already violated the sixth commandment in word and thought. It can be helpful to speak in terms of the extremes in order to build camaraderie around the essentials.
God, through the leadership of Moses, has led the Israelites out of bondage to Egypt. They are now free to worship God and live according to His standards. But, they don’t make it very far before some restrictions of conduct are spelled out for them. Yes, they have freedom, but their freedom does not give them license to sin. Every commandment that is included in this list has implications that carry well beyond the substance of the content themselves. That becomes abundantly clear in the sixth commandment.
The first four commandments deal primarily with how we are to show love for God. And the latter six commandments deal primarily with how we are to show love for our neighbor. The fifth commandment dealt with honoring our parents, and by implication we honor all other authorities God has placed over us. The sixth commandment prohibits murder, and by implication it prohibits any hatred of others including our enemies.
The biblical principle that takes into account passages of application from all of Scripture is this: No human may take the life of another human whether physically or psychologically. As always, there are exceptions to the rule that we will consider, but the basic principle is that the sixth commandment forbids murder, and that includes thoughts or deeds which tend toward murder.
Read Exodus 20:13
Well, I believe that wraps up the shortest sermon passages we have ever read. The Hebrew is only two words. Although some translations use the word “kill” the term generally implies intent to do harm, so the translation “murder” is preferred. This morning we will look at the physical act of murder and next week we will consider the psychological aspects of murder.
I. Examples of the Sixth Commandment
Since God created man in his own image, He alone has the authority to take away life (Genesis 1:27; 9:6). When someone decides to take their own life or the life of another, they disrespect the image of God in which they were created. There is no earthly distinction, whether from birth or nature, that justifies ending the life of an opponent.
The basic command is easy enough to understand. We do not have the right to murder another person. And yet, while ten out of ten people may agree to that command, some create exceptions that are not warranted. Let’s consider several examples:
- Abortion: The vast majority of abortions are performed by those who perceive a baby as opposed to their station in life. Maybe the child would require more care than they could provide and the shame of carrying a child to term and not keeping it is an opponent to their reputation or immediate concerns. At what point does a human begin to take on the image of God? It is the moment the miracle of life begins. The Lord already knows that child while it is forming in the womb (Psalm 139:13). It is indeed murder to end the life of a fetus. Everyone agrees that a new born baby has a right to life. So an appropriate question for pro-choice advocates to consider is what are the differences between a fetus and a new born child? Pro-life apologist, Scott Klusendorf, summarizes the four main differences using the acronym SLED:
- Size – Those taller and larger are not deserving of more human rights.
- Level of Development – Maturity in capabilities and intelligence do not determine rights.
- Environment – Where you are has no bearing on who you are. Traveling eight inches down the birth canal does not turn a blob of tissue into a protectable human.
- Degree of Dependency – Do those who depend upon insulin and pacemakers to sustain life
- Suicide: Self-murder is forbidden. This is not the unforgivable sin as many Roman Catholics claim, but it does raise serious questions about the presence of genuine faith and repentance. Downplaying the serious nature of this sin may lead some to take this route to avoid consequences they believe are unbearable.DeYoung Your life is precious to God, even when you have concluded that it’s pointless.
- Euthanasia: Doctors are required to protect and preserve life. They take the Hippocratic oath to do no harm to their patients. That does not mean doctors must use artificial life support when the patient denies it, but they should not hasten their patients death either. Euthanasia is murder.
- Negligence: If your negligence leads to the death of someone, you could also be guilty of murder. If an ox attacked a person, an Israelite was required to keep that ox locked up. If it attacked again, the owner would be held responsible (Exodus 21:28-29). Similarly, homeowners were required to install a parapet around their roof. If someone was killed because they fell off a roof without a parapet, the owner would be held accountable for murder (Deuteronomy 22:8). This includes reckless behavior that puts your own convenience or desires above the safety of others. Since God has made every human being after his own image, we are to be extraordinarily cautious about protecting the sanctity of life. We do not take our own life or the life of others for granted with reckless living.
II. Exceptions to the Sixth Commandment
On the other hand, some people will not allow for exceptions that would contradict Scripture itself. Ironically, the same folks who would defend abortion and euthanasia would point to the sixth commandment in order to argue against valid exceptions such as capital punishment and just war.
- Capital punishment: The punishment was to fit the crime. You forfeit your right to life by taking another person’s life (Genesis 9:6; Exodus 21:12). It is not considered murder for civil authorities to put someone to death.
- Just War: You cannot read Joshua without acknowledging this exception (Joshua 6:17, 21). Jesus did not instruct soldiers to leave their calling (Luke 3:14), nor did he rebuke the centurion for his military office (Luke 7:8-9). Pacifists argue that the only wars justified are those in which God gave clear and direct commandment, using war as a form of judgment upon Israel’s enemies. However, if we are to take that position consistently, we would have to suggest that the elimination of murderous tyrants is never justified. Most reformed scholars adopt some form of Augustine’s “Just War Theory”. In order to preserve life, at times, war is necessary. War may be necessary in order to protect the peace and punish unbridled wickedness. I think many, if not most, modern examples do not meet the high threshold of the Just War Theory. But, there is a spectrum of strict and loose interpretation that leads to various conclusions.
- Accidental killing: This was treated differently than murder. Cities of refuge were available for involuntary manslaughter (Exodus 21:13; Numbers 35:9-34; Deuteronomy 4:41-42; 19:2-13). Even this is a form of punishment. The one who accidentally kills another person must remain in the city of refuge until the death of the High Priest. If he is found outside, the “avenger of blood” has the right to take his life.
- Self-Defense: If a thief broke into a home, the owner would not be found guilty if he struck the man and killed him (Exodus 22:2-3). This is consistent with our own laws for self-defense. Sometime, the only way to save life is to take the life of an attacker.
III. Application of the Sixth Commandment
We must recognize how much the church has compromised on these matters. In addition to foggy thinking regarding valid exceptions to the sixth commandment, there is a decreasing difference between the world and the church in their participation in the examples we looked at earlier.
Many young Christian girls who fall into immorality compound their sin by quietly aborting their child. A 2014 study found that 54% of abortions were provided to professing Christians. The Church must learn how to condemn sin while celebrating God’s gift of life. Young, unmarried mothers should feel loved and accepted in a community that cherishes life.
Thankfully, those who attend church are significantly less likely to commit suicide, but it still happens far too often. As church attendance has waned in America, suicide rates have increased. There is little doubt that the coronavirus lockdown has played a role in this year’s statistics. Experts believe it will continue to play a role as the increased number of those suffering from depression turn to drugs and alcohol and lose their will to live one or two years from now.
A 2005 Gallup poll suggest that 61% of professing Christians think euthanasia is compassionate, but when you call it what it is—doctor-assisted suicide—the support drops significantly. So let’s be clear when dealing with the subject, that it is indeed a form of suicide, which is self-murder.
Finally, I don’t believe the Church is any less reckless than the secular world. In some ways, because Christians are confident of the Bible’s teaching about heaven, we can become even more reckless. Every death leaves behind a number of immediate family members who continue to suffer the loss in this life.
I am not saying this because I want to increase any amount of shame we might feel on these matters. Many of us know women who have had abortions. Many of us know loved ones who have taken their own lives. And many of us know families that have suffered the loss of a loved one due to the reckless living of someone else.
We need to speak the truth in love. We need to promote the value of life at every age. And more than anything else, we need to learn how to show compassion to those suffering under the heavy weight of shame.
It is the kindness of God that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4). The law is right and good in pointing out the sin of murder, but we must also know how to point people to the Lord who offers the hope they are seeking. The same Lord who gave life has the authority to take it away. And the same Lord who condemns murder also has the compassion to forgive His own murderers!It was while suffering on the cross that Jesus declared, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
The Lord Jesus gave His life as a ransom for many, including that number were some who mocked him, despised him, and condemned him to crucifixion. Only at the cross, does the shame of our sin meet the compassion of a sinless Savior. Jesus Christ suffered under the weight of our guilt and shame so that we might experience the joy and freedom and peace of salvation. Let us rejoice in a life that is filled with the purpose of serving Him and pointing others to Him with the word of the cross.
And now may your experience be like the psalmist who said, “Surely God is my help, the Lord is the One who sustains me”; May your confidence be as the apostle who said, “The One who calls you is faithful, He will do it”. Psalm 54:4; 1 Thes. 5:24