Do Not Murder

March 19, 2017 / No. 3872

Dear Radio Friends,
Today we consider this brief verse from Exodus, chapter 20, verse 13: “Thou shalt not kill.” The word “kill” here refers specifically to the act of murder, which is taking another human being’s life unlawfully with premeditation. However, as we will see, this commandment also applies to what we say—our words—and what we think—our thoughts—concerning others. This is the point that Jesus makes in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 5, when He says that we are guilty of murder already when we are angry at and speak derogatively of another. This, says Jesus, is murder. And who of us can escape the personal application of Jesus’ words?
When we began this series on the Ten Commandments, I pointed out that one of the things the law will do is uncover our sin and sinfulness. It does that in order to bring us to repentance and to Jesus Christ and His cross for forgiveness. This commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” shows the depravity and the sin of our hearts and of our nature. Our response should be repentance and seeking forgiveness and salvation in Jesus Christ. This is the only remedy for murder. This is the only place of forgiveness for murderers. Jesus died on the cross also for those guilty of murder, that is, for you and me and our murderous hearts.
Behind this commandment concerning life, there are several principles. The first is this, that God is a living God. Hebrews 11 says, “he that comes to God must believe that he is,” that is, the reality of the existence of God. God reveals His name to be, in Exodus chapter 3, The Great I AM, I AM THAT I AM. This points to the fact that God is a self-existent God. We need Him, but He does not need us. Behind this is the beautiful doctrine that we find in the Scripture of the Trinity—that the Godhead is made up of three Persons in one Being. In His Being as the triune God— Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—God lives a full and perfect life already. He does not need us. This is the first principle: God is a living God. Without this principle, that God is real and that God lives, there would be no commandment concerning human life.
The second principle is this, that God is the Creator who gives life. This is the way Scripture begins: “In the beginning God created.” He created the heavens and the earth and all that is in them, including human life. There is nothing that has life, and there is nothing that can live, apart from God. Not only is He the Creator who is the origin of life, but in His providence He sustains life. In the book of Acts, chapter 17, verses 26-28, the apostle Paul makes this point when he says that God made all the nations to dwell on the earth, He appointed the times and the boundaries of man’s existence. He says that we are God’s offspring and that in Him we live, and move, and have our existence. That is the second principle: God is the Creator who gives life. And that is important also from a spiritual point of view. We have our spiritual life from God alone.
The third principle behind this commandment is that God is the sovereign over life and death. Or, to put that another way, the right to life and the right to death belong exclusively to God and not to us. We understand that life and the beginning of human life is never an accident. We understand also that we do not have the choice to terminate life. In Deuteronomy 32:39 the sovereign God says, “I am the one who kills and I am the one who makes alive.” In Job, chapter 14:5, Job confesses that God appoints a man’s days. God determines who will live, when they will live, how long their life will be. He has determined the beginning and the end of our days. So, in Psalm 31:15 the psalmist confesses, “My times are in thy hand.”
Another principle behind this commandment is that human life is different from animal life. That is obvious from the creation in the very beginning. For when God came to the creating of man, He formed man from the dust of the ground, and He breathed into him the breath of life, and man became a living soul. We see in this that there was a two-part creation to man that corresponds to the two parts of man’s being. He is a living body and he is a living soul. He is made in the image of God. He is made with an eternal aspect—his soul—that stands in relationship to God to eternity. He is created in a moral and ethical and responsible relationship with his God. While the Bible is dead set against cruelty to animals, we must not place the same value on animal life as we do on human life. The Scriptures teach us that we may kill and that we may eat animals for food.
Another principle is this, that life consists of relationships. Really, that is what life is: relationships. This is the difference between man and his creation in relationship to God and animals in their creation in relationship to God. God puts us in responsible relationships—with Himself and also with one another. We are called to protect the life and promote the life of our fellow human beings. We are called to love them and especially to love the eternal aspect of our fellow human beings—their souls.
Those are the principles behind this commandment.
This commandment forbids the sin of murder: “Thou shalt not kill.” That is, it forbids the sin of unlawfully, with premeditation, hatred, taking the life of another.
Now, we must understand that not all taking of human life is murder. There is oftentimes confusion here. People will say that if killing is wrong, how can capital punishment be legal and practiced by the state? Here I point to two passages in the Scriptures. The first one is in Genesis 9:6. Here God says to Noah, “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.” This tells us the value of human life and also what must be done to those who destroy human life in murder. The other passage is in Romans 13, where we are called to honor the civil authorities because they are appointed by God and they are the ministers of God to us for good. So, Romans 13:4 says that we should be afraid if we do evil, for he, that is, the civil magistrate, “beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.” The sword is an instrument of death. This verse tells us that God gives this instrument of death, the sword, to the civil magistrate in order to stop evil .
So we see from the Scriptures that not all killing is wrong. This applies similarly to situations of war and defense—self-defense, the defense of a nation or the defense of the life of ourselves or somebody else when that life is threatened.
What we see here is that this points us to a deeper understanding of the commandment. The commandment is not just about the act of killing but it is about murder that comes from the heart of man, man’s hatred toward his fellow man. As we look at the Scriptures, we see that man was a murderer from the beginning. We see it in the heart of man from the very beginning. Genesis 4, immediately after the fall of man into sin, records the death of the first human being, that is, the death of Abel. Abel died as a result of murder because his brother Cain was both envious of and filled with hatred towards Abel. So Cain slew his brother. In the same chapter, Genesis 4, we see that a descendant of Cain, Lamech, boasts in the fact that he has murdered another man. In Genesis 6, when we come to the time of the Flood, we see that God destroys the earth with the Flood because the earth is filled with violence, that is, with murderous hatred. This continues throughout Scripture. The sons of Jacob plot to murder their brother Joseph. Pharaoh determines to murder all the male children born to the Israelites. Saul is filled with a hatred in which he goes after David in order to murder him. Ahab murders his neighbor Naboth for a piece of land. Manasseh, a wicked king in Judah, murders the people of God with persecution. Herod, when he hears that a king is born in Bethlehem, murders all the children there who are two years old and younger. And we see this murderous hatred of the Jews against Jesus Christ and also against the early New Testament Christians. Murder is in the heart of man.
It is no different in our day. If we pick up the papers, we read about crime, murder, guns, gangs, and so on. People by the hundreds and thousands die daily in our world as the result of murder. It has become a part of the culture and the society in which we live. It is the way people are entertained today. And murder is legalized in the killing of the unborn by abortion and in what is becoming known as “death with dignity.” We are so desensitized to murder in our society that in order for a murder to capture out attention, it must be extreme and extra-ordinary. But, all these things that we mentioned are murder and they must be punished, not only for the safety of other citizens, but so that justice may be carried out. The wages of sin is death, and this is connected to the justice of God, which He executes on Jesus Christ on the cross.
In the world we see the crass and violent breaking of this commandment. But this is not the only thing that is covered by this commandment. This commandment also requires the preservation of life, that we do everything within our power to care for the life that God has given. Not only that we care for others, but also that we take care of ourselves, personally. The Scriptures teach us that, as Christians, we are the temple of the Holy Spirit. Our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Not only do we not have the right to destroy life and our own bodies, but also should not harm or abuse our bodies. This can be done, not only through taking one’s own life, but also by things like gluttony and the use of addictive substances like drugs and alcohol. So, this commandment also requires care for ourselves.
We live in a day and age in which one is encouraged to make an idol of himself and of his body. We ought not keep our bodies healthy in order to make an idol of ourselves or out of self-worship, but in order to give God the glory in obedience to this commandment, to honor the life that He has given to us.
We see the application of this commandment to be especially penetrating when we look at the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 5, verses 21 and 22. These verses fall in the section where Jesus is pointing to the deeper applications of the law and to the fact that sin is not only in the deed. So He says in Matthew 5:21: “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time [that is, by the interpreters of the Jewish law], Thou shalt not kill [or murder]; and whosoever shall kill [or murder] shall be in danger of the judgment.” Jesus says, “But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca [or empty-head], shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.”
Our children are very honest. They will say things like “You fool, you empty-head, you idiot, you dummy,” to their playmates. That is murder. But adults are more refined and more devilish in the covering up of this sin. These verses that Jesus gives us here tell us that the looks and the gestures and the thoughts and the anger that we have towards another are murders. That is because they come from a desire to get rid of the other person from our lives, to get them out of our existence. They are in the way. That is murder.
So, there is a murder that can take place also in our thoughts, not only because those thoughts may, in the end, lead to murder, but those thoughts themselves are murderous. Just as lust is adultery, so evil thoughts concerning the other are murderous.
We have the example of this in Cain, who, after God had approved the sacrifice of Abel, became angry and jealous. The Bible tells us in Proverbs 14:30 that envy is like a rottenness in the bones, that is, it will soon consume a person and turn to hatred and that hatred will become murder. That is, a hatred that is directed not just at the neighbor, the fellow human being, but in the end at God Himself, because we do not like that God has put this person in our lives.
So, we have to be warned against anger. We have to deal with our anger. Proverbs 16:32 tells us that the man who controls his temper is better than a man who conquers a city. Ephesians 4:26 tells us that we should not let the sun go down on our wrath, that is, we should deal with this every day. Yes, there is a righteous anger for the causes of God, but when we are angry for our own cause against another, then that is murder.
As well as forbidding these attitudes and behaviors, the commandment requires love. Love, we should see, is both a feeling and an activity, and the law of God demands both that we have the proper attitude of love as well as an active obedience—that we love not only in word but also in very deed.
What is this love? Basically it is two things. First, that we put the other first, that we love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Jesus is not, when He says that, endorsing self-love. But He is saying this: “Everyone loves himself. No man ever yet hated his own flesh, but nourishes it and cherishes it” (Eph. 5). And we are to love others and care for them as we would for ourselves. Who has ever loved another as he loves himself? This, of course, means that our love must be sacrificial, it must be self-less, it must be complete, we must be willing to love the whole person—physical and emotional needs of the other person—and to do that with our entire being. So, first, this love is selfless.
Then, in the second place, this love is spiritual. Jesus says in Matthew 5 that we are to love our enemies and to pray for them that despitefully use us and persecute us. What is that? It is a spiritual love, a love for their souls, in which we pray for their salvation. What is it to love your children? It is not only to feed them and to clothe them but it is to teach them in the ways of the Lord. It is to have a spiritual concern for their eternal aspect, their soul. This is true love. And this is what the commandment requires.
And this is a love we are to have for every other human being that God puts in our lives. We could categorize all of the people that come into our lives into three groups. There are first the closest ones—people that we would call brothers and sisters (brethren, in the Bible). So we have family members. We have fellow church members. In some ways loving these people, the people we would call our brethren, is the easiest. These relationships are the most rewarding. But, at the same time, they can be the most demanding, because we have an awareness of the faults of the other and living with them requires a constancy and a faithfulness and a willingness to forgive. Also, in our closest relationships we find it the easiest to get away with hateful behaviors. A man who treats his wife with disdain in private and really hates her may treat her quite well in public. What we are reminded of here is the calling that we have in the closest relationships—to love with all that we are, to love as ourselves.
A second group of people would be called in the Bible “our neighbors.” Who is your neighbor? Your neighbor is anyone and everyone that God puts in your life. What is unique about loving the neighbor is that you oftentimes do not have a relationship with this person and there is no return in a relationship then as you love them. Here society fails most in love for others. Each to his own, individualism, is the watchword and the way of our society. When there is an act of kindness, we are surprised by it. Yet, the Scriptures say this is how we should love one another. We should also love the neighbor.
Then, a third category of fellow human beings is those who are our enemies. We mentioned this from Matthew 5 already. Here, though, we not only expect nothing in return, but, as we love our enemies we can expect hatred in return. We can expect that they will despitefully use us and persecute us. Yet, we must maintain an attitude of love and of pity and of prayerfulness towards them, as David loved Saul. Saul wanted to take the life of David, and yet David preserved the life of Saul. This, of course, is a deeper, spiritual love. The Scriptures say, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
It is only as we understand that God is sovereign over life that we will be able to keep this commandment. It is in our experience of the love of God for us in Jesus Christ that we will love others. Because we know the love of God, because we know that Jesus gave His life for us in love, because we know forgiveness, because we know that God does not reward us according to our sins, we are willing to forgive and to love and to serve those around us. It is in the knowledge and experience of the love of God that we will keep this commandment of love for others. May God so help us.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for the gift of life, which includes this, that we have relationships, relationships with one another that are fulfilling and rewarding, and especially a relationship with Thee, the God of heaven and earth. We thank Thee, Lord, that Thou dost condescend to us in our low estate and that, in Thy love, we also may love. We may love Thee and we may have a love in our hearts for one another. Keep us, Lord, not only from the acts of murder, but also from evil, sinful thoughts against others—hateful, jealous thoughts—which are the causes of murder. And we confess, Lord, sin in our hearts. We pray for forgiveness. And we pray for the joy of knowing that we are forgiven so that we, in the experience of that, will be willing to serve and to love others even when they may not seem worthy of it to us. We pray these things in Jesus’ name, Amen.