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Faithlife

Do Not Murder: The 6th Commandment in the Christian Life

The Big 10: Learning about God and his People from the 10 Commandments  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Humans are made in the image of God, and the commandment against murder is a call to value and defend life, and act in the best interest of others.

Notes & Transcripts

The Command: Do Not Murder

Good evening, how are we, doing well? Good, good, I’m glad to hear that. Before we begin, I want to thank Doug for inviting me to speak and the elders for not firing him as soon as they found out he invited me. It’s a joy and a privilege to be here with you and I hope that we’ll be mutually blessed in our study together. If you have a Bible and want to follow along, there are five places specifically we’re to going to be tonight, and we’re going to start in :
“Do not murder.”- If you’re reading the King James Version tonight, you’ll find that the text says “kill” here, and that can be puzzling because those are two different words in English, so let’s go ahead and get that out of the way. The verb is רצח and it denotes an illegal/unsanctioned act of violence with the intent or result of ending another human being’s life, which can include our modern legal categories of manslaughter, negligent homicide, and the like. Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy expand on the specific applications of the term, making allowances for those guilty, by accident or negligence, of ending another person’s life without malice, premeditation, or rage being primary motivators. Cities of refuge, for instance, were places where persons who had unintentionally killed someone could go and, at the decision of the elders of that city based on all the available evidence, be safe from any “avenger of blood,” a designated person who was to seek a killer and kill them in turn. No restitution, however, was sufficient to mediate the death penalty for murder. A person guilty of murder or manslaughter would have to stay in the city of refuge until the high priest died, or else the avenger could find them and kill them without consequence. (Num 35:9-32) This should give us pause: many crimes could be atoned for with a ransom in the Old Testament. Sacrifices could be made or money could be paid. However, according to God, the penalty of a murderer has to be paid with either the death of the high priest or his own death at the hands of an avenger. This is a stark contrast to the ancient world where human life could be compensated for with money or the modern world wherein a wrongful death suit can be settled out of court for a substantial sum. This should also impress on us how seriously God takes human life.
Do not murder.”- . If you’re reading King Jimmy’s Version tonight, you’ll find that the text says “kill” here, and that can be puzzling because those are two different words in English, so let’s go ahead and get that out of the way. The verb is רצח and it denotes an illegal/unsanctioned act of violence with intent or result of ending another human being’s life, which can include our modern legal categories of manslaughter, negligent homicide, and the like. Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy expand on the specific applications of the term, making allowances for those guilty, by accident or negligence, of ending another person’s life without malice, premeditation, or rage being primary motivators. Cities of refuge, for instance, were places where persons who had unintentionally killed someone could go and, at the decision of the elders of that city based on all the available evidence, be safe from any “avenger of blood,” a designated person who was to seek a killer and kill them in turn. No restitution, however, was sufficient to mediate the death penalty for murder. A person guilty of murder or manslaughter would have to stay in the city of refuge until the high priest died, or else the avenger could find them and kill them without consequence. () This should give us pause: many crimes could be atoned for with a ransom in the Old Testament. Sacrifices could be made or money could be paid. However, according to God, the life of a murderer has to end with either the death of the high priest or his own death at the hands of an avenger. This is a stark contrast to the ancient world where human life could be compensated for with money or the modern world wherein a wrongful death suit can be settled out of court for a substantial sum. This should also impress on us how seriously God takes human life.

The God Who Commands and the Why of His Command

תִּרְצָח
We have to ask now, why is this such a big deal to God? Many of God’s ordinances today are mocked and treated as God being petty. His commandments against homosexuality, for instance, are treated less as a holy God ordaining the proper function and behavior of his creation and more as grouchy rants against things that he thinks are “gross.” Is murder the same way? Does God simply find murder unthinkable and therefore unacceptable? I don’t think so, and here’s why:
Do not murder.
“Whoever sheds human blood, by humans his blood will be shed, for God made humans in his image.”- There is an unimaginably weighty matter at hand here: the imago dei, or the image of God. Mankind is made in the image of God () and we can’t afford to overlook this. Who we are flows out of who God is and what he is like. Likewise, his commandments flow out of who he is and what he has done. (see ) Human beings are made in the image of a God who is powerful, loving, sovereign, faithful, and merciful, just to name a few things. Every commandment of God is one he is able to back up, not just with a “Because I said so” (the single most useless way to justify something of all time) but with, “Do this because it is consistent with my identity and my character, which I made you to reflect.” This should lead us to a stark realization: murder is wrong because it is an assault on who God is! Other sins can be rightly called idolatry or a breach of covenant trust, but no other sin can quite convey the message that God himself is so undeserving of love and respect that his image is not worth valuing and preserving. When a human life is taken, it is an assault on the goodness of God both in his creation and his own self. Murder therefore, is first and foremost about God and is wrong primarily because it defaces his image. (see ).

The Command Expanded

Whoever sheds human blood, by humans his blood will be shed, for God made humans in his image.
Before we begin to think that all that’s necessary to avoid violating the 6th commandment is to not shove knives in the chests of random passersby, Leviticus expands upon the command:
by humans his blood will be shed, for God made humans in his image.
for God made humans in his image.
“Do not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages due a hired worker must not remain with you until morning. Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but you are to fear your God; I am the Lord. ‘Do not act unjustly when deciding a case. Do not be partial to the poor or give preference to the rich; judge your neighbor fairly. Do not go about spreading slander among your people; do not jeopardize your neighbor’s life; I am the Lord. ‘Do not harbor hatred against your brother. Rebuke your neighbor directly, and you will not incur guilt because of him. Do not take revenge or bear a grudge against members of your community, but love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.” () While we may tend to see portions of this passage as retaining primarily to honesty in business, court, and personal life, there is a theme throughout: treat everyone with dignity. This culminates in “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and is anchored in “I am the Lord.” We should pay close attention here, because we tend to, if we’re not careful, generalize the Old Testament as mere ritual law or technicalities. Yet, “love one another” is a resounding theme in the Old Testament. The prophets especially hamper on this, whether it looks like Zechariah’s indictment of plotting against others in the courtroom (), Isaiah calling on Israel to abandon their pride and cruelty in favor of charity, kindness, and goodwill (), or Micah declaring that faithful love is part of what God requires (). It is overwhelmingly the case that even in the Old Testament, dry and bereft of love and kindness as some may think it to be, to treat all human beings with dignity and respect and to do what one could to ensure mutual human flourishing was required of the people of God.

The Command Restored

“Do not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages due a hired worker must not remain with you until morning. 14 Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but you are to fear your God; I am the Lord.
Christian Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2017), .
The full scope of the command was lost somewhere along the way in Jewish history. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says:
15 “Do not act unjustly when deciding a case. Do not be partial to the poor or give preference to the rich; judge your neighbor fairly. 16 Do not go about spreading slander among your people; do not jeopardize your neighbor’s life; I am the Lord.

“You have heard that it was said to our ancestors, Do not murder,,z and whoever murders will be subject to judgment. 22 But I tell you, everyone who is angry with his brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Whoever insults his brother or sister, will be subject to the court. Whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be subject to hellfire.,ab 23 So if you are offering your gift on the altar, and there you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Reach a settlement quickly with your adversary while you’re on the way with him to the court, or your adversary will hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will never get out of there until you have paid the last penny.

“You have heard that it was said to our ancestors, Do not murder, and whoever murders will be subject to judgment. But I tell you, everyone who is angry with his brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Whoever insults his brother or sister, will be subject to the court. Whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be subject to hellfire. So if you are offering your gift on the altar, and there you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Reach a settlement quickly with your adversary while you’re on the way with him to the court, or your adversary will hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out of there until you have paid the last penny.” .
17 “Do not harbor hatred against your brother.,am Rebuke your neighbor directly, and you will not incur guilt because of him. 18 Do not take revenge or bear a grudge against members of your community, but love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.
Christian Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2017), .
“You have heard that it was said to our ancestors, Do not murder,,z and whoever murders will be subject to judgment. 22 But I tell you, everyone who is angry with his brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Whoever insults his brother or sister, will be subject to the court. Whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be subject to hellfire.,ab 23 So if you are offering your gift on the altar, and there you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Reach a settlement quickly with your adversary while you’re on the way with him to the court, or your adversary will hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will never get out of there until you have paid the last penny.
The amazing thing about what Jesus says here is that it is, in many respects, perfectly parallel with what has already been said in the Old Testament. The major difference is that he puts the impetus on the offender rather than the offended here to seek reconciliation, though Jesus’ teaching elsewhere would suggest that he expects all parties to actively seek restoration whenever possible. The point being here, while his precise wording may be original, he has said nothing novel. Some people tend think that Jesus renovated the Law, updating it where needed and fitting it to meet the standard he was setting now. The reality is much different. Jesus did not reveal a new righteousness to his audience in . Rather, he dragged them, in some cases like the Pharisees, kicking and screaming, back to an ancient, perfect righteousness that superseded anything that was being taught in that day or in our own. Jesus affirms, alongside the entire breadth of the Old Testament (almost as if he wrote it) that there is more to the divine command against murder than simply avoiding the taking of human life. It is a command to seek peace and reconciliation wherever possible, whatever it may cost, and as we’ll see next, to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Christian Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2017), .

The Command Perfected

“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, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven. For he causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward will you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what are you doing out of the ordinary? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” ()

“You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor,n and hate your enemy. 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven. For he causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward will you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what are you doing out of the ordinary?,q Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

“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, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven. For he causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward will you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what are you doing out of the ordinary? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” ()
Somewhere along the way, “hate your enemy” apparently wormed its way into how people would recite . Yet Jesus completely reverses this, calling Christians to love even those who go out of their way to hurt or inconvenience us. Jesus’ reasoning here is, as usual, divine, based out of who God is and what he does. God is, ultimately, good to all people, good and evil, and thus, we should be good to all people. Jesus follows up with a piercing question: what’s the point of just loving people that love you back? Anyone can do that! However, we are not called to be just anybody; rather, we are called to be sons and daughters of God. This then is the shortest perfect form of the 6th commandment: love and do good to all people, because God is good to all people. This is further affirmed in Jesus’ teaching and ministry (, , ) and Paul and James follow his example. (, , ) This is the 2nd greatest commandment, subordinate only to loving God with heart, soul, and mind. () Jesus makes it abundantly clear that neighbors include even the most unlikely of the candidates by the parable of the Good Samaritan. () God’s call on the Christian life is a call then, to love any and everyone without reservation, condition, or limit, and to do all within our power to enable other people to thrive.
Christian Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2017), (

The Application of the Command

This command hits us today in many ways, some more obvious than others. It’s easy for us to (rightly) recognize that we live in, for example, a culture saturated with godless displays of sexuality, bluntly put, a pornographic culture. Take for example, one of the most popular television series today, Game of Thrones. It’s overwhelmingly likely that you’ve heard of this series and its controversial, even among non-Christians, sexual content. Odds are, you could find an article about it in the time it would take me to finish this sentence. My personal favorite is a piece shared on TGC’s website called “Game of Dethroning Sexual Sin.” (Not because I read the article but because I’d wager that the author was immensely proud of that title.) It’s much harder, however, to admit that we live in a culture saturated with violence and oddly desensitized to death. The same series that catches flak for its hyper-sexuality rarely, if ever, comes under a critical eye for its gratuitous displays of violence, except perhaps to warn parents against letting their kids watch. (Before you ask, I know this because Googling ‘game of thrones fight/violence’ produces a voluminous cavalcade of results. I can honestly say I’ve never watched an episode.) We live in culture that is strangely selective about its outrage and finds brutal murder something that either serves as entertainment or as a spectacle that the news makes us aware of, only to be forgotten a few weeks later. Violence and death are normative to us, and this has consequences. We don’t take death as seriously anymore and we don’t view life as valuable, by and large. There are three major ways that today, arguably more than ever, we show how little we value life and how little we care for the image of God:
Abortion: I recognize that this is a highly politicized topic and that there are some people out there that believe that my being biologically male precludes me speaking meaningfully on this topic. However, male or female, truth is truth and the truth is that abortion is murder. This is not strictly a theological point either: it is a biologically inescapable reality. One does not need a degree in the sciences to understand that two homo sapiens who reproduce are incapable of producing anything other than a homo sapien and that reproduction creates a living organism that will grow and develop. That a zygote does not resemble a human being at conception does not change the fact that it is, genetically, a member of our species that is growing, developing, and changing, characteristics that we would rightly recognize as life in nearly any other scenario. Consistency demands then, that we recognize even the earliest stages of human development as a human life. Various standards put forth today only move the goalposts, whether it be insisting that personhood or life as a status is only granted when a fetus can survive outside the womb or whether it is suggesting that a baby shouldn’t be considered truly alive until it can breathe on its own, or any other standard one might produce. When we make our standard for personhood something other than “is this a member of our species?” we create a standard that, if consistently followed, becomes a game of arbitrarily deciding who deserves to live and who does not. This leads to the second major issue.
Euthanasia: The “right to die” movement has gained ground on, in part at least, an appeal to the “merciful” notion of letting our loved ones “die with dignity,” without having to endure needless suffering. I can understand the animus at play here. It was agonizing, as a young boy, to see my great-grandmother suffer in her last months, confined to a hospital cot. My heart ached to see my grandmother hooked to various tubes and apparatuses while she would slip in and out of consciousness. It is immensely painful to see someone you love kept only barely alive via machinery, and I can only imagine the suffering one must feel when they themselves are being kept alive that way. However, there are often other, seemingly innocent though wickedly insidious, motives at play. “Think about how expensive it is to keep someone on life support or to keep someone alive through a hopelessly terminal case.” “Think of the immense pain, suffering, and stress that their families feel in trying to care for someone that is just barely hanging on.” Can you hear the underlying message here? It’s the same message that pushes abortion forward as well. “This human being is not worth what they’re going to cost.” Abortion and euthanasia both operate on the same demonic logic, that in order for life to be valuable, it must prove its worth to other human beings. Women are convinced to kill their children by the hundreds every day because they are told, in so many words, “That human being isn’t worth what they’ll require of you.” Already, hundreds, if not thousands, of people globally have been euthanized because they became convinced that they were not worth the effort or cost to keep alive. It has already been the case in the Netherlands since 2005 that many requests for euthanasia come not from the patient, but from their families who, for one reason or another no longer wish to keep the patient alive. Be it abortion or euthanasia, there is a drastic shift in thought that has occurred, and that is a movement away from the assumption born out of Judeo-Christian thought that human life is inherently valuable. In fact, bold as it may be, I have simple request of doctors and other professionals who participate in these murders. All I ask is a little honesty and all that’s needed for that is for there to be a very simple, three word slogan across the entrances to their clinics, the operating rooms where procedures are performed, or the pharmacies where the necessary drugs are administered. Three words, in German, I’d even be fine with a translation: Arbeit macht frei, “Work sets you free.” If you’re a student of 20th century history, you’ll know that slogan decorated the gates of Auschwitz and other concentration camps. “If you work for us, make yourself valuable to the Fatherland, we won’t kill you,” was the siren song of the Third Reich, and the tune has reappeared today. “If you weren’t an inconvenience, I wouldn’t have an abortion,” “Grandpa, I wouldn’t try to convince you to invoke your right to die if you weren’t such a hassle to take care of!” Today, too many people give in to the impulse to demand that the people around them prove their worth in order to be worthy of life. This is not purely a problem “out there” however.
The apathy of Christians, supposed or otherwise: Do you remember the last person you saw on the news that was murdered? Do you even remember the last person that you saw begging on the highway? When was the last time that you helped a person in dire need? I don’t ask these questions to bludgeon you with guilt, but to make us all pause for a moment of introspection. Do we value human life, all of human life? Do we vote for politicians who are pro-life and think our work is done? Do we hand the local homeless guy a twenty and hope he won’t try to talk to us? If so, we may be able to trick ourselves into thinking that we’ve nailed the 6th commandment. However, we shouldn’t fool ourselves. We already know that there’s more to it than that. Does it bother us when we see those less fortunate than us suffer, whether it be from poverty, oppression, or misfortune? Does abortion offend us? Does euthanasia make our stomachs turn? Does our culture’s lax attitude toward violence and suffering worry us? Then it would behoove us to act like it. As Christians, we are divinely commanded to champion and defend life of all shapes, sizes, and quirks. Until we come alongside the single mother wrestling with the decision to keep her child or kill it and say, “We will do whatever it takes to help you take care of that baby,” until we visit the hospice center and comfort the patient and their family assuring them, “We will help you get through this,” until we commit ourselves to serving others sacrificially, we cannot say that we have lived up to the intent of the 6th commandment. Let us then, in the name of Jesus Christ, commit to the high and difficult challenge of fighting for life at every stage and in every circumstance. Let’s close with a prayer:
“Father, help us. We stand before you knowing that we fall so short of all that your word entails. Especially now, when we consider your command against murder, we may find ourselves overwhelmed at all we have to do, at everything that we have to fight against. We beg you, strengthen us. Give us courage to boldly declare that life is precious to a world that refuses to see worth. Stir in our hearts a fervor for works of mercy, to find the suffering, the poor, the struggling and to champion their cause. Help us to go beyond merely being ‘pro-life,’ ‘anti-euthanasia,’ or other buzzwords and to enter those difficult circumstances with a helping hand, so that we may be your hands on earth. Give us a love for life, no matter what it looks like, so that we may be your children. We beg you for all of this in the name of Jesus, amen.”

A Righteousness not Our Own: the Invitation

You very likely noticed a short phrase in , “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” That’s a troubling passage, especially considering its proximity to another verse that is equally troubling. “For I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.” () People bend over backwards to avoid the obvious implication of the text, because if we take it at face value, then we have to tell people to be perfect. “Be better than the Pharisees, who memorized books of the Bible you haven’t even read yet, who even tithe out of their spice rack, while you can’t even remember to bring a few dollars for the offering every Sunday. Be just as good as God, who’s perfect, by the way.” We call it hyperbole, metaphor, anything to get away from the obvious meaning, especially when we’re confronted with the fact that we often fail to treat each other with even a modicum of decency. We can’t even get our footing on the mountain of the 6th commandment, yet God requires that we climb to the top. That’s no excuse, however, and I think that we sell the text short when we demand it fit what we think is possible or appropriate. In our hopelessness, God meets us with tender mercy, giving us what we need. If our own righteousness cannot get us where we need to be, then we need someone else’s, and God gives us just that in Jesus Christ. Jesus perfectly fulfilled the 6th commandment, loving even his enemies to the point of dying for them and living a perfect life of submission Read with me one brief passage from Romans and we’ll bring this to a close:
“The righteousness of God is through faith in Jesus Christ, to all who believe, since there is no distinction. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. They are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. God presented him as an atoning sacrifice, in his blood, received through faith, to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his restraint God passed over the sins previously committed. God presented him to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so that he would be righteous and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus.” ()
For I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.” (
Our own righteousness can’t save us. We need the righteousness of God given to us by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. In Christ, we are declared righteous, and we have what we need, a righteousness greater than the Pharisees and a perfection on par with God the Father. Today, if you’re not a Christian, you desperately need to become one and I’d plead with you to come forward and learn more about how to do that. Or maybe you are a Christian and you recognize your own shortcomings. Your righteousness comes from Christ now and he will freely and gladly forgive and clean you once more if you’ll return to him. I beg you, whatever your need today, if you want to make it publicly known, come forward while we stand and sing.
Christian Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2017), .
The righteousness of God is through faith in Jesus Christ,ad to all who believe, since there is no distinction. 23 For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. 24 They are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. 25 God presented him as an atoning sacrifice,aj in his blood, received through faith, to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his restraint God passed over the sins previously committed. 26 God presented him to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so that he would be righteous and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus. ()
Christian Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2017), (
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