Murder in my Mouth

Exodus 20:13

July 29, 2012 | Brian Bill

A little more than a week ago our country was reminded again how murder causes mayhem and shakes us to our core.  In this premeditated and raw disregard for life, a man murdered twelve people and injured dozens more.  Indeed, it was a “Dark Knight” for all of us.

We live in a “culture of death,” with over 17,000 known murders every year.  The day after the Colorado shootings, The Chicago Tribune email newsletter began like this: “One dead, seventeen wounded in attacks across the city.”  This sort of thing happens in Chicago routinely and no longer shocks us.  As of this past Thursday, in July alone, 27 people have been murdered in Chicago – over twice the number of the Aurora assassinations.  There have been more murders 100 miles from us this year than there have been deaths among U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan during the same time period.  

Have you noticed that murder has become a central source of entertainment in our society?  According to Philip Ryken, “By the time the average child finishes elementary school, he or she has watched 8,000 televised murders and 100,000 acts of on-screen violence.”  Video games look so life-like that those who play them get the sensation of actually killing someone.  One pastor points out how this affects us: “further numbing them to the downward spiral of a decadent society, and taking away the horror of unlawful killings.”  Apparently a computer game developer has made a Columbine game containing actual footage inside the school, including the crime scene.  Those who play the game can make decisions as to who to murder and who they will let live.

I found it fascinating this week that Harvey Weinstein — the man behind some of the most violent movies to ever hit the big screen — says it’s time for Hollywood to address how violence in movies influences people.  Speaking to The Huffington Post, he called for a filmmaker summit: ‘I think as filmmakers we should sit down…hopefully all of us who deal in violence in movies – and discuss our role in that.”

In an article appearing in the August 3rd edition of The Hollywood Reporter magazine, legendary movie director Peter Bogdanovich went much further, saying violence in film is “out of control.”  “Violence on the screen has increased tenfold.  It’s almost pornographic.  In fact, it is pornographic.  Video games are violent, too.  It’s all out of control.  I can see where it would drive somebody crazy.” 

I hope they make those changes but I’m not going to hold my breath.  Having said all that, when we come to the Sixth Commandment we lament the loss of life around us while at the same time most of us breathe a sigh of relief because we don’t think this prohibition applies to us.  Listen to Exodus 20:13: “You shall not murder.”  Very few of us are murderers, right?

Before we get too far, let’s review the Commandments we’ve been learning in consecutive order.   Deuteronomy 6:6-7 says that these commands are to be inscribed on our hearts so that we can impress them upon our children.  I was very moved this week when talking to a young dad who told me that he has taught these commands to his three-year-old son and he can now recite them using his fingers!  Way to go, dad!

1: Hold up one pointer finger – point to the sky (one God; no other gods)

2: Hold up two pointer fingers – have one bow before the other (no idols)

3: Hold up three fingers – place over mouth (don’t take God’s name in vain)

4: Hold up four fingers – place on cheek as if to nap (Sabbath rest)

5: Hold up five fingers – place hand over heart (honor parents)

6: Hold up five fingers on one hand and the pointer finger of your other hand – turn pointer finger into a “gun”  and aim at the other hand (don’t murder)

7: Hold up five fingers on one hand and the pointer and middle finger on the other – intertwine them by putting the middle one over the pointer to show that they are bonded together (no adultery)

8: Hold up four fingers on one hand and four on the other – using one hand grab the other four fingers (no stealing)

9: Hold up four fingers on one hand and five on the other – move the four up and down as they face the five to show that they are lying or bearing false witness about others (no lying)

10: Hold up five fingers on each hand – pull fingers toward you (no coveting)

Let’s make some observations.

  1. This is the shortest verse in Old Testament. The text is terse, with only two words in the Hebrew, literally translated, “No murdering.”
  2. This command is stated in the strong negative (like seven of the other commands).
  3. Every culture that I’m aware of has some sort of law against murder.
  4. This command deals with murder, not killing. There’s confusion about this because the King James Version translates it this way: “Thou shalt not kill.”   There are eight different words for killing in the Hebrew Old Testament.  The word used here refers to unlawful killing or as Ryken defines it: “The unjust taking of a legally innocent life.”  Webster puts it like this: “The unlawful and malicious or premeditated killing of one human being by another.”

Here’s where we’re headed today…

  • The principle behind the commandment
  • The prohibitions from the commandment
  • The positive implications of the commandment

The Principle behind the Commandment

Why is this commandment in God’s Top Ten list?  Why was it given?  What’s behind it?  Men and women are made in the image of God and therefore have great dignity and worth according to Genesis 1:27: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

Perhaps you’ve heard the Latin phrase Imago Dei, which means “Image of God.”  Here’s the deal.  Every human being has inherent value independent of their utility or function.  It means that human life is sacred to our Sovereign God because He is the giver and sustainer of life.  Human beings belong to God and we are accountable to Him if we take someone’s life. 

Turn to Genesis 9:6 where we see how highly God regards human life: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.”

Listen.  Every person you meet is an image-bearer of God.  It doesn’t matter what the person does or doesn’t do, he or she is stamped with God’s dignity.  Every individual has a soul and therefore carries a sense of sacredness about them.  To take another life is to assault the sacredness of the image of God.

Because people matter to God, they must matter to us

John Calvin has a great perspective on this: “Man is both the image of God, and our flesh.  Now, if we do not wish to violate the image of God, we ought to hold our neighbor sacred.  And if we do not wish to renounce all humanity, we out to cherish his as our flesh.”

  • We are made in the image of God.  Everyone is valued by God.
  • We are made of the same flesh as others.  We are our brother’s keeper.

Here’s the sermon in a sentence: Because people matter to God, they must matter to us.

Let’s go back to the Colorado shootings for a minute.  Why were we so outraged and angry when we heard what happened?  Why did police officers put the wounded in the back seats of their cars and drive them to the hospital?  Why did the EMTs and ER staff at various medical centers spring into action?  Why have there been news reports and stories all week about this?  I think I know.  It’s because inherently we know that all of life is valuable and therefore should be protected and preserved.

Prohibitions from the Commandment

For the sake of time, I’m not going to address what the Bible teaches about capital punishment, just warfare, accidental homicide or self-defense, though this would make for a great sermon series at some point.  Let’s look now at the prohibitions from the commandment as we go back to the beginning, the Book of Beginnings, and see how sin brings separation from God and how mankind ends up marked by murder.

Genesis 2:15-17: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.  And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.’”  We know that Adam and Eve sinned in Genesis 3 and death became their destiny.  

1. Murder. 

In the very next chapter we see how anger caused Cain to murder his brother Abel.  God gave him a warning and an encouragement to turn away but instead of being his brother’s keeper, he became his brother’s killer.  Note how his anger ultimately turned him into an assassin.  Turn to Genesis 4:6-8: “Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry?  Why is your face downcast?   If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?  But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.’  Now Cain said to his brother Abel, ‘Let’s go out to the field.’  And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.”

Later, Lamech, one of Cain’s descendants, is marked as a murderer and even brags how he is better at it than Cain in Genesis 4:23-24: “I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for injuring me.  If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times.”  Murder and mayhem are now unleashed in our sin-soaked world.  The rest of the Bible contains so much murder that it would take us too long to go through every passage so let me just quote Proverbs 6:16-17: “There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood…”  Because people matter to God, they must matter to us.

2. Abortion. 

While many believe that this is a political issue that should not be discussed in church, the truth of the matter is that abortion is the premeditated taking of human life.  The preborn are stamped with divine dignity and therefore abortion is murder and a violation of the sixth commandment.

Our culture is confused and conflicted about the protection of life.  On the one hand, we have allowed the murder of over 50 million preborn children since 1973 and on the other hand, unborn children receive security clearances at the White House.  According to the Washington Times, on May 7th, the White House Visitors Office sent an email to members of Congress that outlined the process of registering unborn babies for tours.  Ellie Schafer, the director, said this: “We have received a number of calls regarding how to enter security information for a baby that has not yet been born.”  Did you catch that?  Yes, she said, baby.  Wow, what a disconnect!  

Incidentally, are you aware of the one-child policy in China that has led to 13 million forced murders in the womb in just one year?  That’s the figure published by the Chinese government for 2008…that’s 13 times the number of babies that are killed annually in the U.S.!  According to China’s official estimates, over the past three decades, this policy has prevented 400 million births!

Much more could be said about this, but let’s let the Scriptures speak.  Psalm 139:15-16: “My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place.  When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body.  All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”  

Let me be quick to say that if you have had an abortion or have urged someone to get one, there is forgiveness and healing available through Jesus Christ.  This church is a place of grace and we will help you process your pain and help walk through this with you. Because the preborn matter to God, they must matter to us.

3. Suicide. 

The rate of suicide has been increasing every year since 2000, with almost 37,000 self-murders reported in the U.S. in 2009.  I’m told that there are four times as many who end up hospitalized after failed attempts.  Suicide is not the unforgivable sin, but it is sinful and selfish and it is murder.

Some of you have experienced the pain of having someone close to you kill themselves.  And some of you may have contemplated it in the past or right now you’re hurting so much that you want to hurt yourself.  Discouragement, despair and depression are making you think of things that you’ve told no one else about.

Because you matter to God, you matter to us!  No matter how bleak things look, don’t take the only life God has given you!  Reach out to someone.  We care about you.  We can get you the help you need.

4. Hatred in the Heart

If you’re feeling a bit smug because this commandment has not messed with you yet, check out what Jesus said in Matthew 5:21-22.  We move now from Mount Sinai to a sermon on another mountain as Jesus makes a much broader application of murder than most of us are comfortable with: “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’  But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.  Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin.  But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”

  • Smoldering anger.  Jesus here is moving from the fruit of murder to the root of murder.  This is not the word used for an occasional flare up but rather it refers to a simmering anger on the inside that is nurtured and not allowed to die.  It was used to describe coals that have been left after a fire has burned out.  It carries with it the idea of holding a grudge that leads to resentment that refuses reconciliation.  Hebrews 12:15 describes a “root of bitterness” that messes up many: “See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”
  • Spoken animosity.  Anger in the heart has a way of coming out through our words.  To refer to someone as “Raca” means to call them an empty-head or an idiot.  This offense is very serious because it lands the person before the Sanhedrin, or the Jewish Supreme Court.  Proverbs 12:18: “Reckless words pierce like a sword…”  That reminds me of what I read on Facebook this week: “The world would be a nicer place if everyone would take a chill pill.  It would get even better if some of them choked on it.”  If you’re used to calling people “idiots” or “imbeciles,” consider this: That’s not how God sees the person made in his image.
  • Stated assassination.  This is when we attack someone’s character.  The use of “fool” in the Bible refers to someone morally and spiritually bankrupt.  It was equivalent to saying that a person deserves to go to hell, which Jesus turns around to say that we’re the ones who deserve the fire of hell if we commit homicide with our tongues.  James 3:9: “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in His likeness.”
To allow anger to seethe and then to attack verbally and destroy someone’s reputation is tantamount to murder and is a violation of the sixth commandment

To allow anger to seethe and then to attack verbally and destroy someone’s reputation is tantamount to murder and is a violation of the sixth commandment.  We won’t take the time to continue in this passage but suffice it say that instead of fighting with each other, Jesus wants us to forgive others.  

Because people matter to God, they must matter to us.

Positive Implications of the Command

While most of us will never murder someone in the technical sense of the word, we can still break the command in a variety of ways.  To say it another way: We’re called to love our neighbor as ourselves by treating all life as sacred because it is stamped with God’s design and dignity.  The Heidelberg Catechism puts it like this: “I am not to dishonor, hate, injure, or kill my neighbor by thoughts, words or gestures, much less by deeds.”

Since people matter God, they must matter to us.  Let’s think about how we can live out the positive implications of this command because it’s fundamentally about how we view and treat people.

Because we do live in a culture of death, we must cultivate a view of the sanctity of life.  We’re prohibited from taking life and we must also protect and preserve life.  Far more than refraining from violence we must learn to value life the way God does by taking some positive action.  I was challenged this week by these words from Philip Ryken: “Sometimes all it takes to break the sixth commandment is to do nothing at all.”  That reminds me of that famous quote from Edmund Burke: “All that’s necessary for the forces of evil to win in the world is for enough good men to do nothing.”

Here are seven ways we can live out the heart of this command.  

1. Love your neighbor. 

We can violate this command when we fail to do good or to prevent someone from suffering bodily harm or injury.  Kent Hughes writes: “The sixth commandment…is a call to be a great lover of all humanity from conception to the grave.”  I like what Charles Spurgeon had to say about this: “It is a good rule never to look into the face of man in the morning till you have looked into the face of God.”

Is there anyone you’re refusing to love right now?  Are you treating anyone with indifference?  Are you ignoring someone you’re in a disagreement with?   How would things change if you would work at seeing people the way God does?   

2. Avoid racial, ethnic, economic, political, and school choice prejudices. 

Some of us slam others and slice them up simply because they have different color skin or are from a different background, or are in a different socio-economic bracket, or because they vote for candidates you can’t stand, or because they make different choices in the schooling of their children.  I have three words to say about all that: KNOCK IT OFF!

3. Let’s care for orphans, widows, the elderly, children, the abused, and the sick, those with HIV/AIDS, the mentally ill, those with special needs, and the marginalized. 

Friends, the “least of these” matters most!  Because people matter to God, they must matter to us!

4. Share the Gospel of life with people who are dead in their sins. 

Every person is created in the image of God and is worth so much to Him that Jesus Christ was willing to lay down His life that they might have eternal life.  People are valuable because they are made in the image of God and people matter because of the price Jesus paid to forgive them.

Everyone is either on the way to hell or to heaven because each individual has an eternal soul.  Remember this.  When someone dies, there’s part of that person that never dies.

If we know that a person is on the road to eternal destruction and we don’t tell them the good news of the gospel, are we not participating in his or spiritual death?   John Calvin, who sometimes gets slammed for not being passionate about evangelism, wrote some very poignant words: “But if there is so much concern for the safety of his body, from this we may infer how much zeal and effort we owe the safety of the soul, which far exceeds the body in the Lord’s sight.”

A Laid-Down Life

Did you hear about the men who gave their lives to save their girlfriends in the Colorado shootings?   They died so that others could live.  Jesus holds this up as the ultimate demonstration of love in John 15:13: “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” That’s what Jesus did for us.  

I also read this week that one man left his girlfriend and her kids behind when the shooting started.  Listen to this report: “The boyfriend leaped over a balcony and took off running as he left the girlfriend and her two children behind in the theater.  Luckily, a young man was nearby and helped cover up the family during the shooting.  At the hospital later that night, the boyfriend proposed to the girlfriend and wait for it…she said yes!” 

He bailed on her.  Friend, Jesus didn’t run away from you.  And He never will.  He has your sins covered and through His death, you can find life.

The Denver Post reported that one of the victims in the Aurora shooting said he’s already forgiven the suspect and hopes to speak with him someday: “Of course, I forgive him with all my heart.  When I saw him in his hearing, I felt nothing but sorrow for him – he’s just a lost soul right now,” said Pierce O’Farrill. “I want to see him sometime.  The first thing I want to say to him is ‘I forgive you,’ and the next is, ‘Can I pray for you?’”It’s scandalous to think about forgiveness for the murderer, isn’t it?  You say, “He doesn’t deserve it.”  You’re right.  He doesn’t.  And neither do you.  Moses and David were murderers and the Apostle Paul was an accessory to murder.  Jesus died for sinners.  He took the bullet for you breaking the commandments.  He was murdered in order to pay the price for murderers like me…and like you.  

Last weekend, Mike Huckabee shared some tremendous insight on the Colorado murders.  I wish I could read his entire commentary but instead I’m just going to quote his opening and closing sentences: “This shooting is impossible to understand except that we live in a world where there is evil…Ultimately, we don’t have a crime problem or a gun problem or even a violence problem.  What we have is a sin problem.”

He’s right.  We have a sin problem.  It doesn’t matter what you’ve done.  You can be forgiven.  

Because you matter to God, Jesus took the fall for you.  Will you reach out now and ask Him to solve your sin problem?

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?