you shall not murder
Today we are backtracking a little bit to cover the last of the commandments that if focused upon relationship with one another. When we began this series counting down the Ten Commandments I pointed out back on the very first week that the commandments are divided into two sections. The first four commandments focus on a right relationship to God, and the final six commandments focus on a right relationship with one another. We shuffled the order a bit to talk about honoring parents last week—since last Sunday was Mother’s Day. So today we go back the sixth commandment: you shall not murder.
This commandment stands out from the rest in a few ways. First of all, it is one of the two out of the Ten Commandments which is universally accepted as illegal and punishable by just about every culture around the world. Murder and stealing are the two commandments which can get you in trouble for breaking the law. Okay, there are also certain cases in which lying is illegal, such as in a court of law or on official documentation. But stealing and murder are always illegal and punishable. And out of those, murder is taken as the more serious in that the punishment for murder is either long imprisonment or execution. The point is this: not only does the Bible take murder pretty seriously, our secular society takes it pretty seriously as well, which is certainly not the case for most of the other commandments.
All that to say, it doesn’t feel as though I really need to preach when it comes to murder. We all know it’s wrong already. I imagine this is why Jesus chooses to begin his teaching on the law by talking about murder. In Matthew 5-7 we see what is known as the Sermon on the Mount. Part of this teaching from Jesus focuses on the commandments. Jesus deals with murder first. I think this is meant to grab our attention. And in order for us to see the reason why Jesus grabs our attention with this teaching I want us to begin our reading with the introduction Jesus gives as well as his comments specifically on murder.
17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. 21 “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.’ 22 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. 23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there 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 to them; then come and offer your gift. 25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.
Where Murder Happens
Where Murder Happens
Jesus is up to something with this teaching on the commandments we see in the Sermon on the Mount. He is not only closing all the loopholes people use to sneak their unethical behavior through on a technicality, but he is expanding the scope of the commandments beyond what we see in Exodus 20 where they are first recorded.
Hebrew word for murder in the Ten Commandments refers particularly to premeditated killing done out of anger, jealousy, or spite
HC 105 — “I am not to belittle, hate, insult, or kill my neighbor—not by my thoughts, my words, my look or gesture…I am to put away all desire for revenge.”
HC 106 — “Does this commandment refer only to murder? By forbidding murder God teaches us that he hates the root of murder: envy, hatred, anger, vindictiveness. In God’s sight all such are disguised forms of murder.”
The Hebrew word for murder in the Ten Commandments refers particularly to premeditated killing done out of anger, jealousy, or spite. Jesus does not focus on the actual act of unlawful killing, but rather turns attention to the attitudes and motivations which lead to the act of unlawful killing. We see something of this in what the Catechism has to say about this commandment as well. “I am not to belittle, hate, insult, or kill my neighbor—not by my thoughts, my words, my look or gesture…I am to put away all desire for revenge.” Catechism question 106 asks, “Does this commandment refer only to murder? By forbidding murder God teaches us that he hates the root of murder: envy, hatred, anger, vindictiveness. In God’s sight all such are disguised forms of murder.”
confession that every single person sitting in this room is guilty of murder
And with that we move pretty quickly from an assumption that no one in this room is guilty of murder—otherwise that person would likely be in prison—to a confession that every single person sitting in this room is guilty of murder; that “I am not to belittle or insult my neighbor—not by my thoughts.” Who among us here has never had a belittling or insulting thought about another person? Because that’s the new standard that Jesus sets for us, and he calls it murder. The crime that we would consider to be the most serious crime a person could ever commit against another person—and is deserving of the worst punishment—is a crime we are all guilty of committing.
Jesus says, you might as well all be on death row charged and found guilty as murderers — Jesus starts his teaching with the worst of all sins and lands it in hearts of every singe one of us
It is no mistake that Jesus begins his Sermon on the Mount with this kind of a shocking judgment. He is looking to grab the attention of Israelite people who tend to think they’re doing alright. Sure, they might make the occasional mistake, after all nobody is perfect. But certainly these chosen people of God who at least make an effort to live with good morals and pure behaviors cannot be all-that-bad. And to that Jesus says, you might as well all be on death row charged and found guilty as murderers.
Are we all that far off from this? I think Jesus means to shake us awake from any self-righteous feeling that might seep into our church culture. Jesus takes this one commandment and uses it as a way to confront our mistaken notion that we are alright because at least we don’t commit the really bad sins. Jesus starts his teaching with the worst of all sins and lands it in hearts of every singe one of us.
Where Murder Begins
Where Murder Begins
verse 22 — murder begins with anger against another person
So, let’s work through some of this and see where that leaves us today with a way forward. In this passage, Jesus points to three things that count as murder. The first thing he forbids in verse 22 is anger against a brother or sister. I’ve heard Christians try to find a loophole out of this by referring to something they call righteous anger; that there is the possibility for a kind of anger that is okay and allowable if we can somehow convince ourselves that it is a righteous anger. And every time I hear or read about this argument, there is a reference to the episode in the gospels when Jesus cleanses the temple courtyard of fraudulent venders and moneychangers.
the mistaken notion of righteous anger
But let’s be clear about this. There is nothing in scripture which gives us a license for anything called righteous anger. And the reason for that is because there is no one in scripture is is truly righteous except for God. Yes, I know that the gospel message rests upon the truth that we are counted as righteous before God by grace through faith. But that means we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ, not in any righteousness of our own. Let’s be clear about that; even though you and I are counted as righteous because of grace, we are completely incapable of carrying any righteousness of our own. And this means that we are also completely incapable of carrying any righteous anger. The only one who is ever capable of righteous anger is God alone, because only God is righteous. And so any anger at all which you and I hold can only ever be unrighteous anger—guilty of murder.
Aramaic raca = “empty-headed” — used to express superiority; putting yourself on a pedestal not by lifting yourself up, but by knocking everyone else down
The next thing Jesus says in verse 22 makes reference to an Aramaic word, raca. This word translates literally as ‘empty-headed.’ It is meant to be a demeaning and belittling insult. Although this is the kind of insult that could come from vindictive anger, it goes further. And I think Jesus means to point us further, because he just mentioned anger and does not seem in this kind of passage to be simply repeating himself. This ‘empty-headed’ insult is also the kind of term that would be used to express superiority. It is a way of saying to another person, “I am better than you.” It is a way of putting yourself on a pedestal not by lifting yourself up, but by knocking everyone else down.
Greek moros = “fool” — term that communicates worthlessness
The third example Jesus highlights comes at the end of verse 22. Whoever says, “you fool” is in danger of the fire of hell. Fool is a translation of the Greek word moros. It is where we get the English word moron. But more than a reference to someone as idiotic, it is a term that communicates worthlessness. It is telling another person that they are worthless good-for-nothing waste of a human being. It is the equivalent of telling others that the image of God—in which every person is created—does not exist in them.
The physical act of murder is the ultimate expression of seeing another human life as worthless. What Jesus identifies for us here is that the sin of murder is not only in the physical act of taking another human life. The sin of murder also includes the thoughts, words, and attitudes which labels and categorizes other human life as worthless.
see contemporary testimony Our World Belongs to God article 44
As Christians we recognize and lament these expressions of human worthlessness as we see it systemically exist around the world. The contemporary testimony Our World Belongs to God says it like this in article 44:
Life is a gift from God’s hand, who created all things. Receiving this gift thankfully, with reverence for the Creator, we protest and resist all that harms, abuses, or diminishes the gift of life, whether by abortion, pollution, gluttony, addiction, or foolish risks. Because it is a sacred trust, we treat all life with awe and respect, especially when it is most vulnerable— whether growing in the womb, touched by disability or disease, or drawing a last breath. When forced to make decisions at life’s raw edges, we seek wisdom in community, guided by God’s Word and Spirit.
Responding to Murder
Responding to Murder
choosing lament instead of vengeance — God’s people should grieve when we see ways in which our world counts other human life as worthless
The first appropriate response of the church is one of lament. We as God’s people should grieve when we see ways in which our world counts other human life as worthless. We lament abortion, just as we lament the conditions in which there are people in our world who feel as though they have no other options except to end a pregnancy. We lament human rights violations which exploit other people in forced labor camps and persecutions. We lament racial and ethnic divisions which suppress entire segments of the population in constant poverty. In the Christian Reformed Church we strongly advocate for immigration reform and plead with our government to increase the number of refugees allowed into this country seeking safety from violence. We do these things as a church because we believe no human life is worthless. All human life carries the image of God.
God chooses that his righteous anger against sin would not be our destruction; instead God chooses that, in his love, grace would bring us forgiveness and salvation instead of destruction
Let’s bring this to a place of personal application. I have been noting several times in the previous messages that these commandments which state a negative prohibition also imply a positive affirmation. I mentioned earlier that for you and me there is no such thing as righteous anger, that only God is truly righteous and therefore only God can be righteously angry. But listen—because this is the gospel—God chooses that his righteous anger against sin would not be our destruction. Instead God chooses that, in his love, grace would bring us forgiveness and salvation instead of destruction. In the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus upon the cross, God affirms that you are not worthless. The gospel message itself reinforces for us just how sacred each human life is before God because Jesus gave up his life for each one of us.
choosing flourishing and thriving instead of anger and resentment
You have heard me talk many times about the Old Testament notion of shalom. It is the Hebrew word that often translates as ‘peace.’ But it means so much more. Shalom is the condition in which the entire creation thrives and flourishes as God has created and intended for it to be. Shalom-flourishing is what we look to as the primary feature of a completely redeemed and restored creation when Jesus comes again.
shalom-flourishing is the active undoing of human worthlessness
identify just one person or one group with whom you struggle with anger or resentment or belittling
Let’s make a connection here. Shalom-flourishing is the active undoing of human worthlessness. In Christ and by the Holy Spirit, we face opportunities every day to catch glimpses and peeks at shalom. We are set free in Jesus to pursue this mission and calling in our world. Let’s start there. We are all guilty of murder because we are all people who have carried anger; we have all belittled other people. This week, identify just one person or one group with whom you struggle with anger or resentment or belittling. For those of you not taking this seriously right now, I’ll give you a little bit of help; how about I go and trace back through your Facebook or twitter posts and help you find who it is you have been belittling or resenting? Alright, how many of you are going to go home from here and quickly scour through and delete some things from your social media posts? And do you know what? That’s actually a great place to start. Let me be the first one in this room to admit that as I was wrestling with this passage this week and preparing this message, I did in fact have to look back and see if any of my older twitter posts needed to be removed.
when you actively turn from anger and resentment, and instead pursue the advancement of flourishing and thriving, you give an active expression of grace into the life of someone else
Once you have done a little work to bring up those people whom you may be unwittingly holding with some contempt and resentment, start asking if there might be any way that you can bring a glimpse of flourishing and thriving into their lives in stead of anger and resentment. When you do that, you take a step towards representing the gospel into the life of someone else. When you actively turn from anger and resentment, and instead pursue the advancement of flourishing and thriving, you give an active expression of grace into the life of someone else. You bring a real-life incarnation of Christ-like love into someone else’s life. You open the door for the message of hope and salvation in Christ to be shared.