Live and Let Live

Original Date: 
Sunday, October 16, 2016

Exodus 20:13 The Ten Commandments: Live and Let Live

Stamped with His Image
I’ve got a twenty dollar bill here, who would like to have it?

What if I do this to it? [crumple it up into a ball] Would you still want it?

What if I do this? [throw it on the ground and stomp on it, maybe call it a “worthless, good for nothing, dirty $20 bill”] Would you still want it?


A $20 bill is a $20 bill. No matter how many times it has been stepped on, crumpled up, or trampled on the ground, it’s still worth $20. This bill is issued by the U.S. Government and stamped by the U.S. Treasury, and because of that, it is always worth $20. It was made with that value.

That—however roughly-- is an illustration about the value of every human being. Not that we are worth 20 bucks--we’re worth a whole lot more than that!—but no matter what happens to us, no matter how flawed we are, how different or limited or whatever—each of us has been given life by God and each of us is stamped with His image.

Here’s one of the first things the Bible says about human beings, Genesis 1:27:

27 So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

We are made in the image of God. Each of us comes factory direct from the Creator of the universe; custom designed (Jeremiah 1:5, Psalm 139:14-16) and set a little lower than the heavenly beings in the grand order of the cosmos (Psalm 8:5). And that means we all have an inherent value that cannot and should not be taken away.

A $20 bill has value because it is made that way. In the same way, we all have a worth that is far beyond anything else in this world. And for that reason, God cares deeply that human life is protected and treasured. Life is His gift to give, and His to take away. He does not want us to take life from anyone.

I’ll put it like this, our big idea for the day: God places incalculable value on every human life.

And we should too.

We are continuing our study of the 10 Commandments. Last week, Jay helped us make the transition from the first tablet to the second tablet. As Jay pointed out, the first four commandments have to do with our relationship with God, while the last six have to do with our relationship with others. The command about honoring our parents is the first one that really has us thinking about how we treat other people.

So now we are really into the commands that govern and shape society. And we start with one of the most basic tenets of human interaction: “Thou shalt not kill.” Or, as the NIV puts it in Exodus 20:13:

13 You shall not murder.

In Hebrew, this is only two words: “lo ratzach.” It’s the strongest possible imperative: No! Do Not! Absolutely, no way, no how, don’t-even-think-about-it, there’s-a-line-and-you-better- not-cross-it, No!

We have a puppy at our house. An all white schnoodle named Jake. He is the cutest thing you ever saw. But he’s also naughty. And he communicates through his mouth. Which means he bites. He kind of likes to nip and gnaw on our fingers. So they told us at obedience school that when he does that we have to show him who is boss. So we have to grab him by the snout, close his mouth, look him in the eyes, and then say: “NO! NO JAKE! NO BITE!”

That’s what I think of when I read this command, God is saying to us: “NO! NO KILLING! NO!” (And, by the way, most of the commands have this same tone.)

And the word for kill is a specific word. In Hebrew, there are at least 8 different words that could be translated “kill”, but this is a specific word that has to do with the unlawful taking of another human life. This is not saying anything about hunting or butchering animals. It’s not talking about self-defense or capital punishment or military action. It’s about the intentional, pre-meditated taking of an innocent life. That’s why the NIV’s translation—“You shall not murder”—is probably the best way to read this in English.

Now, I want to take you back to the first sermon in this series. When I introduced our study of the Ten Commandments I said there are three different ways of looking at the law. John Calvin called it the three uses of the law. And I gave you three images to think about.
• I said the law can be thought of as an Owner’s Manual. It tells us how life and society work best.
• And, I said the law can be thought of like a Mirror. It reflects God’s holiness and also reveals our flaws and shortcomings. It shows us our need for a savior.
• And I said that the law can be thought of as a Valentine. Once we’ve put our faith and trust in Jesus, keeping the law is one of the ways we can show our love for Him.
It’s with those three images in mind that I want to look at the sixth commandment today. I want us to see how the command not to murder works in each of these uses of the law.

A Civilized Country
So, first: an Owner’s Manual. Just like the owner’s manual in your car’s glove compartment tells you how to get the best performance out of your vehicle, God gives us the 10 Commandments to show us how life on earth will work best. And in that sense, it should be clear that the command against murder is one of the fundamental building blocks of any civilized society.

If we do not respect the lives of our neighbors, if we turn a blind eye to the killing of others, then we are no different than the animal kingdom. We might as well live by Darwin’s law: “only the strong survive,” and we better be prepared to protect ourselves.

There’s a movie franchise called The Purge. My familiarity with these movies is that I’ve seen some television commercials and I read a plot summary this week on Wikipedia. I have no interest in seeing them. But as I understand it, the concept is that for one night a year—for 12 hours—no laws apply. All emergency services are unavailable and people are free to do whatever they want to whomever they want so long as they believe they can get away with it. They are classified as horror movies, and that seems right. Because that’s what that would be: a horror. A society which allows killing is no longer a society, it’s anarchy.

Now, here’s where the specific understanding of what the word “kill” means in the commandment comes into play. Because there are some cases where the Bible says it is warranted to take a person’s life. For example, the punishment the Bible prescribes for someone who commits murder is that they, themselves, be executed. Genesis 9:6 says:

6 “Whoever sheds human blood,
by humans shall their blood be shed;
for in the image of God
has God made mankind.

Now, I understand that there is great debate about the use of capital punishment today. There are some terrible inequities in the way the death penalty gets assigned across racial and economic spectrums; and there are good alternatives to the death penalty. So I’m not trying to take a political position either way. But I bring this verse up for a couple of reasons:

One is so that we can see how much value God places on a human life. Because we are all made in God’s image, the steepest penalty is appropriate for those who snuff that image out.
And the other is so that we will see that the sixth commandment alone is not a sufficient argument against the death penalty. That’s not what the Bible has in mind.

In fact—and this goes back to the idea that this is how society works best—one of the chief responsibilities of any human government is to protect the lives of its citizenry. Romans 13:4 says:

4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.

It is our government’s responsibility to protect its citizenry by punishing wrongdoing. That’s what it means to “bear the sword.” And this extends to the fighting of just wars. The sixth commandment is not about soldiers fighting and killing in defense of the nation. If a war is being fought to protect against great evil, Christians have long believed that killing is not only permissible, it may be necessary.

The principle then is that all human life is valuable and we should—as a society—treat it as such. We should only allow the taking of a human life under the most extraordinary circumstances, and even then there should be plenty of debate and soul-searching.

As Christians in this society, we should always be vigilant for laws and practices that value human life. We should be voices against abortion (which is the ending of human life before it has the chance to begin), against physician assisted suicide (which is the taking of human life before God says it is time for it to end), and against eugenics (which is the selection of which human lives are worth living and which are not).

God says: “You shall not murder.” If we are going to function as a society, we must value every human life.

Murder Begins in the Heart
So, at this point, you might be thinking that the sixth commandment is pretty easy to keep. It’s important, sure. But I’m guessing most of you (I’m hoping that, like, all of you) have never murdered anyone. You have not unlawfully taken another human life. And most of us (I’m hoping all of us) will make it to the end of our lives without killing another human being.

So…good enough, right?

Well, the second use of the law is to serve as a mirror. It reflects the holiness of God, and it also reveals our shortcomings. And the problem is that when we hold the mirror of the sixth commandment up before us, it shows us that there is more going on here than whether or not we’ve ever pulled the trigger on a murder weapon. The sixth commandment also includes the attitudes of our hearts.

It’s Jesus who shows us how the sixth commandment applies to us all. In the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 5, He says:

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.

Jesus says the sixth commandment prohibits more than going through with killing others, it has to do with how we think about them. In Jesus’ hands, the sixth commandment goes beyond causing someone physical harm to nursing anger against them in our hearts. It means vilifying someone with pejorative terms: “Raca” is a word that could be translated as “Emptiness” or “Blockhead.” It’s an expression of pure contempt. Fool means more than just foolishness here. It means something like “Moron.” Jesus is saying that when you start to think of people like this, you have begun a journey down the road to murder. Jesus is saying that murder starts in the heart.

In 1 John 3, the apostle John makes it black and white:

15 Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.

John uses Cain and Abel as his example. Cain’s sin didn’t start when he swung the hoe and hit his brother in the head. His sin started when he became jealous of his brother. He became angry. And the LORD warned him. God told him that sin was crouching at his door. But Cain let his jealousy and anger fester into hate, and then his hate led him to kill.

And John’s point is that murder begins in the heart. Hatred was a step on the journey to murder, and in that sense hatred is just as bad a violation of the sixth commandment as the act of killing itself. (Not as bad for the victim, but just as bad for the perpetrator).

“Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer.” To hate means to hold murder in your heart. And those who hate stand condemned: “and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.”
The Heidelberg Catechism, in its section on the Ten Commandments, puts it like this: “I am not to belittle, insult, hate, or kill my neighbor—not by my thoughts, my words, my look or gesture, and certainly not by actual deeds.” (A. 105) Then it goes on to say: “By forbidding murder God teaches us that He hates the root of murder, envy, hatred, anger, vindictiveness. In God’s sight all such are murder.” (A. 106)

So instead of being one of the easiest commandments to keep, “You shall not murder” is actually one of the hardest. Even if we do not kill one another with our deeds, we often dishonor one another with our words and in our thoughts.

In that sense, the mirror of the law reveals that we are all murderers.

Love God by Loving Others
So, then, how do we keep the sixth commandment? The third use of the law is as a guide for showing us how to love God in response to His kindness to us. Jesus said: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15) I used the image of a Valentine. And the way we show love to God in relation to the sixth commandment is not just by avoiding murder, but by treating those around us with the same sort of value God gives to them. We love God by loving those made in God’s image.

You are probably familiar with Jesus’ summary of the law. When a teacher of the law tried to paint Jesus into a corner by asking Him to name the most important commandment, Jesus responded by neatly summarizing the two tablets of the law. Matthew 22:37-39:

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

These two commandments go hand in hand. One of the ways we show our love to God the best is by the way we treat our neighbor.

So I’m going to wrap this sermon up by giving five practical steps that will help us keep from breaking the sixth commandment. Five ways that we can guard against murder taking root in our hearts, and actively love our neighbor.

First, settle matters quickly. If there is something bothering you, something that might cause you to be envious or bitter toward someone else, something that might come between the two of you or cause hatred to spring up in your heart, settle it quickly. Deal with it while it is a small thing, before it grows into something big.
In the Sermon on the Mount, right after Jesus tells us that contempt is a form of murder, he goes on to say:

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.

In that culture the performance of religious duties was considered the height of importance. Nothing was more significant than offering your gifts before God. But Jesus says that if you realize that things are not right between you and someone else, you should drop everything—even your offerimg--to go and make it right. The point is not so much about fitness to be a part of the ritual as it is about the priority of tending to personal relationships. Fix the rupture before it grows into something bigger.

That why Jesus goes on to say that we should “settle matters quickly” with someone who is taking us to court. Address disagreements early and you can avoid some of the heartache that comes when they grow into something bigger.

Or, again: Put away malice, and put on love. Ephesians 4:31-32:

31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

When we look at others with love rather than anger, with kindness rather than rage, it makes all kinds of difference.

Last week I was in New York City for a couple of days and I got the opportunity to attend the prayer service at the Brooklyn Tabernacle. During the service, they had the opportunity to hear from a missionary couple serving in Palestine. The husband described some of the obstacles they had encountered for being outspoken Christians in the midst of so many Muslims and Jews. He told us that they had been harassed by hostile crowds and even that he had been stoned. Then he told one story of being recognized on the streets by a group of teenagers. They didn’t like the American Christian so they approached him with hostile intent. The boy who appeared to be the leader pulled out a big knife.

Then the missionary said: “I wasn’t afraid. I looked at this boy, and I loved him. My heart was filled with compassion for him. It’s hard to fear someone you love.” So, instead of fleeing, or fighting, the missionary said he walked right up to the boy with knife and hugged him. The shocked boy dropped the knife and the rest of his friends shuffled away, ashamed.
“It’s hard to fear someone you love.” Put away malice, and put on love.

Third, Leave room for God. If you are in a situation where you just can’t agree with someone, do your best to resolve the issue peacefully. But if you cannot, if the other person insists on holding on to anger or keeping the fight going, then give the fight to God. Paul says this in Romans 12:

18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

How do we avoid murder, or the kinds of thoughts that lead to murder in the heart? By remembering that God is the righteous judge, and that He will someday address every wrong.
Fourth, Love with more than words. In 1 John 3, right after John tells us that anyone who hates is a murderer, he writes:

18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

Truly keeping the sixth commandment goes beyond what we refuse to do: we refuse to hate or hold a grudge or actively hurt our neighbor. Truly keeping the sixth commandment means that we will actively seek the well being of those around us. John says: “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” (1 John 3:17)

Think of the story of the Good Samaritan. When the man on the road to Jericho was beaten and left for dead, two religious officials passed by without doing anything for him. We could say that their sin was just as great as the robbers who injured him in the first place. But it was the third man, the Samaritan, who truly kept the sixth commandment by nursing his wounds and seeing him safely to help.

Keeping the sixth commandment well requires us to get our hands dirty.

And then, fifth, receive God’s grace.

If we are honest when we look in the mirror of the sixth commandment, we’ll see that we have all broken it again and again. By Jesus’ standard we deserve condemnation every time we’ve grumbled about the driver in front of us or grew short-tempered with a tele-marketer. Learning to love our neighbor like ourselves is a challenge each of us will face until we head to heaven. We are all murderers.

But the good news is that when Jesus died on the cross, He died for murderers as much as for anyone else. In fact, He even asked God to forgive those who were actively killing Him. (Luke 23:34) Later, after Jesus was resurrected and ascended back to heaven, Peter was preaching to a crowd that included many of those who had called for Jesus’ death. When they were convicted of their sin, they cried out: “What should we do?” Peter replied: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” (Acts 2:38)
There was a way for their murderous hearts to be forgiven. The very death they were demanding—Christ’s death on the cross—was the death that atoned for their sin. Romans 5:8 gives the good news like this:

8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

So if you’re the kind of person who breaks the sixth commandment, then there is hope for you in the cross of Christ. If you are prone to get angry, if there is someone you secretly resent, if there is murder in your heart—or if you have ever committed any other kind of murder in thought or in word or in deed (including abortion or euthanasia)—then repent and believe in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Save a life (your own!) by trusting in Him!