Sermon for Sunday, September 19th, 2021 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
Old Testament reading:
[Exo 21:12-32 ESV] 12 “Whoever strikes a man so that he dies shall be put to death. 13 But if he did not lie in wait for him, but God let him fall into his hand, then I will appoint for you a place to which he may flee. 14 But if a man willfully attacks another to kill him by cunning, you shall take him from my altar, that he may die. 15 “Whoever strikes his father or his mother shall be put to death. 16 “Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found in possession of him, shall be put to death. 17 “Whoever curses his father or his mother shall be put to death. 18 “When men quarrel and one strikes the other with a stone or with his fist and the man does not die but takes to his bed, 19 then if the man rises again and walks outdoors with his staff, he who struck him shall be clear; only he shall pay for the loss of his time, and shall have him thoroughly healed. 20 “When a man strikes his slave, male or female, with a rod and the slave dies under his hand, he shall be avenged. 21 But if the slave survives a day or two, he is not to be avenged, for the slave is his money. 22 “When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. 23 But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe. 26 “When a man strikes the eye of his slave, male or female, and destroys it, he shall let the slave go free because of his eye. 27 If he knocks out the tooth of his slave, male or female, he shall let the slave go free because of his tooth. 28 “When an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten, but the owner of the ox shall not be liable. 29 But if the ox has been accustomed to gore in the past, and its owner has been warned but has not kept it in, and it kills a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned, and its owner also shall be put to death. 30 If a ransom is imposed on him, then he shall give for the redemption of his life whatever is imposed on him. 31 If it gores a man’s son or daughter, he shall be dealt with according to this same rule. 32 If the ox gores a slave, male or female, the owner shall give to their master thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned.
New Testament reading:
[1Jo 3:11-18 ESV] 11 For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. 12 We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. 13 Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. 15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. 16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
[Mat 5:21-26 ESV] 21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. 26 Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.
[Exo 20:13 ESV] 13 “You shall not murder.
I. You Shall Not Murder
Exodus 20:13 – You shall not murder.
This is the 6th commandment.
This is the translation of our English Standard Bible. The NIV and the NASB translations also say “You shall not murder.”
This is one of a few cases where I prefer this modern translation over the King James bible. The King James says “Thou shalt not kill.”
“Kill” is not the best translation here of the Hebrew, for it is not killing in general that is in view, but murder that is in view; the unjust killing of a human being.
It is, in most instances, perfectly moral to kill an animal or a plant. You can swat a mosquito, shoot a white-tail deer, or pull weeds from your garden. The commandment is not opposed to such killing.
But it is opposed to murder. It is a commandment of life.
And we might think that this is a commandment that can be universally accepted among human cultures. But that is not so. Perhaps most or even all cultures have opposed murder among their own people, but many cultures—many tribes—have considered it a positive good to kill people of other tribes.
It makes sense to say “do not kill any of your own kind” but why not outsiders? Evolution might have this be positively a good thing. If you kill outsiders you can take their resources and you’re more likely to survive and produce offspring.
But here in the Bible we have a prohibition of murder period; whether a person is among the Israelites or a foreigner sojourning in the land.
Why is murder universally wrong? It is not primarily because such a prohibition is good for society, though it is. Murder is universally wrong because all men are made in the image of God!
Genesis 1:26 – “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
To murder is to kill a man who is made in God’s image.
So horrendous is murder that it deserves death for the murderer:
Genesis 9:6 – “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be sed, for God made man I his own image.”
There are some Christians who say that the image of God in man is totally gone unless and until God renews the person in His image. But we understand that the image of God in man is marred, it is twisted and scarred, but it is not gone. If the image of God in unbelievers was entirely gone, the prohibition against murdering them would no longer be supported by that reason that they are of the image of God.
So it is, universally, you shall not murder.
II. Lawful Killing
But this does not prevent lawful killing. The killing of another human being MAY be proper and just under the heading of defense. And there are at least three ways in which this may occur: self-defense, capital punishment, and in warfare.
These three are generally considered a package deal. The consistent pacifist rejects all of these, but the Bible gives us sufficient proof to deny pacifism.
Pacifism is not without some merit. We generally are not to rise to the level of using violence. We should greatly seek alternatives to violence.
I recall a story in a Mennonite book where the author—a pacifist—saw a man who was either elderly or with special needs, being accosted or taken advantage of by a group of troublemakers on a train who were ultimately trying to get his wallet. While this might be approaching a situation wherein we would consider using violence, the author went with a different route. He came to the man in trouble and embraced him with a large hug and saying “good friend, it has been so long” even though they had never met. The troublemakers were thrown for a loop and ceased operation.
And in the early church, some argue, Christians were opposed to military service for the Romans. And this may be true, but I suspect this was much to do with the avoidance of worshipping the foreign deities favored by the army.
Ultimately, we have to look to Scripture.
In Exodus 22:2-3 we find, no pun intended, a defense of self-defense:
[Exo 22:2-3 ESV] 2 If a thief is found breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there shall be no bloodguilt for him, 3 but if the sun has risen on him, there shall be bloodguilt for him.
We see that in the light of day—or to say this another way, if there is any way to avoid violence in self-defense we should seek to do so, but at night (when it is clear that the person is a thief and there is no alternative but self-defense) the defender of the household is not guilty for the thief’s death.
This principle then could be applied to other cases on a state or national level. If self-defense is proper, then so is it proper for society to defend its citizens with police and law courts. And if self-defense is proper, then so is it proper to have national defense in the form of a military.
This is certainly not to say that all wars are just or that police or law courts can do no wrong, but merely to say that they are proper in their place.
The 6th commandment does not prevent us from having police and a military, but rather establishes that we do. For without such services, murder would abound in far greater numbers.
2. Capital Punishment
As for capital punishment, we’ve already read Genesis 9:6 – “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man I his own image.”
3. Just Warfare
And for warfare, we can at least note (against pacifists) that in times past God has COMMANDED warfare. The Israelites were commanded to defeat the nations in Canaan, and they sinned when they did not do so thoroughly enough!
So it is impossible to say that warfare is universally wrong. The 6th commandment does not necessitate that we defund the police or divest from having a military.
As for how and when the police and military should be used today, that is a more complicated questions that is somewhat beyond the purview of this commandment and this sermon. I should just note that theologians have developed in centuries past various “theories of just war” in which they seek to delineate proper from improper military engagements. Where that line may is to be drawn is difficult to say, but we should at least understand that there are unjust wars and just wars. There is a time for peace and a time for war. Let us pray for peace in our time!
III. Anger and abuse as murder.
So the commandment does not oppose all killing, but it is yet broader than murder physically committed.
We find this, for one, in Jesus’ sermon on the mount in Matthew 5.
21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment;
Therefore all who are guilty of anger are guilty of breaking the 6th commandment.
And Jesus continues:
“whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”
This should sink to the bottom of our stomachs, as we realize our guilt.
Of course, not all anger is sin. There is righteous anger and unrighteous anger. Anger with a cause and anger without a holy cause. Jesus was angry when he saw the temple being made a den of thieves rather than being used as a house of prayer. And there are cases where we might have righteous anger, when we oppose that which is evil.
But no doubt we all sin in our unrighteous anger.
You’ve heard sermons about other sins? How about on the sin of anger? We are warned in the strongest terms about anger.
From 1 John:
1 For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. 12 We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. 13 Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. 15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
But we have the gospel there as well:
16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.
IV: The Gospel of Life
Indeed we have sinned greatly. But the Lord forgives us even more.
See, the call of the Gospel went forth even to those who committed the greatest of murders, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, son of man and son of God.
Lest we forget or overlook that fact, the death of Jesus was murder. This act broke the 6th commandment. While crucifixion was capital punishment in the Roman world for the guilty, Jesus was innocent. Those who put him to death were murderers: Roman and Jew alike.
Peter says to them:
[Act 2:22-23 ESV] 22 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know– 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.
And to the same audience Peter says:
[Act 2:38-39 ESV] 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”
Even those who crucified and killed Jesus Christ! Even they have the promise of the forgiveness of sins that is for all who receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and whom the Lord our God calls to himself.
Though they have sinned, Christ has saved.
And being saved, he leads us not in the way of death and murder but in the way of life.
The Apostle John says:
18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
V. The Way of Life
All of our deeds are to be done in love and all of our words are to be said in truth, not breaking the 6th commandment either in our words or in our actions.
This way of life—this life that promotes life—is so vastly superior to the culture of death that surrounds us.
There is a pervasive culture of death in our world. Abortion is the perhaps the strongest evidence of this.
The total number of U.S. men (and women) killed in all of our wars from the revolution to present day is estimated at over 1.1 million. But in the United States alone, abortions, one study says, are at an “historic low” of ONLY 638,000 per year. You see, it used to be that on a yearly basis through the 1980s and into the 1990s that more than 1.1 million abortions occurred each year in the United States. That’s more deaths each year than the entire history of warfare in our country. What an evil machine the abortion industry is. The so-called military-industrial complex has its problems; the hunger of some for war may produce unneeded deaths, but this is no way compares with the sheer evil of abortion in this land and in others.
The world’s has a culture of death. Abortion kills, homosexuality spreads disease and kills. Transgenderism, like the eunuchs of the Bible, have destroyed even the possibility of their having children. This is all seen today as “normal.”
But this is the way of the world. Pharaoh had commanded the death of all Hebrew boys after birth. There was no regard for life. Proverbs 8:36 says “all those who hate me love death.”
But the commandment of life is a commandment of our God who is the author of life. Where Pharaoh’s was a house of death, God’s is a house of life.
God is the author of life. And it is in the power of Him who gave you life to give you also eternal life! He who has the power to create you has also the power to re-create you, no matter what sin you have committed, even if you have broken the 6th commandment. There is grace in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.