This sermon is part of the sermon series "The Good Life". See series.
We're in our sixth week in our series on the Ten Commandments and today we're talking about the sixth commandment, Deuteronomy 5:17: "You shall not murder." Four words. In Hebrew it's even less—two words: "No murder." This is a sermon on two words. It's a sermon that's certain to stir some stuff up. It will bring conviction, but in the end it brings hope.
The sixth commandment is the only commandment upon which everybody seems to agree. Every culture has a prohibition against murder. Nobody thinks murder is a good idea. Everybody accepts the sixth commandment, but nobody thinks it applies to him. You might think you can finally relax in this series, but here's the truth: you are a murderer. We are all murderers; we are all in some shape or form guilty of murder.
Today we're going to ask this passage a series of three questions: What does the sixth commandment really say (and not say)? Why don't we keep it? and How can we keep it?
What the sixth commandment says (and doesn't say)
First, we need to look at what this commandment doesn't say. People get confused with this commandment, thinking it addresses issues that it really doesn't address. The Hebrew language has eight different words for killing. The word used here has been carefully chosen: ratzach. This particular Hebrew word doesn't address all types of killing; it deals exclusively with murder. Ratzach deals with the intentional taking of innocent life—with the unjust, premeditated taking of an innocent life.
The King James Version gets it wrong: "Thou shalt not kill." That's not what the Hebrew text says; rather, it says "You shall not murder." This commandment deals with private morality, with an individual person unjustly taking the life of another person. This commandment doesn't address judicial killing (capital punishment) and military killing (war). God himself actually calls for both types of killing in the two books in which the Ten Commandments are found: Exodus and Deuteronomy. Dealing with those topics is a separate sermon. Also, the sixth commandment isn't addressing self defense; it will not prevent me from aggressively defending my family.
All of that is what this commandment doesn't say. And as we look at what this commandment does say, remember the context of this commandment: for over 400 years, life had been marginalized for the Israelites. The Israelites had spent 400 years being treated as less than human, being treated as mere slaves and brick makers. These people had seen friends and family members murdered by Pharaoh and the Egyptians. And now, having been rescued by God and preparing to enter the Promised Land, this sixth commandment is God calling his people to live differently than what they've experienced themselves—to not murder, to honor life.
So what does this commandment say? What does it teach us not to do? Here are four manifestations of murder the sixth commandment includes:
The first is homicide: taking an innocent person's life. We have a problem with homicide in the U.S. In a recent U.S. calendar year, there were 35,000 murders by firearms. We live surrounded by cities that have had some of the highest homicide rates in recent years: East Palo Alto, Oakland, San Francisco. Today's young people have grown up watching terrible scenes of murder: the Columbine shootings, Virginia Tech shootings, 9/11, which was mass terrorism murder. The American Psychological Association reports by the time the average child finishes elementary school, he or she will have watched 8,000 televised murders and 100,000 acts of on-screen violence. Recently, tragically, a man named Ervin Lupoe of Los Angeles murdered his wife Ana, their five young children, Brittney, Jazmin, Jassely, Benjamin, and Christian, and then murdered himself.
Murder, homicide, is evil and the sixth commandment commands us not to do it. But people have always done it. Murder is not new. The Bible is a book full of murder. One of the earliest homicides took place several thousand years ago. Lamech proudly announced his murderous deed to his wives in Genesis 4: "Adah and Zillah, hear my voice; you wives of Lamech, listen to what I say: I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. If Cain's revenge is sevenfold, then Lamech's is seventy-sevenfold." Even way back then, people celebrated murder rather than abhorring it.
The second type of murder is suicide. Suicide is self-murder. Suicide is claiming lordship over your own life. When life is difficult, when we despair, when suicide is tempting, we're presented with a challenge to trust in a caring God and a God who loves us. This is a call to the church to rally behind that person and love and care for them and shower them with love and grace.
The third type of murder is euthanasia—murder by remote control. Euthanasia is commissioning someone else to take your life for you. In April 2001, Holland became the first country to legalize doctor-assisted suicide when the Dutch Senate legalized euthanasia. But, only a generation earlier, during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, Dutch doctors refused to obey orders to let elderly or terminally ill patients die without further treatment. It took only one generation, in the words of Malcolm Muggeridge, "to transform a war crime into an act of compassion." Today, in the Netherlands, thousands of medical patients are killed every year. Actually, voluntary euthanasia has become involuntary as an increasing number of requests for death are coming not from patients but from their family members who want to get rid of them.
The fourth type of murder is abortion. This is murder of the most helpless members of our society. Raymond Brown wrote: "Every time our heart beats, an unborn baby dies somewhere in the world." Since the Roe v. Wade court case, over 50 million babies have been aborted. J.I. Packer addresses this form of murder well:
As genetic science shows, the fetus is from the moment of conception a human being in process of arriving. The fact that for several months it cannot survive outside the womb does not affect its right to the same protection that other human beings merit, and that it will itself merit after birth. Abortion can only ever be justified (and then only as a necessary evil) when the pregnancy genuinely endangers the mother's life—and as doctors know, there are few such cases today. Legalizing abortion on other grounds is a social evil, whatever arguments of convenience are invoked.
Abortion isn't new. Abortion was popular and common in the ancient world, and it was the Jewish people and the early Christians who took a strong stand against the practice of abortion because of their understanding of the sixth commandment and their understanding of the God who gave the commandment.
These four manifestations of murder are prohibited by the sixth commandment. A few of you in this room are guilty. You concede what I said earlier: you are a murderer. The rest of you aren't convinced yet; you don't believe you're guilty. But there's so much more to these two words—"no murder"—than you realize.
Jesus taught us that there's more to this command than we think. Jesus takes it deeper. Matthew 5:21-22: "You have heard it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.' 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."
Does that change your verdict? Are you a murderer? Have you ever harbored unjust anger towards another human being? Have you hurled insults, gossip, or name calling at another person? Is there anyone in your life right now with whom you are unreconciled because you've refused to move through your anger to forgiveness and repentance? C.S. Lewis said, "If you look upon ham and eggs with lust, you have already committed breakfast in your heart." Jesus said: If you look upon another person with anger or insult, you have already committed murder in your heart.
And there's still more to this command. Remember, each of the Ten Commandments is also meant to be understood positively. The command "You shall not commit adultery" means you should build healthy and vibrant marriages that honor God. This sixth commandment doesn't just say "no" to murder; it says "yes" to life.
If you've never murdered another person, that doesn't mean that you've kept the sixth commandment. This commandment is a command to proactively honor life—to intentionally promote the life and well-being of your neighbor, because you are accountable before God for the well-being of your neighbors.
Jesus told us a story about what it looks like to keep the sixth commandment. You know the story of the Good Samaritan: a man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, when he came in among thieves and robbers. They stripped him of his possessions and left him half-dead. Two moral, religious men passed him by; they ignored him and didn't help. Then the Samaritan man came by and took care of him at great cost to himself. He brought him back to life.
The robbers broke the commandment by harming the man. The religious people broke the commandment by not doing anything. They were too busy to save a life. The Samaritan kept the commandment by getting involved, inconveniencing himself, getting messy, serving someone outside his people group at great cost to himself.
Sometimes all it takes to break the sixth commandment is to do nothing at all. When we understand the full scope of this commandment, the comprehensive call to honor life and give life, we hear the verdict that's true of us all: "Murderer."
This commandment isn't just a command to be lifeguards—to guard against the taking of life; it's a command to be life givers—to proactively give life in a murdering world. G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown character, the priest-detective who stands at the center of Chesterton's detective novels, when asked to explain his method of detection said: "You see, it was I who killed all those people." Father Brown looked inside himself to find the mentality and motives that would produce the murder crime he was investigating, and he discovered it there.
Father Brown challenges us to see the murderer inside us all. As Father Brown said:
No man's really any good till he knows how bad he is, or might be; till he's realized exactly how much right he has to all this snobbery, and sneering, and talking about 'criminals' as if they were apes in a forest ten thousand miles away … till he's squeezed out of his soul the last drop of the oil of the Pharisees; till his only hope is somehow or other to have captured one criminal, and kept him safe and sane under his own hat.
The question is not whether or not you are a murderer; rather, it's what kind of murderer you are. How do you take life, rather than give it? Like Father Brown, do you know how bad you really are? Have you detected the criminal under your own hat?
Why we don't keep the sixth commandment
Do you know the story of Two-Gun Crowley? In 1931 Two-Gun Crowley was one of America's Most Wanted criminals. He was charged with a string of brutal homicides, including a cop killing. He was finally captured in New York City after a fierce, hour-long gun battle from his girlfriend's apartment that involved hundreds of police. When the police searched him, they found a blood spattered note that read: "Under my coat is a weary heart, but a kind one, one that would do nobody any harm." Two-Gun was wrong. His heart was unkind, and he did want to do somebody harm.
You and I are just like Two-Gun: we have unkind hearts, but we don't know it. There's something wrong deep in our hearts, deep at the core of who we are, that causes us to be life takers, life destroyers, rather than life givers.
Jeremiah 17:9 says this: "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" Jesus said the same thing in Matthew 15:19: "For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander."
You know what I think is wrong with our hearts? You know why I think we don't keep this commandment? The human heart is desperately wicked, but it's also desperately needy. You and I murder because we don't understand how loved we are, how valued we are, how precious we are to God. If we understood how much God loves us, we wouldn't murder, we would generously give life to others.
Both the Old Testament and the New Testament begin with murderers: Cain and Herod. Cain murdered Abel; Herod murdered the boys of Bethlehem. Why did they murder? Both men murdered because they couldn't bear for someone else to have precedence over them. They didn't understand the unshakable love and identity that comes from being known by God. They had placed their hope and identity in something other than God's love.
That's why Ervin Lupoe murdered. After losing his job and his sense of identity, he killed his family and he killed himself. At the bottom of his death note he has scribbled: "Oh Lord, my God, is there no hope for a widow's son?" Ervin Lupoe didn't understand that there is hope for a widow's son. Ervin Lupoe didn't understand—we murderers don't adequately understand—that all life is precious to God.
God is the author of life and all life is precious to him. Every human on the planet is created in God's image—meaning, every human life bears the stamp of God's very identity and presence. John Calvin wrote, "Our neighbor bears the image of God; to use him, abuse, or misuse him is to do violence to the person of God who images himself in every human soul." Like Ervin and Two-Gun Crowley, we don't keep the sixth commandment because we don't understand how precious other people's lives are to God, but even more so, we don't understand how precious our own lives are to God.
What we haven't fully swallowed is this truth: God broke the sixth commandment for us. God said: "No murder!" Yet God the Father allowed his Son to be murdered on the cross as a statement of just how precious your life is to him. Jesus was murdered for you! Jesus was murdered—the Father spilled his only Son's blood on the cross—so that you could see how deeply God loves and values you. All of us in this room are in one way or another guilty of murder, but if you've trusted in Jesus, then the words Jesus spoke to his
Father from the cross about his murderers are the same words Jesus speaks now over you: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." I don't care who you are or what you've done—there is grace for your sin!
When this sinks in, the sixth commandment takes on exciting new possibilities for us. We're forgiven murderers who can live new lives of giving rather than taking life. That's what it means to be a Christian: to be a life giver. That's the summary of this passage. Because of Jesus, we can now be life givers.
How we can keep the sixth commandment
So how do you do it? How do you keep this commandment? In a murdering world, a world of death, how can you be a life giver? There are three ways to give life, but you must understand the gospel first, otherwise this will turn into legalism. The three ways: dealing first with yourself, then your community, then your neighbor.
The first way to be a life giver is to stop focusing on your self-protection. How much time do you waste attempting to protect yourself from harm? God already did the most vulnerable thing on your behalf: Jesus became a fetus inside a marginalized woman in a hostile society. Don't you think God will protect you? Keep the sixth commandment by letting God be Lord of your life. Let him be your shield. Psalm 7:10 says, "My shield is with God."
Second, check your breath. In Genesis 2:7, God breathed into Adam the breath of life. Made in his image, we're called to breathe life into this world, to be life givers, especially among those we do life with. How's your breath? Do you breathe life or decay? When you walk into a room, are you a life giver or a life taker? This week keep the sixth commandment by doing breath checks and forging new life-giving habits.
Third, be a Good Samaritan. Jesus is the ultimate Good Samaritan who got messy and laid down his life to give you life. It cost him everything to rescue you. Who are you going to rescue? Our city is a Jericho full of people half dead on the side of the road. What do you have a burden for: Foster care? The unemployed? Pro-life causes? Unwed mothers? The homeless? The poor? The lonely? Get involved, get messy, and be a Good Samaritan right here where we live.
And one more thing: don't lose hope. We live in a world full of murder and death, but it won't always be this way. A non-violent world is coming. A world without murder or pain is coming. And in the meantime, your life, your work on this earth makes a difference.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." And he who was seated on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new."
For Your Reflection
Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul? ___________________________________________
Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach? ____________________________________________________________________________
Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart?
Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points? _____________________________________________________________________
Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Credit: Do you plan to use the content of this sermon to a degree that obligates you to give credit? If so, when and how will you do it?
Justin Buzzard is founder and lead pastor of Garden City Church in Silicon Valley, California.