October 28, 2018
Life is cheap. Life has always been cheap since the time of Cain and Abel, when murder became a readily available option for getting rid of those who get in the way. We like to think of ourselves and our society as being more civilized than in times past, but that is an illusion. People may keep their doors unlocked in Wyoming, but not in Chicago!
This morning we are looking at the 6th commandment. “You shall not murder.” There is nothing particularly profound about this. Similar laws are found in other Ancient Near Eastern cultures. But the necessity of such a law points out the inhumanity of humanity. God gave this commandment to make it clear that murder is wrong. We are Christians and we know murder is wrong. So what does this command say to us? This morning I want to emphasize that Christians are called to treasure all people.
I. WE TREASURE PEOPLE BECAUSE THEY ARE CREATED IN GOD’S IMAGE. Gen.1-2
Rather than take the time to parse out the nuances of this commandment, let me quote from David Baker. “The Hebrew verb…refers to the killing of one person by another, whether intentional or otherwise. Elsewhere this word is used for both murder’ and ‘manslaughter.’ It is not generally used for capital punishment and never for killing in war, self-defense, suicide, or slaughtering animals. In other words, it is concerned with illegal killing by individuals rather than killing authorized by the state in execution or war.” I begin with this definition because I think everyone can agree with it. Some of us might want to include more but certainly not less.
In Gen.1:27 we read about the creation of mankind. It says, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Then in Gen.5:1 we read, “This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God.” Later after the flood we read in Gen.9:5-6, “And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. ‘Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.”
Much has been written about what it means to be made in the image of God. In his Old Testament Theology, John Walton points out that the image of God refers to a status that is conferred on mankind, and should be primarily understood as referring to humanity’s role of vice-regent in carrying out God’s purposes. We are stewards of all that God has created. Humans have been given dominion over the earth. Since we all bear the image of God it is dead wrong for anyone to take the life of another. Their life is not ours to take for any reason. Everyone’s life belongs to God and is precious to him.
Of course, in the Old Testament we find the principle of lex talionis (law of retaliation). In Ex.21:23-25 we read, “But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” This principle is designed to put appropriate limits on how justice is administered. What is more, in the Bible we see that capital punishment (the legally authorized killing of someone) is given to the state, the government. In Rm.13 Paul urges believers to be subject to the governing authorities and then in v.4 we read, “But if you do wrong, be afraid, for [the one in authority] does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer.” Scripture sees a role for capital punishment. That said, as believers we are not to take matters of justice into our own hands. In Rm.12:19 Paul writes, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord."
It is far better for us to think about the significance of bearing the image of God. Everyone we encounter has godly value and deserves to be treated as one of God’s significant creations, co-rulers on the earth.
In light of this it should grieve us every time we read about or see on the news how people devalue and dismiss human life. The daily murders that take place in our city, the atrocities that are committed against people around the world, and the abortions that take place on a regular basis are all an indication that something is deeply wrong with humanity.
Perhaps you have heard about the new Legacy Museum that has opened in Montgomery, AL. It is located on the site of a former warehouse where black people were enslaved. More than 4400 African American men, women, and children were hanged, burned alive, shot, drowned, and beaten to death by white mobs between 1877 and 1950. It is a deeply moving memorial that seeks to call us all to remember these dear people who were brutalized and murdered. Their blood, along with the blood of so many, cries out from the ground. Christians are called to treasure people because we are all created in the image of God. Everyone’s life is sacred.
II. WE TREASURE PEOPLE BY EXTENDING LOVE. Mt.5:21-26; 38-45
When we think about the 6th commandment, “You shall not murder,” eventually one has to consider the words of Jesus. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus refers to the 6th commandment. In Mt.5:21-22, Jesus says, “You have heard that 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.” Jesus gets to the root of the problem by pointing out that anger is ultimately what drives people to commit murder. It seems today that people are walking around with a reservoir of anger that is constantly boiling up in their hearts, ready to act in a moment’s notice. Jesus tells us that being angry with our brother makes us liable to judgment.
But then Jesus goes on to say much more that has bearing on this commandment. In Mt.5:38-45 Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” These are amazing words that must be taken seriously because Jesus lived them while on earth.
As people began to think that Jesus was the long awaited Messiah, they had a preconceived idea of what the Messiah would be like. They fully expected that the Messiah would operate like other conquering kings. He would use violence to overthrow Roman occupation and reestablish the throne of Israel. In Jn.7 we read that it was the Feast of Booths and Jesus’ brothers encouraged him to go to Jerusalem so that everyone could see his amazing works. They urged Jesus to show himself to the world. His own brothers did not believe in him. Why? In a book by Brian Zahnd called, “A Farewell to Mars,” Brian writes, “What Jesus’ brothers didn’t believe was that Jesus could be the Messiah by going about it the way he was! Everyone knew that if you were going to be the Messiah and rescue Israel, you would have to be like Joshua, like David, like Judah Maccabaeus,…Jewish war heroes.” But Jesus was a non-violent Messiah. The world runs on antagonism and violence. Murder is common. But Jesus allowed himself to be murdered, crucified by the world. Zahnd writes, “We forget that when we see Christ dead upon the cross, we discover a God who would rather die than kill his enemies.” In fact, while on the cross Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
As followers of Jesus we not only obey the 6th commandment, we go beyond the 6th commandment by loving even our enemies. This is why I say we are commanded to treasure all people. We cannot treasure people if we hold anger against them. Jesus modeled exactly what he taught us to do. He prayed for those who persecuted him. In fact he died for those who crucified him.
In recent years as I have been reading and thinking about Jesus, I find myself becoming more of a pacifist because it seems to me that this is what Jesus taught. The life and death of Jesus was not just about solving the theological problem of sin. Jesus lived and died in a violent social-political context. He lived and spoke into that context. And our social-political context runs on the same principle of “might makes right,” using coercion, manipulation, and violence as the “go to” methods for accomplishing our goals. It is not the way of Jesus.
If, as believers, we resort to the ways of this world, we will not be able to show the love of Christ to the world. We must treasure people by extending the love of God that has been poured out into our lives by the Holy Spirit.
III. WE TREASURE PEOPLE BY TRUSTING IN GOD’S PROVISION. Jms.4:1-3
In Jms.4:1-3 it says, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”
It is amazing to realize that James is writing to believers. Unfortunately it is true that believers are also subject to intense feelings and expressions of anger. We are redeemed sinners. Can you imagine Christians quarreling and fighting, even guilty of murder? Many think that when James uses the word, murder, that he is thinking more along the lines of hatred. And perhaps that fits the context since he puts murder before coveting. However, given that Jesus puts hatred alongside of murder doesn’t give much relief.
According to James, the source of fighting and quarrels is found in unfulfilled desires or passions. The word that is used gives us our word, “hedonism,” referring to someone who lives for pleasure.
When our heart is consumed with self-centered desires we will find it difficult to treasure and love anyone who has what we long for. And if we have gained whatever it is we long for, we will become protective against anyone who wants what we think belongs to us. Whether we are talking about the need for approval, money, pleasure, possessions, promotion, political power, privilege, recognition, and reward, whenever someone else gets what we want, we will find it difficult to love that person. And we may think, say, and do things that we are not proud of.
As a teen, I remember attending church business meetings that were quite heated and filled with anger. Why does that happen? It is often because we are committed to having our own way about things. Often these things are not of great consequence. When they are of great consequence we must still find a way to release the need to have our way.
The antidote for fighting and quarreling is to bring our desires to the Lord in prayer. “You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” What kind of a prayer life do you have? Do your prayers consist of requests for things you think will bring fulfillment to your life? Are your prayers all about you? If our desire is for God to be honored in our lives, then even if we pray in a self-centered way, I believe God will reveal our selfishness and shape our hearts and minds to pray about that thing in a way that will honor him. Our request may change as we realize that we are praying selfishly. And when we pray it is important to let the request rest in the hands of God. We must hold it loosely and let it go. If not it will eat us up along with our relationships with one another. If we believe that God loves us and wants what is best for us then we can rest in his goodness and love and focus on treasuring others.
So picture yourself standing before the Lord at the end of the age. You are giving an account of yourself. You say, “Lord I obeyed the 6th commandment. I did not murder anyone.” Well, I imagine the Lord will give you props for that. But he more likely will go on to ask if you loved people, if you treasured people with the love of Jesus. He may even get more specific. “Did you love your enemies? Did you pray for those who persecuted you?” Christians are called to treasure all people. Amen.