Topical Scripture: Exodus 20:13
From 1976 to 1980, easily the most outrageous show on television was The Gong Show. Remember Chuck Barris, the curly-haired maniac who would “gong” unlucky contestants? He went on to make The Gong Show Movie, which was gonged by critics and viewers alike. But Chuck laughed all the way to the bank, or more specifically to France, where he still lives today.
Unfortunately, his show’s title is still an appropriate description for relationships in America.
A person is murdered in this country every 31 minutes.
In 1990 handguns murdered 10 people in Australia, 22 in Great Britain, 68 in Canada, and 10,567 in the United States.
The national prison and jail population in 1980 was 501,900. For this year the Bureau of Justice Statistics projects it to be 2,014,000.
Recent demographics in North Dallas list crime as the greatest single fear we feel. Two Sundays ago my neighbor’s car was broken into; recently one of our members had her purse stolen from her house; since Wedgwood, we know that even churches are not guaranteed safety.
The problem is not just with our society, but with our personal lives and relationships.
Mother Teresa said that the greatest epidemic in America is not AIDS or cancer but loneliness. Isolated, hurting people, in strained marriages and families and relationships, are all around us. Even today.
Where are you at odds with someone today? When I ask you about the problem people in your life, what person comes to mind first?
God wants to help you with that person, and to help us as a society. That’s why he gave us the sixth commandment.
What not to do
Our text today is very simple. The sixth, seventh, and eighth commandments are each expressed in only two Hebrew words: “No murder, no adultery, no stealing.” Today, “You shall not murder.”
“You” is plural, including us all.
“Shall not” is a present-tense command. Not a suggestion or principle but a law. In the present tense, thus applying today, and tomorrow, and for all time.
“Murder” is the key word here. What does it mean?
This is not the typical Hebrew word for “kill.” This word, ratzah, appears forty-seven times in the Old Testament, each time with reference to premeditated and intentional murder.
This word and commandment does not prohibit us from defending ourselves (Exodus 22:2), accidental killings (Deuteronomy 19:5), involvement in war (Deuteronomy 13:15), or capital punishment (Genesis 9:6).
But it prohibits us from all other killing, for any other reason.
Well and good. But most of us have never killed anyone and certainly don’t intend to. So why waste time dealing with this issue? Why not move on? Well, before we decide we’re free to bypass the sixth commandment, perhaps we should remember what Jesus said about it.
If we are “angry” with our brother we are subject to the same judgment as if we murder him (Matthew 5:22).
If we call him “Raca,” an Aramaic term of contempt, something like “Good for nothing!” we must answer to judgment.
If we call him “fool,” the worst form of contempt in the ancient world, a term which means that he is immoral and corrupt in the extreme, we deserve the same penalty as Jeffrey Dahmer or Adolf Hitler.
Is anyone here today angry with someone? Calling them names? Branding them immoral failures? Apparently there are many ways to “murder.” Why are they wrong?
Scripture gives us at least three reasons.
First, we are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). And so, to hurt a person is to hurt God. This is like attacking your child or spouse. To hurt Janet or Ryan or Craig is to attack me. And 1 Corinthians 3:17 says that we are the “temple” of God. If I attack your house I attack you. If I attack you, I attack the God who dwells in you.
If we don’t want to hurt God, we’ll keep the sixth commandment.
A second reason harming others is prohibited is that we are to treat others the way we want to be treated. This is the famous Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12), and it’s still the best way to live.
The German Protestant pastor Martin Niemoeller said, “The Nazis came for the Communists, but I wasn’t a Communist, so I didn’t object. They came for Socialists, but I wasn’t a Socialist, so I didn’t object. They came for trade union leaders, but I wasn’t a union leader, so I didn’t object. They came for the Jews, but I wasn’t a Jew, so I didn’t object. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to object.”
If we want to treat others as we want to be treated, we’ll keep the sixth commandment.
A third reason hurting others is prohibited is this: how we treat the person we hold in lowest esteem is how we treat Jesus. In Matthew 25, Jesus spoke of the hungry which weren’t fed, the thirsty not given a drink, the stranger not invited in, the naked not clothed, the prisoner not visited, and said, “Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me” (Matthew 25:45).
If we want to treat others as we would Jesus, we’ll keep the sixth commandment.
Ways to murder today
We’ve learned why to keep the sixth commandment. Now, let’s look at ways to break it, as Jesus interpreted it. Let’s go from preaching to meddling for a moment.
Gossip murders the character of those we talk about, exactly as “Raca” or “fool” did in Jesus’ day.
Listen to Leviticus 19:16-18: “Do not go about spreading slander among your people. Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life” (note the parallelism).
Dr. Laura Schlessinger has a good book on the Ten Commandments. In it she quotes this essay on gossip, sent to her anonymously:
My name is Gossip. I have no respect for justice.I maim without killing. I break hearts and ruin lives.I am cunning and malicious and gather strength with age.The more I am quoted, the more I am believed.I flourish at every level of society.My victims are helpless. They cannot protect themselves against me because I have no face.To track me down is impossible. The harder you try, the more elusive I become.I am nobody’s friend.Once I tarnish a reputation, it is never the same.I topple governments, wreck marriages, and ruin careers–cause sleepless nights, heartaches, and indigestion.I spawn suspicion and generate grief.I make innocent people cry in their pillows.Even my name hisses. . . .I make headlines and headaches.Before you repeat a story, ask yourself, Is it true? Is it fair? Is it necessary? If not–shut up!
Now let’s consider briefly some other ethical issues the sixth commandment raises. As someone once said of a preacher, “He believed everything he said, but didn’t say everything he believes.” I’ll have to do that today, for the sake of time.
What about euthanasia? This is obviously a larger subject than time allows today, but the sixth commandment is clear: only God has the right to determine when a life should end.
What about suicide? Again, only God has the right to determine when a life is done. Not even the person living that life. Please understand: suicide is not the unpardonable sin. That theology came from the belief that sins must be confessed before one dies, and someone committing the sin of suicide obviously could not do this. But the Bible nowhere says that. Suicide is, however, a great sin, always wrong in Scripture and against the will of God.
What about abortion? Again, this is a far larger subject than time allows today—some time in the future we need to consider a sermon series together on all these various ethical issues. But I would not be truthful with you today unless I told you this: I believe Scripture is clear in teaching that life begins at conception, as when God says to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” (Jeremiah 1:5). According to the sixth commandment, then, abortion is, in principle, wrong.
Here’s the bottom line for today: we are to see all people as God sees them, and as their mother sees them. Then we will value them and treat them as we should. Now, how do we do this?
What to do with problem people
Jesus’ commentary on the sixth commandment gives us the help we need.
First, release your anger (Matthew 5:22). When Jesus tells us not to be “angry” with our brother, he uses a very specific Greek word, orgizesthai, which means long-lived, cherished, nursed wrath and anger. This is not thumos, the word for short-lived angry emotions, but the word for anger we choose to hold onto and feed.
Jesus does not tell us not to feel angry, but not to hold onto that anger. We cannot help our feelings, but we can manage them. Luther said we cannot keep the birds from flying over our heads, but we can keep them from nesting in our hair.
So, refuse to hold onto your anger. Ask God to help you let it go today.
Second, take the initiative to heal (Matthew 5:23-24). To put Jesus’ words in our context, if you are on your way into the sanctuary for worship and you remember that your brother has something against you, leave church, drive to his house, and make things right. Only then should you come in here to worship God.
Not if you have something against him—if he has something against you. Take the initiative to heal the relationship.
Do it now (Matthew 5:25-26). Again in our terms, if someone is suing you and you’re in the wrong, settle before you get to court. It will cost you far less now than then. It will never be easier to make things right than it is today.
Choose to pardon (Matthew 5:38-42).
Jesus’ words relate to an insult, as when someone slaps you on the right cheek with the back of his hand, or a Roman soldier makes you carry his pack for him. You can retaliate, but you only hurt yourself.
Frederick Buechner is right: an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is a rapid way to a sightless, toothless world.
To forgive is to pardon. It is not to pretend you’re not hurt, or excuse the hurt, but choose not to punish the one who hurt you. Ask God to help you choose to pardon, for his sake and for yours.
Last, pray for the person (Matthew 5:43-44). This is sometimes the only thing you can do, but it is always the best thing you can do. And it is hard, perhaps impossible, to hurt those we are praying for. Pray for the problem person in your life, today.
A Sunday school teacher was discussing the Ten Commandments with her five and six year olds. After explaining the commandment to “honor your father and mother,” she asked, “Is there a commandment that teaches us how to treat our brothers and sisters?”
A boy (the oldest in a family of seven) immediately answered, “Thou shalt not kill.”
He was right.