September 16, 2021 is when I began commenting on Chapter Five of John Stott’s book Basic Christianity. The Chapter concerns itself with the “Fact and Nature of Sin” and several pages are devoted to the Ten Commandments. As I have navigated through the first five commandments [described by some as laws about how we are supposed to approach God], we are now in the part of the commandments where we were given laws about how to live with other human beings.
Commandment number six seems very straightforward: “You shall not kill.”
What could be simpler than that? If you kill, you break God’s law. If you do not, you are ok with that law.
I would caution anyone to assume that any commandment is really that simple. Killing is a very complex act. Google “thou shall not kill” and you can see the complexity very quickly: Is thou shall not kill the same as thou shall not murder? God kills so much in the Bible; does that mean that He is breaking His own commandment? Why does God refer to capital punishment in Genesis 9: 6; is it ok to kill in this circumstance? What about soldiers who go into war? The government asks them to kill. Is that ok? Is it wrong to kill spiders? What about bugs and snakes? And then the most complex, divisive issue in the world today: Is abortion killing? If it is, that breaks the sixth commandment doesn’t it? I have just exposed the “tip of the iceberg;” the topic of killing is discussed ad nauseam in this world today.
Then I turn to Stott’s comments on killing. He brings up the subject of looking at people as if you want to kill them. Murder can be committed with “cutting words” alone. Jesus says that to be angry with someone without cause is just as serious as killing. The Disciple John states “Any one who hates his brother is a murderer”. Temper, uncontrolled passion, sullen rage, bitter resentment and desire for revenge can be considered murder. You can kill with “malicious gossip.” You can kill by neglect and cruelty. Spite and jealousy can kill.
Wow, I always thought the sixth commandment merely meant the unjustified taking of human life.
It is obviously so much more. To begin, I have used both words “kill” and “murder” in the writing above. That is complicated in itself, for some Bible translations refer to the commandment as “thou shalt not kill” and other refer to it as “thou shalt not murder.” For many, killing is a physical act but murder is a physical act reflective of one’s heart toward another.
Why do we murder one another? In the beginning, God created us to live in harmony with one another; after all, we were created in God’s image. After going beyond the first two chapter of Genesis, we see that sin enters the picture and then people found themselves capable of acting violently against one another. Of course Cain killed his brother Abel. Cain, the firstborn, was a farmer, and his brother Abel was a shepherd. Both brothers made sacrifices to God, but God favored Abel’s sacrifice instead of Cain’s. Cain then murdered Abel out of jealousy, whereupon God punished Cain by condemning him to a life of wandering. From the start of murder in Genesis 4: 8, taking the life of another has been commonplace.
How does this fit in with a Christian worldview that advocates that every human life is valuable? It does not fit. That’s why God introduced the sixth commandment, to seek to curb man’s appetite to murder others. Without something, man’s sinful nature could run rampant and murder could become too prevalent. First John 3: 4 states “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.” I harken back to my post on October 20th where I discuss “guardrails” which protect us from danger as we drive down the road. God’s commandments can be seen as guardrails. Commandment number six keeps us from eradicating humanity [although there have been numerous examples of efforts at mass killing e.g. Nazi Germany, Mao Zedong’s Regime in China and Stalin’s Communist Regime in Russia].
If mankind is conflicted on the topic of killing, the Bible seems to be also. Paul talks about the right of the government to take the lives of evil people in some versions of Romans 13: 1-7. Matthew 5: 21 says “You have heard what was said to people who lived long ago. They were told, ‘Do not commit murder’. Anyone who murders will be judged for it.” Scripture is full of instances when God endorses the taking of other’s lives [see 1 Samuel 11 and Judges 6-7]. The unintentional killing of another is also addressed in Scripture as manslaughter. Unintentional killers can flee to refuge cities where they can escape punishment [see Exodus 21: 13].
Premeditation seems to be the key regarding the taking of another’s life. Premeditation does not line up with God’s will. Murder stems from a hatred for another, a deep hatred. When we harbor hatred in our hearts, that is a grievous sin. As Christians we know that unjustified killing of another human is not right and will result in extremely negative consequences on Judgement Day.
One can turn to news of the day and see obvious examples of people who commit murder. Today is November 25, 2021 and Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted for taking the life of two people on November 19. The Ahmaud Arbery trial verdict occurred yesterday, the young man was killed by men who claimed self-defense. The jury convicted the perpetrator and two others riding in his vehicle. Those are just the instances that make it into the news. Many examples of killing don’t get national coverage, yet people die anyway and when it occurs, it is never simple: If you kill, you break God’s law. If you do not, you are ok with that law.
Extenuating circumstances always come into play, but as I have watched countless crime documentaries with my wife and I hear the conflicting versions of the act of killing, I often ask myself what is true? I consider the power of God and His all-knowing nature.
In closing, think about these words from First Samuel 16:7: “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
God knows the truth…