Thou Shalt Not Kill

Matthew 5:21-26
Someone has said that when he gets into an argument with his wife, she doesn’t get hysterical, she gets historical. She simply recounts all his past misdeeds in his hearing so that the husband is shamed by his current behavior. She holds grudges, and is bitter against him because of all these past actions. We probably do the same thing. I dare say that when most of us look at the sixth commandment, which reads, “Thou shalt not kill,” we come with a sigh of relief. Most of us have not killed anyone. We haven’t murdered anyone. On to the next commandment. We allow room for those thoughts of anger to harbor themselves in our hearts.

That is exactly how the Jews thought. They thought that the worst offense against the sixth commandment was to actually murder someone in cold blood. So they added to the law. Jesus is quoting in the first verse not the OT law alone, but the OT law as it had been interpreted by the Jewish rabbis. The key part of this is the second half of the verse. There the Jewish rabbis said that the person who murders someone else is liable to judgment. That implies that the lesser sins are not liable to judgment. If murder IS liable to punishment, then anger is NOT. The Jewish rabbis thus lessened the punishment due to sin, because they misinterpreted the sixth commandment. Instead of misinterpreting the sixth commandment, we have to realize how to interpret them.

The Ten commandments are meant to state the most severe case. Murder is obviously the most severe case covered under the sixth commandment. But all the lesser commands are included under it as well. Listen to what the Heidelberg catechism says in its questions concerning the sixth commandment: 105 Q. What is God’s will for you in the sixth commandment? A. I am not to belittle, insult, hate, or kill my neighbor- not by my thoughts, my words, my look or gesture, and certainly not by actual deeds- and I am not to be party to this in others; rather, I am to put away all desire for revenge. I am not to harm to recklessly endanger myself either. Prevention of murder is also why government is armed with the sword. 106 Q. Does this commandment refer only to killing? A. By forbidding murder God teaches us that he hates the root of murder: envy, hatred, anger, vindictiveness. In God’s sight all such are murder. 107 Q. Is it enough then that we do not kill our neighbor in any such way? A. No. By condemning envy, hatred, and anger God tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves, to be patient, peace-loving, gentle, merciful, and friendly to them, to protect them from harm as much as we can, and to do good even to our enemies.

The WCF has more to say. Not only do the Ten Commandments contain the severest forms, and therefore imply all the lesser sins, but also the opposite to murder is required. Q. 135: What are the dutes required in the sixth commandment? A. The dutes required in the sixth commandment are, all careful studies, and lawful endeavors, to preserve the life of ourselves and others by resisting all thoughts and purposes, subduing all passions, and avoiding all occasions, temptations, and practices, which tend to the unjust taking away of the life of any; by just defence thereof against violence, patient bearing of the hand of God, quietness of mind, cheerfulness of spirit; a sober use of meat, drink, medicine, sleep, labour, and recreations; by charitable thoughts, love, compassion, meekness, gentleness, kindness; peacable, mild and courteous speeches and behavior; forbearance, readiness to be reconciled, patient bearing and forgiving of injuries, and requiting good for evil; comforting and succouring the distressed, and protecting and defending the innocent. 136. What are the sins forbidden in the sixth commandment? A. The sins forbidden in the sixth commandment are, all taking away the life of ourselves, or of others, except in case of public justice, lawful war, or necessary defence; the neglecting or withdrawing of the lawful and necessary means of preservation of life; sinful anger, hatred, envy, desire of revenge; all excessive passions, distracting cares; immoderate use of meat, drink, labor and recreations; provoking words, oppression, quarelling, striking, wounding, and whatsoever else tends to the destruction of the life of any.

So, just in case any of you thought for one minute that you have been keeping this commandment, I am here to tell you that you aren’t. All the lesser sins are condemned, and the opposite virtues are commanded. Jesus is here raising the standard of what the law requires. Remember, Jesus just finished saying that that our righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees. Otherwise, we will never enter the kingdom of God. Last time we discovered just what that meant. It meant that we need a perfect righteousness to clothe us before the infinitely holy God. But it also means that our actual behavior needs to be better than the scribes and the Pharisees.

So Jesus goes on to say here that insults, and hatred is ALSO liable to punishment. In other words, it is no longer merely a matter of what happens in our behavior: it is a matter of the heart. Let me repeat that: it is no longer merely a matter of what happens in our behavior: it is a matter of the heart. Now, I am NOT saying that the OT is merely outward, and the NT is inward and spiritual. I am saying that the scribes and the Pharisees were more concerned about outward behavior, and neglected the inward aspect of the heart. The contrast is not between the OT and the NT, but between the Pharisees’ interpretation of the law, and Jesus’ interpretation of the law.

In verse 23, we see the principle that applies to us especially in the Lord’s Supper. We no longer offer actual animals on the altar. Otherwise, we might get the irony in what Jesus says. How practical would it be to leave an animal on the altar, before you had even killed it, and go somewhere else to be reconciled with your brother? Jesus’ point here is that forgiveness is more important than sacrifice. You cannot be reconciled with God unless you reconciled with your brother. That is so important that I will say it again: you CANNOT be reconciled with God unless you are reconciled with your brother. Don’t come and offer tithes to God if you are angry with your brother. And don’t come to the Lord’s Supper if you have something against someone else. But Jesus required something more. Maybe you don’t have something against anyone else, but maybe they have something against you. In that case, you are ALSO to go to that person and ask their forgiveness before proper worship can take place.

Now, verse 25 is usually taken to mean that we should reconcile with even non-believers before going to court. This is true. We are to do everything we can to live at peace with all people. However, there is a great deal more to say about this verse. This verse is really talking about the final judgment. The accuser is the law, and the court is God’s court, and the judgment is the final judgment. If we realize that what we owe is everything, then the last warning there should absolutely terrify those who are not justified before God. You will never get out until you pay the last penny. Hat means that you will never get out, because no one has the wherewithal to pay what they owe in hell. So this advice works on many levels. Be reconciled to your brother, be reconciled to your enemy, and be reconciled to the law. How does one do all this? We must go back to the cross. Jesus underwent the cross, because of God’s wrath against sin and against sinners. God’s anger, of course, is a righteous anger, because He is angry at sin, which is a breaking of God’s law. Any breaking of God’s law results in God’s holiness and perfection being attacked. God must answer if He is to be a just and holy God. And so He answered it with the death of His own son. He has put to death the enmity that existed between God and us. That is, Jesus propitiated God’s wrath. That is a big word. Let me explain it. God is wrathful against sin, because of the law. That wrath needs to be appeased somehow, if we are to be restored to fellowship with God. That is what Christ did. He propitiated God’s wrath. He appeased God’s wrath. This word is used several times in the NT, and so we need to aware of what it means. So do you trust in Christ’s work of propitiation? Do you trust that Jesus has made peace between God and you?

Then you need to extend forgiveness, not anger to other people. How often do we insult other people. How do we do that? Well, we gossip. That is a terrible problem in our congregations. We call someone else a fool behind their back. Jesus’ command is not limited merely to calling someone a fool to their face: it also applies to gossip. We want to learn a dirty little secret of someone, and so we listen. We are all tempted. But that is killing someone. Gossip is a lesser form of murder. Do you think of gossip that way? Well you should.

Another way this applies to us is that we tend to hold grudges against someone else. Holding a grudge is another way we kill someone. It doesn’t matter whether the grudge is long-standing or recent: either way, holding it is killing that person in your heart.

What about protecting someone else’s good name. It is not the case that if you merely refrain from gossip that you have kept the Lord’s command. You must also actively seek to preserve someone else’s reputation. Just as to preserve someone else’s life is to obey the sixth commandment, so also to preserve someone else’s reputation is a matter of life and death. If you destroy someone’s good name, you have destroyed that person.

This is a command to love as God has loved us. This is a command to take care of our anger as God took care of His anger against us. God is not asking us to do anything that He has not done Himself. The great difference between God’s anger and our anger is that God’s anger is completely justified. We totally deserve to be on the receiving end of God’s anger. However, our anger is usually not holy. And yet God takes care of His own anger anyway, even though we so richly deserve it. So cannot we take care of our anger, when it is usually unjustly bestowed? That is the question for us tonight.

So this week, work on how you talk to your spouse, children, or siblings. Don’t cut them down, or insult them. Instead, build them up in love. When you work with your coworkers, don’t listen to gossip. Instead, you should stick up for the person who isn’t there to defend himself. Have the courage to do that. God will call you blessed. But above all, forgive someone else. After all, God has forgiven you more than you can ever repay. You can surely afford to forgive someone else. Indeed, there is great reward for those who forgive as God forgives. Look forward to it. That is what Jesus calls us to do today.

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