The sixth commandment states, “You shall not murder,” (Exodus 20:13, ESV). Many Christians (and people in general) would say, ‘yes, I have unequivocally not murdered anyone in my lifetime. I have followed the sixth commandment perfectly.’
But have we? Is this just about taking someone’s life, or does it go deeper?
According to Jesus, yes, it does.
“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. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother and then come offer your gift,” (Matthew 5:21-24, ESV).
It’s so easy to abide by the letter of the law (and prison makes a great deterrent for reasonable people!), but the spirit of the law is much, much harder. When we consider Jesus’ definition following the sixth commandment isn’t as easy as we thoguht.
I can’t help but think about how I’ve seen some Christians treat one another when they have disagreements on social media. For example, brothers in Christ have personally attacked me because I criticized former President Donald Trump.
It’s like the sixth commandment doesn’t matter when politics, or whatever hot button issue we are debating, is concerned.
We are not to be angry. Some translations say we are not to be angry “without cause.”
Yes, I suppose there is righteous anger, but how often do you see righteous anger expressed on social media?
In some manuscripts, the phrase “without cause” is omitted, making this command even harder.
D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in his Studies on the Sermon on the Mount, explained, “You should not be angry with your brother. Anger in the heart towards any human being, and especially to those who belong to the household of faith, is, according to our Lord, somethign that is as reprehensible in the sight of God as murder.”
Yet many continue to lash out in a Tweet, Facebook comment, or email.
Not only that, but we are not to show contempt. Because not only do some Christians harbor anger in their hearts, they insult brothers and sisters in Christ with whom they disagree.
Calling someone a fool, which can also be translated as “worthless,” expresses that attitude of contempt.
Lloyd-Jones also writes, “Contempt, a feeling of scorn and derision, is the very spirit that ultimately leads to murder. We may have various reasons for not allowing it to be expressed in actual committal of murder. But, alas, we have often murdered one another in mind and heart and thought have we not? We have nursed thoughts against people which are as foul as murder.”
And many of us have gone beyond just thinking it, but to express it publicly.
“Killing does not only mean destroying the life physically, it means still more trying to to destroy the spirit and the soul, destroying the person in any shape or form,” Lloyd-Jones exhorts.
In the Westminster Longer Catechism, question 135 asks, “What are the duties required in the sixth commandment?”
The answer should be convicting. “The duties required in the sixth commandment are, all careful studies, and lawful endeavours, 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 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, physic, sleep, labor, and recreation; by charitable thoughts, love, compassion, meekness, gentleness, kindness; peaceable, mild, and courteous speeches and behavior: forbearance, readiness to be reconciled, patient bearing and forgiving of injuries, and requiting good for evil; comforting and succoring the distressed, and protecting and defending the innocent.”
The emphasis is mine.
The Heidelberg Catechism teaches the sixth commandment similarly. In question 105, it asks, “What does God require in the sixth commandment?”
“I am not to dishonour, hate, injure, or kill my neighbour by thoughts, words, or gestures, and much less by deeds, whether personally or through another; rather, I am to put away all desire of revenge. Moreover, I am not to harm or recklessly endanger myself. Therefore, also, the government bears the sword to prevent murder,” it answers.
Question 106 asks, “But does this commandment only speak of killing?”
“By forbidding murder God teaches us that he hates the root of murder,
such as envy, hatred, anger, and desire of revenge, and that he regards all these as murder,” the Catechism states.
Question 107 goes further. It asks, “Is it enough, then, that we do not kill our neighbour in any such way?”
“No. When God condemns envy, hatred, and anger, he commands us
to love our neighbour as ourselves, to show patience, peace, gentleness,
mercy, and friendliness toward him, to protect him from harm as much as we can, and to do good even to our enemies,” the Catechism answers.
In light of all of this, I ask, have you murdered anyone lately?
If so, Jesus gives us a positive command to go “be reconciled to your brother,” (Matthew 5:24).
Repent and make it right.