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You shall not murder. For many Christians, there may be a temptation to briefly, and perhaps even simply, to encounter this commandment, saying, “Well, I’m not tempted/going to murder anyone…so I’ve got at least one commandment covered!”
At first blush, I’m tempted to agree with such an assessment. Yet then I wonder why it is I so easily pass on a teaching God himself spoke to Moses (Exodus 20:13) and on which Jesus spoke to the masses (Matthew 5:21-22). Am I so different from those who first received the Lord’s teaching? Do I see in me something of a strong moral fortitude that surpasses that of the common man? If I am being honest, then the answer is “No, I do not.”
I am tempted in this life by that which is common to mankind. So I must look back at the command not to murder and see why it was so important that God spoke these words. This command requires a much deeper look into our own personal view of human life.
Everyday, I am surrounded by numerous people. The routine of my life that involves being close to people and talking with them daily can create a sort of numbness to the value of their individual lives as created in the image of God. I guess I just get “used to them” like I get used to having electricity around me. Yet this should not be so! After God created mankind, he made a statement of value upon His creation: that it was very good (Genesis 1:31). The human was to be valued as “very good.”
Jesus taught us that murder is born of an attitude that any one of us could harbor: anger (Matthew 5:21-22). Anger is a life-stealer; a thief. It destroys the life of its host first and then, from that individual, death is breathed upon others. Anger is a destroyer, in part, because it blinds the host to the value of the human life to which the anger is directed. From the anger welling up in the host’s heart, words of destruction come pouring forth, tearing down brothers and sisters in Christ: taking life away rather than breathing life into them.
Do not think that this is a simple black-and-white situation. As humans, we fail constantly in this area. We fail to free people with words of life. We allow anger to express itself in many forms and on many levels; sometimes the expression is even quite subtle. In my experience, what has been the response of many Christians? Instead of finding ourselves humbled and brought low, we make attempts to rationalize our sin. Whenever humans begin to rationalize sin, the results are disastrous. Think back to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, rationalizing their disobedience to God’s commands. The result was death.
Now, think on the image of the cross: it is death, the destruction of life. At the base of murder is an attitude welling up in a human heart. That attitude leads to death. Jesus hanging on the cross is the consequence of murderous attitudes born out of hearts playing host to sin. It is a physical manifestation of the destructive nature of sin. And yet Christians may, on a daily basis, allow anger to parasitically reside within, leeching life. As they are drained of a vision of the goodness of life—human life specifically—they allow death and destruction to rule their relationships. They fail to see people around them as opportunities to share the redemption of Christ, to breathe life. It is a failure to live out the true value of goodness that God has given to His creation.
Yet, those who are redeemed by Jesus do not need to live in this culture/attitude of death. For Jesus has conquered death with life, freeing people from slavery to sin. As Peter instructed, “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.” Though Peter addressed the specific situation of dealing with governing authorities, his statement can be expanded to our current command: do not murder. Christians can live free from the hateful attitudes that brew hateful actions such as murder.
You may never be in a situation of temptation to murder, but as Jesus showed, the attitude of our hearts can well up life-stealing words. We can live in a destructive manner whether or not we commit the physical act of murder. But you have been freed from slavery to sin! You no longer have to host anger in your heart. As Paul taught, “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:11) So you are free to do what is good and true and beautiful; for yourself and for everyone around you.