Ten Words to Live By

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The sixth word to live by is just three simple words – Do Not Kill. [In fact, in Hebrew it is even simpler – it is just two words. Maybe “No Killing” would be a good translation]. This ought to be a very simple word to live by. No sermon necessary. Let’s just affirm that we will not kill and we needn’t discuss this any more.

But it really isn’t that simple, is it? The very fact that such a terse word to live by even needs to be spoken indicates that we have a problem. It may be easy for nearly all of us to say, “At least I haven’t murdered anyone.” But we are all connected in a culture that participates in killing.

Scanning through the commentaries and discussions on this matter, I have been confronted with the complexity of this issue. First of all, is the word “kill” better translated as “murder?” Is there really a difference? Some scholars say yes, and some say no. There’s more debate, can one be opposed to abortion but support capital punishment? Can one oppose euthanasia but support war? Some say it is not right to be inconsistent and still respect this word to live by. Some say the circumstance and issue are different.

It’s complex. We could spend hours engaging in the discussion of these issues -- and that would not be a bad thing! We could probably stand to engage in more discussion if we seriously respect God’s instruction on how to live. And we intend to spend almost one hour on that tonight. Differing voices that make their cases quite well are engaged in the discussion of three simple words that make up this sixth word to live by. Today, let’s pay attention to one voice. It is the voice of our Lord and Teacher. What does Jesus say about this word to live by?

Matthew 5:21-26
“You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an [empty-headed] idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.
“So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God. When you are on the way to court with your adversary, settle your differences quickly. Otherwise, your accuser may hand you over to the judge, who will hand you over to an officer, and you will be thrown into prison. And if that happens, you surely won’t be free again until you have paid the last penny.”

Jesus takes “God’s Words to Live By” very seriously. So seriously that he is not content just to take them at literal face value; rather, he teaches us that there is wisdom and principle within these statements – even the ones that seem so simple. Jesus understands that the root of murder is hatred and the seed of hatred is anger. Being angry without the courage and maturity to resolve the anger leads to violence. Violence and killing result in judgment.

Jesus teaches his disciples well. One of his disciples, John the Apostle, understands Jesus’ teaching and the meaning of this sixth word to live by that God spoke.

I John 3:11-20
For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother's were righteous. Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates a fellow believer is a murderer, and you know that no murderers have eternal life in them.
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for one another. If any one of you has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in you? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.

There is a lot to discuss when it comes to this simple word to live by: Do Not Kill. Let’s continue the discussion – but only if we take it seriously. Taking it seriously means that we are not going to be haters. Haters, says John, are murderers. He is basing that on what Jesus says.
“But what do we do about being angry?” Augustine said that Hope has two beautiful daughters: Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and courage to believe it can change. We all get angry. Even God gets angry. Just remember that Anger doesn’t do well on her own. She needs her sister Courage and together they remind us of Hope. On her own, Anger has a tendency to get lost in hatred and violence -- because Courage is absent and there’s no Hope.

Do you have the courage to change the way things are? Hatred, violence, murder or Hope? Which do you choose to live by?

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 11 November 2007

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