Summary: Both physical and spiritual life are precious gifts from God, to be received joyfully, protected lawfully, and shared generously.
On April 20 of last year, Columbine High School students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold committed the worst act of school violence in American history. When the smoke had cleared and the last gunshot echoed, 14 people were dead, and 23 others were wounded.
People have scrambled to explain what could lead two high school students to such horrible violence. People blamed the availability of guns, video game violence, a lack of parental oversight, and the prohibition of school prayer. But the reality is that we live in a violent culture, and it’s becoming increasingly violent.
In December of 1997, 43 year old Arturo Torres walked into a maintenance yard in the city of Orange with an AK-47, killing his boss and three other bystanders before the police killed him. On October 3 of last year, as church members gathered in the fellowship hall of the First Southern Baptist Church in Fresno, church member Steven Knee walked in and shot to death fellow church member Virgil Turner. In September of last year, we all remember Larry Ashbrook walking into the youth rally at Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, and spraying the church sanctuary with 45 rounds from a handgun.
We live in a violent culture. Although the violent crime rate has dropped slightly the last two years, since 1960 we’ve experienced a 280% rise in violent crime in America (Bennett 15). In 1997 there were 18,209 murders in the US, and nearly half of all murder victims know their assailants (17). In the 20th century more people were killed by their own governments than in any war this century (Willimon and Hauerwas 70). The escalation of violent video games, movies getting more and more gory, and music that glorifies violence is merely goads our violent culture on. Psychologist and retired Lt. Col. Dave Grossman says that the data linking violence in media and violence is society is stronger than the data linking cancer to tobacco (Grossman 35). The American Medical Association is on record as claiming that violence in media is causally related to about 10,000 homicides annually (Grossman 35). This is the culture live in, a culture where popular musicians who sing about rape and brutality make millions, a culture that bombards us with violent images on our TV screens.
It seems that a discussion of God’s commandment against murder would be particularly appropriate for us today. We’ve been in a series through the 10 Commandments called LANDMARKS FOR A NEW MILLENNIUM. So far we’ve looked at the first five of the 10 commandments, as we’ve been seeking to treat these moral absolutes as fixed reference points in an every changing culture. Today we’re going to look at the sixth commandment, the commandment against murder. Today we’re going to try to answer four questions: What is murder? Why is murder so bad? What causes people to murder? And finally, how can we follow Jesus in a murderous culture?
1. What is Murder?
Let’s begin by looking at the sixth commandment together: "You shall not murder" (Deuteronomy 5:17 NIV). Now the traditional translation of this commandment is, "Thou shalt not kill" (KJV), but the rendering of the New International Version here is more accurate. The Hebrew word used here means to "kill someone unjustly" (NIDOTTE 3:1189). So it’s a certain kind of killing that’s in view here.
But what constitutes "murder" here? The activist organization PETA--the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals--claims that this commandment includes not killing animals for food. Some have taken this to mean that this commandment requires that Christians be pacifists and oppose all wars. So exactly what is this commandment addressing?
One way to narrow the field is to look within the book of Deuteronomy itself, because the rest of the book of Deuteronomy is really an exposition of the 10 commandments. We find in Deuteronomy that God permits Israel to kill and eat animals (Deu 14:3-20). We also find in Deuteronomy that God requires Israel to enforce the death penalty against certain crimes (e.g., Deu 17:6). Finally, we find specific guidelines given for when Israel goes to war in Deuteronomy 20. So at least in its original context, eating meat, the death penalty and fighting in a war aren’t automatically ruled out by the sixth commandment.
So let’s define it. What is murder? Murder is the unlawful or illegitimate ending of another person’s life.This commandment only applies to human beings. It not only applies to unlawful killing—-killing that’s against society’s laws—-but it also applies to illegitimate killing as well. There are times when killing a person may be legal, but it is still illegitimate. For instance, killing Jewish people in concentration camps was legal in Nazi Germany, but it was illegitimate, so it was still a violation of the sixth commandment.