Summary: Seeing what a blessing the Fifth Commandment is for us.
How protective are you of your computer files like digital pictures? I have an external hard drive at home that instantly backs up everything I do as I work on my computer. In addition to that, my Saturday routine is to backup all my computer files on another external hard drive which I then bring here to the church for safekeeping during the week. That way if the house burns down and my laptop is destroyed, I’m not going to lose any more than a week’s worth of work. In addition to that I upload my really important files like family pictures to a web-based storage system every month. Do you suppose I’m a bit overprotective? You wouldn’t think that if you’ve ever spent an afternoon tapping out a report only to have it vanish from your computer. Do you remember the sinking feeling when you realized what happened, followed by utter frustration as you were tempted to pick up the computer and throw it through the window?
If this is how we feel when something we’ve created is destroyed, we can begin to understand why God spoke the Fifth Commandment: “You shall not murder.” Human life is God’s creation not a cosmic accident. Only he and his earthly representatives in government have the right to end life. Martin Luther explained how God seeks to protect his gift of life with the Fifth Commandment: “We should fear and love God that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and be a friend to him in every bodily need.” Let’s consider what a blessing this command is for us and others.
What is there to say about such a simple command as “Do not murder”? “OK. I won’t!” Such a trite reply gives the impression that we don’t seriously think we could ever become guilty of breaking this commandment. But I wonder how many murderers are former faithful church-goers who too thought that they would never break this command by taking a life? Now just to be clear, when an RCMP officer takes a life in the course of his work, he’s not a murderer. He is God’s representative on earth and has been given the authority to hand out such punishment. Of course this doesn’t mean the police can just start shooting whomever they want. The same is true of soldiers. When they are engaged in a just war, they too have the God-given authority to fire their guns and missiles with the intent to kill. Pray for our men and women in uniform that they would use this power in line with God’s will and not their own.
But let’s get back to our original question. How is it that former Sunday School students, even pastors (!) have been guilty of murder? It will be helpful to think back to the example of Cain. Why did he murder his brother, Abel? You can’t blame violent video games. You can’t say that he had terrible parents, although we know they weren’t perfect. Nor did he kill to rob and get rich. Cain murdered his brother because he refused to rein in his sins of jealously and anger at how God was pleased with Abel’s offering but not his. There is a young adult on trial in Edmonton because in his anger he threw a knife at another party-goer and struck him in the heart. He didn’t intend to kill, just to scare but his sinful emotions led him to do something he now regrets.
Do you see why Jesus explains that we can break the Fifth Commandment without even lifting a finger? Jesus said: “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment…anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell” (Matthew 5:21, 22).
Friends, who is it that you are angry with this morning? You may have every “right” to be angry because they have mistreated you but consider what God says to you: “Do not murder. Do not even entertain thoughts of wringing this person’s neck. Let me take care of the judging and punishing.”
So what should we do? Just forget about the matter? Hardly! The Apostle Paul says, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:12, 13). Not only does God not want us to hate those who have mistreated us, he wants us to love them. No, you might not invite these difficult people over for dinner but if you bump into them at the mall, you won’t turn on your heels in huff either. You’ll smile and greet them by name. You’ll ask them how they are doing. And if you find out that they’re not doing so well you won’t rub your hands in glee but figure out what it is you can do to help. Do they need an hour or two away from their children? Do they need someone to sit down and just listen to them for an hour? Do they need a couple of meals brought over so they know that they are loved?