The Ten Words: The Sixth
Christians rightly cry out against abortion, the devaluation of human dignity. Christians should uphold capital punishment as the right punishment for the devaluation of human dignity. But let us also consider how each of us, within the silent confines of our own heart, devalues the life and dignity of others each and every day as we respond in anger to any number of perceived offenses.
On one hand, the 6th commandment, “you shall not murder”, is probably the most universally accepted of all the ten commandments. By God’s restraining grace, humanity seems to have an innate knowledge that murder is wrong. On the other hand, according to the law of Jesus in Matthew 5, each of us probably murders every day! What are we to make of this, and how does this apply to each of us daily? To answer these questions, we need to step back to look at the commandment itself and evaluate what it does and does not mean, getting to the root understanding of murder. Only then can we put the commandment within the context of Jesus’ commands in Matthew 5 to help us grow in holiness each day.
Murder is the unjust snuffing out of a human life. This is slightly different than killing, which is the general taking of a human life for any reason. Why make this distinction? The Bible is clear that there are indeed times when killing is mandated. Ecclesiastes 3:3 says that there is a time to kill. God commands killing on many occasions in the Old Testament, both to the nation of Israel in their dealing with ungodly nations inhabiting the promised land and to courts in their carrying out capital punishment against certain sins. The New Testament also makes clear that the government is authorized to wield the sword, to kill, when punishing certain lawbreakers. So we must first dispel the notion that all killing is wrong. But what then is murder and why is it wrong when other kinds of killing are acceptable? To answer this, we must venture back to when God authorizes justified killing: Genesis 9. After Noah and his family exit the ark, God authorizes the use of capital punishment to be carried out upon individuals who murder, who unjustly take the life of another human. The underlying justification for this is that mankind, as God’s image bearers, has inherent dignity, and if anyone takes that dignity for granted by flippantly killing someone, they forfeit their own life in return.