De-Politicizing the Sixth Commandment

In our sermons at ACC this fall, we are looking at the Ten Commandments. In prepping to preach on the sixth commandment (“Thou shalt not kill”), I listened to several sermons that other pastors gave on the subject. They were all fine sermons, but some of them sounded more like position papers on public policy than messages delivered to a local church.

I write this not to criticize other preachers, but to point out how easy it is to spin immediately into the realm of politics when discussing the 6th commandment. We hear that God forbids murder and quickly jump to asking how this prohibition bears on issues like abortion laws, gun control, capital punishment, world hunger, military spending, asylum for refugees, etc. These are important issues to discuss, and our culture certainly needs to wrestle with them. But, unless we happen to be U.S. Senators or members of the Supreme Court, most of us will never be able to shape the laws and policies that deal with these concerns.

It is worthwhile to note that, when Jesus and the Apostles discussed the sixth commandment, rather than debating political issues of their day, they all focused on matters of the heart. When Jesus taught on murder, he directed us to think about anger and whether we are harboring a grudge against someone else (Matt. 5:21-26). When James taught on this commandment, he focused on interpersonal conflicts that arise from self-centeredness (Jas. 4:1-3). When the Apostle John dealt with murder, he instructed us to deal with apathetic attitudes toward the needy and urged us to express our love for others through sacrificial giving to the poor (1 Jn. 3:15-18). The Apostle Paul placed murder in the same list with other, more private sins like greed, envy, arrogance, and callousness toward others (Romans 1:28-32).

These passages direct us away from the personal safety of hypothetical debate. They keep us from thinking we can conquer the national plague of homicide through a pithy Facebook post. Instead, they invite us to address ways the seeds of murder might be hiding in our own hearts. Is there anyone against whom you are nursing a grudge, anyone you are reluctant to forgive? Is self-love drawing you into conflict with others? Are you ignoring the cries of brothers and sisters in need? If our answer to any of these questions is Yes, then God might say the same thing to us that he said to Cain, well before Cain committed fratricide: “Sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” (See Gen. 4:1-16.)

When we understand that the sixth commandment addresses matters of the heart, we quickly realize that, deep inside, all of us are murderers. This realization will crush us if we don’t remember the gospel. The book of Mark tells us that, when Jesus was crucified, he was nailed to a cross originally designated for a killer named Barabbas (Mark 15:6-13). Jesus willingly swapped places with a murderer. When we place our faith in Christ, we are assured that he did the same for us. He took the punishment we deserve so that we might enjoy the blessings of his kingdom. Only when we are convinced of the unstoppable grace attained through this sacrifice, can we feel confident enough in God’s love to examine closely the sin in our own hearts. We are assured that, no matter how deep we dig, we won’t find any darkness within ourselves that the grace of Christ can’t forgive and restore.

So, when you think of the 6th commandment, don’t get political. Get personal. Examine the condition of your own heart, and then look to the cross with joy.