In our series of brief studies going through the ten commandments (i.e. Exodus 20:1-17; Deuteronomy 5:1-21), we now come to the sixth commandment, which simply says, “Thou shalt not kill” (KJV) or “You shall not murder” (NKJV, ESV). That sounds pretty short, simple, and straight-forward, doesn’t it? We are not to commit murder.
If we are honest, many of us give this commandment very little thought, at least as far as how it may apply to ourselves. And that is probably because we assume that we have never even come close to breaking this commandment. Are you a murderer? Are you guilty of murder in the eyes of God? The answer to that question might not be as obvious as you think.
The Westminster Larger Catechism includes an extended treatment of the ten commandments, which follows the pattern of stating both the duties required and the sins forbidden in each of the commandments. In that section we are told the rationale for this approach is because, “where a duty is commanded, the contrary sin is forbidden; and where a sin is forbidden, the contrary duty is commanded” (Q.99).
Q.136 tells us of the sins that are forbidden in the sixth commandment:
“Q. 136. What are the sins forbidden in the sixth commandment? A. The sins forbidden in the sixth commandment are, all taking away the life of ourselves, or of others, except in case of public justice, lawful war, or necessary defense; the neglecting or withdrawing the lawful and necessary means of preservation of life; sinful anger, hatred, envy, desire of revenge; all excessive passions, distracting cares; immoderate use of meat, drink, labor, and recreations; provoking words, oppression, quarreling, striking, wounding, and whatsoever else tends to the destruction of the life of any.”
That is quite the list, isn’t it? Clearly the Westminster divines saw that there is much more involved in breaking the 6th commandment than we might think.
The Scriptures themselves clearly teach us that the sixth commandment is about far more than just the outward act of murder. The Lord Jesus himself made this very clear in his teaching in what we call “the sermon on the mount” (i.e. Matthew chapters 5-7). In Matthew 5:21–22 he says,
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” (ESV)
There Jesus quotes Exodus 20:13 (i.e. “You shall not murder.”), and then explains it to us in some detail. And in doing so he tells us that the sin of murder starts with the heart, with hatred. Hatred is the root cause of murder. The outward sin of murder certainly makes one “liable to judgment.” But the Lord Jesus says that “everyone who is angry with his brother” will be “liable to judgment” as well!
In fact 1 John 3:15 says,
“Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” (ESV)
Who among us can possibly claim to have never hated anyone? And if that is the case, there is no one among us who can truly say that he or she is innocent of the sin of murder, at least not inwardly-speaking. And so we are all guilty of much greater sins than we might realize.
And so that brings us back to the question that I posed above – Are you a murderer? The answer to that question, according to the Word of God, is yes.
That ought to impress upon us the very depths of our sin and guilt before a holy God. We have all sinned in much bigger ways than we might realize.
The good news of the gospel is that the Lord Jesus Christ died (indeed, was executed and murdered by wicked men – Acts 2:23) to save even murderers – murderers like you and me.
There is abundant grace, mercy, and forgiveness to be found through faith in Jesus Christ even for sins such as these. He alone can take hearts that are full of hatred and murder and cleanse them, filling them with the love that only comes from God.