Only a handful of you [students at The Geneva School] have somehow avoided sitting under my instruction for Old Testament here at Geneva. But I hope that most of you will remember that one of the important uses of the law (that pesky pedagogical use) is the one intended to convince us that we are sinful people in need of grace and redemption. And we see this in the Ten Commandments as well. Most people think with respect to the Ten that they generally do o.k., right? Haven’t committed adultery today, haven’t stolen anything today; I sure haven’t killed anyone today!
And of course, the simple meaning of the law is that we cannot kill another human being. Why? It all goes back to creation. If we are made in God’s image, we are valuable beings with an inherent dignity and right to live a life that reflects and glorifies God. John Calvin (as usual) says it well in his Institutes:
“This commandment rests upon a twofold basis: man is both the image of God, and our flesh. Now if we do not wish to violate the image of God, we ought to hold our neighbors sacred. And if we do not wish to renounce all humanity, we ought to cherish him as our flesh” (2.8.40).
When we kill another, we are striking out at God himself. Of course, the Law of Moses parses this out, as do our own laws. There may be (God forbid!) a time when something you do could accidentally result in the death of another. There are myriad ways this could happen that would not fall under the category of murder. Thus we have manslaughter, and multiple nuanced levels of that depending on your actions. So this is an easy one right? Not so fast.
Remember that Jesus raises the bar on the commandments of God. He does not release us from the demands of the law; rather, He takes the law to a higher, more rigorous level. Why? To be sure that we understand that we cannot, on our own, obey or fulfill the law. Remember the Sermon on the Mount?
In Matthew 5: 21-ff we read, “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. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.”
Uh oh. Jesus uses “brother” in terms of ethnic connections in Israel; but if any of you have siblings, I doubt you need go no further than that to see you are condemned by Jesus’ application of “You shall not murder.” And in the context of our school, as much as we strive for virtue and mutual respect, I am not so naïve as to think that a day may go by without someone killing another with their words. And then Jesus stretches this further to say this affects our worship. He counsels us to reverse course on the way to worship to make things right with our neighbor if we have said murderous things to or about them.
But suppose you are in that rarified group who are not yet guilty with respect to this command. Not only have you not killed anyone today, but you have even managed to speak and think well of others too. Let me ask this: By merely not doing that which the commandment prohibits, have we satisfied the demand of the law? I hope you have been listening enough to know that, no, this is not the case.
There is a principle called the “elliptical nature of the law.” When the commandment prohibits some activity, by ellipsis it also commands the opposite activity. For example, we are not to take the Lord’s name in vain. But this also implies, elliptically, that we must also revere, honor, and cherish the Lord’s name. Complete indifference to God’s name breaks the implied command to honor the Name. See how that works?
So the 6th commandment, which says we shall not murder, also implies – and thus requires – that we honor and preserve human life because every one of us is made in God’s image.
How interesting and perhaps ironic that, in God’s providence, we are speaking about this verse on January 22. Some of you know that today is the 41st anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision. This was a landmark decision where, in one sweeping declaration, the Supreme Court overturned laws banning elective abortion in about 42 states. Since 1973, over 50 . . . million . . . human . . . beings have died by elective abortion in our country. We can get numbed by big numbers. In fact, Stalin was right when he said that the death of a child is tragic, but the death of a million people becomes merely a statistic. But allow me to put this in perspective: If you divide our country in half by population, the population of the lower 25 states plus the District of Columbia comes to just about 50 million people. That’s the entire population of Kentucky, Oregon, Oklahoma, Connecticut, Iowa, Mississippi, Arkansas, Utah, Kansas, New Mexico, Nevada, Nebraska, West Virginia, Idaho, Hawaii, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Montana, the Dakotas, Delaware, Alaska, Vermont, and Wyoming.
Yes, there are hard cases regarding abortion – we live in a broken world. But let’s be clear: the overwhelming majority of decisions for elective abortion were convenience and economics. People would not be bothered by children. Life has become disposable. Of course, this is completely plausible if there is no God. In fact, one of the characters in Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamzov said in so many words, “If God does not exist, then anything is permissible.”
But God makes very clear in Proverbs 6:16-19, “There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.” Far too prevalent in our culture are those who are quick to shed the blood of innocent children in the womb. Far too acceptable and culturally chic are those with hearts that devise wicked plans to rid themselves of young life full of potential and God’s image.
But I don’t think that is our problem here at Geneva. More challenging and condemning for us is the elliptical side of this law. Proverbs 24:10-12 says, “If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small. Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, ‘Behold, we did not know this,’ does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work?”
I have a friend named John whose calling is to stand outside abortion clinics and plead with people who are devising evil and seeking to shed innocent blood. Some Geneva students have been there with John outside that abortion clinic in downtown Orlando. It is a dark place, a profoundly sad place. But John seeks to rescue those stumbling to slaughter. And he also seeks to make sure that Christians know this is happening. Do you see the insidious nature of such evil? It has become so culturally engrained as to leave us with a shrug. “Meh. Not my problem” too many people say.
But we have seen over the past 40 years the ripple effects of such cultural neutrality to God’s commandments. Tragically, once we can pick and choose which children are born, it is a short step to thinking we can also determine which children live – even after birth, if they don’t live up to some arbitrary expectation of health or wholeness. Thus your generation is being deprived of the surprising goodness of people who live with Downs Syndrome for example.
But also pragmatically, your younger generation faces an economic tsunami in the future – the prospect of supporting an older generation without the benefit of 50 million others to generate jobs, income, tax revenue and services. And think about China who has, since 1971 eradicated a number equal to the entire population of our country – some 330 million unborn children. They too now face unprecedented challenges in coming years due to this grievous and continuous sin against God and mankind. All because people have – in a fundamental way – decided they will be God and determine who lives and who does not. So this commandment really spreads over into other commandments about who is really sovereign and creator.
One final thought, getting back to the elliptical nature of this command. If we shall not murder, again, then we shall honor life, preserve life. The Heidelberg Catechism at this point asks, “Is it enough then if we do not kill our neighbor?” The answer: “No; for when God condemns envy, hatred, and anger, he requires us to love our neighbor as ourselves, to show patience, gentleness, mercy, friendliness toward him, to prevent injury to him as much as we can, and also to do good to our enemies.” Do you see it friends? At a most profound level, the other side of “Don’t murder” is to be committed to human flourishing – to work for your neighbor’s best interest; to be committed to serving and helping others; and in more and more fully living – each one of us – in a manner that exalts the good, the true, and the beautiful in ourselves and in others.
Yes, all of this is implied in “You shall not murder.” Consciously and intentionally living out the Gospel of Christ becomes a way to obey and fulfill the commandment not to murder.
May God give us grace not merely to understand, but so also to live.