“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29 NIV)
Most of us agree: “Do not murder” (Ex. 20:13). But we’ll make a surprising discovery: we are all murderers! I hope no one doing this devotional will ever take someone’s life, but there are many other ways to kill.
Each command in the Ten Commandments is like an onion, especially the one forbidding murder. Here’s why. You can peel back layer after layer of that tear-inducing little vegetable, but all the way to the core, it’s still an onion. It may not cause the same volume of tears, but it’s the same vegetable.
So let’s peel back the various layers of killing to discover what God had in mind in forbidding it. This commandment is so important for all of our relationships, let’s take a look.
A direct attack on a person with criticism or depreciation, or sarcasm, or subtle insinuation can destroy something in that person. But just as deadly is the criticism or gossip spoken about a person to others. The law of love seals the lips. Any word that harms another is murder of character. Any rebuke must be spoken in love for the other person’s well-being or edification (Eph. 4:29: Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear) not simply to vent one’s emotions. Speaking the truth in love will be constructive (Eph. 4:15, 29). Confronting someone who is wrong must be done discreetly and in a spirit of humility and grace, directed only to the believer in the wrong (Matt. 18:15-18; Gal. 6:1). Instead of engaging in a spirit of gossip, the absent person must be just as “safe” with the Spirit-directed child of God as when he is present with him.
Another way to harm is by doing and saying nothing when a word or an action would keep from harm. Failure to put a balustrade or parapet around a flat rooftop brought blood guiltiness if someone fell from the roof (Deut. 22:8). Failure to do good, when in one’s power to do so, is sin (Prov. 3:27-28). So the poor, the helpless, and the starving are my responsibility to the extent I have ability to help. To be silent when another is falsely accused, whether in a court of law or in the presence of private gossip, is to participate in the harm. Neglect, then, is another form of murder (see also Exod. 21:29-31).
Incredibly, Christ’s commentary on the sixth commandment includes a person’s inner state. Contemptuous anger is subject to God’s judgment (Matt. 5:22). This was not original with Jesus. Moses had already recorded God’s will, “You shall not hate your brother in your heart…or bear any grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself ” (Lev. 19:17-18). Lack of love, as well as positive hatred, is a form of murder.
How does this work with anger? First, this concrete action seeks to transforms the angry person from being trapped in the vicious cycle of anger into actively seeking to be a peacemaker with his enemy. Secondly, it transforms not only the angry person, but also the relationship—a relationship once marked by hatred, anger, and division and now transformed into one characterized by continued forgiveness and reconciliation. Finally, the goal is to transform the enemy himself into a friend. Which layer do you need to peel back? Anger? Criticism? Demeaning? Gossip? Or do you need to speak up about some harm to another? How can you pray today to love better?