“Do not murder.” (Ex. 20:13)
Each command in the second half of 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 that we explore its implications for a Christian walk.
The Sixth Commandment is brief and to the point: “Do not murder” (Ex. 20:13). But don’t let its simplicity fool you. This is a command with multidimensional meanings for an obedient walk with God. Most of us aren’t tempted to murder someone physically, although too many in our society wouldn’t hesitate to do so. But there are several dimensions to this command that might hit closer to home, even for Bible-believing Christians.
There are multiple categories of unlawful killing. Examples of categories would be murder and suicide. You would probably add euthanasia, abortion, and infanticide. Depending on your theology, you may have included capital punishment and war. It’s difficult to list most of the ways to kill unless you peel back the full-grown “onion” of literally taking someone’s life to the next layer of deliberately causing physical harm, the next layer of verbal abuse, and so on.
The Bible clearly teaches the sanctity of human life, and this command reflects that fundamental value. God created each of us, forming us in the womb according to His plan (see Ps. 139:13-16). He made us in His own image, and He loved us so much that He bought our redemption with the priceless sacrifice of His Son. The Sixth Commandment sets forth the foundational human responsibility to care for and preserve human life, including the unborn, the aged, the poor, and the sick.
Murder is considered the worst of all crimes more universally than any other but, at the same time, is the sin most universally practiced. It is the most practiced because Christ would not let us get away with restricting the law to those who slit throats or blow off heads. Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to our ancestors, ‘Do not murder,’ and whoever murders will be subject to judgment. But I tell you, everyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment” (Matt. 5:21-22). Even anger violates the Sixth Commandment. That’s peeling the onion back pretty far, right? But not all the way to the core. If the ultimate command is to love, then a lack of love is surely the hard little onion core that, when planted, will surely grow to negligence; dislike; hatred; anger; verbal harm; if unchecked, physical harm; and finally, when full grown, murder. Are you beginning to see more complexity in the simple command not to murder?
Notice that Christ lumped together all of these behaviors and attitudes in the same category of sin. Nevertheless, He wasn’t equating verbal abuse with murder. Throughout Scripture and even in this passage, God recognizes levels of sin and guilt, as well as levels of punishment. Not all categories of killing are equally sinful, but all are the same variety of sin. All of these ways of harming others violate the sixth commandment. Although genuine Christians may not often let that onion grow to full maturity, how much foul-smelling, tear-inducing evil lurks beneath the surface of that killing “onion”!