“Thou shalt not kill.” (Exodus 20:13)
Murder is considered the worst of all crimes more universally than any other, and at the same time is the sin most universally practiced. 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 the men of old, ‘… whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment” (Matt. 5:21-22). Even anger violates the sixth commandment.
FORMS OF KILLING – By including anger and verbal abuse in the category of murder, Jesus did not say or mean that they were as evil as murder. But they are the same variety of sin and may not be excused as mere human weakness. In fact, all sin, including murder, is rather like an onion. Beneath the final act are lesser acts, and beneath all the acts is a corrupt heart. Murder is highly visible, the full-grown sin, but when the outer layer is peeled away, various levels of violence are seen as part of the same “onion,” and beneath the physical and verbal abuse is the heart of anger, hatred, or failing to love. If the core of inadequate love is planted and allowed to grow, the hateful activity will follow. And all of it falls under the judgment of God.
Murder. Some vegetarians have held that when God inscribed “You shall not kill” (Exod. 20:13) in stone at Sinai, he forbade the taking of any life for any cause. Some pacifists have held that he forbade the taking of any human life for any cause. But the commandment cannot be taken that way, for Moses, who received the Law, commanded the taking of animal life for sacrifices and food and the taking of human life in war and capital punishment. “Thou shalt not kill,” in the context of Old Testament law, meant to deliberately take a human life that the Bible gives no authority to take. But there is one other biblical exception to the law against taking human life: killing in self-defense.
Self-defense. Physical resistance in self-defense seems to be validated in Scripture (Exod. 21:13; 22:2; Num. 35:22 ff.) but not commanded. There is a higher way—the law of love. Christ did not resist evil but gave himself to evil men to provide for their salvation.
Not all actions called self-defense are legitimate, and there is a hierarchy among those that are. Defense of others or even of oneself is certainly of higher priority than the defense of material possessions. But when there is danger of physical harm, a key question is whether or not life is in jeopardy. That is the clearest validation of self-defense.
Another basic question for the Christian is whether the impending harm is crime-oriented or whether it is persecution for Christ’s sake. One might choose nonresistance when suffering for Christ but choose to resist in a crime-oriented aggression for the sake of others or even for the sake of the aggressor himself. If the choice is made to resist physical violence, the Christian should ask whether or not physical resistance is the only action available or whether there are other options such as talk or deception. If there seems to be no other option but to resist with physical force, the Christian should discern whether killing is the only alternative or whether lesser violence would accomplish adequate restraint.
Though there are exceptions in which God authorizes the taking of human life, the sin of murder is the ultimate sin against a human being (Lev. 24:17; Num. 35:16-21). Life may not be the supreme value, but it is certainly a critical one for the continued pursuit of other values! And the value of life is probably the watershed issue for any society.
Violence. In a decaying society murder may still be abhorred, but violence short of murder often becomes acceptable. Studies have repeatedly shown that violence in the entertainment media fosters such acceptance. But the ugly end result is a sick society where spouse abuse and child abuse is said to touch one of four people. Violence in the home has been the underreported and largely ignored crime of a society preoccupied with appearances.
Christ’s commentary on the sixth commandment emphasized verbal abuse. James (1:26; 3:1-12) and Solomon had a great deal to say about sins of the tongue, but the rest of Scripture is strong on the subject as well. James says that the tongue is like wildfire and poison. It not only poisons relationships and burns up the lives of others; it consumes the one himself whose tongue is not disciplined by the Spirit (James 3).
A direct attack on a person with carping criticism or biting depreciation, sarcastic humor, or subtle insinuation can destroy something in that person. But just as deadly is the criticism spoken about a person to others. The law of love seals the lips. Any word that harms another is murder, unless spoken in love to that person or spoken only to another who is responsible to correct the wrong (Matt. 18:15-18). The absent person is just as safe with the Spirit-directed child of God as the one who is present with him.
Neglect .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 around a flat rooftop brought bloodguiltiness 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).
Anger murders, but this is so prevalent we will deal with murder another day. As does racism, abortion, suicide and euthanasia. The question for us now is consider which of the manifestations of murder described above do you, or even someone else, see in your life? Perhaps a punishment that is too severe to a child, or verbal abuse toward your spouse. How do you value life? Whose life wins when there are competing interests? How could you appropriately intervene in a culture that neglects the vulnerable? Hard questions, but necessary for the Christian life.
 Prov. 13:3; 15:1, 4, 23; 17:28; 18:8, 13; 21:23; 29:20
 IBE (2014), 349-350, 349-355.