A sermon preached at Covenant Presbyterian Church of Fort Smith, Arkansas on October 6, 2019.
“You shall not murder” (Ex. 20:13).
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1), but that is not all he created. Through the six days of creation, God “made the earth and created mankind on it” (Isa. 45:12). Of everything God created in heaven and earth, only one creature was uniquely created in God’s image: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’…So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:26-27). Unlike anything else in creation, only man has the innate moral capacity to reflect the communicable attributes of God, a creaturely likeness of God.
Unfortunately, when mankind fell in sin through the disobedience of our father Adam, our God-likeness was severely affected but not destroyed. As human beings with intellect, will, and emotions we remain made in God’s image yet fallen in sin. Therefore, the life of every human being is precious, because we are all made in the image of God.
The Preciousness of Life
The preciousness of life established in the image of God makes the account of the first murder all the more startling. In a fit of jealous rage, Cain “rose up against his brother Abel and killed him” (Gen. 4:8), and so the first murder in the history of the world was committed. So precious was the life of Abel that God placed a curse upon Cain far worse than death (Gen. 4:11-16), but this did not stop murder in an increasingly wicked world.
So great was the wickedness of man upon the earth, “every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5), that God sent a flood destroying every living thing upon the earth except for righteous Noah, his family, and the animals upon the ark. While the majority of mankind was destroyed in the flood waters, a remnant was preserved, as Noah and his family were preserved to continue life as God’s image-bearers on planet earth. So precious was the life preserved that God said, “for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man.” And then God said, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image” (Gen. 9:5-6); death for murder for life.
The sixth commandment, as translated in the ESV, states, “You shall not murder.” The Hebrew verb translated “murder” means the taking of human life by any means not permitted by God. For example, capital punishment is not murder because it is commanded by God. Similarly, death at war is distinguished from murder, and in fact a different Hebrew verb is used to distinguish the two. The verb does not refer to animal life, self-defense, or accidental death. In defining murder, in what we might refer to as ancient Israel’s “case law,” punishment for manslaughter differed from premeditated murder, yet both were punished, reinforcing the preciousness of life. Therefore, while man is made in God’s image, he does not have the authority to take human life except as permitted or commanded by God.
However, we should guard against considering murder only a crime, although it certainly is. It is first and foremost a sin. Murder not only breaks the moral law of God but is an affront to the reflection of his glory in man, fallen though we are. We recall David’s confession, following his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah, in which he cried out to God: “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight…” (Ps. 51:4). David’s confession does not negate his guilt to man, rather it emphasizes his sin against God.
And this is the key point in understanding the preciousness of life: Murder is a sin against God’s law and God’s image first and man second, and life is precious because it is both given by God and in his image. In other words, life is not precious independent from the giver of life but ultimately because of him. In a sense we could say that human life is precious because God is. For this reason, we should desire, promote, and encourage the preservation of life.
The Preservation of Life
In a country in which abortion is legal and euthanasia is increasingly considered, the preservation of life has become a casualty of convenience. Life within the womb and life on the sick bed are still life, made in the image of God. The justification of choice or mercy is merely a contrivance for murder, and a disregard for the reflection of God’s glory in human life. Therefore, we should desire the preservation of life, meaning we must not disengage emotionally from the taking of life. When abortion becomes merely a surgical procedure and euthanasia an act of mercy, we have sterilized the terms rendering murder a procedure.
Part of the solution is in fact engaging our hearts in which an affront to a holy God is an affront to us. And this expands well beyond a narrow definition of murder. As Martin Luther noted in his Catechism, the sixth commandment “is violated not only when a person actually does evil, but also when he fails to do good to his neighbor, or, though he has the opportunity, fails to prevent, protect, and save him from suffering bodily harm or injury. …Therefore, God rightly calls all persons murderers who do not offer counsel and aid to men in need and in peril of body and life. He will pass a most terrible sentence upon them in the day of judgment, as Christ declares: “I was hungry and thirsty and you gave me no food or drink, I was a stranger, and you did not welcome me, I was naked and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison, and you did not visit me.”
We must also promote the preservation of life, meaning we cannot simply keep our theology of the preciousness of life to ourselves but must share it with others. If human life is precious because we are made in God’s image, then we must tell others about who God is and how he may be known. The answer is not in militant civil disobedience but in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Life matters because there is one for whom life matters.
And, we must encourage the preservation of life, which requires involving yourself in the lives of others. We must put our political stones down for the woman caught in adultery and instead involve ourselves in the lives of the helpless, the vulnerable, and the broken. As one theologian observes, “Evangelicals rightly protest the murder of the unborn and decry the silence of those who refuse to defend those who have no voice to defend themselves. Nevertheless, silence hovers over the same impassioned group when children die senselessly after they’re born. Shouldn’t this be an outrage of equal portions? Isn’t life life? Or are we just caught up in the glitz and glamor of political debates? Are we pro-life?” In other words, it is easy to get passionate over cultural hot-point issues and miss the priority of life.
The Priority of Life
You may say, “I have never committed murder, and I seek to stand up for the preciousness of life,” and this is good. But do you hate others who are made in God’s image? You see, the priority of life is not only that the person is living but that the living person reflects God’s image. John Calvin observed, “Our neighbor bears the image of God: to use him, abuse him, or misuse him is to do violence to the person of God who images himself in every human soul, the Fall notwithstanding. …Not only do I despise my flesh when I wish to oppress someone, but I violate the image of God which is in me.”
Jesus said, “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” (Matt. 5:21–22). We may serve at the pregnancy crisis center, volunteer in the nursing home, lobby our congressman, and yet murder the living from our hearts or with our words. I wonder how many Evangelicals stand against pro-abortion politicians for the sake of life while committing murder in their hearts.
In fact, the Apostle John confronts the church with these revealing words: “We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous…Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (1 John 3:12, 15). Silent, living murders have been committed in the church since Cain and Abel, and they have been committed by you. Search your hearts and confess your sins, brothers and sisters, for “no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” Thankfully, he whose glory is the priority of life, before Cain murdered Abel, gave us a promise of life.
The Promise of Life
After the Fall, God pronounced curses upon the man, the woman, and Satan in the form of the serpent, but in that curse upon Satan a promise was given: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15). In a world infiltrated by the offspring of Satan, in a world cursed with sin and death, we are given a promise of life.
The offspring of woman will be bruised by the servant but will return a mortal blow. In God’s sovereign plan of redemption, God purposed to redeem sons of Adam from sin and death and give them life in a second Adam, the Son of a virgin and the Son of God. And so we read, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4).
Therefore, the Son of God, the second Adam, proclaimed in love, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again” (John 10:17). And indeed he did. He who knew no sin became sin upon the cross (2 Cor. 5:21) for us, dying our death. He who died for our sin also arose from death to life, conquering even death itself. And in his life we have life. As sons and daughters of God in Christ, we are promised life, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16), and “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:12).
Though Satan, “the father of lies,” was “a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44), who came “only to steal and kill and destroy,” Jesus came that in him we “may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Therefore, as sons and daughters of God, redeemed through the Son, brought to life by the Spirit, “You shall not murder,” in thought, word, or deed, for we are children of the giver of life. The remedy for murder of head, heart, or hand then is love: “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John 3:16).
As we prepare for the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper this morning, let us examine our hearts: “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” (1 John 4:12). “And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 John 4:21). Therefore, we prepare for the Lord’s Supper together, in communion, not with hearts for murder but love, knowing that “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).