Do not murder We know what Jesus told us: “You have heard it was said to people long ago, do not murder…but I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.”
And who has never been angry with someone at one time or another? From here on, the words become more difficult to hear, not easier. Because of this, I know a lot of people including plenty of professional theologians (PhDs and ThDs) who use every literary and critical trick they can invent to explain why it doesn’t really say what it says. This approach is not recommended.
Do we take God’s Word at face value (in a literalist sense)? No. You do need context, history, language, and all to really grasp what is being said. These things, however, must never be used as an excuse to deny what is said. (some later post, perhaps).
So Jesus said don’t even be angry, and once again we can see that you, me and everyone who has ever lived is guilty of breaking this command. “We have all sinned and fallen short…” About now, though, I figure someone, having perused the first five posts here is going to give the speech about greater and smaller sins and suggest (as always) that surely God will not judge us harshly (or as harshly) for our lesser transgressions. “So we think anger in our heart, it is not like we actually went ahead and killed someone…” Wrong!
For one: How much red wine must spill on a white shirt to ruin it? Answer: one, little drip. A man might say the spot gives the shirt character, but women know better. How many lies makes a person a liar? Just one. And how many parts of the engine have to break before the car stops functioning? One, if it is the right one. Calvin (for example) did a very good job explaining that this universe is full of “indifferent” things (things that have no ultimate significance one way or the other). These ten commandments, however, are not the indifferent aspects of life. They are the important parts of the engine, necessary for the car to function. Break just one, once and the car is made useless. (Thank God Jesus is in the repair business).
For two: In case you haven’t noticed, God’s whole desire and intention is to transform us (renew our minds) into his likeness, and that is from the inside-out. It is not to say God is unconcerned with our physical being and welfare but the emphasis is on our insides because God knows (even if we are too thick to get it) that no anger means no murder. Thus anger is the root and it is better to cut the weed off at the seed rather than wait for it to grow. Anger, in that sense may be the greater sin.
Now, briefly, there are two more things to say about this commandment.
First: This commandment is not talking about war, corporal punishment or abortion. You may consider these forms of murder, but that is not what is being said (you know, that context, history and language bit). You may be firmly against any or all of these things (war, corporal punishment and/or abortion), and that is your choice. This commandment, though, is speaking about crimes of passion, cold-blooded, community breaking, relationship destroying murder: anger/hate for family, friend, neighbor, innocent bystander or duly elected leader. It also includes suicide which is no more than self-murder and is devastating on family and community.
Second: For all the atheists in the audience, there is a clear social context and importance here. No society can function that allows murder in any form. I recommend you pay close attention to the anger and hatred you nurture, because this is the root of community breaking and relationship destroying, even if it doesn’t actually lead to killing. Besides, it isn’t good for your ulcer.