The 6th commandment, commonly read as “You shall not kill,” seems like it should be easy to obey, but it is likely we have broken it frequently and recently.
Three Ways to Murder
The King James Bible states the verse as “Thou shall not kill,” but more recent versions translate the original Hebrew as “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13). This change brings the word closer to its original meaning and also seems like it would make the verse even easier to keep.
However, Jesus makes it clear that the intention of this command goes beyond the seemingly simple Old Testament verse.
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. (Matthew 5:21-22)
Jesus equates the consequences of anger toward others to the consequences of murder. This may seem harsh, but Jesus knows our hearts far better than we do. “The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20). Human anger is the first stop on the line to murder, and to the Holy God, a step toward a sin is as bad as the sin itself. Anger is dangerous and must be stamped out immediately.
Jesus goes on to point out that insults are even further down the road toward murder. Making someone feel small, worthless, and insignificant with words and actions is unrestrained anger giving its first blows.
Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. (1 John 3:15)
Hatred is a deep and abiding anger and disdain; it means that, not only have you given into anger, you feed it and help it grow. The apostle John tells us that hatred of another makes us a murderer. It is a sign that you are unrepentant and caught up in sin that violates the 6th commandment.
How to Deal with Anger
Those who are angry with us
So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. (Matthew 5:23-26)
Jesus moves from talking about sins that violate the 6th commandment in Matthew 5:21-21 to talking about how to act if our brother has something against us. You might expect Jesus to instruct us about grudges we hold against others, but he doesn’t. He also doesn’t say, “If you legitimately wronged your brother.” It doesn’t seem to matter whether we actually sinned against someone else, just that the other person is upset.
The issue is not who is right, or even who sinned, but that the relationship is mended so that the sin of anger and bitterness do not cause anyone to stumble.
He then makes a more practical point: If we are blamed for something, better to resolve it with our accuser than to bring in a third party. Who knows how things will go once it is out of our hands?
If you believe someone is angry with you or feels sinned against by you, it is your responsibility to go and make it right.
Those with whom we are angry
If you forgive others their trespasses your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew 6:14-15)
Jesus expects us to forgive. Through his sacrifice on the cross, Jesus has reconciled us to God, giving us his righteousness, and allowing for the forgiveness of our sins. There is no excuse for not forgiving the sins of others; in fact, a continual refusal to forgive shows a lack of the Holy Spirit in a person, a sign that they have not truly received Christ.
The first step in forgiving is to encourage that person’s repentance. Jesus gives us instruction on this as well.
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Matthew 18:15-17)
If we are holding something against another, we are to go to them and let them know in a way that encourages repentance in them and allows us to fully forgive them, thereby restoring the relationship.
Peace through the Sacrifice of Christ
Murder produces broken relationships. Therefore, the 6th commandment is about keeping peace in a relationship. God put this command in the absolute strongest words, “You shall not murder,” to show us the severity of broken relationships and broken peace.
It is our responsibility to restore peace in our relationships, whatever side of the wrong we are on. But what if you’ve approached a friend who is angry with you and they refuse to forgive? Or what if you’ve approached a person who has sinned against you and they refuse to repent? What if that person is not a brother or sister in Christ; what if that person is in fact your enemy?
Jesus speaks to us on that:
You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also…I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. (Matthew 5:38-39; 44-45b)
And the Apostle Paul expounds on that as well:
If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:18-21)
So what are we to do to fully keep the 6th commandment? We are to give up our perceived rights and supposed privileges and count others better than ourselves. We are to go well out of our way to love others and reconcile any and all relationships. When we can’t fully reconcile, we are to love that person anyway, pray and work for their best, and trust God with the outcome.
This is what Jesus himself did for us. He gave up his unquestionable rights and deserved privilege to die for sinners who hated and ran from him. He defeated sin, conquered death, and now comes to us and gives us life, love, and peace. Keeping the 6th commandment means that, for love of Jesus, we should strive to do the same.