We’re midway through our series called Ten Values to Build Strong Families. We’ve been looking at the ten values that form the foundation of a strong family, and a blessed life. Today we’re looking at the shortest of the Ten Commandments. In the original language, it’s only two words. Exodus 20:13 says, “Do not murder.”
A criminologist at the University of Toronto says that Toronto is “one of the safest cities in the world.” Toronto’s murder rate has been in decline since the 1970s. It is the lowest of any large Canadian city. If you moved from Toronto to Washington D.C., your chances of being murdered would increase by a factor of thirty-five. If you moved to Vancouver B.C. your chances of being murdered would double. We live in a very safe city.
But that doesn’t mean that murders aren’t taking place. The family is the place in which we all begin life. Families are also where the most murders take place. The first murder happened in a family. Cain killed his brother. In fact, most violent crimes and most murders occur between family members. An estimated 1.2 million people suffered some sort of domestic violence between 1994 and 1999 in Canada. That’s about 8% of women and 7% of men. But murder of another kind is also taking place in our families. Proverbs 18:21 says, “The tongue can kill or nourish life.” There’s more than one way to kill a person. You can kill someone with a gun. You can kill someone with a knife or with your hands. But you can also kill a person with your words. We’re going to look at what the Bible says about preserving life in the family today.
Before we look at how to do this, it’s important to understand what this verse doesn’t prohibit. The word murder is a specific one. The language in which this was written – Hebrew – had seven words for killing. The one that’s recorded here is one carries the idea of intent and premeditation. This verse isn’t about capital punishment – although there are other verses that cover that topic. This verse isn’t about most types of war. It’s not about killing animals. It’s not about defending your home from night-time burglars. It is about using violence intentionally to murder. It’s a verse that applies to self-murder, or suicide, to murder itself, as well as to being an accessory to murder. It’s a verse that has implications for all of us.
This verse isn’t just about killing someone. It’s also about our attitudes. Clarence Darrow once said, “I haven’t killed anybody, but I’ve read a whole lot of obituaries with glee.” I’m like that. We don’t actually kill people externally, but we’re not exactly said when bad things happen to them. Murder isn’t just an action. It’s an attitude.
How can I preserve life within the family? How can I fulfill the sixth commandment in my family? Three ways:
1. ENCOURAGE OTHERS BECAUSE THEY’RE VALUABLE
If we’re going to preserve life within the family, this is where it begins. It begins with encouraging those around us because they are valuable. Emphasize the value of human life.
Thousands of years ago, when God gave this command, human life was cheap and disposable. Human sacrifice was common. Parents would even sacrifice their own children. Slaves were commonplace. In many cultures, slaves would receive only a minimal amount of food and medical attention. Humans were viewed by many as a renewable resource.
Into this kind of world, God introduced the idea that human life is valuable. Human life is significant. You are different from the animals. That’s why God tells us not to murder. Genesis 9:6 says, “Yes, you must execute anyone who murders another person, for to kill a person is to kill a living being made in God’s image.” Genesis 1:27 says, “God created people in his own image; God patterned them after himself.” You were made in God’s image. You are immensely valuable.
When God created everything else, including all the animals, he said, “Let there be.” When God created humans, he became personal. He said, “Let us make.” The Bible says that God created you with some similarities to God. You are valuable to God.
Somebody has asked, “Where would you go to view the church’s most beautiful works of art?” I guess you could answer the Louvre. You could view the famous paintings and works of the Renaissance. You could answer the Vatican. Some of you have had your breath taken away by the works of Michelangelo. You’ve been wowed by the Sistine Chapel. But those places aren’t where God’s best works of art can be located. God’s best works of art are located in your home. You are God’s work of art. Your children are masterpieces. Ephesians 2:10 says, “We are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” You are God’s masterpiece.
C.S. Lewis once wrote:
It is a serious thing, to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations…There are no ‘ordinary’ people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.
C.S. Lewis said, “Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.” Do you want to fulfill this command to preserve life? Then emphasize the value of people. Recognize their worth. Recognize their value to people.
This means that we should never demean others. Every time we call someone by a name, every time we show racial prejudice, every time we demean someone because of their gender or any other factor, we’re diminishing the value of human life. It’s impossible to diminish others without diminishing yourself. What’s more, it’s impossible to diminish others without destroying your relationship with God.
Within the family, it means that we always speak the best of each other. One of the challenges of family life is that we see each other at our worst. Do you ever see a family portrait? Everyone is smiling. The hair is all combed. People are hugging and touching each other. In the family, we see each other when our hair is a mess, when our breath is bad. We’re with each other when we’re overtired and stressed. We end up treating each other with less respect than we really should.
One of the best gifts we could give others in our family is to recognize their worth. Look at your spouse and think, “They are God’s masterpiece. They are God’s creation.” Look at your mother-in-law and say, “Wow! Imagine how much God loves her.” See the value in your children. Our value doesn’t come from what we do. It comes from how we’re created. We’ve been created in God’s image.
How can we preserve life? There’s a second step:
2. EMBRACE OTHERS EVEN WHEN IT’S COSTLY
The second step is to embrace others even when it’s costly. Why? Because everyone is valuable. The Bible calls us to value those who look the most worthless – those that society says are worthless – because they’re valuable to God.
Deuteronomy 10:18-19 says, “He gives justice to orphans and widows. He shows love to the foreigners living among you and gives them food and clothing. You, too, must show love to foreigners.” James 1:27 says, “Pure and lasting religion in the sight of God our Father means that we must care for orphans and widows in their troubles.” If we want to preserve life, it means that we care for those who are the most vulnerable. We build this value into our families.
What are some of the groups that we should embrace?
One such group is UNBORN CHILDREN. This is one of the most vulnerable groups today. Your chances of your being killed by terrorists overseas: 1 in 650,000. Your chances of your being killed by Americans in Baltimore: 1 in 4,000. Your chances of your being aborted if you are in the womb of an American woman: 1 in 4. Over a hundred thousand abortions take place every year in Canada. More have been killed by abortion in North America than in all the wars put together.
But this isn’t just an issue out there. This is an issue that affects many of us. There are some of us who just don’t want more children. Or it may be a medical test that says things don’t look so good for the baby. Until recently, the church has been almost unanimous in agreeing that the unborn child is a human being deserving protection. Psalm 139:13-16 says:
You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvellous-and how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.
There’s really no such thing as an unwanted child. God says that all your days were numbered before you were even born. God has a purpose for every child even when we don’t. God says a fetus isn’t a tissue; it’s a life that he’s planned. We need to embrace the unborn child in our families.
We can’t keep the sixth commandment if we don’t embrace unborn children. When Mother Teresa received the Nobel Peace Prize, she said, “I think that today peace is threatened by abortion, too, which is a true war, a direct killing of a child by its own mother…Today, abortion is the worst evil, and the greatest enemy of peace…Because if a mother can kill her own child, what will prevent us from killing ourselves, or one another? Nothing.” We’re called to embrace the unborn child.
You may have been through an abortion. If you did, God’s not down on you. That’s the message of grace. God can forgive you no matter what you’ve been through. It doesn’t matter so much what you’ve done. It matters where you go from here. It matters that you allow Christ to forgive you. We all need forgiveness. You can receive that forgiveness today. We need to embrace unborn children because they’re valuable to God.
We also need to embrace those who are SICK AND WHO ARE DYING. Many are predicting that the issue of euthanasia, or mercy killing, is going to be one that we confront more and more. I’m talking about causing the death of someone because of deformity, old age, or an incurable disease. I’m not talking about allowing natural causes to run their course, or not artificially supporting life. I’m talking about causing the death of someone because they’re inconvenient, or because we don’t think their life is worth living anymore.
Why should we embrace those who are sick and dying? Because they’re valuable to God. Because God loves them. We’re called to embrace them even when they’re vulnerable – even when it’s costly.
In seminary, I took a course on Biblical ethics. The textbook was written by a guy who addressed a lot of these issues: suicide, abortion, euthanasia. A few years after he wrote the textbook, his wife came down with Alzheimer’s. He resigned his position at the Bible college and stayed home to care for his wife. He did it because he promised to love her for richer for poorer, for better and for worse, in sickness and in health. It’s one thing to write a textbook. It’s another thing to make costly decisions when it’s your wife. It’s your family.
Embrace the vulnerable. Embrace them even when it costs you. Henri Nouwen was a man who was trained in Holland as a psychologist and a theologian. He spent his early years achieving. He taught at Notre Dame, Yale, and Harvard, averaged more than a book a year, and traveled widely as a conference speaker. He had a résumé to die for-which was the problem, exactly. The pressing schedule and relentless competition suffocated his own spiritual life.
At the peak of his career, Nouwen made a drastic change. He gave up his positions, moved to Toronto, and agreed to become priest in residence at a community for the severely disabled. The community was called Daybreak. It was here that Nouwen spent his last ten years.
Nouwen lived in small room, which had in it a single bed, one bookshelf, and a few pieces of Shaker-style furniture. The walls were unadorned except for a print of a Van Gogh painting and a few religious symbols. There was no fax machine, no computer, no Daytimer calendar posted on the wall.
There, Henri Nouwen cared for a young man named Adam. Unable to talk, walk, or dress himself, profoundly retarded, Adam gave no sign of comprehension. He seemed to recognize, at least, that his family had come. He drooled and grunted. It took Nouwen nearly two hours to prepare Adam each day. Bathing and shaving him, brushing his teeth, combing his hair, guiding his hand as he tried to eat breakfast-these simple, repetitive acts had become for him almost like an hour of meditation.
Why did Nouwen waste his time caring for someone like Adam? Because Nouwen knew that to embrace life is to embrace those who are the most valuable in life. He knew the value of embracing others even when it’s costly. Jesus said, “I assure you, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!” (Matthew 25:40) When we embrace the unborn, the sick, the dying, those that society has discarded, we’re affirming life because all human life is valuable to God.
One day a man asked Nouwen if caring for Adam was really the best use of his time. Nouwen responded that the man had completely misinterpreted him. “I am not giving up anything,” he insisted. “It is I, not Adam, who gets the main benefit from our friendship.” Ultimately, Nouwen concluded that “the goal of education and formation for the ministry is continually to recognize the Lord’s voice, his face, and his touch in every person we meet.” How can we preserve life? How can we follow the sixth commandment? We can embrace others even when it’s costly. We can not only encourage others because they’re valuable, but we can pay the cost when that encouragement has a price.
There’s one more way to preserve life and follow the sixth commandment:
3. ELIMINATE ANGER FROM YOUR RELATIONSHIPS
The family is the place where a lot of anger is exhibited. If there’s a place where people show more anger, I don’t know where it is. The statistics are mind-boggling. Nearly sixty percent of all the murders in America are between people who know each other and don’t know how to manage their anger. In 1998 four million women were beaten by their husbands who would supposedly profess to love these women more than anybody else. More than ten million children were abused by parents who didn’t know how to control their anger. That’s not to mention the millions of people whose souls have been scarred with words spoken in anger within the family.
Jesus said some shocking words about this commandment. In Matthew 5:21, Jesus said, “You have heard that the law of Moses says, ‘Do not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ But I say, if you are angry with someone, you are subject to judgment!”
In Jesus’ day people thought of anger as being no big deal. They understood that murder was a big deal, but they didn’t think of anger as being too important. They couldn’t see the connection between anger and murder. Jesus said that anger is just as dangerous as murder. Once we begin to get angry, we’re already partway down the road to destructive behavior. We need to eliminate anger from our lives. Not all anger is wrong, but anger that is directed at people, anger that endangers relationships – that is destructive to not only our souls but also those around us.
Jesus said that God isn’t just concerned with murders and wars . He’s concerned with our anger. He’s concerned about the way that we view other people. In fact, Jesus is so concerned about it that he says, “If you are angry with someone, you are subject to judgment!” He makes our anger as much as a spiritual issue as murder. We’ve got to change the way that we think about anger.
Sociologists and psychiatrists report that hatred brings a person closer to murder than any other emotion. And hatred is an extension of anger. Anger leads to hatred, and hatred leads to murder – if not in action, at least in the heart.
Every time we are angry, we are partway down the road to escalating our sins. We’re partway down the road to hatred, murder, divorce, or bitterness. We’re on the way to violence, emotional hurt, increased mental stress, and spiritual damage. Anger keeps us from developing a spirit pleasing to God. Ephesians 4:31-32 says, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of malicious behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.”
We tell ourselves lies. We tell ourselves, “My anger is something I can’t control.” You can control it. Do you know how I know? When the phone rings, and you’re angry, all of a sudden your voice changes. You pick up the phone and say the nicest things. You’re angry until you see someone you want to impress. All of a sudden you’re not angry anymore. You need to eliminate anger from your relationships.
How can I do this? How can I get rid of anger? How can I prevent anger from destroying my family life? Three suggestions:
REFLECT ON THE COST OF ANGER. Anger always has a cost – to ourselves and to those around us. And the more that we think about the cost of our anger, the less likely we are to be angry with those around us.
Jesus said in Matthew 5:22, “But I say, if you are angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the high council. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.”
Anger has consequences. When we are angry, we become subject to judgment. This might be judgment in our relationships. It may mean more than that. Our anger may cause us to get fired or even in trouble with the law. It ultimately will get us in trouble with God. Ephesians 4:26-27 says, “Don’t sin by letting anger gain control over you…for anger gives a mighty foothold to the Devil.”
You always lose when you lose your temper. You lose the respect of other people. You may lose the love of people you love most. You may lose the love of your children if you get angry at them too often. You may lose the love of your husband or your wife. You may lose your job due to an uncontrolled temper. Certainly if you mishandle anger, you can lose your health. When you say, “That person is a pain,” you’re probably right. When you stuff your anger it can cause headaches, stomach aches, backaches, neck aches, and all kinds and variety of problems. You always lose when you lose your temper.
Nothing destroys a relationship faster than unrestrained anger. Listen to what the Proverbs say about anger. Proverbs 29:22 says, “A hot tempered man gets into all kinds of trouble.” I’m sure we could hear some pretty funny stories about how we get into trouble with our anger. We need to reflect on the cost of anger.
RESPOND TO ANGER PROPERLY. This will vary for all of us. For some of us, we need to stop hanging around other hotheads. Seriously, we’re angry because we hang around angry people. Proverbs 22:24-25 says, “Keep away from angry, short-tempered people, or you will learn to be like them and endanger your soul.” Did you know that anger is contagious? If you get around angry people you will tend to become an angry person. Stop hanging around other people.
Another way to handle anger is to listen instead of speaking. James 1:19 says, “Dear brothers and sisters, be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.” I’ve found that I can actually control my reactions. In fact, if you follow James’ advice and be quick to listen and slow to speak, the slow to angry comes automatically. A lot of times we get angry because we’re too quick to speak. We’re too slow to listen. We don’t understand where the other person is coming from. We prejudge them and then we lash out. The result is always bad. As someone has said, “Speak when you’re angry and you’ll make the best speech you’ll ever regret.” You’ll be giving someone a piece of your mind that you can’t afford to lose.
One of the best ways to control your anger is this one: RELY ON GOD’S POWER. Let’s face it. You’re not going to be able to handle your anger without God’s help. You need divine power if you’re going to have success in this area of your life.
Colossians 3:15 says, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” This is the real secret. God’s power to change is when you get the peace of Christ in your heart to replace the anger in your heart. Your relationship to Christ will determine how patient you are in life. If you have a very close relationship with Christ and he carries his power into every area of your life, then you will be a very patient person. If you just kind of have a casual relationship to Christ – you’re a fringe Christian – Christ is in your life but he just has a part of your life, then that leaves all the rest of your life open to anger and impatience. The more he controls your life, the more patient you’re going to be. You can change if you want to. You can change with God’s help.
The best news that I can give you this morning is that you can accept the free gift of forgiveness by receiving it. All you have to do is come to God and say, “I need you. I’ve tried living life my own way. I’m coming to you as a sinner, asking for your forgiveness, through what Jesus did on the cross.”
Once you have your relationship with God straightened out, it will affect every other relationship. God will give you the fruit of the Spirit – which includes love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Do you think that will help your anger? That’s the best way to improve your relationships.
Matthew 12:34 says, “For whatever is in your heart determines what you say.” The best way to change what you say is to change your heart. And the best way to change your heart is to come to Christ. He will deal with the root issues of your heart.
God wants the family to be a place where life is produced – not just when someone is born, but throughout the entire life of the family. God wants the family to be a place where we encourage each other because we’re all valuable. God wants the family to be a place where we love others even when it’s costly. Even when there’s a price. God wants the family to be a place where we eliminate anger. God wants the family to be a place of life.
You may have come today thinking that this is one commandment you’ve kept. The reality is that we’ve all broken this commandment. We’ve all failed to recognize the image of God in others. We’ve all looked at the cost of loving others, and thought that the cost was too high. We’ve all been guilty of demonstrating anger in our relationships.
I’m going to close today by praying. I’m going to pray for you and your situation – that you would be cleansed today, and that you would have the power to preserve and encourage the life that you see in others around you. Let’s pray.
Father, we come to you as fathers, mothers, children, friends, husbands, wives. We come today recognizing the awesome power of relationships. We want to give life. We don’t want to be guilty of murder – not just the physical act of murder, but the act of murder by attitudes and by our neglect.
Father, help us to recognize your image in others. I pray that we would do this even when that image is marred, even when there’s not a lot to love in another person. Help us to se e your image even in the most vulnerable – even when recognizing that image is going to be costly for us. Help us to take the steps of loving others even when it’s hard.
Father, help us with our anger. Left to ourselves we can easily drift into unhealthy patterns of relating to others. Thank you for the freedom you give us to experience healing in our relationships. Thank you for the alternatives that you give us to anger.
If you would like to receive the gift of forgiveness and hope today, would you pray these words:
“Father, I open up every area, every crevice of my life to you today. Please come into every part of my life and save me and change me and make the changes that only you can make. I need you to rescue me. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.”