I've Never Killed Anyone... Right?
“You shall not murder”
“Have you lived a good life?”
“Well, I’ve never killed anyone.”
Christians know that line won’t stand up in God’s courtroom. We quickly pivot away from murder to press the sin issue from other angles. “Have you loved God perfectly, every moment of your life? Have you ever coveted something? Have you ever lusted?” When we swing the spotlight to focus on catching surface sins, the nuances of murder scuttle away to nest in the safe, dark shadows under the bed. So while Christians point the finger at the more obvious and ostentatious sins of the world around us (usually sex and greed), we unwittingly harbor and nurture some of the very sins that make us most repulsive to unbelievers, namely murder.
Jesus raises the bar on murder to such a height that we hardly know what to make of it. In Matthew 5:22, he traces murder down to the root of anger, even a hasty insult. Because the final fruition of murder seems to come so far downstream from anger, we wave away our outbursts. And the dismissal has some merit. Anger is not the same as murder, and we’ll cause all manner of difficulties if we treat the two exactly the same. Anger has a progression. Somewhere along a progression of repeated surges of anger directed against a single target, that anger congeals into hatred. When that happens, a Christian has more than dipped his toe in the stream of murder; he’s starting to wade.
You don’t hate anybody, do you? That depends. In-person, or online? Are we talking about an individual or a collective identity group? A person’s online digital persona and reputation often comes to represent just as much, if not more, of their identity than their physical presence. How do we handle and interact with the digital holograms of people we touch when we meet their online imprint? I daresay the level of online vitriol the church indulges in goes a step beyond calling your brother “you fool” (Mt 5:22).
What are our culture wars if not sanctioned murder, a 21st-century holy crusade? To be clear, Christians should care about their nation’s culture. We should care about our government and our leaders. We should pray that God gives us leaders who love Him, and who seek true wisdom, justice, and mercy. Christian principles are good for society, whether everyone believes them or not. But holy ends do not justify unholy means. In other words, manner matters.
Think about the term “culture war.” Wars imply death, destruction, annihilation, and mastery by force. Has God called us to triumph over and subdue a culture? Our neighbors? We often have little tolerance for those who oppose us, who think and believe differently. What we’re after is not salvation, but conformity. It’s an “us vs. them” posture where the goal is wiping out the other side. No surrender, no retreat. Those who oppose the Christian lifestyle and values must submit to the higher way, or be crushed. And the biblical term for this is murder.
The Bible does place us in a war, but the battlefield is spiritual. We fight against armies and strongholds of Satan. (Eph 6:12) Our battle plan is handed down to us from our Savior. And it looks pretty foolish. It looks like dying for the sake of your enemies. Jesus cared about the truth, and spoke strong words when necessary, but did not give up his values; he gave up his life.
I’m just as guilty of falling short of this model as anyone else. It’s so easy to take up arms against those who want to take you down. That’s a natural response. What’s supernatural is what Jesus did — to offer a hand of forgiveness and life to those who are trying to kill you. That’s the mystery of the power of the Gospel: it changes hearts through the irresistible, self-sacrificing grace of an irresistible, self-sacrificing Person.
The temptation to murder starts long before Mrs. Peacock is in the conservatory with the candlestick. The slide towards hate starts several dials below spewing expletives. We as Christians need to examine our hearts when it comes to engaging with those who disagree with us, especially those whose purposes aim to subvert and shatter the Christian worldview. What do we want for these people? Do we actually want their salvation, or do we just want them out of the way? If we let a gospel of sacrifice set our pattern in answering these questions, it will unravel threads of murder.
Justin Poythress (MDiv, WTS) is Assistant Pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Fort Myers, FL. He blogs regularly at Time & Chance.
Podcast: "The Cure for Unjust Anger"
"What the Bible Teaches About Anger and Peace" by Grant Van Leuven
"When You Are Angry" by James Boice
Philippians: Joy in Christ, with John Currie, Ray Ortlund & Philip Ryken