Link back to index.html
Thou Shall Not Kill
“You have heard that it was said to those of old. ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire. Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny.” (Matthew 5:21-26 NKJV)
The Pharisee and the Scribes think that they have fulfilled the law if they do not kill or murder someone. Many Christians feel the same. But Jesus Christ says that it is not correct to just apply strictly to the letter of the law. That is the standard of the world. But God’s standard is to comply with the spirit of the law. It is the content and intent of the law that we must fulfill, not just the letter of the law. What does Jesus Christ mean? Not only must we not kill some one physically but we must also not kill some one in our heart or in our mind! Killing does not only mean destroying life physically, it also means trying to destroy the spirit and the soul of the person. It is destroying the person in any shape or form. Yes, we have often murdered one another in mind and heart and thought, have we not? We have nursed thoughts against people which are as foul as murder. We have destroyed many a person’s spirit.
Jesus goes into the details of the law. He tells the Christians that if we are angry with others without a cause, we are in danger of judgment. What does being angry without a cause mean? Clearly to hate, to envy, to feel bitter, to be unkind, to feel resentment towards a person without a cause is in the sight of God equivalent to murder. The things that matter are the state of our heart? Do we find ourselves flaring into a raging temper when a person has done something to us? Do we often feel anger against a person who really has done nothing to us at all? Yes, there are always reasons for our anger. In the past---A provocation. A deep hurt. An injustice. A just cause for our anger. But now this anger has become almost a habit. A trigger point. An unconscious response. So, does it mean that if, in my daily life, when I habitually respond in such a manner that I am:
that I am now angry without a cause?
In addition, Jesus instructs Christians that if we treat others with contempt, scorn, derision and by calling them names:
we are in danger of hell fire!
Furthermore, Jesus put it very bluntly, that we cannot be right with God until we put ourselves right with others. We must take active and positive steps to put ourselves right with others. Jesus emphasizes that putting ourselves right with others is so important that even:
must take second place.
So, if we find that we are harbouring unkind and contemptuous thoughts about a person or in any way hindering his life, Jesus tells us, we should, in a sense, stop everything, even our worship or Christian work. We should get right with our brothers first. We must reconcile with him, humble ourselves, make a fool of ourselves as it were, and let the other person gloat over us if necessary. Only if we have done everything we can to remove the hurt and the obstacle to relationship, will God tell us that we have been put right with Him.
Finally, Jesus tells us to come to a quick reconciliation with God. Do not delay as we do not know when we will have to face God in His Final Judgment of us.
The passages below are taken from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book “Studies in the Sermon on the Mount,” published as Second Edition in 1976 by Inter-Varsity Press.
IN the paragraph comprising verses 21—26 above, we have the first of this series of six examples which our Lord gives of His interpretation of the law of God over and against that of the scribes and Pharisees. I would remind you that that is the way in which we interpret the remainder of this chapter, and indeed most of the remainder of this Sermon on the Mount. It is all, in a sense, an exposition of that amazing statement: ‘Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.’ The contrast, therefore, is not between the law given through Moses and the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ; it is a contrast, rather, between the false interpretation of the law of Moses, and the true presentation of the law given by our Lord Himself. This distinction is made by the apostle Paul in Romans 7, where he says that once he thought he was keeping the law perfectly. Then he suddenly understood that the law said ‘Thou shalt not covet’, and at once he was convicted. ‘When the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.’ He had not realized that it was the spirit of the law that mattered, and that coveting is as reprehensible under the law as the actual doing of the deed itself. That is the kind of thing we have in principle running through the exposition of the law which is given here by our Lord.
Having thus defined His attitude towards the law, and announced that He has come to fulfill it, and having told His hearers that they must realize exactly what that means, our Lord proceeds now to give these practical illustrations. He presents us with six contrasts, each of which is introduced by the formula: ‘Ye have heard it was said by them of old time . . . but I say unto you.’ We now consider the first example.
The Pharisees and Scribes were always guilty of reducing the meaning and even the demands of the law, and there is a perfect illustration of that here. He said: ‘Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment.’ It is very important that we should approach that in the right way. ‘Thou shalt not kill’ is in the Ten Commandments, and if the Pharisees taught ‘thou shalt not kill’, surely they were teaching the law? What conceivable criticism can there be even of the Pharisees and scribes at that particular point? So we are tempted to speak and to ask. The answer is that they had added something to that: ‘Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment.’ But, says someone again, does it not say in the law, ‘whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment’? The answer is that the law did say so, and you will find it in Numbers 35:30, 31. What then is wrong with this? It is that the Pharisees, by putting these two things together in juxtaposition, had reduced the import of this commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ to just a question of committing actual murder. By immediately adding the second to the first they had weakened the whole injunction.
The second thing they did was to reduce and confine the sanctions with which this prohibition was associated, to mere punishment at the hands of the civil magistrates. ‘Whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment.’ The ‘judgment’ there means the local court. The result was that they were merely teaching, ‘You must not do murder because if you do you will be in danger of being punished by the civil magistrate.’ That was their full and complete interpretation of the great commandment which says: Thou shalt not kill. In other words they had evacuated it of its truly great content and had reduced it merely to a question of murder. Furthermore, they did not mention the judgment of God at all. It is only the judgment of the local court that seems to matter. They had made of it something purely legal, just a matter of the letter of a law which said: ‘If you commit murder, certain consequences will follow.’ The effect of this was that the Pharisees and scribes felt perfectly happy about the law on this point, so long as they were not guilty of murder. For a man to commit murder was, of course, a terrible thing to them, and if he did do so he should be arraigned before the court, and the judgment suitable to such a crime should be meted out to him. But, as long as one did not actually commit murder, all was well, and he could face the commandment, ‘Thou shalt not kill’, with equanimity and say to himself; ‘I have kept and fulfilled the law.’
‘No, no’, says the Lord Jesus Christ in effect. ‘It is just here that you see how the whole conception of righteousness and law which has characterized the teaching of these scribes and Pharisees has become an utter travesty. They have so reduced the law, and confined it, that it is no longer in fact the law of God. It does not convey the real injunction which God had in His mind when He promulgated this particular law. They have simply and very conveniently reduced it within bounds and measures designed to render them perfectly happy. And therefore they say that they have completely kept the law’
We have seen earlier that we have here one of the guiding principles which enables us to understand this false interpretation of the law of which the Pharisees and scribes were guilty. We tried to point out also that it is something of which we still tend to be guilty ourselves. It is possible for us to face the law of God as we find it in the Bible, but so to interpret and define it, as to make it something which we can keep very easily because we only keep it negatively. So we may persuade ourselves that all is well. The apostle Paul, as we have already seen, as the result of that very process, thought before his conversion that he had kept the law perfectly. The rich young ruler thought he had kept the law because he likewise had been taught in this way and believed the same false interpretation. And as long as you and I accept the letter, and forget the whole spirit, content and meaning, we may persuade ourselves that we are perfectly righteous face to face with the law.
Now let us see how our Lord exposes that fallacy and shows us that to look at it like that is completely to misunderstand the meaning of God’s holy law. He states His view and His exposition under three clear headings which we shall now consider.
The first principle is that what matters is not merely the letter of the law but the spirit. The law says: ‘Thou shalt not kill’; but that does not just mean: ‘Thou shalt not commit murder’. To interpret it like that is merely to define the law in a way which enables us to imagine that we escape it. Yet we may be guilty in a most grievous manner of breaking this very law. Our Lord proceeds to explain that. This commandment, He says, includes not only actual physical murder, but also causeless anger in our heart against a brother. The true way of understanding ‘Thou shalt not kill’ is this: ‘Whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.’ ‘Do not listen’, He says in effect, ‘to these Pharisees and scribes who say you are only in danger of the judgment when you actually murder a man; I say unto you that if you are angry in your heart with a brother without a cause you are exposed to precisely the same demand and the same punishment of the law.’ It is at this point we begin to see something of the real spiritual content of the law. It is at this point also that we must see, surely, the meaning of His words when He said that the law must be ‘fulfilled’. In that ancient law given through Moses there was all this spiritual content. It was the tragedy of Israel that they missed it. Let us not imagine, therefore, that as Christians we have finished with the law of Moses. No, the old law asks a man not to feel a causeless anger in his heart against his brother. For us as Christians to feel enmity in our hearts is, according to our Lord Jesus Christ, to be guilty of something which, in the sight of God, is murder. To hate, to feet bitter, to have this unpleasant, unkind feeling of resentment towards a person without a cause is murder. Indeed, let me remind you that there are some authorities who say that this qualifying phrase ‘without a cause’ should not be there. In some of the manuscripts it is omitted. It is impossible to decide exactly on grounds of textual criticism whether it should be included or not. But even taking it as it is, it is a tremendous demand; and if we leave out the qualifying phrase it is still more so. You should not be angry with your brother. Anger in the heart towards any human being, and especially to those who belong to the household of faith, is, according to our Lord, something that is as reprehensible in the sight of God as murder.
But that is not all. Not only must we not feel this causeless anger; we must never even be guilty of expressions of contempt. ‘Whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council.’ ‘Raca’ means ‘worthless fellow’. It is an attitude of contempt, that tendency which, alas, we are all aware of, within our hearts and spirits. To dismiss the brother, saying ‘Raca’, ‘worthless fellow’, is, according to our Lord, something which, in the sight of God, is terrible. And of course it is. Our Lord frequently pointed out this very thing. Have you ever noticed some of those lists of sins which He uses? Take that statement:
‘Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries,’ and so on. You see we are remarkably like these Pharisees and scribes in the way we talk about murder, and robbery, and drunkenness and certain particular sins. But our Lord always includes evil thoughts with murders, and such things as strife, enmity, deceit and many other things which we do not regard as being such terrible, foul sins. And, obviously, the moment we stop to think about it, and to analyse the position, we see how perfectly true it is. Contempt, a feeling of scorn and derision, is the very spirit that ultimately leads to murder. We may have various reasons for not allowing it to be expressed in actual committal of murder. But, alas, we have often murdered one another in mind and heart and thought, have we not? We have nursed thoughts against people which are as foul as murder. There has been this disturbance in the realm of the spirit and we have said of another, ‘Raca’. Oh, yes, there are ways in which men can be destroyed short of murder. We can destroy a man’s reputation, we can shake somebody else’s confidence in him by whispering criticism or by deliberate fault-finding. That is the kind of thing which our Lord is here indicating, and His whole purpose is to show that all that is included in this commandment: ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ Killing does not only mean destroying life physically, it means still more trying to destroy the spirit and the soul, destroying the person in any shape or form.
Our Lord then moves to the third point: ‘But whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.’ This means an expression of abuse, the vilifying of a person. It means this bitterness and hatred in the heart finding its expression in words. I think that, as we follow this analysis, we can see, as was pointed out in chapter one, what a terrible and dangerous error it is for us as Christian people to feel that, because we are Christians, the Sermon on the Mount has nothing to do with us, or to feel that this is something which does not apply to present-day Christians. It speaks to us today; it searches us to the depths of our being. Here we are confronted not only with actual murder, but with all this within our hearts, feelings and sensibilities, and ultimately our spirit, that is regarded by God as murder.
Now this, obviously, is a very important statement. ‘Does it mean’, asks someone, ‘that anger is always wrong? That anger is always prohibited?’ ‘Are there not illustrations’, asks another, ‘in the New Testament itself where our Lord spoke of these Pharisees in strong terms; when, for example, He referred to them as “blind” and as “hypocrites”, and when He turned to the people and said, “0 fools, and slow of heart to believe”, and “Ye fools and blind”? How can He issue these prohibitions at this point, and then use such language Himself? How do you reconcile this teaching with Matthew 23 where He pronounces His woes upon the Pharisees?’ Surely there is no real difficulty in that question. When our Lord pronounced those woes, He did so in a judicial manner. He did so as one given authority by God. Our Lord is pronouncing final judgment upon the Pharisees and the scribes. He, as the Messiah, is authorized to do so. He had offered the gospel to them; every opportunity had been given to them. But they had rejected it. Not only that, we must remember that He always utters these statements against false religion and hypocrisy. What He is really denouncing is the self-righteousness that rejects the grace of God and would even justify itself before God and reject Him. It is judicial, and if you and I can always claim that any such expression we may use is uttered in a similar sense, then we are free from this particular charge.
It is exactly the same with the so-called imprecatory Psalms which trouble so many people. The Psalmist, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is pronouncing judgment against not only his own enemies, but the enemies of God and those who are abusing the Church and the kingdom of God as it is represented in him and in the nation. Let me put it like this. Our anger must only be against sin; we must never feel angry with the sinner, but only full of sorrow and compassion for him. ‘Ye that love the Lord, hate evil’, says the Psalmist. We should feel a sense of anger as we view sin, hypocrisy, unrighteousness, and everything that is evil. That is the way, of course, in which we fulfil the injunction of the apostle Paul to the Ephesians: ‘Be ye angry, and sin not.’ The two things are not incompatible at all. Our Lord’s anger was always a righteous indignation, it was a holy anger, an expression of the wrath of God Himself. Let us remember that ‘The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men’ (Romans 1:18). ‘Our God’, against sin, ‘is a consuming fire.’ There is no question about this. God hates evil. God’s anger is displayed against it, and His wrath will be poured out upon it. That is essentially a part of the biblical teaching.
The holier we become, the more anger we shall feel against sin. But we must never, I repeat, feel anger against the sinner. We must never feel angry with a person as such; we must draw a distinction between the person himself and what he does. We must never be guilty of a feeling of contempt or abhorrence, or of this expression of vilification. Thus I think we are enabled to draw lines of distinction between these things. ‘Do not imagine you are clear with regard to this injunction,’ says Christ in effect, ‘simply because you have not committed murder.’ What is the state of your heart? How do you react to things that happen? Do you find yourself flaring into a raging temper when a person has done something to you? Or do you sometimes feel anger against a person who really has done nothing to you at all? These are the things that matter. It is that which God meant when He said, ‘Thou shalt not kill’. ‘God seeth the heart’, and is not concerned only with the external action. God forbid that we should produce a kind of self-righteousness by reducing the law of God to something which we know we have already kept, or which we feel sure we are not likely to transgress. ‘Let every man examine himself.’
Let us now go on to the second statement. Our attitude is meant to be not negative, but positive. Our Lord puts it in these words. Having emphasized the negative He goes on to put it positively like this: ‘Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.’ This is a most significant and important statement. Not only are we not to harbour murder and evil thoughts in our heart against another; but the commandment not to kill really means we should take positive steps to put ourselves right with our brother. The danger is that we may stop at the negative, and feel that, as long as we have not actually committed murder, all is well. But there is a second stage which we have forgotten. ‘All right’, we say, ‘I must not actually commit murder, and I must not say these unkind things against people. I must put a guard upon my lips; though the thought is there I must not say it.’ And there we tend to stop and say: ‘As long as I do not say these things, all is well.’ But our Lord tells us that we must not stop even there, we must not even harbour the thought and the feeling in our heart. That is the point at which so many stop. The moment these ugly, unworthy thoughts tend to come into their hearts they switch their minds to something positive and beautiful. That is quite all right as long as we do not stop at that. We must not only repress these unkind and unworthy thoughts, says Christ; we have to do more than that. We must actually take steps to remove the cause of the trouble; we must aim at a positive goal. We have to reach the stage in which there shall be nothing wrong even in spirit between our brother and ourselves.
Our Lord enforces that by reminding us in verses 23 and 24 of a very subtle danger in the spiritual life, the terrible danger of trying to atone for moral failure by balancing evil with good. I think we know something about this; we must all plead guilty to it. The danger is that of making certain ceremonial sacrifices to cover up moral failure. The Pharisees were expert at that. They went to the temple regularly; they were always punctilious in these matters of the details and minutiae of the law. But the whole time they were judging and condemning their fellows with contempt. They avoided every twinge of conscience by saying, ‘After all I am worshipping God; I am taking my gift to the altar.’ I think I can say again that we all know something about this tendency not to face directly the conviction which the Holy Spirit produces in our heart, but to say to ourselves: ‘Well, now; I am doing this and that; I am making great sacrifices at this point; I am being helpful in that matter; I am busily engaged in that piece ‘of Christian work.’ The whole time we are not facing the jealousy we may feel against another Christian worker, or something in our personal, private life. We are balancing one thing with another, thinking that this good will make up for that evil. No, no, says our Lord. God is not like that: ‘Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God’ (Luke 16:15). This matter, He tells us, is so important, that, even if I find myself at the altar with a gift I am going to offer to God, and there suddenly remember something I have said or done, something which is causing another person to stumble or go wrong somehow; if I find that I am harbouring unkind and unworthy thoughts about him or in any way hindering his life, then our Lord tells us (may I put it thus with reverence), we should, in a sense, even keep God waiting rather than stay. We must get right with our brother and then come back and offer the gift. In the sight of God there is no value whatsoever in an act of worship if we harbour a known sin.
The Psalmist puts it like this, ‘If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.’ If I, in the presence of God, and while trying to worship God actively, know there is sin in my heart which I have not dealt with and confessed, my worship is useless. There is no value in it at all. If you are in a state of conscious enmity against another, if you are not speaking to another person, or if you are harbouring these unkind thoughts and are a hindrance and an obstacle to that other, God’s Word assures you that there is no value in your attempted act of worship. It will avail you nothing, the Lord will not hear you. Or take that statement which we read in 1 John 3:20, ‘If our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.’ There is no value or purpose in praying to God if you know in your own heart that you are not right with your brother. It is impossible for God to have any dealings with sin and iniquity. He is of such a pure countenance that He cannot even look upon it. According to our Lord the matter is so vital that you must even interrupt your prayer, you must, as it were, even keep God waiting. Go and put it right, He says; you cannot be right with God until you put yourself right with man.
Let me sum it all up by reminding you of the great illustration of all this which is found in the Old Testament in 1 Samuel 15. God has given His commandments and He means us to keep them. You remember on one occasion Saul was told by God to destroy the Amalekites entirely. But Saul thought to himself that he need not go as far as that and said, ‘I will spare some of the people, and some of the beasts and cattle to sacrifice to God.’ He thought all was well, and began to worship and to praise God. But suddenly Samuel the prophet arrived and asked: ‘What have you been doing?’ Saul replied, saying: ‘I have just been carrying out the commandments of God.’ ‘If you have been carrying out the commandments of God’, said Samuel, ‘what is the meaning of the bleating of the goats and the lowing of the cattle which I am hearing? What have you done?’ ‘I decided I would spare some of them’, said Saul. Then Samuel uttered those momentous and terrifying words: ‘Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.’ I always feel sorry for king Saul because I understand him so well. You see, we do not do what God tells us; and when we thus put our limits upon the commandment, we somehow feel that to perform a great act of worship will cover it, and all will be well, thinking that the Lord has as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord. Of course He has not! ‘Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice.’ Leave thy gift; run away and put it right with thy brother; get rid of the obstacle. Then come back; and then, and only then, is it of any value. ‘To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.’
Just a word on the last principle. Let me impress upon you the urgency of all this because of our relationship to God. ‘Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.’ Yes, says Christ, it is as urgent and as desperate as that. You must do it at once; delay not a moment, for that is your position. This is just His way of saying that we must always remember our relationship to God. We must not only think in terms of our brother whom we are offending, or with whom there is something wrong, we must always think of ourselves before God. God is the Judge, God is the Justifier. He is always making these demands upon us, and He has power over all the courts of heaven and earth. He is the Judge, and His laws are absolute; and He has a right to demand the uttermost farthing. What then are we to do? Come to an agreement as quickly as we can with God. Christ says here that we are ‘in the way’. We are in this world, we are in life, walking, as it were, along the road. But suddenly our adversary comes and says: ‘What of that which you owe?’ Well, says Christ, make an agreement with him at once or the processes of the law will be set going, and the uttermost farthing will be demanded of you. That is nothing but a picture. You and I are travelling through this world, and the law is there making its demands. It is the law of God. It says: ‘What about that relationship between you and your brother, what about those things that are in your heart? You have not attended to them.’ Settle it at once, says Christ. You may not be here tomorrow morning and you are going to eternity like that. ‘Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him.’
How do we feel at this point? As we have seen our Lord’s exposition of this holy law, do we feel the demands of the law? Are we aware of the condemnation? What of the things we have said and thought, the things we have done? Are we aware of all this, the utter condemnation of it all? It is God making demands through His law. I thank God for the injunction that tells us to act as quickly as we can while we are in the way. Thank God, His terms are very easy. They are just this, that I face and acknowledge this sin and confess it utterly and absolutely, that I stop any self-defence or self-justification, though there was provocation from this other person. I must just confess and admit it without any reservation to God. If there is something in actual practice that I can do about it I must do it at once. I must humble myself, make a fool of myself as it were, and let the other person gloat over me if necessary, as long as I have done everything I can to remove the barrier and the obstacle. Then He will tell me that all is right. ‘I will settle with you’, He will say, ‘indeed I will forgive it all because, though you are a guilty and foul sinner before Me, and the bill you owe Me is one you can never pay, I have sent My Son into your world and He has paid it for you. He has cancelled it. He did not do it because you are loving and kind and good, He did not do it for you because you have done nothing against Me. It was while you were an enemy, hateful in yourself; hating Me and hating others. It was in spite of all your foulness and your unworthiness that I sent Him. And He came deliberately and gave Himself even unto death. It is because of all this that I forgive you utterly and freely and absolutely.’ Thank God for such terms, such terms for bankrupt, foul sinners. Those are the terms, utter, absolute confession and repentance; everything we can do by way of restitution; and an acknowledgment that we are forgiven only as the result of the grace of God manifested perfectly in the loving, self-giving, self-sacrifice of the Son of God upon the cross. Come to a quick agreement. Do not delay. Whatever you may be convicted of at this moment, come, leave your gift, run away, put it right. ‘Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him.’ (225-235)
Link back to index.html