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The Ten Commandments

The Value Of Life

Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer | March 30, 1986

Selected highlights from this sermon

God is the author of life, and He has deemed it valuable. The taking of life is clearly prohibited. While we often think of murder as the literal and intentional slaughter of another human being made in God’s image, the Bible broadens that definition. 

In this message, Pastor Lutzer examines the Bible’s definition of murder: from the taking of another life to an even broader definition that includes neglecting to speak up against atrocity, and even harboring hatred in your heart.

A twelve-year old boy was watching a Western. His mother was one who very much was against drinking, and as she came into the room it happened that the villain was just walking into a saloon, and the boy knew that he was in trouble. So, in order to get out of the trouble he said, “Ah Mom, don’t worry. This guy isn’t coming into the saloon to take a drink. He’s just going to kill somebody.” All of which reminds us that human life today is not worth very much considering all the things that happen. Television is filled with violence. We have all kinds of murders, and even here in the city of Chicago we have come to accept them pretty well, even though the Bible says with clarity, “Thou shalt do no murder.” God says that. That’s Exodus 20:13.

I want you, however, to turn to Exodus 21 which we will be referring to in just a moment, as well as a couple of other passages. You know that evolutionists do not value human life very much because they say that we came up through the animal world, and therefore, since we are one with the animal kingdom and we kill animals, why can’t we kill human beings. One of the great arguments in favor of abortion is that we kill animals and we kill baby pigs when they are deformed, therefore, why shouldn’t we kill baby humans when they are deformed when we are really only a higher intelligence than animals but basically on the same spectrum?

And so evolutionists know right well that their view demeans humanity. And I can find writers (I have them in my library) who say very strongly that man has been far overrated in terms of value and that it’s time that we recognize that he really has a much lesser place than we have been giving him. The other thing that evolutionists have been doing is to try to speak about animal rights to bring animals up. A prestigious university here in the Chicago area that I will not mention had a seminar on animal rights. They all got together and wondered what kind of rights animals had. Well, certainly we should not treat animals cruelly, but animals can be killed by man. They can be used in experiments and they also can be used as animals for food. I know I’m going to get some letters this week over that but that’s all right. I said it and I don’t mind having said it.

But the problem is that God says when it comes to man that he is a cut above the animal world. That’s not the problem. That is, of course, Scriptural teaching that man is special; he is unique.

Now I can imagine somebody saying, “Well, you know, at last the pastor has come to a commandment that doesn’t apply to me. It is true that I may have other gods besides the true God. It is true that there may be times when I may take the Lord’s name in vain, but at least, thank God, I am not a murderer. As I was thinking about this yesterday, I wondered if there is a murderer here in this congregation. I wouldn’t necessarily ask you to rise if that’s the case, but you know in a congregation of fourteen or fifteen hundred is there someone here who is guilty of murder? Well, I think by the time we have finished this message we will find out that the answer may be yes, at least in some sense guilty of breaking this commandment.

Now when we look at the text it is very clear that thou shalt do no murder, but the question we have to ask is what are the different ways in which this commandment can be broken? Can even those of us who have never taken someone’s life in any sense of the word, also be guilty of murder? What are the ways that this commandment can be violated?

First of all, this commandment can be violated with the hand – murder by the hand. What do I mean? I am talking about somebody who actually snuffs out the life of somebody else – physical murder. And there are different ways, but this kind of murder can be carried out. For example, you can just go ahead and kill someone. You can take a gun and you can shoot them. You can put poison in their soup. There are a number of different ways that this can be done to rub somebody out, somebody who is in your way. That’s one way that you can murder with the hand. You can murder an enemy.

There’s another way, and that is you can murder a fetus. You know, this passage in Exodus 21 that we read actually indicates that a fetus comes under the protection of what is known as the law of retaliation. It says in verse 22 that when men strive with each other and strike a woman with child so that she has a miscarriage, but yet there is no further injury he shall surely be fined. Verse 23 says, “But if there is further injury (that is if the child dies - that’s the important point – if the fetus doesn’t live when she has a miscarriage) then you shall appoint as a penalty a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”

It seems clear from the Bible that the fetus comes under the protection of the law of retaliation in the Old Testament. And we know that in Psalm 139 it says that God is the one that formed me before I was born, and he was the one that embroidered me. That’s a good translation of the Hebrew word. He embroidered me in my mother’s womb. He put me together, and in the New Testament the fetus is called a baby, as in the case of John the Baptist. It says that the baby leaped in her womb. 4,300 babies are killed every day in the United States because of abortion.

There’s another way that this commandment can be broken. You can kill an enemy, you can kill a fetus, or you can kill yourself. The people who commit suicide (25,000 Americans a year) have a death wish and they like to die and so they do. They commit suicide.

It’s something like Jonah in the Old Testament, desperately wanting to commit suicide, but not quite knowing how to pull it off. I think about four times in the book of Jonah you have Jonah complaining to God and saying, “It is better to me to die than to live,” and in the fourth chapter he pleads with God. He says, “Please kill me.” And he probably would have done it himself if he had only had the nerve.

You know that suicide is a very selfish crime. People say, “Well, when I commit suicide then I am out of people’s way and everybody is going to be happy.” One of the things to ask someone who is on the verge of committing suicide is “Who will find you? Who will find the body? Who will have to take care of the funeral arrangements?” Suicide is a tremendously difficult experience to face for those who are left behind, and of course, we don’t have to commit suicide. There is hope for believers.

Now, let me simply say that some people think that a true believer can’t commit suicide. The answer is yes, they can. Of course they are dying by committing murder. They are dying with unconfessed sin, but there are multitudes of Christians that are going to die with unconfessed sin on their hands, and God is going to take care of that just as he takes care of any other unconfessed sin. Legally believers are accepted in Jesus Christ, and I have met some and I have known some who have been so depressed and so harassed that eventually they do die at their own hands.

I think of a young man gloriously converted out of paganism in Canada. He had a wonderful testimony of the power of Christ. I remember kneeling at a bed and praying with him, and how that young man prayed. But then he entered the RCMP, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, more accurately today the Royal Canadian Motorcar Police, but nonetheless still called Mounties. And because he was different (Have you ever met people who are different? There’s nothing wrong with them but they just don’t seem to fit.) they teased him and they tormented him and he said to me one day, “It’s one thing to live for Jesus when you are on the top of the pile. It’s another thing when you are on the bottom and when you are being ridiculed.”

I was startled one day listening to the radio to the news of all things, and discovered that this young police officer had committed suicide. It can happen, but the person who commits suicide is violating this commandment that says, “Thou shalt not kill.” You are killing yourself.

Now, do you know what God thinks about murder? God says that murder is so serious, it is such a violation of the fact that we are created in the image of God, that the text says in Chapter 21:12, “He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death.”

Now there are some people who say this. You’ve heard the arguments on television and in the newspapers. They say, “We so value human life that we believe that nobody has the right to take the life of somebody else. Even if he is a convicted killer who is a serial murderer who has killed thirty different people, we should never exercise capital punishment because human life is so sacred. That’s the way the argument goes. Very interestingly, God would say, “No, your opinion is still too low. Human life is even more sacred than that.” Human life is so sacred that if somebody takes the life of another, to display the sacredness of human life, you have to take his or her life. That’s what God says. In fact, if you are unconvinced look at what he says in Genesis 9:6. This is the whole argument for capital punishment. It’s because human life is so sacred, God says that for the person who takes it the only proper retribution is for his own life to be taken. Genesis 9:6 says, “Whoever sheds men’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed.” Why? Is it because man isn’t very sacred and is of little value? No, for in the image of God he made man.

Interesting! God says, “You take somebody’s life, the only proper way to deal with that is to have your life taken.” The only argument against capital punishment that I can possibly think of is the possibility that exists that you are executing the wrong person, but in those cases where there is no reasonable doubt, there is the responsibility of the state, because the Bible says that if you don’t do it the land will be polluted with blood. And I am not blaming our judges, and I shouldn’t just say the judges alone but our criminal system unfortunately suffers in America today. I think that what they ought to do is when someone commits a murder and he is let go on the streets and he commits another crime then he should be guilty of the first one. And then the criminal justice system should be guilty for the other ones. But then again, I’ll get some other letters so I’d better hurry on.

Now, in the book of Numbers in the Old Testament the Bible says very clearly that even though there may be a ransom for some capital crimes, such as adultery and others, there can be no ransom given if you are guilty of murder. If you are taking notes it’s Numbers 35:31. We won’t turn to it but God says this. He says, “If somebody takes another person’s life you cannot accept a ransom. There can be no exceptions unless it was unintentional, in which case it is manslaughter. If it is deliberate then you must take that person’s life.” Why? It’s because God says human life is important. That’s what is called murder by the hand, and the result is the death penalty.

But there is a second way that this commandment can be broken – murder by the heart. Turn to First John 3:15. Don’t confuse it with the Gospel of John. First John is actually just a few pages away from the book of Revelation. That’s the easiest way to find it. He makes a startling statement that Jesus actually also made in the Sermon on the Mount. He says in First John 3:15, “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer.” Let me read that again. “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer.” And you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. Does this mean that a Christian cannot hate another? Some people interpret it that way but it’s contrary to fact, isn’t it? You’ve met Christians, and I’ve met Christians that hate each other. But he is talking about brothers here so he must be speaking about Christians and he knows that Christians can hate one another because he says, “hate his brother.” So I think the phrase, “eternal life abiding in him,” doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have eternal life. It means that the eternal life is not being expressed in him. The whole emphasis in John is on fellowship. It is on abiding in Christ, and he is saying, “If you say that eternal life is abiding in you, that it is being lived out in your life, that there is fruit of eternal life, and you hate your brother, you are a liar, the text says, because no eternal life can be expressed, can be lived out in the life of someone who hates his brother.”

But what a strong statement that is. Why is it that some people hate one another? First of all, it’s because some people are in the way of others, and so hatred and animosity develop. For example, you’ll recall the case of Herod. Jesus is born in Bethlehem and Herod, and when he sees that a delegation is going to Bethlehem to find out about this person that is being born, he says, “Tell me about it when you find out the information, and send me word that I may go and worship him also.” What a liar! But why was it that Herod hated Jesus? It’s because Jesus was a threat to him. Jesus was being born as the king of the Jews, and Herod thought that he might be without a job. Jesus might make Herod look bad, and that’s why Herod hated Christ, and he intended to kill him. And in his heart he was a murderer even though he didn’t pull it off.

Those of you who are in business know that out there in the world it’s dog eat dog. There are all kinds of people who want to make you look bad and make themselves look good so that they can step on you to get a promotion. And they will do everything that they can possibly do so that they can to do you in. It’s easy to hate people and that resentment begins to build up and you begin to say, “If I can kill him I would.” Watch it! Everyone who hates is a murderer. Even if you hate your brother you are a murderer, not to mention the people that are in the world.

There’s another reason. Not only because there are people who get in our way but also because perhaps we have met people who have hurt us. They’ve hurt us, and so we want to retaliate. There’s something within us that says we want to even the score. We want to make sure that this person will not get away scot-free. And so if you had a mother who rejected you and a father who beat you up, if you have a spouse who has done you in, who has lied to you, who has betrayed you, there again the resentments and the hurts grow. And that’s why most murders that take place here in the city of Chicago are family affairs. Usually it’s some relative – some resentment. Somebody who received an inheritance and there is somebody else who wants to chisel you out of what’s coming to you, and the resentment and the anger and the court cases and all these things begin to develop. And you just can’t see how people can be so unreasonable, and there is something within you that says, “I will do them in no matter what it costs.” So you have a situation of some relatives who are related to someone who I know, where a man was so angry at his wife who had taken the kids from him that he shot her and shot all the children in the car and then turned the gun on himself and committed suicide. What he was saying was, “I am so full of resentment and hatred that I will kill you to make sure that you are rubbed out even if I end up doing it to myself afterwards.

But the text says again, “If you hate you are a murderer.” You know the Christian does not have to hate. Do you know why? It’s because he’s got somebody else to take care of his injustices. That’s what it says in Romans 12. Someday I am going to preach a message on how to respond when you are under attack, and the text will be Romans 12. We don’t have time to turn to it because we have only a certain amount of time today, but there in that passage Paul says, “Do not avenge yourselves.” He says, “Never pay back evil for evil. If possible live peaceably. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God.” That’s in verse 19 of Romans 12 if you are trying to find it.

And notice – never take your own revenge but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine. I will recompense,” says the Lord. God says, “I will fight your case. I’m going to be the one who is going to settle the score.”

Follow this carefully. God wants faith in our lives. Right? The Bible says that without faith it is impossible to please God. When you harbor bitterness in your life and you want to even the score, it is an indication of a lack of faith. You are not trusting the judge of all the earth to do right and to settle the matter. You are taking it into your hands, and that’s lack of faith. There’s something within us that says, “Yeah, but I want to make sure that he’s not going to get off scot free, and I’m going to do it for God.” Well, the text says, “Leave room for the wrath of God.” Why don’t you trust God to do it? Don’t think that every score is going to be settled on this earth. There have been people who have given their lives trying to settle scores to make sure that before they die it would be even, and they are still not sure whether or not it is. The text says, “Leave room for the wrath of God. Vengeance is mine. I’m going to straighten it out.”

You say, “Yeah, but what if this person confesses his sin before he dies and goes to heaven, and then still is going scot free?” You know some of you are laughing, but I know someone who said that to me. When I pointed this text out to her she said, “Yeah, but my father (whom she hated very much and she had some reason to hate him humanly speaking)….” When I told her that she had to get rid of all of that hatred and explained to her how to release those feelings so that she could be free, her response was, “Yeah, but you know what? My dad’s a Christian and so he’s going to go to heaven and he’s going to live there in bliss. I’d like to see him burn in hell.” Do you think somebody can hate that deeply? You’d better believe that there are people who hate that deeply.

Well, what about somebody who confesses his sin just before he goes to heaven so he gets off scot-free? My dear friend, will you remember that there is no such think in all the Bible that teaches that somehow justice is not going to be brought to every single situation, and even the person who confesses his sin, the reason that he is released is because Jesus absorbed the cost of that hurt that you’ve experienced as a child because of a father who wasn’t loving to you. God is going to bring justice to every situation of life. He is going to make sure that every single sin is paid for somehow, either by the person who committed it or the Christ who died and absorbed it. But one way or another justice is going to be brought to every situation of life, and because of that you do not have to be a murderer in your heart. You can release the feelings of bitterness. You can choose to forgive. Forgiveness is not an emotion, and you can even forgive those who have died, and you’ve got to do it. Don’t forgive them for their benefit. That may be too late, but forgive them for your own benefit. Forgiveness is something good that you do for yourself, not to mention the good that it does for the other person.

Sometimes people come up and say, “Well, you know it’s very clear, but what does the Greek say?” Well, unfortunately the Greek text says what the English says, that the person who hates is a murderer. Do we have some murderers here? Maybe we could get a few more to stand now, and we’re only on my second point.

One way to murder is with the hand. The second way to murder is with the heart. A third way to murder, and we’ll only refer to it and not expound on it, is with the mouth. James says in chapter 3, “Some of you are speaking evil one of another,” and he says, “Out of the same mouth is proceeding a blessing and a cursing.” You curse during the week. You say bad things about people who are believers or others. You are gossipers. You are taking people’s character and you are lowering the opinion that people have of others in the sight of other people and you are doing that, and then you come to church and you sing “Holy, Holy, Holy,” and “Crown Him with Many Crowns.” And James says, “Wait a moment. Out of the same mouth blessing and cursing should not come.” He says, “That is sinful.” He says, “You are eating and you are devouring one another. You are consuming one another because of your speech and the way you are speaking about other people and you are demeaning them in the eyes of others because of what you say,” and that too is character assassination. That too is murder if you please.

There’s a final way that we can murder and that is by neglect – just by neglecting people, by not being involved. It’s not that we hate anybody. It’s not that we speak evil of anybody. It’s just that we stand idly by while other people are being led off to slaughter. This can happen very subtly. It can happen certainly with our lack of concern regarding abortion, our lack of being willing to speak when we have opportunity to speak and let it be known where we stand. It can happen by a slum landlord expecting people to pay money, and he knows that they are in poverty and he keeps raising the rent, and he’s making money on the backs of the poor, bringing about a slow death. It’s not that he hates anyone. It’s just that he loves himself and all that he can see is his own needs, and he’s trampling on other people to get ahead. That’s another way that we can commit murder.

I think of the priest and the Levite who walked by on the other side when that man was bleeding there on the way to Jericho. They in some sense participated in that crime and in heart they were one with the robber who had brought it about – unwillingness to get involved. For those of you who haven’t read the book “Dorie, the Girl Nobody Loved,” with all of that heartache, it’s about a girl who was rejected and hated by her mother and went through successive orphanages. Interestingly enough she told me one day (because it was my privilege to write that book incidentally with her and to receive that information) that as an adult she went back to the place where she was reared and was left in the apartment alone and where she was locked up and beaten as a five or six-year old girl, and she said, “I found out that it was just across from a very fine evangelical church.” She didn’t know that when she was five or six but she knows that now as an adult. I don’t want to blame that church because God knows that there might be that kind of blood on our own hands. I use it only as an illustration of the fact that we are living in areas where there may be that kind of abuse and that kind of hurt. And it’s not that we hate anybody. It’s not that we’re involved. We’re not contributing to it. It’s just that we walk by and pretend that it doesn’t exist, and we don’t reach out a hand to help those who are being dragged off to hurt and to slaughter.

You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, you’ve preached a message now that almost seems to imply that human life has some kind of supreme value to it.” Well, there’s not that high a value. You know human life is very important but there are some that are more important. For example, your life should be more important to me than my own. The Bible says in First John 3:15 (we looked at the text) that because Jesus laid down his life for us we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. What the Bible is really saying, and I hate to say it because it is so powerful and has so many vast implications, is I should be willing to die for you. If push came to shove and it was a difference between me dying or you dying, I should say, “Well, I’m going to do it.” Before you get too excited about that, remember you ought to be willing to die for me too. Then we’ll have an argument as to who can die for one another. That’s what the Bible says. We ought to lay down our lives for one another.

And then, of course, not only that but worship and obedience to God is more important than human life. That’s why you have martyrs because the Bible says in the book of Revelation, “They loved not their life to the point of death.” In other words, they didn’t hang on to it and say, “I refuse to die. I’ll do absolutely anything so that I won’t have to die.” No! What did the martyrs do? They said, “Here I am. Shoot me. Kill me. Send the wild beasts. Do whatever you want. I refuse to deny Jesus Christ and they received special recognition in heaven. They received a martyr’s crown. Why? It was because to them they realized that there is something in life more important than physical life, and that is obedience to God. And because of that obedience to God, God singles them out and gives them special recognition. And even though I’m not looking forward to such a thing I would say this. Dying for Christ is probably the greatest honor that we could probably have. I can’t think of any other way to go really. If you’ve got to go it’d be nice to go standing true to the Savior.

Now, God says that human life is important because he gives it. Scientists can’t put it together. They have all the elements there. They maybe even have created some cells – there may be some debate about that, but no scientist has ever yet created a single cell that is able to reproduce itself. God has to give that spark of life. Right? It comes from God. God is the author of life, but did you know that the same God who gives physical life and speaks and creates it is the same God who gives what the Bible talks about as spiritual life. And just as we can’t cooperate with God in the giving of physical life, because only he can give it, so we cannot cooperate with God in the granting of eternal life. It is a miracle that has absolutely no human agencies involved along with it. It is the miracle of the new birth, whatever it is that we call it. The granting of eternal life is a miracle but that has to be done by the same sovereign God who gives physical life. He only grants spiritual life. The only part we have in it is we respond to God and he grants us the ability to believe and to trust him, and when that takes place we experience the miracle but the miracle is wholly totally completely of God. And today I have the gift of eternal life because I believed on Jesus Christ, and many of you have the gift of eternal life because you also have believed on him. But undoubtedly in a congregation like this, there are many of you who do not have that gift, though you may be religious. You’ve never experienced the miracle of the heart – the giving of eternal life. And once you receive that eternal life, then of course, even though you lose your physical life, as all of must in one way or another, we then go on to live eternally with God forever and ever.

D. L. Moody said to his friends, “One of these days you are going to read in the newspapers, ‘D. L. Moody is dead.’” He said, “Don’t believe it. At that moment I am going to be more alive than I have ever been.” That’s right. That’s good theology. The newspapers say, “D. L. Moody is dead, but D. L. Moody is more alive than he’s ever been because he received not only physical life, but he received spiritual life that God is able to give to those that believe and trust him. And we become his children forever.

“Thou shalt do no murder,” says Scripture, “because you are valuable,” But eternal life is more valuable than physical life.

Let’s pray.

Father, we ask today that you will help us not to be murderers, either by the hand, by the heart, by the mouth, or just by neglect. We pray that you might enable us to positively value human beings, made in the image of God, special, unique, gifted, put together by the sovereign three. Oh Father, we pray that you might help all of us to obey your commands. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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