Let's turn to Exodus chapter 20. As you turn there you may want to put a marker in Deuteronomy chapter 20 and while you're at it, you can mark Matthew chapter 5, and you can also put one in Romans 13. Those are the passages we want to cover this morning in this study. Let's have a word of prayer together. Heavenly Father, we need the mind of Christ and the wisdom that comes from the Holy Spirit through the Word of God, as we forge our belief system and maintain our Christian lifestyle in the midst of a world that doesn't share these values. From time to time we have to confront some very difficult issues that occur every day in our culture and we have to decide where we stand and what we believe. Lord, I pray that You'd help us. I pray that now, part of our worship would be the manner in which we listen to Your Word, with all reverence and all attention as You would speak, even through this feeble message. In Christ's name we pray. Amen.
Let me tell you about a judge named Alexander Sanders who was the Chief Justice of the South Carolina Court of Appeals. Chief Justice Sanders was speaking at a graduation ceremony, a commencement, for the University of South Carolina. In that graduating class was his daughter, Zoe. As the Judge gets up to address the students, he tells a story about when Zoe was three years old. It seems that Judge Sanders came home from work one day to a crisis; Zoe's pet turtle had died and Mrs. Sanders turned the situation to the venerable Judge to figure out a solution. So Judge Sanders said to his three year old girl, Zoe, "Sweetheart, don't worry, we'll go to the pet store and I'll buy you another turtle." That didn't help. That little girl knew that you can't transfer the life from one turtle to another. She wanted her turtle - alive. So Judge Sanders said, "I'll tell you what - we'll have a big funeral for your turtle." Being three years of age, little Zoe didn't know what a funeral was, so the Judge tried to explain, "Well, sweetheart, it's like a big festival in honor of your turtle." Again, being three years of age, she didn't quite get the meaning of 'festival.' So Judge Sanders said, "Honey, a funeral is like a birthday party. We're going to have cake, ice cream, lemonade, balloons, and we'll invite all of your friends over to play all afternoon." Well that did the trick. Little Zoe brightened up, got a smile on her face, the tears dried up; she was so happy. And then something very unprecedented happened; they were looking down at the turtle and it started to move. And not only did it move - it wasn't dead! It started walking away. Now the Judge was speechless, (probably for the first time in his career!), but little Zoe appraised the situation very quickly. She looked up and with all the innocence that a three year old can muster, said, "Daddy! Let's kill it!" That funny little story underscores a very sobering truth about our culture: we value life as long as life doesn't stand in the way of our party. We say that things and people are important, but if those people stand in the way of our party, maybe they're dispensable. So the whole issue of euthanasia - physician assisted suicide - or abortion, can often play into, "How does that affect my party?"
Last week, we started on the sixth commandment found in verse 13 of Exodus chapter 20: "You shall not murder." We began with a premise: it's a negative commandment but we noted that the positive spin on it is that God values life. He's the Creator, we are made in his image - therefore, "Thou shall not murder." We then saw the problem and the problem wasn't with the commandment, the problem is with us. Mankind has never been able to successfully keep this commandment since the beginning. We then went back all the way to the passion that fuels the breaking of this commandment, which is sinful anger. We saw that according to Jesus, if you harbor grudges and bitterness and anger in your heart toward someone, that is really the seed-bed of all murder, whether you pull the trigger or not; everybody is guilty.
Today, I want to look at the practical relevance of this commandment. Is all killing always bad? Is there ever a time for it? Now, I'm not going to discuss the more obvious issues like abortion or euthanasia, (physician assisted suicide), I think there have been enough sermons and radio play and books written. I think as Christians we know those are wrong. We can't touch on every single subject that every verse of the Bible touches on; else we'll be here on this very commandment for the next 30 weeks.
So we are doing a survey of the Ten Commandments and we can only cover a certain amount of ground. What I want to wrestle with are a couple of controversial issues; issues that are not just confined to the cognitive, the philosophical, the theological. These are practical issues and they will affect the way we hear news and process it; how we vote; how we have conversations with people.
If you go back to the ancient Rabbis, they said there are legitimate times for killing that wouldn't be considered, in their view, to be murder. And where the conversation typically begins, is a verse out of Ecclesiastes chapter 3. Some of you, who were in the 60's, remember a group who set these verses to the lyrics of a very famous song. "To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time of war, and a time of peace." Now I realize that what I am going to say and the things we are going to touch on this morning are controversial, and to be quite honest with you, most pastors would shy away from them. I have a hunch that you would like some real answers; at least you'd like to find out what the Bible has to say, if anything, about a couple of these issues so you can decide if you're going to follow along with that or not.
Now remember last week we noted that though the old translation says, "Thou shall not kill," that the word for 'kill' can only mean 'murder,' the Hebrew word, 'ratsach.' There are several words from Hebrew that can be translated 'to kill,' one is given for 'murder' and that's the one that is used here. So the accurate rendering is "You shall not murder." That's Exodus chapter 20, verse 13. After that statement is made, in the very next chapter, 21, verse 1 says: "Now these are the judgments which you shall set before them," God is still speaking and it goes on in verse 12: "He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death, however if he did not lie in wait but God delivered him into his hand, then I will appoint a place where he may flee. But if a man acts with premeditation against his neighbor, to kill him by treachery, you shall take him from my alter, that he may die." Now go over to the passage in Deuteronomy 20, verse 1: "When you go out to battle against your enemies, and see horses and chariots and people more numerous than you, do not be afraid of them; for the Lord your God is with you, who brought you up from the land of Egypt. So it shall be, when you are on the verge of battle, that the priest shall approach and speak to the people. And he shall say to them, 'Hear, O Israel: today you are on the verge of battle with your enemies. Do not let your heart faint, do not be afraid, and do not tremble or be terrified because of them; for the Lord your God is He who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you.'" Now here are two instances where you could call it a case for killing. Right after the commandment, "You shall not murder," there are two allowances for that. One is the courtroom. It's a judicial setting where the death penalty - capital punishment - is imposed, and the other is a battlefield scene; a combat zone.
In the Bible, the death penalty - the ultimate punishment, capital punishment - was never seen by the Ancients as murder. It was viewed as righteously administered judicial execution. And it was a requirement in the Old Testament for the very same premise and reason as the sixth commandment was given. We said the sixth commandment was given because God gave life and it's precious, and we're made in the image of God. This was the same reason He required the death penalty, the same premise. If you go back to the beginning in Genesis, the very first crime was murder; Cain killed Abel, as we saw last week. And the punishment that God gave to Cain was interesting, it was not the death penalty; he was exiled forever. A mark was put on him and he was banished. Probably because, number one, there was no city of refuge at that point, number two, because it was a crime of passion; it wasn't long and premeditated, and so God banished him. But, shortly after that, a flood came upon all the earth and Noah and his family were saved. After the flood there were just a few of them and they were told to fill the earth, "Be fruitful and multiply," and then God, in Genesis 9, verses 5 and 6, says this: "Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning; from the hand of every beast I will require it, and from the hand of man. From the hand of every man's brother I will require the life of man. Whoever sheds man's blood,
By man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God He made man." What I just read predates the Law, predates Moses, predates the Children of Israel, predates all the Patriarchs - Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. By the time we get to Moses and the Law of Moses, God will give (largely in chapter 21 of Exodus) 18 different crimes for which the death penalty is prescribed: righteously administered judicial execution.
That's a hot topic today; not everybody agrees on this. It's a subject of debate and even people in the church are polarized over it; we have been for a long time. Back in 1969 it was abolished in Great Britain. 15 of our states in America, including the District of Columbia, outlaws it. 38 states, however, to some degree, have instituted the death penalty for certain crimes. I do believe that every society has the responsibility to rehabilitate criminals; to restore them. And I would say that none can do a better job of that than the church of Christ. If anybody should be willing to forgive and to restore and to bring back - if possible in this society - it's the church. However, having said that, when a government, when a state, becomes more concerned about the rights of the criminals than the rights of the victims - that's wrong. In fact, it's sin according to the Bible. Often the decent in the argument is, "Well, that's Old Testament, that's not New Testament." You might be surprised to know the answer to that. I'm going to give you just one striking example: Paul the Apostle was on trial for crimes leveled against him that he did not commit. So here's Paul before a Roman court with all of these charges against him, and listen to what he says in Acts 25: "For if I am an offender, or have committed anything deserving of death, I do not object to dying." It's one thing to agree with the death penalty when somebody else is on trial, it's another thing to say, "If I'm guilty, kill me," and that's essentially what Paul said in the New Testament. I just touched on that - just enough to stir some of you up.
Let me look to the second one that we looked at in Deuteronomy, the combat zone. What about Military involvement? What about armed forces? What about Law Enforcement? Which stand should I take? Option number one is the pacifist who will say, "All war is always wrong because God said in the Ten Commandments, "Thou shall not kill." Again, that's a misinterpretation of it, it's really, "Thou shall not murder." Second option is activism, on the other end of the spectrum, which says, "I must engage in every war that my government is engaged in because God has given human government for me to obey and if I don't obey the laws of the land, I disobey God." They will quote Romans 13 which says: "Let every soul be subject to governing authorities. Whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God."
There's another option, selectivism, (maybe that's not even a word, but it is now!) Selectivism says that not all wars that governments engage in are always just, case and point: the Nazis. When the Nazis waged war using the German Regime, it was not just and so you had dissenters like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and others who came out against it. Or the Camir Rouge in Cambodia with Pol Pot some years ago. There are numerous examples of governments who have gotten involved in illegitimate, wrong, dictatorial, unjust Wars. But, the selectivist will also say, "Sometimes war is justified in the case of self defense or standing against a greater evil." We struggle with this and we're not the only ones to struggle with this, everybody struggles with it. In fact even the Early Church struggled with it and here was their struggle: how can I be involved in the Roman Military if I'm a Follower of the Prince of Peace? From that struggle eventually came a position known as the "Just War Tradition," that has dominated the view of most Christians for the past 1600 years.
I'm going to give you just a thumbnail, quick, historical overview of how that came about. Between the 2nd Century and the 4th Century AD, during the Early Church and the Post Apostolic Era, Christians were absolutely non-military. None of them were involved in any army, in any militia, they were non-military. Their rational is that they couldn't be in the Roman Army unless they were participating in idolatrous practices; to be in the Army, you had to worship the Emperor, the Caesar. You had to swear allegiance that he was your god. Christians couldn't do that and be following the Lord at the some time, so they were not involved in the military. And then something dramatic took place in the Roman Empire. In 410 AD, Rome was sacked by the Barbarians, the Visigoths. That upset the whole Empire. After the 410 attack by the Visigoths, people in Rome started pointing their fingers at the Christians saying, "It's you guys! You haven't been involved in civil issues, you haven't been involved in our military; you Christians have undermined the State of Rome!" So a guy over in northern Africa by the name of Augustine - you've heard of St. Augustine - wrote a book called The City of God, which is his argument against that accusation by the Roman Government. In his writings, he outlines that there are certain times when Christians can be, and should be, involved in military and in wars. The City of God by Augustine was a great influence other great theologians and writers through history, one by the name of Thomas Aquinas. Thomas Aquinas, years later, wrote a book called, Summa Theologica, where he gives three criteria to fight what he calls, "the just war." That has become the basis, by and large, for many western countries who've adopted that. It influenced a lot of people including Martin Luther who said, "Without armaments, peace cannot be kept. Wars are waged not only to repel injustice but also to establish a firm peace. Violent means must sometimes be used to preserve the life and health of the body politic, just as a physician must at times amputate an arm or a leg in order that the whole body may not perish and this can be a work of Christian love." In other words, if I may paraphrase for Martin Luther, he said, "I love peace, and I love peace enough to fight for it if need be."
There had been the wranglings (from the Early Church onward) with the "just war" tradition; the question is, "Is any of this Biblical? Is there a Biblical precedent?" Sure, you can look through all of the history all the way back to Abraham who, by the way, is called the Father of Faith in the New Testament. When five kings under King Kedorlaomer waged war against the people of the south and stole Lot his nephew, the Bible says that Abraham sent 318 trained militia men (that he had paid for) out to battle for a just cause. God used Joshua to rid the land of the Canaanite purge as they were wreaking havoc on people of that region. David was called to go to war. And then there's the book of Judges. When you think of a Judge in the Old Testament, don't think of a guy with a robe and a gavel, or Justice Sanders from South Carolina. The Judges in the book of Judges were fighters. They were warriors; deliverers. Did you know that the New Testament, in looking back to the Old Testament, actually commends some of these Judges for their warrior activity? Listen to Hebrews chapter 11: "Through faith they subdued kingdoms, they worked righteousness. Out of weakness they were made strong, they became valiant in battle, they turned to fight the armies of the aliens, they were slain with the sword." Also you ought to know that in the New Testament, there is no mandate for people in the military to quit the military, to not be involved in it, to resign. When John the Baptist was down at the Jordan River baptizing people, from Jews in Jerusalem to Roman Soldiers, and each of the different groups were asking John, "What should we do? You're telling us that we need to repent and show forth works that speak of the fact that we have repented - what to we do?" The soldiers asked him what they should do and John the Baptist in Luke chapter 3 said, "Don't intimidate anyone, don't bring any false accusations against anyone, and be happy with your paycheck." He did not say, "Well, if you want to follow Christ you have to quit the Roman military; you cannot be a soldier and be saved at the same time." Furthermore, in the New Testament, some of the greatest people were Centurions - Officers in the Roman Army. A Centurion came to Jesus and said, "Lord, I have a servant who is sick. All you have to do is say his name, and he'll be healed; he doesn't even have to be here." Jesus said, "I haven't found this kind of faith, even among any of the Jews in Israel, as this Centurion has." And then what about the Centurion in Acts chapter 10, named Cornelius, of the Italian regimen. Here is the description of him: "He was a devout man, one who feared God with all of his household, and he prayed."
So clearly the Bible does not forbid any military association, nor is the Bible promoting pure pacifism. There are concerns with that and people will raise the flag of, "What about law? What about love? What about the law of love? Didn't Jesus say, 'Love your enemies?' Even the Old Testament said, 'Love your enemies.' How can I love my enemy and then take up arms against him?" That's a tough one but there is an answer and here it is. It's the same answer. The Bible makes a difference between murder and killing. Not all killing, according to the Bible, is murder. And there is a lot of different Bible text that we could point to. I want to give you just one that puts it all together. In 1st Kings, chapter 2 - King David is dying. His son Solomon is there and he's briefing his son on what to do as the next King. David knows his Cabinet Members very well and knows that Solomon is young and inexperienced, so this venerable King, in the briefing, says to Solomon: "You know also what Joab did to Abner the son of Ner and Amasa the son of Jether, whom he killed. And he shed the blood of war in peacetime, and put the blood of war on his belt that was around his waist, and on his sandals that were on his feet." David, in that verse to his son Solomon, makes a difference between personal murder and national war; between righteously administered judicial execution during a time of war, and killing for personal reasons.
Part of loving people is to protect them, to defend them. During World War II when Hitler was coming to power, there were a lot of Christians that were discussing these very issues, in churches, like we are. I don't know if they were doing it publicly because the Nazi Machine was quite intimidating, but some of them were. There came a time when Christians in Europe just wanted peace at any price. They didn't want to stand up and fight against this Tyrant, or make any kind of waves. They were just sick of war. World War I had just passed, and they were fearing another one and they just wanted peace at any price. Jacques Elul, a French Philosopher, observed this and this is what he said concerning Christians, "After 1937 it was too late. The fate of the world was already sealed. But those in those years, the Christians, full of good intentions, were thinking only of peace and loudly proclaiming pacifism. In matters of that kind, Christians' good intensions are often disastrous." They didn't want to fight against Hitler, they just wanted to go home and have peace.
Another issue is the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus said, "If you have evil coming against you, don't resist evil." I bring that up because every pacifist who wants to quote the Bible will quickly go the Sermon on the Mount, so let's look at it, Matthew chapter 5, verse 38: " You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away." The point is pretty straight forward; when evil comes at you, don't follow the world's evil ways in dealing with it, don't follow the violent ways of the world. There was a famous novelist some years ago that some of you have heard and read, named Leo Tolstoy. Some have read his great book called, War and Peace. Based on what we just read, Tolstoy called for the elimination of the military, the elimination of the police force, the elimination of the court system and judges because all of these resist evil and Jesus said, "Don't resist evil." If we are to follow Tolstoy's philosophy, based on his misinterpretation of this verse, we are giving a permission slip to every thug on planet earth to do whatever he wants because we're not going to do anything about it. What does Jesus mean in verse 39 when he says: "Do not resist an evil person?" Listen carefully, this is what he's talking about: personal retaliation. Jesus isn't even dealing with national issues, formal judicial actions, or national defense; that's not his topic. He's not dealing with protecting your household or protecting your neighbors, or protecting your country; He's referring to our personal relationships, not our public citizenship, and there is a difference between people who come at me personally and how I deal with that, versus people who deal with the society. Let me explain. Francis Schaeffer, (I would recommend you dig up some of his writings - he's in heaven now), was a great thinker. He said, "I am not a pacifist because pacifism in this fallen world means that we desert people that deserve our greatest help." An example; you're walking down the street and you see some big thug, with big rippin' muscles, beating up on a five year old little girl who is innocent. Now what are you going to do? "I won't do anything, I'm a pacifist, I don't believe in it." But it's happening, what are you going to do with it? "Well, I'll negotiate." Good - do that first. Go over and approach that thug and say, "Mr. Thug, would you please stop beating that helpless little girl? Shame on you! Didn't your mother teach you manners?" And maybe he'll snap out of it and go, "You're right! I feel so bad!" Or maybe you'll have to further negotiate and converse and coerce him. But what if the thug decides not to listen to your language but lays into that little girl harder, and meaner, and laughs at you in the process? What does love mean to you at that point? If you love that little girl, love means that you're going to stop him any way you can, including using force to stop him, because she's innocent.
One other verse of Scripture puts it all together; this is how it all works. We'll turn to Romans chapter 13 but we'll start in chapter 12, verse 17, where the thought begins: "Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,' says the Lord. Therefore 'If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.' Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." Romans 13:1: "Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; (sword is the "machaira" - the sword of execution - that was his authority to minister), for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil." So here's how it all works: if it's possible, live at peace with everybody. Here's the problem - it's not always possible. It would be great if we could all hold hands and grab arms and swing and say, "Give peace a chance," and "All you need is love," and the whole world would join in - but they won't. It's not possible to live at peace with all men. So, when people come against you personally, notice in verses 19 and 21, "Don't avenge yourselves," that's personal because it says, "I will repay says the Lord, vengeance is mine." Question: how will the Lord take vengeance upon them? How will He repay them? Some might say that will be judgment day. Maybe, perhaps, ultimately - yes. But it does say in chapter 13, verse 4: "He is God's minister and avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil." God may use the government in the persons' lifetime to execute wrath and bring vengeance.
I'm going to wrap it all up; here's the bottom line. Murder is wrong, suicide is wrong, killing is awful, war is horrible, but there are times where reasons for killing are justified to establish peace and to protect people who are innocent. Tom Allen was at a cafeteria line at Asbury Seminary. As he was going through the food line, there was a basket of apples with a sign that said, "Take only one - God is watching." At the end of the line some wise-guy put another sign in the peanut butter cookies that said, "Take all that you want 'cuz God is busy watching the apples." Here's why it's funny: because it's absurd to think that God can't see both the apples and the peanut butter cookies. If God is God, He doesn't see one and not the other, He sees it all. And God sees All the war, ALL the anger, All the abortion, ALL the suicide, ALL the euthanasia, ALL the anger boiling up in every person, in every country, in every city, in every generation. He sees it ALL. But we don't. So we're called to deal with only that which we see, and if we see evil personally, we forgive. If we see evil societally, we protect. If people come against me personally, I'm not to say, "Watch what I'll do to you in court!" No, I forgive them; I want to promote Christ and His Kingdom. Vengeance is the Lord's, not mine; I'll forgive on a personal level. On a societal level, if we love, at some point we must protect. Here's the bigger truth more than all of that - God loves life. He's for life, He's not for death. Jesus said, "The thief doesn't come except to kill, steel, and destroy. I have come that they might have life and have it more abundantly." Soldiers die, victims of murder die, murderers die, judges die, pastors die, good people and bad people die; there's a bigger issue - what do you do now? What do you do for eternity? What next? In 1981 a great American author, William Saroyan, died. Before he died he was on the phone to the Associated Press and in his classic style he said, "Yeah, I know everybody is going to die, but I always thought that an exception would be made in my case." And he ended the conversation by saying, "Now what?" I know when tragedies happen and someone has died, it takes us by surprise, and I don't mean to minimize it, but not everybody dies at age 120, closing their eyes and falling asleep. In a number of different ways, all people, of all ages, die. What now? Do you know the author of life? Has He given you everlasting life? Have you let all of your sins be taken upon Jesus Christ that you might enjoy everlasting eternal life?
Let's pray. We approach You Father, as the Author and the Finisher of our faith, as the Maker and Creator of all life. You've given us these bodies; You've given us this lifetime. You made us in Your image, thus life is sacred; to be protected, to be valued, but also Lord, to reflect Your Kingdom, we must forgive those who come against us personally, while loving the innocent - to protect them nationally. Help us see the difference, help us walk in love. Let every single thing we do to friends and to enemies, be done with the true motive of love. In Jesus' name. Amen.