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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:Digging to the Root of Murder
Text:LD 40 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic: 6th Commandment (Murder)

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 33:1,4                                                                                       

Hy 10:1,2   [after Nicene Creed]

Reading – Mark 7:14-23; 1 Peter 4:1-11

Psalm 15:1,2,3

Sermon – Lord’s Day 40

Ps 51:4,5

Hy 50:1,2,3,4

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in Christ, almost every week there’s a story in the news about another gruesome murder. Gang warfare, domestic violence, random attacks—these are the stories that get our attention. And when we think about the sixth commandment, that’s where our minds first go: murder, violence, outright attacks on the life of another person. And that’s certainly not us. We haven’t been involved in the planned, willful slaughter of another person, whether with a gun, or a knife, poison or something else.

We’d never choose murder. But is the sixth commandment so far from touching our daily lives? Here God commands us to preserve and promote something very basic, very common, and yet something of immense worth in his eyes. God commands us to honour life.

Better than anyone, children of God should know that life is more than just our physical existence. God’s gift of life isn’t just this body of bones and blood and muscles. God’s gift of life is spiritual, as well. For He created humans in his image, made us with the capacity for true fellowship with him. Life is not one-dimensional, and so murder is not one-dimensional either.

This commandment singles out murder as the worst possible offense against God’s gift of life. But the act of murder is just one way we break this commandment. For God’s Word goes far beyond external things, and his commands cut deep into our heart. How do we really regard the life of our neighbour? How do we actually think of her, and how should we treat him? I preach God’s Word to you as it’s summarized in Lord’s Day 40,

Let’s get to the root of the sixth commandment:

  1. it’s broken by the sinful heart
  2. it’s kept by the renewed heart


1) the sixth commandment is broken by the sinful heart: Where does sin come from? Simple question, but the way we answer will have a lot to do with how we regard sins against this commandment. For if sin is mostly the result of external things, then we’ll deal with sin very differently than if it was caused by something on the inside of us.

So let’s imagine that sins against the sixth commandment arise because of something outside of us. We go astray from God’s law because of the circumstances of our life, because of the characters who are coming in and going out of our day.

Here’s an example of how it would go. There’s a new co-worker at your office, and you get to know each other a little bit. At first, you get along. But the more you talk to him—or maybe the more that he talks—the more annoyed you get. He has some irritating mannerisms. and it turns out he’s not always a team-player. Very soon, your like for him turns into dislike, a bit of animosity. And this sin, it seems, arose because of your co-worker, not because of you. He was the difficult one. External cause!

Or let’s say there are two sisters in the church. The one sister feels pretty content with where she is in life: she’s grateful for her loving family, a simple and comfortable home, work to keep her busy. But then she goes out for coffee one day with the other sister. And she gets to hear all about this sister’s amazing life: a grand home, big holiday plans, special projects, and four workouts every week at the gym. How does she do it all? The sister who used to be content is now filled with envy, even a bit of resentment. Again, sin against this commandment can be traced to the other person. She’s the one who disrupted your peace.

How can we deal with this kind of sin? It’s quite simple. If the cause is external, we should end our interactions with those people who cause us to sin. Avoid your difficult co-worker. Steer clear of people of a higher economic position. Keep yourselves from every situation that might lead you to look at others in the wrong way.

Of course, that’s an impossible way of trying to deal with sin! Yet we prefer this strategy because it’s simple. And we like the idea of blaming outside factors. We blame other people, or we blame the temptation, or our emotional state. We try point the finger elsewhere. ‘She shouldn’t show off like that. He shouldn’t be so stubborn. It’s my kids who make me so mad.’

Well, in Mark 7 Jesus teaches us about where sin really springs from. In that chapter He’s opposing the Pharisees and teachers of the law. These were people who specialized in the external. A person became unclean before God because of his environment, or because of the food he ate for lunch, or the kind of friends he spent time with. That was Old Testament truth: unholiness is contagious—you can catch it from other people, other places!

And it was true, as far as it went. But Jesus turns the Old Testament worldview upside down. He is emphatic: “Hear me, everyone, and understand: There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man” (vv 14-15). It’s what comes out of a person that makes him unclean. So we may not blame our sins on the appealing influence of physical things or on the uncomfortable pressures of other people.

Now, let me hasten to say that we are more likely to commit sin when we’ve chosen ungodly friends. For sin can be contagious! And sin definitely has environmental factors. That is, if we’re hanging out at the pub every night of the weekend, sinning in our words or thoughts becomes more likely. And if we use our digital device to put impure things in front of our eyes, our sin will be ready to explode. Yes, these are all external things—people, environments, technologies—but we’re not immune to these influences, and we should never foolishly act as if we are immune.

Still, sin is from within. That is where our reactions spring from, so close and so quick, which makes it hard to control ourselves in some of these situations. It’s why we are so easily pushed over the edge into sinning: our hearts are primed for it, ready and waiting.

As Jesus explains to his listeners, “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness …blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man” (vv 21-23). You can hear his take-home lesson: sin is “from within,” He says twice, and “it’s out of the heart.” The heart is always at the root.

The Catechism reflects this when it teaches, “By forbidding murder God teaches us that he hates the root of murder, such as envy, hatred, anger, and desire of revenge” (Q&A 106). Not just the act, committed once and never again, but God forbids us to have an attitude of hostility toward others.

So obeying the sixth commandment will never be as simple as avoiding other people. The envy in your heart is going to arise even if you never meet up with that sister again. Your irritation will linger even if you never say “hi” to your work colleague again. Because in all of life, also in the strange territory of our hearts, there is no neutral ground. Our hearts will always be dominated by something, and that can be a scary thing.

For there’s much about us that others don’t know. This kind of sin begins in the heart, and lives in the heart, and remains tucked away in the heart—maybe never repented from. For instance, we might seem content with our lot. But inside, there is a consuming envy. We know what others have, and we don’t wish them well for it, but we want it for ourselves. With good reason, Proverbs calls envy “a rottenness in the bones” (14:30).

Or we might seem like kind and friendly folks. But inside, we can’t stand that person sitting two rows ahead. Maybe we can’t even put a finger on the reason for it, but we just don’t like him. ‘It’s the way he looks. It’s the way she talks.’ The heart needs no reasons.

Or we might appear very calm. But inside, we’re nearly always angry, because we’re sick of being offended by people. We were wronged and we just cannot bring ourselves to forgive. And the anger lingers, even grows into the desire for revenge.

These are the murderous things we try to hide away, sealed up like radioactive waste inside its concrete tomb. Yet God knows the heart. And what’s inside is going to come out. A person might conceal his hatred for a long time, or his anger. But it’s in the nature of sin to keep eating away. If we don’t treat it, if we don’t repent of it, it’ll grow worse, not better. That reminds me of how in Hebrews 12, the Holy Spirit warns us not to let “any root of bitterness” spring up (v 15). Because, He says, such a root will only cause more trouble.

How does this bad root lead to fruit? Well, if you don’t like someone, it can come out in something as simple as what you do with your body. Maybe you’ve experienced how few things can feel more harsh than an eye roll. The Catechism doesn’t mention eye rolls but it speaks of dishonouring our neighbour with our “gestures” (Q&A 105).

Or our mean spirit comes out “by words” (Q&A 105). How do you speak with the people that you resent—if you speak to them at all? Or how do you talk about those who once did you wrong? What spirit do your words express? As Jesus says, “From within, out of people’s hearts, come malice and deceit and slander.” 

We already know such things are wrong. But it’s wrong, not because it’s impolite or unkind. It’s wrong because it’s an attack on God’s gift of life. Remember, it was the LORD God who gave us life. And what’s the reason that we have life, or why does our neighbour have life?

Listen to what Peter says. He says that a person should “no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God” (1 Pet 4:2). The time we’re given here on earth is for doing the will of God. What a great calling God gives us, to serve him! Every day when we wake up, we know that God is seeking us to live for him.

If that is the purpose of life, then to harm life is to deny God the devotion of one of his creatures. A clear example of this: If we murder someone, we prevent that person from serving God for the rest of their days. The dead cannot praise him. Or if we “recklessly endanger” ourselves (Q&A 105) by the wild activities we choose, or by the neglect of our bodies, we might be stealing from God good years that could be lived to his glory.

And how do we sabotage honour for God by being cruel to other people? Well, if you’ve ever been badly insulted, you know how the unkindness of another person can be a real burden. Just the thought of it lingers and distracts. The memory of malice can be a torment, take all the joy out of serving God. We should realize that when we act without love toward others, we can hinder them from living for the will of God. And that’s a big charge against us.

So also when we brood on our evil thoughts toward people, we stifle and handicap our own service of God. We already spoke of how envy can consume us. Last year’s resentment can keep taking up precious bandwidth in our thoughts. Think of this: If you have a lot of jealousy, or bitterness, or rage in your heart, how can you ‘live the rest of your time’ for doing the will of God? You won’t be able to. And this shows us how we need a new heart.


2) the sixth commandment is kept by the renewed heart: We started our first point by asking where sin comes from. Let’s now ask about the source of obedience, about the origin of things like love and gentleness and friendliness. For when God gives his commands, He doesn’t merely want us to abstain from certain bad behaviours. Each of his commandments have a negative side, and a positive. For instance, it’s not enough not to fashion idols for ourselves and trust in them; we must also love, fear and honor the true God with all our heart.

So for the sixth commandment, we must banish from our hearts things like “envy, hatred, anger and desire of revenge.” But having turned from evil, we must also do good. The Catechism asks, “Is it enough that we do not kill our neighbor in any such way?” (Q&A 107). No, for you’ve got work to do: “[God] commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves, to show patience, peace, gentleness, mercy, and friendliness toward him” (Q&A 107).

There are moments in our life when these can seem like impossible things, unattainable virtues. How can I have patience with this most exasperating person? How can I live in peace with someone who’s hurt my family? How can I demonstrate gentleness tomorrow, or show mercy, or be genuinely friendly?

From where do such good things come? Our God is gracious, and He gives what He commands. To change the life, you have to change the heart—it’s the only way. And that’s what God does. The heart operation that God performs is mysterious and unsearchable. We feel no knife. We see no scars. Jesus describes the work of the Holy Spirit in John 3, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (v 8). In God’s mercy, there can be a new beginning. He begins to remove what is dead and to bring us back to life.

Or listen to how the Canons of Dort describe regeneration, that spiritual revival needed by us all. It happens as God “penetrates into the innermost recesses of man. He opens the closed and softens the hard heart… He makes the will which was dead, alive; which was bad, good; which was unwilling, willing; and which was stubborn, obedient” (Canons, 3/4:11). Again, we feel no knife, see no scars. Yet if God is working in our hearts, we’ll see the difference.

One basic change, but really fundamental, is how we look at other people. How do you look at your neighbor, or your fellow believer? With what eyes do we look at them? God wants us to see them not as rivals, nor as enemies, nor as background scenery in our much more interesting life. We slowly learn to see other people as God does.

This is a person with a soul. This is a person made in the image of God. The fellow who lives next door needs a Saviour, just like I do. My neighbor, my brother at church, my classmate—he or she was lost in sin, just like I was. For this brother or sister Jesus shed his blood, just like He did for me. This person whom I’m talking to isn’t just bones and organs and flesh, he is a soul, in need of eternal life, like I am.

God gives us new eyes for looking at other people. And this new vision leads to new behaviour. If we really see another person as God’s creature, even one purchased with Christ’s blood, we’ll learn to care for them, pray for them, serve them. The Catechism is immensely practical when it mentions “patience, peace, gentleness, mercy, and friendliness.” Beloved, think about how you could work with each of those five action items this week.

Patience, with the demanding client, with the slow child, with the difficult brother.

Peace, towards the ones you’ve got bad history with, and the one who loves to argue. 

Gentleness, with the fragile spouse, the needy church member, the wandering soul.  

Mercy, towards the one who’s always struggled, the one who hasn’t even asked for help.

Friendliness, towards the grumpy neighbour across the road, and the guy in the next office.

We can do this only when God has renewed our heart. It’s always out of the overflow of the heart that the mouth speaks, and the hands act. For each of us, it’s true that we live according to what lives in our hearts. Like Jesus said somewhere else, “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him” (Matt 12:35).

Those words teach us something important, that we’re not passive in awaiting God’s work of regeneration, idly hoping for his work to progress. “Storing up” is an active project for all of us, an ongoing activity. What are the things that fill your heart? What is stored up inside?

As we’ve said, if your heart is packed full of proud thoughts about yourself, or angry thoughts, or jealous, don’t expect the love to flow. But when we fill our heart with good things, and we sanctify it with prayer, God will help us to keep the sixth commandment. Then we’ll be able to bring good things out of the good stored up within.

So fill yourself with the rich truths of salvation, with a love for God’s Word of life. Know the gospel of grace better than you know anything else in this world. And be sure that this Word has great power to change you! When our hearts are humbled by everything God given to us in Christ, we also grow in the desire to give to others.

The Holy Spirit says: “As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another” (1 Pet 4:10). For we all have gifts to bless others. Let’s not be overmodest about what we have: we have material goods to give; mouths to speak; hearts to pray; time to share. So how are you using your gifts to minister to others? How are you sharing the love of God stored up inside you?

But love is still tough, isn’t it? We don’t always agree with one another, but sometimes sharply differ. Others too, have sinned against us, hurting us by their words or actions. We said earlier that some people just seem so hard to love! Even so, when there is a renewed heart, it will continually and even stubbornly bend toward love. Like Peter says, “Have fervent love for each other, for love will cover a multitude of sins” (1 Pet 4:8).

Our love can seem so thin that it can’t possibly cover a multitude of sins. Maybe we can pull it over one sin, have grace to overlook one offense, but when a second offense is added, and then a third, we quickly come to the end of our love. It’s then we see the supernatural character of love, the supernatural change of a sinner’s heart. We see the kind of love that can actually put offenses in a place where they don’t affect our relationship any longer—locked away, covered over, maybe not forgotten, but forgiven. It’s a love that is able to cover a multitude of sins. We pray for that kind of renewal, we pray for that kind of love.

Here the Holy Spirit says, “If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides” (1 Pet 4:11). That’s a great promise. If we ask for it, God gives strength for serving others. If we ask, He gives the patience. He gives the peace. He gives the gentleness, mercy, and friendliness. When you ask him, He’ll most certainly help you to keep this commandment. For such love will reflect Christ and will honour God our Father.  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2022, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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