"You shall not murder.”
Out of God’s ten famous instructions, this is probably the easiest for the majority of us to read. Most people have never murdered anyone, nor even come near to doing so. So we can give ourselves a satisfied pat of the back…at least until we start reading the New Testament.
Jesus launched a concerted campaign to stop religious people from administering satisfied pats to their own backs. Armed with a strong understanding of God’s forgiveness, Jesus made it his business to cast each and every one of us in the role of “sinner”. He said, “You’ve heard it said from way back, ‘Don’t murder’ … But I say to you: anyone who makes their brother/sister angry is liable to judgement.”
We human beings have a natural instinct to self justification. Without pausing for thought, we cover over our failures, make up excuses and point the finger of blame at other people. It’s not pretty, but we all do it.
When we consider God’s 10 instructions our natural instinct is to justify ourselves, attempting to tick as many boxes as possible to reassure ourselves that we are good people.
Jesus’ advice is: don’t bother! He wanted every person listening to his Sermon of the Mount to walk back down the hill understanding themselves as a sinner in need of forgiveness. OK, you may never have murdered anyone, but you have annoyed plenty of people, and insulted them, and spoken ill of them behind their backs. That hurts God too.
God did not give us those 10 simple instructions with the expectation that we would all live faultless lives. That was never likely to happen. God gave us 10 simple measures to help us understand how far short we consistently fall. He is not inviting us to justify ourselves, he is inviting us to turn to him for forgiveness.