FIRST & 10 SERMON SERIES
NOT ON YOUR LIFE
FEBRUARY 7, 1999
The first time I saw them, they scared me to death. I was maybe eight years of age, standing in line with my mother at the Post Office. There they were, all of those posters, those mug shots of the hardened criminals. I stared into their scary eyes and read about the different crimes they had committed. Armed robbery. Mail fraud. Rape. And the worst, murder. I remember thinking to myself what these men and women could be lurking in the lobby waiting to pounce on my mother and I before we could exit. I wondered if they were out in the parking lot checking us out.
It is kind of scary, isn’t it, to see some wanted pictures, to know that people we may come in contact with are considered armed and dangerous. I doubt that very many of us know anyone whose picture is tacked to the Post Office bulletin board. I doubt that we know a lot of people who are considered armed and dangerous. But don’t speak too soon. Don’t jump on that train too quickly because if the truth were known, a lot of us know a lot of hardened criminals.
Let me explain what I am talking about. Very quickly take a panoramic view of your section. Look around. What do you see? I am sure that you see a colossal collection of well-adjusted, metroplex suburbanites. That is what you think you see. In reality, you are looking at a bunch of criminals, murderers. They could be in your section. Maybe on your row. Maybe, just maybe, in your seat.
I am talking about people who take the lives of others. Now if this is your first time here, you are saying, “What kind of church is this? I am starting to freak out a little bit.” Let me tell you that I am in a series of talks on the Ten Commandments called FIRST & 10. Why are we calling them FIRST & 10? Because during the first of the year, we launch into this series on the ten directives, Ten Commandments for successful living. Today we are talking about one that all of us are very familiar with. We are talking about one that most of us can recite. It is made up of only four little words. Exodus 20:13. Here is commandment number six. You shall not murder.
Some of you are giving a sigh of relief. You are saying, “Finally, Ed, finally there is a commandment that does not confront me. I am good on this one. I have never murdered, maimed or killed anyone. I am a lover, not a fighter. I even practice catch and release when I go fishing. I could skip to number seven because, after all, isn’t number seven a real exciting one? Isn’t number seven talking about adultery and having affairs? Let’s talk about that. But number six, come on.”
Don’t jump on that train too quickly. Don’t get off on that mindset too prematurely because a lot of us in this place are killing others. We have murderers in our midst.
Since the beginning of time, men and women have been wielding knives, spears and guns to take the lives of others. We have poured billions of dollars into the movie industry which turns murder into entertainment. We watch the nightly news where one anchorman friend of mine said, “If it bleeds, Ed, it leads.” We act out our violent inclinations with video games that dismember and tear apart others. As the screens turn red, we are in for the kill and we love every moment of it. There is something about death, about murder, about killing that intrigues us all. The obvious interpretation of the sixth commandment is this. We do not have the right to take another person’s life. We are all made in the image of God. We are the crown of His creation. We are masterpieces, Picassos, one of a kind. Who are we, mere mortals, to usurp the authority of God and step in and to end a person’s life? We don’t have that prerogative.
The word murder in Hebrew means a wrongful killing. This word is different from capitol punishment, war or self-defense. Those precepts and principles are listed elsewhere in the Bible. Today we are talking about wrongful killing, the wrongful death of another human being.
The first biblically recorded homicide is in the book of Genesis, chapter four. It occurred when one brother, Cain, became very jealous of another brother, Abel. God saw what was going on, He saw those frosty feelings. He stepped in and began to reason with Cain not to do it. “Cain express it to me. Cain get real now. Cain, come on, chill.” Yet Cain trampled over the council of God and killed his brother Abel.
Put yourself in the sandals of the parents. What was going through their minds when they saw the lifeless body of their son? I am sure they got that sick feeling in their stomach. I am sure that their heads were spinning. They were looking at this corpse in disbelief. And maybe they turned to Cain and said, “Cain, what were you thinking? What were you doing? This is an outrage Cain.”
Thou shalt not murder. The obvious interpretation is to physically take the life of another human being in a wrongful way. Jesus, in Matthew 5 comes along and adds something to this. Most of us think that this commandment ends with just a physical thing. But I am here to tell you this morning that it is not just a physical killing, we also break the sixth commandment when we verbally kill, when we verbally take the life of someone who matters to God. Matthew 5:21-22. “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, do not murder and anyone who murders will be subject to judgement, but I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgement. Again, anyone who says to his brother, Raca…” And this word raca means empty-headed fool, you don’t deserve to live, to take up space on this planet. “…Raca, is answerable to the Sanhedrin but anyone who says fool will be in danger of the fire of hell.”
What was going on here? Jesus was saying there is more than one way to murder someone. We can do it physically and we can also do it verbally. Isn’t it fascinating that the maze of murder always begins with anger? The unchecked anger in your life, the unchecked anger in my life. And then anger turns to rage and we either take the life of someone physically or verbally. Physically or verbally.
I read an ancient story years ago which I have never forgotten regarding this text. A man spread some gossip and some rumors and some slanderous remarks about his pastor. After awhile this person felt really guilty about what he had said. He went back to his pastor and asked him for forgiveness. The pastor told him that he would forgive him but that he wanted to assign him a couple of things to do. The man waited to hear what his pastor would tell him. The pastor told him to take a feather pillow to the top of a windy hill and dump out all of the feathers. The man thought that would be an easy way to obtain the forgiveness he was seeking. He did just that. He returned to the pastor and told him the mission had been accomplished. Then the pastor said that the second thing he wanted him to do was to collect all of the feathers that he had dumped out on that windy hill. The man said that would be impossible, there would be no way he could collect all those feathers. The wise pastor said, “Words easily roll off of our tongues. They are easily dropped like feathers. But once we say them it is almost impossible to get them back.”
Do you have any feathers floating around out there? Any feathers in your marriage? Any feathers around the office? Any feathers at the country club? Any feathers around the neighborhood? Any feathers in your life? Yes we can kill by wielding a knife, a spear or a gun but we can also kill by wielding words and thoughts and comments. We can kill by slander.
Have you ever been slain by slander? Have you ever killed someone with your words? We have a lot of serial slanders in our midst, a bunch of them. Leviticus 19:16. “Do not go about spreading slander among your people…” Turn to your neighbor and say the word slander two times. Did you hear it? It is a scary sound. You can’t say slander without sounding like a bunch of pit vipers waiting to spread your verbal venom everywhere. Slander. “…Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life…” Now I want you to highlight that one in the frontal lobe of your brain. “…I am the Lord.” Isn’t it funny how slanderers travel in packs? They always group together. You show me your company, young man, and I will pinpoint to you your slanderers. You show me your company, young woman, and I will show you where the slanderers hang out. You show me your team and I will show you where the slanderers congregate. You show me your school, show me the church, wherever, all the slanderers like to get together and they like to trade their verbal venom. Slander. They love to drop those feathers. It is easy to slander. We don’t have to work at it. It is just a little innuendo, just a little falsehood, just a little truth in order to hurt someone.
I hope you didn’t miss what I just said because I just gave you the definition of slander. Slander is telling the truth about someone in order to hurt him or her, in order to take their life. God doesn’t mess around with slander. There was a prophetess mentioned in the Old Testament named Miriam. Miriam slandered Moses to Aaron. She dropped those feathers and because of her slander, God dropped leprosy on her life. Wow. Scary stuff. Slander. Don’t do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life.
Now we will change gears and talk about David and his relationship to psycho King Saul and his friendship with Jonathan. Every time your read scripture you must always ask yourself what the context of the verse happens to be. Let’s set the stage right quick. David pulled the upset of the universe. Do you remember when he took out Goliath? He was a Hebrew hillbilly, a little kid, who took on a behemoth. He was out for the count. Saul became jealous of David because he had done such a brave act. King Saul’s son, Jonathan, was heir to the throne but God patted David on the head, tapped him on the shoulder and said, “You are the man.” Saul went ballistic. Psycho Saul wanted to kill David. I want to read for you a text of someone who stood against slander, someone who had the opportunity for slander but turned his back on it. I Samuel 19:4. “Jonathan spoke well of David to Saul, his father, and said to him, let not the king do wrong to his servant David. He has not wronged you and what he has done has benefited you greatly.”
Psycho Saul was slandering David, abusing David, trying to kill David. Jonathan stood up to his father and told him the truth. I want to stop and tell you something. Jonathan could have slandered David if he hadn’t said a word. We can slander someone in silence. We can slander someone when we blend into the conversational scenery. When you are out on the golf course and a friend is tearing apart another one of your friends in order to hurt them and instead of saying something, being loyal, doing the Jonathan thing, you just remain silent. You don’t want to rock the boat. You don’t want to cause a conflict. You don’t want to take sides. Friends rock the boat. Friends stand up. Friends take sides. Loyalty. What kind of words roll off your tongue? Words that honor God, that build another up? Words of truth, of confrontation when it is proper? Or do you drop those feathers of slander. Or do you blend into the conversational scenery? Don’t go there. Life is too short. Slander can kill a relationship as fast as a bullet can kill a human. It is that deadly.
Speaking of David, one of my favorite characters in the whole Bible is a person who was sinister and ugly but a human being who really reflects what slander is all about. Years ago I preached a series of messages called LESSOR KNOWN PERSONALITIES OF THE BIBLE. Stan and I used to do an early church service at Second Baptist in Houston. Stan did the music and I did the preaching. Remember that series, Stan. He remembers it, it changed his life. That’s a joke. Anyway I talked about a character called Doeg, the Edomite. He fits into this scene with psycho Saul and David and Jonathan. Saul first started to go after David to kill him. David gets wind of the situation because Jonathan tells him. So David goes on the run. He is doing the Harrison Ford thing, the Fugitive. And he flees Saul’s court to a place called Nob. I love all the cool names in the Bible. In Nob there was a tabernacle and in the tabernacle there were a bunch of priests who did their priestly duties. When David walked up to the tabernacle the head priest, Ahimelech, came to him trembling. Now, remember, David was the toast of the town. He was The Man, the Michael Jordan of his day. He did the impossible. Ahimelech asked him what he was doing there alone, asked where his bodyguards were. David said that he was on the King’s secret business. David did not want to involve this great man of God in this bad scene. He asked Ahimelech for food and ammunition. He gave David some bread and also the sword that he used to chop off the head of Goliath, which they had retained as a trophy in the tabernacle.
Well, David cruises. While he was leaving the tabernacle, he sees someone kicking back against a pillar within the tabernacle. He locked eyes with him and recognized him as Doeg, the Edomite. David knew that Doeg was up to no good. Bring in Saul chasing David, trying to find him. He is frustrated, freaked out. He cannot find him. So Saul calls in all of his advisors, all of his counselors and all of his priests. He raged and vented on them. He is so chapped. He is on tilt. He is so hacked. He is so upset. The people did not want to say anything to Saul since he was so crazy. He accused them of loving David not him. Finally, Doeg, the Edomite, a man who lived near Saul, a man who was chief herdsman, raised his hand and said that he had some good news for Saul. He told Saul that he saw Ahimelech giving the fugitive some bread and a weapon. Saul had Ahimelech brought to him. He accused him of being with David against him. Ahimelech told him that David has said he was doing work for the king. The king told Doeg to kill Ahimelech. He killed Ahimelech and 85 of Ahimelech’s co-priests. Slain by slander. First they were killed verbally. Then they were killed physically. It is not was Doeg said, it is what he didn’t say. It was an innuendo, a little change, the truth but not the whole truth about the situation in order to hurt somebody. Dropping those deadly feathers. Serial slanderers. People who spew the verbal venom.
God was so serious about this that he gave a stern warning to the local church. God said for the leaders to warn the slanderer once, then a second time, then send them away the third time he or she slandered. Speech is a gift from God. Our words matter. Our words can praise God and curse God. Our words can honor our fellow man or tear our fellow man or woman apart.
The first time I saw the deadly results of slander I was in the fifth grade. My family and I moved from Taylor, SC to Columbia, SC and I enrolled in a very rough elementary school. In fact, my elementary school was rough, my junior high was rough, as was my high school. You had to fight to stay alive in that place. It was a war zone. Well, my first day at Lonnie P. Nelson penitentiary, I mean elementary, all these guys were talking about Penny Walker. Penny Walker. “Oh, Ed, you won’t believe Penny Walker. She is the ugliest girl you have ever seen. Penny dog face Walker.” Just ripping her apart. I had never even seen Penny Walker, but I had heard plenty about her. The first day I laid eyes on this girl, she was walking down the hall of Lonnie P. Nelson school. I saw some guys just yelling at her, “You dog face. Look at your clothes.” Pitiful Penny Walker, she was just cowering as she walked.
I was able to say some things, to stand up for her even as a young guy. I saw the injustice in it and it made me sick. In Junior High School, I got to know Penny. She was a great girl but sadly she was wounded by words. She was murdered by a bunch of people’s mouths and she never recovered. She never did. Do you know a Penny Walker? Are you maybe a Penny Walker? Do you say things about people just for the laughs, just for the reaction? Do you take this gift called speech and abuse it. In commandment three God said not to trash His name, not to curse Him, to use his name in vain, or flippantly. God is serious about His name. Well, God is also serious about how we talk to other people. How are you talking to them?
I will go through this commandment one more time. We are prohibited from verbally or physically taking the life of another person in a wrongful way. Why? What is God’s mentality about it? God does not want us to hurt and damage ourselves, others and our relationship with Him. That is God’s reasoning and His rationale.
Now let’s go into the application. How can we apply the words that we have heard today? I want you to develop what I call a sixth sense, a true sense about the sixth commandment. There are three things that we all need to do in our lives to make this real. First, we need to come clean. I want to ask you a very direct question. I am talking to you. Do you need to confess the sin of murder? Do you need to say, “God, I have murdered and I need to confess it.” I am going to tell you, I have murdered people with my mouth before, I have slandered others before. I have stood in silence before. This is not easy stuff. But many of you, although not legally guilty, are spiritually guilty. Confess it. Come clean. Admit the obvious. Ephesians 4:31-32. “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you…” Coming clean is not saying, “OK God, I give up.” It is more than that. Some serious work has to be done. “…away from you and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” God gives forgiveness and we are to give forgiveness to others. We are to come clean. We are to turn our backs on this stuff. That is where it all begins. Just tell God that you are a serial slanderer and that you have got a problem with it.
The second challenge is for you to analyze your anger. We have talked on and on about anger. Analyze your anger. Remember when I said that the maze of murder always begins with anger. Let’s go back to the story of Cain and Abel. God intervened. He was talking to Cain. God was trying to reason with Cain. God wanted Cain to analyze his anger and Cain wouldn’t even think about it. He just elbowed God out of the way even though he was available and went ahead and killed his brother.
When you are angry, raging, going on tilt, analyze your anger. God knows what you are feeling. God wants to help. He is right there. Share it with Him. Come clean with Him. If Cain had done that, if he had allowed God to help him analyze his anger, he would have stopped short of killing his brother.
Read the book of Psalms. The Psalms are written by people with whom we can identify. On the other hand, the entire Bible is written by people with whom we can identify. The Psalmist often starts with a bone to pick with God. They are upset. They have the reds. “God you get them….God you take my enemies and you…do it God.” But at the conclusion of the Psalm, a 180 has most often taken place. It happens over and over again. These people were expressing their anger with God, getting right with God, coming clean and God was helping them analyze their anger and they were changing.
There is a Psalmist named Asaph. He was going into a distasteful dissertation about God. But look how he concluded after having gone nuts earlier. Psalm 73:16-17. “When I though how to understand this it was too painful…” Have you ever been there before? I have. God I have tried to understand but it is just too painful for me. “…painful for me until I went into the sanctuary of God. Then I understood their end.” Analyze your anger, come clean and watch the 180 take place. Express it to God. Tell God how you feel. He understands.
A third challenge. Watch your words. Watch those comments, those slanderous remarks. Watch those words. Psalm 19:14. This text needs to be our prayer. Scripture is there for us to read, to dissect, to understand. But have you ever prayed scripture? The Psalms are wonderful chapters of prayers to God. “Let the words of my mouth meet with Your favor. Keep the thoughts of my heart before You, Lord….” Let me press the pause button and tell you something very important. Watch your words does not mean that you should not warn someone if they are getting ready to make a dumb move in business, to hire someone who will tear apart their business. You need to tell the truth. If you have good intentions, say it. Or if one of your good friends is getting ready to marry someone who you know is out there orbiting Pluto, tell them. Don’t leave here thinking that the pastor told you never to say one word about anybody. No, we are made in the image of God and we have common sense. So we are to use our common sense on these things.
Watch your words. God does it to me so often. I went through the preparation for this message all week. Then yesterday, at 12 noon, I coached a basketball game. My daughter is in the sixth grade and I coach her school team. I love basketball and love coaching. Yesterday we had the championship game. It was an intense game. We were undefeated until this team that we played yesterday beat us about two weeks ago. The girls were crying and everything. You know, it is an emotional deal. I kind of had some tears, too. I was really upset. So, we faced this team in the championship. We met at the school, driving decorated cars. I even had a tattoo on my face.
We were playing and the girls were playing great. In fact, I will tell you now that we won. It was beautiful. All the girls were dog piling on the middle of the floor. But during the game, I was being the head coach. I kind of have a loud voice. I played a little bit of basketball. I thought that some of the officiating was not quite up to par. And here is Pastor Ed Young who in a few hours on that Saturday night was going to talk about watch your words. At a critical time in the game, the referee called a foul on one of the girls and she wasn’t even in the same zip code as the other girl. I didn’t use any bad language but when the referee came over I told him that that was a bad call. Technical Foul! He called the T on me! And I started to think about the sixth commandment. Oh, no.
We all struggle with this, don’t we? Is God calling a technical on you? It’s a technical, you are a slanderer. Verbal venom. A technical. Your comments are killing someone. Technical foul. Is He? Make this your prayer. Psalm 19:14.
And then I jotted down a couple of hints under this verse in my Bible.
- When you say something about another person, assume that it
will get back to them.
- Give people the benefit of the doubt. See the best. I was with a friend of mine in California a couple of weeks ago. He sees the best in people. His son took me aside and said, “My father is relentless. It is amazing, it is supernatural how he sees the best in people. He is not naïve, but he sees the best.”
- When you leave a party or a dinner or a meeting it is very tempting when you are driving with your spouse or your special someone to gossip, to slander. “Do you believe how their house was decorated? I would never do that.” “Can you believe she served that?” “Oh, look how he handled himself in the meeting. He was so into himself.” It is a technical foul. Watch those feathers.
Let’s develop a sixth sense. Let’s make this stuff real in our lives because when we do our words can honor those masterpieces, those one of a kind human beings fashioned by God Himself. Watch those feathers, won’t you?