Whose Life Is Important?

Explore the Bible Series

January 18, 2009


Background Passage: Exodus 20:13; 21:22-25; 22:21-24; Deuteronomy 24:17-22; Matthew 5:21-24; Luke 20:45-47

Lesson Passage: Exodus 20:13; 21:22-25; 22:21-24; Deuteronomy 24:19; Matthew 5:21-22; Luke 20:47




Frankly, when I read the Sunday School material for this week, I felt a little irritation at the interruption of our study of I Thessalonians.  Dutifully, I determined to slog my way through the appointed texts and send in the outline.  Well, was I in for a surprise.


This lesson focuses our attention on the sanctity of life and the seriousness of murder.  Each passage reinforces our understanding of the Christian’s necessary commitment to life.  The lesson contains at least two main messages. 


First, these texts emphasize the preciousness of life, in the eyes of God.  The lesson, in several instances, highlights the protection of the poor and helpless.  Oppression and poverty is murder. They kill a person’s dignity.  Killing someone encompasses more than physically taking a life.  It may include the execution of a person’s hope for descent life or disconcern for those who do not possess life’s basic necessities: a child, for instance, who has no reasonable access to a quality education or goes to school hungry.  Or, consider the plight of the elderly, disabled, and those suffering from mental illness.  You can, it seems, kill a man in a thousand ways, and all the religious posturing in the world will not conceal this kind of murder from the eyes of God


Second, our lesson points out the danger of hatred.  Of course, hatred is not an outward action; rather, it is an internal disposition.  It seems much easier to comply with an external code of conduct than to bring the emotions and affections into conformity to the will of God.  We may deceive ourselves that we have no control over how we feel, but the lesson passages seem to indicate otherwise.  If you’re like me, there is much room for growth and correction in regard to obedience in our emotional lives, and, in some ways, this may prove the most difficult battleground of the Christian life.



Lesson Outline:


Exodus 20:13: Our lesson materials imply that the Ten Commandments are normative for the Christian life, and this outline affirms that position.  This commandment does not, in my judgment, forbid military defense or capital punishment (these issues call for separate theological treatment); rather, it condemns murder.  Murder is neither military nor judicial.  It does, however, prohibit the unauthorized, unlawful taking of human life.  This law establishes God’s sovereignty over and the preciousness of the gift of life. 


Exodus 21:22-25: This passage ensures equity and fairness in judicial punishment.  It forbids personal vengeance and excessive punishment.  In that sense it prohibits “cruel and unusual punishment”, as reflected under United States federal statute.  The laws of a just country must restrain the impulse toward measureless vengeance and, at all times, protect the defenseless and vulnerable.  Notice the provision for government magistrates to establish an equitable payment for an offense.  Again, the husband or other family members of the injured person must not, according to this precept, take “justice’ into their own hands.  The “eye for an eye” phrase guarantees that the payment for an offense must not exceed the seriousness of the action.  If we examine the next couple of verses we discover that this equity must extend to the lowliest persons in a society.


Exodus 22:21-24: Ancient Jewish culture, like ours, had great disparity in economic and social standing, and the Law of Moses protected the rights of the poor and powerless: a stranger, widow, or orphan. The oppressors of these persons press their victims to the point of crying out, and God pledged to hear the voice of the oppressed. 


Deuteronomy 24:17-22: This text provides for the economic needs of the poor.  The people protected are among the very poorest, those who could not “make ends meet” until the next harvest and needed loans to survive (See vv. 17-18).  Lenders, for instance were not to take a widow’s garment (probably her outer cloak) as collateral for a loan.  Also, poor people must have access to the fields of wealthy landowners.  The wealthy persons, of course, owned the means of production (the land and seed crop), but they could not misuse their wealth.  Rather than strip the land clean, the farmers were to leave some provisions for gleaners to gather food.  These precepts, according to the text, must be respected because of God’s gracious favor on Israel when he delivered her from the slavery of Egypt.


Matthew 5:21-22: In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus outlined six “antitheses” (“You have heard it said… but I say to you…”) wherein he challenged common misconceptions about the Law of Moses.   The Lord did not negate the Law; rather, he disputed the Pharisee’s interpretation and application of the Law.  Verse Twenty (“unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never see the kingdom of heaven”) introduces the section and centers our attention on a deeper understanding of the principles of the kingdom. Apparently the Jewish leaders believed they had fulfilled this precept by refraining from murder, but Jesus reached beyond their understanding.


Murder begins in the heart, a heart troubled by bitter hatred.  Jesus’ matchless insight helps Christians trace the genesis of killing.  Murderers, Jesus said, would be subject to the judgment (the Jewish ruling council), but men of hate will experience the judgment of God.  God regards hatred as seriously as he does murder.  This hatred manifests itself in verbal insults and condemnation that may assassinate a man’s character and influence.  It may rob a man of his good name and reputation, and Jesus said that this is murderous.  The text goes on to claim that hatred hinders the hateful man’s worship and prayer (See vv. 23-26). 


Luke 20:45-47: The measure of Christian conduct, Jesus taught, relates to the believer’s treatment of the poor and helpless.  In the First Century, Middle Eastern religious leaders gloried in the trappings of power and influence (“long robes”) and treasured religious titles (“salutations in the market places”). Furthermore, they sought the best seats in the synagogue and at public gatherings, and they prayed conspicuously so that they might be heard.  Their station elevated them so high that they lost sight of the poor, the very people who should have most benefited from the ministry of these religious leaders.