The day came that Paul spoke to the Greek intellectuals on Mars Hill. Provoked to speak out against the pagan culture of that city, the apostle now had his opportunity.
He had come to Athens to escape persecution in Berea. Walking in the city, he was amazed at how the Athenians had given themselves wholly over to idolatry. He observed temples, statues, sacrifices and ceremonies. Extremely concerned, he met with the Jews, who were somewhat affected by that culture. He even went into the marketplace and spoke against these grave sins with anybody who would listen.
Paul soon gained the attention of influential Greek scholars. Groups of opposing philosophers—the Epicureans and Stoics—wanted to hear Paul out. He came to a gathering at the very center of paganism in the Greek world.
Paul looked over the crowd. Some considered him a “babbler” of strange teachings about strange gods. Not dismayed by stern stares, he got their attention and spoke out loud: “Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, to the unknown god. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you” (Acts 17:22-23). The Greeks followed many gods. Paul discovered they constructed altars to these gods, including an unknown god—just in case they missed one! Paul told them boldly that they were too superstitious—not religious.
Essentially, he informed them that for all their intellectual progress, they knew nothing at all about God. The confident apostle let them know that he was willing to give them a real education.
Of course, he got a reaction from the crowd. Some mocked him. But others listened intently. He continued, “God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things” (verses 24-25). Paul gave these intellectually vain men easy-to-understand revelation about God. It was their first true education!
The Greeks, and the Egyptians before them, believed in evolution-like theories of creation. Paul taught them that the God unknown to them is the Creator God. He made the world and all the living things in it. Paul showed them that God does not need anything—including worship—from men. However, men desperately need God. Why? He is the giver and sustainer of all life.
Paul did not stop there. He continued teaching the men that the God they ignorantly worshiped held a great purpose for human life. Overall, that purpose included seeking out God and living His way. Paul made it clear that God, even though unseen, was in complete control of human history. “For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring. Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device” (verses 28-29). Using lines written by Greek poets at that time, Paul showed them that mankind is made in God’s image—His offspring.
Mars Hill was full of artistic and architectural splendor. Paul knew it all was devoted to pagan lies. He explained that God is a superior, living Being, therefore no statue or piece of art could honestly represent God. Paul gave these men astounding revelation. He showed them that man’s incredible potential is to be born into God’s very Family as His children—composed of spirit. This teaching was so radically different than the confused pagan religion that it seemed strange and very unusual to these men.
Paul forcefully concluded his teaching by leaving no doubt that man has an eternal future with God.
Men today still need the simple teaching that Paul gave the Greeks. We live in a world of religious confusion. There is only one source—the Holy Bible—that can answer the deep questions about the purpose for human life. It is time to reject the vain intellectual reasoning of men and discover the fantastic truth of God’s plan for man.
Man—Highest Creation of God
The Bible reveals that God created mankind as a special creation. Although we share a physical existence with the animals, man is not an animal. Man is the highest form of life created from the dust of the earth. We are made after the God kind (Genesis 1:26-27). All men are made in the very image and likeness of God. The Hebrew word for image refers to God’s spiritual character. Man’s physical creation (same form and shape as God) was complete at the creation of Adam and Eve. Yet, mankind’s spiritual creation is ongoing according to God’s plan for each individual. It is God’s intention to create His very character in any human being who desires Him to do so. Building godly character requires not only God’s Spirit but also time and experience. These facts are fully explained in Mystery of the Ages by Herbert W. Armstrong.
Man’s purpose is to qualify to receive eternal life. We are not immortal beings trapped in physical bodies, as the Greeks believed. We are mortal—subject to eternal death (Genesis 3:19). Every man has only so much time to prove to God his worthiness to be given eternal life.
Life is an incredible gift. Our high purpose, and the time allotted to us by God, makes human life very precious. No man has the right to take any other human life through murder. It is the brutal devastation of a man’s hopes, dreams and plans. Therefore, at Mount Sinai God commanded the Israelites, “Thou shalt not murder” (Exodus 20:13, Jewish Publication Society translation). To take a human life is truly a capital sin. Besides destroying the highest creation of the Eternal God, it is a wicked attempt to thwart the very purpose of Almighty God. God is the giver of all life. Man has no right to take it away.
Biblical experts agree that the word murder is a more correct translation of the originally inspired Hebrew. It is possible to kill and yet not to murder.
It is also critically important to understand that true Christians must observe both the letter and the spiritualintent of the law as taught by Jesus Christ in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:20-26). There is a spirit of murder that is a direct violation of the Sixth Commandment.
Spirit of the Law
Under the Old Covenant, Israel only understood the letter of the law. At that time, only intentional murder was forbidden. God authorized capital punishment for those guilty of major crimes (Exodus 21:12-17). It is clear from the book of Numbers that accidental killing (manslaughter) was not considered murder (Numbers 35:9-34). However, manslaughter was considered a serious offense—it carried a severe penalty.
Israel was a physical nation. Even as God’s chosen people, the Israelites were not given access to God’s Holy Spirit at that time. They were unconverted. The true Church of God represents the spiritual nation of Israel. Because of this, there is a difference as to how the law applies today. The Apostle Paul summed it all up nicely for Spirit-led Christians. He stated, “[F]or the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life” (2 Corinthians 3:6). God does not administer the death penalty upon Spirit-begotten Christians in the way that He commanded for the unconverted, because of the possibility of repentance. Jesus Christ’s sacrifice can pay that death penalty on the sinner’s behalf. Even in the Old Testament, God did not punish His Spirit-begotten servants with death when they committed crimes worthy of that immediate physical punishment. When King David committed adultery and murder, for example (both worthy of the death penalty), God accepted His repentance and punished him in other ways (2 Samuel 12:13).
Many people have asked why God commanded the Israelites to kill other peoples. A careful study of the Scriptures reveals that God never wanted Israel to become a warring nation. He promised that, if the people obeyed Him, He would supernaturally fight their enemies so they would not need to fight (e.g. Exodus 23:20, 22-23). Sadly, Israel faithlessly chose not to rely on God, but on its own strength of arms. It chose to become a warring nation, like all other nations of the Earth. God allowed Israel that choice, just as He allows all of us to sin. Once Israel made that choice, God did then use Israel to drive out the inhabitants of the land He had promised to Abraham’s descendants. He gave orders for the Israelites to do what fighting and killing was necessary to accomplish His divine purpose. But that did not make war right. Had the Israelites trusted God in faith, their Maker would have achieved the same outcome by supernatural—and probably far more inspiring—means!
From our creation, God intended that man learn not to kill, murder or make war against another nation. God is developing His very character of love and service in Spirit-begotten humans. God is specifically teaching His Church that our purpose is to save human life, not destroy it. In Christ’s soon-coming Kingdom, murder and war will become a thing of the past (Isaiah 2:4; Micah 4:3).
Root Causes of Murder
Unfortunately, ours is a violent, murderous society. As we watch the nightly news and read our papers, it is clear that Earth’s peoples are filled with hatred and intense competition. Personal tensions run high in families, villages and towns, and among nations. Spouses murder spouses—siblings other siblings—nations wipe out other nations. In October 2002, the World Health Organization reported that one person commits suicide about every 40 seconds, one person is murdered every 60 seconds and one person dies in armed conflict every 100 seconds. These statistics represent only a part of the story about our sick world. Our personal well-being is under constant threat. Mental, physical and sexual abuse takes place in every country every day!
The Apostle Paul saw prophetically into our day and told Timothy, “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come” (2 Timothy 3:1). The Greek word for perilous can mean fiercely dangerous! What an apt description of our times. It is a fiercely dangerous time for all human life. Gang violence is escalating out of control in many U.S. cities. The terrorist threat is a plague on all continents. Sobered experts recognize that terrorist groups will use chemical, biological and nuclear weapons against innocent people. We must wake up and pay attention! It is not a matter of if—it is simply a matter of when. In addition, terrorist-sponsoring nations like North Korea and Iran are furiously developing nuclear weapons programs. These weapons will be used! Each day our minds are being prepared to accept the likelihood of mass murder and global suicide. Terrorism is intended to demoralize our peoples and contribute to social woes such as national apathy, depression and paralyzing fear.
Of course, it is natural to want to escape such problems. A summary report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services revealed that months after 9/11, almost a third of Manhattan residents surveyed had increased marijuana, alcohol or cigarette use since the attacks. Yet, dropping out on drugs and alcohol is no escape. The best way to deal with this world crisis is to face—not run from—the problem. Our only way out is to understand and cure the cause of violence and murder.
The violent nature of our world should indicate to us that we are very sick spiritually. The root causes of murder are lust, competition, anger and hatred. These reflect deep spiritual problems. More police, better intelligence, bigger armies or better weapons can never stop murder. None of these will give us the protection and peace we all desire. All human beings must change their way of thinking and attitudes in order to stop the scourge of world violence and murder. We must fully keep God’s Ten Commandments—especially the sixth.
Commandment in Action
To solve spiritual problems, we must look to the Bible for solutions.
The Apostle James taught how to stop our violent ways. He wrote, “From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts” (James 4:1-3).
James wrote these verses to religious people. So, we all have to examine ourselves. Are we truly obeying the Sixth Commandment? The principle discussed here applies to nations as well. Lust for the things of others has been the underlying cause for murder and wars since man was created.
The history of Cain and Abel is proof of this. Cain was envious of God’s favor toward his brother—so he murdered Abel. Sibling rivalry is still a problem in our modern world. In fact, sibling rivalry often leads to sibling abuse. Law enforcement and child-protection agencies face increasing incidents of crimes committed among siblings. We are not talking about pushing, shoving or punching. There are thousands of cases of mental, physical and sexual abuse. Gruesome murders have been committed. Are we surprised? Western society is suffering a collapse in stable family life. With so much divorce—parents at violent odds, satisfying selfish lusts—children learn early how to argue, fight and win control over siblings. We have allowed the spirit of murder to enter the grass roots of our society—the family. Any permanent change in society must start within the family. We must get back to teaching love, sharing and cooperation not only between husbands and wives but among siblings.
But to truly put this commandment into action, we must go beyond simply avoiding hatred or committing violence against any human being. Much more is required. On the positive side, we must actively love every human being. This is the hardest part of the Sixth Commandment to implement. It requires a massive change in human thinking.
The current clash among the three major religions of the world is a prime example of what we mean here. Christians, Muslims and Jews are involved in some of the most intense, murderous fighting this world has ever seen. Isn’t it time to question our religion? Are these armed conflicts inspired by the God who is love? Soon all mankind will come to see that most wars supposedly fought in the name of God were not fought for God at all. The Bible shows that the underlying cause of Armageddon will be religion. Thankfully, Jesus Christ will step in with angelic armies to stop man from destroying all life on this planet (Matthew 24:21-22).
Jesus Christ’s Teaching
Jesus Christ came to Earth with a message from God the Father for all mankind. He brought the good news of the coming Kingdom, or rule, of the Family of God (Mark 1:15). As Prince of peace, Christ will usher in a millennium of peace like this world has never known under the rule of man. While on Earth at His first coming, Jesus Christ showed mankind the way to achieve that peace. He magnified God’s law and made it honorable (Isaiah 42:21). Christ refocused our attention on the Ten Commandments and expanded our understanding of them by emphasizing their full spiritual intent.
Jesus Christ stated, “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire” (Matthew 5:21-22). These two verses say so much. It is a message from a King to His subjects. Notice that Christ does not do away with the law—He expands it! Men need to learn to apply it.
Christ takes us directly to two of the major sources of murder—hate and anger. He asserts clearly that any individual who fills his heart full of anger is in danger of the judgment, which means condemnation. If that anger leads a person to have total hatred and contempt for another human being, he shall be in danger of the council, which means punishment from God. Finally, if the problem is not corrected—if a person allows his mind and heart to become so full of bitterness toward a fellow human being that he debases that person, calling him a fool—he faces the lake of fire! This is the fullest expansion of the spirit of the Sixth Commandment. All of this shows how serious Christ considers the Sixth Commandment to be. So must we.
Anger and hatred are the spirit of murder! All sin takes place in the mind first. Actions follow thought. What we think about most, we eventually do! John, the apostle who enjoyed the closest relationship with Jesus Christ, taught, “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also” (1 John 4:20-21). John obviously discussed the subjects of love and hate with Christ.
Christ taught John that the spirit of murder and the Holy Spirit—a spirit of love—cannot co-exist in the same mind. To stop murder, men must learn to control their thoughts. Of course, this kind of control can only come by the power of the Holy Spirit. Real conversion can only come with the gift of God’s Spirit. God gives it only to those people willing to obey Him (Acts 5:32). True conversion is the process of God writing His laws into men’s hearts and minds (Hebrews 8:10). Let’s face it. The only solution that will change our violent world is spiritual conversion.
Love Your Enemies
You may ask: How then do I deal with my enemies? We must avoid the human tendency to want to get even. Jesus Christ taught, “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:44-45). How many of us have the strength of character to do what Christ says here?
It takes godly character to help and serve those who attempt to harm us. It takes godly love and wisdom to recognize that our enemies are fellow human beings—made in the image of God—and that they are simply in error in their thoughts and actions. It takes real spiritual depth to realize that only God can properly punish those who do us harm.
Paul taught the Romans, “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord” (Romans 12:19). No man is capable of taking just vengeance. We simply do not have the ability to see as God does. God alone has the wisdom, power and right to take vengeance on human beings. It is time to recognize that God is real. His protection and ability to avenge any wrong done to us is just as real!
Rather than get even, we must learn to do good to our enemies. Paul also taught, “Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good” (verses 20-21). What a simple teaching, yet it is so hard to perform. This is precisely how God and Christ live! God is the great Giver (James 1:17). Through the incredible sacrifice of Jesus Christ, God demonstrated that He was willing to give up everything for those who hate Him (Romans 5:10). We must learn to do the same.
There is not enough space in this chapter to cover all the various forms of murder being committed in our Western world. We must understand the principle of the Sixth Commandment and then fully obey it! Certainly, abortion, euthanasia and suicide are included. God considers all three to be murder.
Consider this. Multiple millions of people nurture the spirit of lust, violence and murder daily through television and movies. There is a flood of fornication, adultery, beatings and murders broadcast nearly every hour of the day. Can we look on these things and not sin? Jesus Christ said, “But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). The same principle applies to entertainment filled with hate,violence and murder.
When we drench our minds with pictures of violence and murder daily—allowing these images to embed in our minds—we become guilty of the same acts—in spirit! Violence and murder should never entertain us. In fact, they should repulse us!
It is time for us to face reality. Our society is based on a system of competition, greed and selfishness, which breeds a spirit of murder. We live in a modern Babylon of incredible confusion. And God warns us to come out of Babylon before His final punishment—the Day of the Lord—is unleashed upon it (Revelation 18:4). God plans to end all the violence in this world very soon by punishing the violent. We need not suffer God’s wrath. Let’s all fully obey God’s command—you shall not murder.