Editor's Note: due to unforeseen circumstances, we were not able to publish this yesterday.
Every Sunday, DrydenWire.com publishes a submitted article in a weekly series from Pastor Brian Cole. If you would have a question for Brian or would like to learn more about him, visit his website or his official Facebook page.
Last week we looked at what the Bible says about murder and that it was a sin punishable by death. We left off with this statement: “Any society that loses its reverence for life cannot long endure. Just look at what is happening to America as we slowly lose respect for life!”
Not only was murder punishable by the death penalty in Biblical times, but so also were: Drunkenness and the accompanying lifestyle; men who struck their fathers and mothers for kidnapping; one who curses his father and mother; those who committed adultery with another man’s wife (both adulterer and adulteress were to be put to death); as well as those who committed sodomy and other such perversions. All of these lifestyles lead to rebelliousness and lack of concern for God and others.
For this reason, God instituted capital punishment as a gracious restraint upon man’s sinful tendency toward violence. Some people raise the issue of Christian love and forgiveness. Undoubtedly, these expressions are very important but they do not necessarily negate the consequences of one’s actions.
Some have suggested that the 6th of the Ten Commandments - “Thou shalt not kill” - is at odds with the instructions God gave to Noah, and that it is a hypocritical violation by the other laws that require capital punishment. However, anyone reading these laws knows God is forbidding the “willful murder” by one person of another, not the just death of the murderer’s life in punishment for the murder.
And this harsh demand for capital punishment has not been done away within the New Covenant era as God makes perfectly clear in Rom. 13 which we will read in a moment.
Although the Bible teaches the death penalty for deliberate and premeditated murder, (because God made a provision for those who accidently killed another in the cities of refuge), it is important to remember that this responsibility is the sole prerogative of human government; because government is a “minister” of God Rom 13:1-4 - “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently; whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment upon themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.”
Jesus himself seemed to have accepted the principle of capital punishment when He reminded Pilate that government was divinely conferred in John 19:11 - “Jesus answered, ‘You would have no power over Me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore, the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”’.
The same position is also supported by other passages in the N.T.: such as in Rom. 13:4 that we just read and in Acts 25:11 - “If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die. But if these charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!”
And how about this one: Ecc. 8:11 - “Because the sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.” Wow, how true is that!!!
Of course, the death penalty must be applied with such reluctance that where “reasonable doubt” exists, we err on the side of mercy and waive the death penalty.
In our imperfect judicial system not all defendants will be treated equally or fairly because economic status, social standing, race, or political and legal connections, and will always place some “above the law.” Such unfairness does not escape God’s notice, nor does it change His laws. It only becomes another divine indictment on that society that dares to exercise unevenly the divinely ordained demand for justice.
The Lord closes this section in 9:7 with a strong contrast by reiterating what he said in 9:1: “As for you, be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it.” Against the backdrop of the warnings about taking life, God now again reminds His people to produce life.
To be fruitful is to be productive, to produce “fruit.” Fruit is the direct result of whatever controls our hearts. (Matthew 15:19). The fruit of a life not surrendered to Jesus includes “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery, idolatry and witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage,” and many more evil acts (Galatians 5:19–20). In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit of God is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22–23).
God the Father is the gardener, and He desires us to be fruitful. Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). As branches cling to the vine, we cling to Christ, drawing our very life from Him. The goal is “much fruit,” as Christ uses us to bring about blessed, celestial results in a broken, fallen world.
When we have committed ourselves to Christ and live to please Him, the natural result is behaviors and choices that look like His. He was clear that true followers of Christ will be recognizable by their fruit: “Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:16–20).
There are many ways we as Christians can be fruitful. True fruitfulness begins in the heart with the fruit of the Spirit. That inner fruit affects outward actions; our words and our activities will glorify the Lord, and God’s will is accomplished. And guess what: WE BLESS THE LORD.