Ecclesiastes: A Time to . . . Kill?
Published June 2, 2023
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven . . .a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up . . . a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.”
Ecclesiastes 3:1, 3, 8
In the last few posts, we have reflected on the most famous passage in Ecclesiastes, the Time Poem. Ecclesiastes 12:10 tells us that Solomon, in writing this book, “sought to find words of delight,” and this certainly describes this passage that has brought immense comfort to believers through the ages. Considered in its full context, the passage reminds us of God’s sovereign reign over all of life, and nothing could be more delightful or comforting.
In this post, I want to consider the parts of poem that most people find slightly less delightful. There are times for killing and breaking down (v3), and even times for hate and war (v8). On the most literal level, there are situations in which killing is authorized by God. In Genesis 9:6, God institutes capital punishment as appropriate response to murder: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” There are also many instances throughout Scripture where God sanctions or even commands warfare. My aim in bringing up these examples is not to give a full Biblical defense for them, but to merely show that the killing and warfare mentioned in Ecclesiastes 3 applies on a literal level. However, since few (if any) of my readers will find themselves in a position where it is necessary to take a life (I pray that’s the case), I want to consider two ways that Christians can apply “a time to kill” to their everyday lives.
The Mortification of Sin
First, all Christians should be in the business of killing sin. Even as we have been given a new nature and are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, we will not experience freedom from the presence of sin this side of eternity. The Christian life is a battle against our sin nature, and the New Testament is rife with exhortation to treat it as such. One such exhortation comes in Romans 8:13: “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” We may be tempted to regard the shocking imagery of “putting to death” our sin as hyperbole, but we do so to our own peril. Failing to take this charge seriously is like turning our backs on a charging grizzly bear. In his book The Mortification of Sin, which is an exposition of this verse, the Puritan John Owen said, “Be killing sin, or sin will be killing you.” Such language should sober us. We need not fear, for the God has given us the power to overcome His Holy Spirit, but we must take the fight against sin seriously and seek to mortify it daily.
Second, not only do we battle our sin nature, but we also fight against the forces of darkness. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). Some think of this battle in primarily defensive terms. Most Christians are familiar with the famous “Armor of God” passage in Ephesians 6, where Christians are to defend themselves with the helmet of salvation, the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, etc. We also see defensive language anytime we are exhorted to resist the temptations of the devil (e.g., James 4:7).
However, spiritual warfare is also offensive. In Matthew 16, after Peter’s famous declaration that Jesus is the Christ, we find the following verse: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt 16:18). Gates are defensive measures, so the language of the gates of hell being unable to prevail against the church implies that the church is advancing on enemy territory. As the kingdom of God expands, the kingdom of darkness shrinks back. This is accomplished primarily through the two offensive weapons that God has given Christians: the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Eph. 6:17), and prayer (Eph. 6:18). We primarily think of the wielding the sword of the Spirit as quoting Scripture to overcome temptation, in the manner of Jesus in Matthew 4, but we also wield the sword anytime we share the gospel with the lost. When the word of God, paired with prayer, is used in this manner and souls are brought out of darkness, the gates of hell give way to the church.
There is a time to kill, and a time for war; for the follower of Christ, that time is now. Scripture calls us to kill our sin and make war against the devil. The language is graphic because the battle is real. Let us put on the full armor of God and wield the weapons He has given us without fear, recognizing that we are fighting a battle that has already been won. “Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).