From my new book, The Way of the Lord: A Study of the Ten Commandments. Click here to buy the book and Bible study so you can use it devotionally or work through it with a small group of Christian brothers and sisters… or to even give away to someone who desires to learn more about the way of the Lord.
The sixth commandment forbids: taking our own or anyone else’s life, except the pursuit of public justice, lawful war, or necessary defense; neglecting or withholding the necessary means for the preservation of life; sinful anger, hatred, envy, or desire for revenge; all excessive emotions and distracting anxieties; intemperate eating, drinking, working, or playing, speaking in a provocative way, oppressing, quarreling with, hitting, or wounding others, or anything else conducive to the destruction of anyone’s life. (The Westminster Larger Catechism)
The following observation may perhaps be an overgeneralization, but I don’t think it’s too far off the mark. If you asked a group of people to name the Ten Commandments, most could name commandments 6-9, prohibitions against murder, adultery, stealing, and lying. I’m not sure the other ones would come to mind as easily.
But even with these commandments we find that there is a misunderstanding, or an “incompleteness” to their understanding of what all these commandments are meant to convey. This comprehensive view was evident in the old covenant but became much clearer (and convicting) in the new. For example, Jesus said to his audience in the Sermon on the Mount that they had heard it said they should not murder. “Good,” he said, “you shouldn’t.” “But I tell you, if you have unrighteous anger or hatred in your heart for someone, you have committed murder in your heart against them” (Dale Tedder paraphrase). And the same was true with adultery (lust), stealing (coveting), and lying.
In each case, far more than the mere outward behavior was involved. Jesus cared about the attitude and motive of one’s heart, which Jesus, and the other New Testament authors, assured us was the birthplace for evil and sinful deeds. Therefore, Jesus was very concerned about the condition of one’s heart. Do we love what God loves? Do we desire what God desires? Are we pursuing the right things, for the right reasons, in the right ways? These questions and more are involved when we talk about Christian ethics – about faithfully living the Christian life.
The commandment this lesson focuses upon, the sixth commandment, used to be understood as, “Thou shalt not kill.” But more accurate translations came along and it became clear that what was in mind was murder. And even as our laws represent today, so too the Old Testament had rules about those who murdered others with malice of forethought, those who did so accidentally, and those who did so in self-defense. And, then, of course, this topic of murder opens up into greater societal issues such as capital punishment, abortion, and other politically charged issues of the day.
But what we can all agree on, with regard to this commandment, is that there is a high premium placed on the value and respect for life. Why? Each life is sacred because it has been created in the image of God and has an inherent significance and dignity. Sin has crept in, and our fallen nature has made a mess of things, yet that does not remove God’s image inherent in each person. Therefore, even while we seek to be obedient to God and better understand his will for the issues related to life, we must always treat others with dignity and respect. My hope is that the following questions will guide you in wrestling with these topics, giving you both a better understanding of what the commandment does and does not mean, as well as appreciation for your neighbor, those you know and those you don’t, for they each have a sacredness to them as human beings created in God’s image.
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