The Fifth Commandment
September 5, 2010| Rev. Rolf Preus
Thou shalt not kill. What does this mean? We should fear and love God that we may not
hurt nor harm our neighbor in his body, but help and befriend him in every bodily need.
“You shall not murder.” Exodus 20:13
Human life is valuable because God himself places value on it. It is not valuable because human beings place value on it. If my neighbor does not value my life, my life is no less valuable. Some think that people of a different race, social standing, language, or culture are not as valuable as they are. But the God who created us is the one who decides our value. With all the talk these days about “values” the first question we should ask when we hear that familiar word is “whose values?” God’s values? Or the values of a godless culture?
There was a time in our country when the civil law reflected God’s value of human life. And the law is a teacher. Even when the law cannot be enforced, it stands as a teacher of what is right and wrong. That is, if the law is in agreement with what is right and what is wrong. The damage done by abortion on demand laws in America has been even deeper than the slaughter of millions of unborn children. The killing of those babies has had the full sanction of the law. Indeed, the Supreme Court of the United States presumes to forbid any state from passing laws to protect the unborn. Legal abortion has killed more than babies. It has killed America’s soul. A nation that will not protect its weakest members from such criminal destruction doesn’t deserve to survive as a nation.
You shall not murder. You shall not murder because God made us in his image and to murder a human being is therefore a direct attack on our Creator. Murder is a denial of the First Commandment in which God says, “I am the LORD your God, you shall have no other gods before me.” Legal abortion reflects America’s rejection of the Christian faith. America has rejected the God of the living, the God who created us in his own image, the God of the prophets and apostles, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Legal abortion is a direct attack on the Christian faith and the Christian Church. Don’t be misled by double-talking politicians and hypocritical religious leaders who with a pious air mouth their “personal” opposition to abortion while insisting that a woman has the “right to choose”. No woman has the right to kill the fruit of her womb. The only rights we have are those rights given to us by God, and God never gave a woman the right to kill her baby. God says in Deuteronomy 32:39,
Now see that I, even I, am He, and there is no god besides Me. I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal. Nor is there any that can deliver from my hand.
Yes, the law of the state is a teacher and this teacher is a false teacher. Every Christian must oppose legal abortion. Not that this makes one a Christian. Orthodox Jews, Muslims, Mormons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses are not Christians, yet they all oppose abortion. Even a religion invented by men will oppose abortion as long as those men have a conscience. But no Christian may favor the right of anyone to kill an unborn baby who is no threat to anyone.
We are not animals. Jesus Christ, our God and our brother, did not become an animal when he came into this world sharing our flesh and blood. He became a man. And he redeemed men, women, and children by his holy life and innocent death. Those who favor the so-called “right” to kill those made in God’s image display to the whole world that they have fallen away from the teaching of Christ.
Jesus commanded his disciples to let the little ones come to him. Jesus invites them into his holy church by means of the washing of Holy Baptism. What a crime that these little ones should be slaughtered in the name of freedom. It is not freedom that permits the killing of the living but unborn. It is slavery to the culture of death.
But it is easy to love the unborn baby of someone we have never met and for whom we will never bear any responsibility. And it is easy to stand in judgment against the sins that we don’t commit. If only the law always pointed its figure at the other guy! But this law against murder accuses, indicts, tries, and condemns us all. It requires that we love our enemies. It requires that we earnestly seek out what is good for the one who is out to hurt us. The Fifth Commandment does not apply only to those whose violence needs to be checked by external restraints. It applies to us who keep our hatred well hidden from view and harbor evil against our neighbor within. It applies to us who don’t really care what happens to our neighbor as long as it doesn’t affect us.
Love does no harm to the neighbor. That’s what the Apostle writes in Romans 13. This sums up the law. We do no harm. We help the fellow who needs our help. We help him without asking for payment, reward, praise, or anything in return. We help because this is what we would want him to do for us. In everything, we ask what we would want our neighbor to do for us. This is what we do for him. It has been called the Golden Rule. It is really nothing else than the second table of God’s law: Love your neighbor as yourself.
Slapping, hitting, punching, shoving, threatening, bullying, and saying words designed to evoke fear in another are all sins against the Fifth Commandment. Sometimes fathers hide behind their authority under the Fourth Commandment to break the Fifth Commandment. Sometimes men think they can abuse their wives with impunity, as if their apologies can undo the harm they’ve done. Sometimes drug or alcohol abuse leads to violent behavior. Cursing, yelling, screaming, and destroying property in an angry rage will often lead to physical violence. All of this is forbidden by the Fifth Commandment.
The Fifth Commandment forbids private revenge. Listen to the words of St. Paul.
Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceable with all men. Beloved do no avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, says the Lord. Therefore if your enemy hungers, feed him; if he thirsts, give him a drink, for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:17-21)
God forbids private revenge. He has given the government the authority to punish those who do wrong as St. Paul says clearly in Romans chapter 13. The government carries the sword as God’s servant to punish those who commit crimes. So we entrust justice to the governing authorities because God forbids private revenge.
The government also has the right to inflict the death penalty. This has always been the case, from the very beginning. Many hundreds of years before God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses he gave human government the authority to put murderers to death. He spoke these words to Noah.
Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God he made man. (Genesis 9:6)
The death penalty, when applied rightly by the government to those who are guilty of murder, is based on respect for the value of human life. Since we are made in God’s image, our lives cannot be taken away from us. Those who kill another must pay for the crime with their own lives.
The old King James Version of the Bible renders the Fifth Commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.” Most recent translations render it, “You shall not murder.” The word for “kill” here means murder. It doesn’t mean killing animals. It doesn’t refer to the legal killing of someone in self-defense, in a just war, or as an agent of the government when the government is taking a life in a lawful manner. There are many social and political issues involved in the Fifth Commandment that we could discuss at length: What is a just war? When should we fight to defend ourselves and when should we not? When is the death penalty the wrong penalty? The Bible isn’t written to be an answer book for every legal and political and social issue.
The Word of God was written primarily that we might come to know and trust the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ. He faced death. He faced the death penalty. He faced it though he was innocent. But he faced it because he chose to. He chose to face it for two reasons. First because he loved his Father who wanted him to die. Second because he loved us who deserved to die.
The Father wanted him to die because in this way he would remove from us our death. The soul that sins, it shall die. We sinned. We faced death. There was no way around it. We had to die. The law had spoken and the law is divine, and cannot be set aside. So the Father wanted his dearly beloved Son to die in our place, as our substitute. But he did not force him to do so against his will. He did not demand anything from his Son that his Son was unwilling to give. Rather, in a mysterious and wonderful manner, the Father’s love and the Son’s love, the Father’s purpose and the Son’s purpose, the Father’s will and the Son’s will, blended perfectly from all eternity into the choice, God’s choice, God’s freedom of choice, for us, for life, forever.
What a wonder! The world cannot understand it. The various religions of the world are scandalized by it. The self-righteous heart despises it. But the soul that is burdened by sins and guilt adores it, kneels before it, and takes it all in. I am talking about the time and the place when Jesus Christ was killed. Man killed him. God killed him. But while mankind killed him in hatred and from a murderous heart, God killed him out of a love so deep that it had to plunge right into the very depths of our sin to destroy our sin at its root. God was killed. The God who cannot die died. The God who cannot suffer suffered. The God who cannot sin bore all sin and he bore it in the only way possible, as the offering for sin.
Modern theology hates this holy truth, but old-fashioned sinners who know their need for forgiveness love it. The truth is that there can be only one solution for our sins and that is the crucifixion of the Son of God. It is the solution. His death has destroyed our death.
So we go to him and bow our heads before him. We kneel at his altar, confessing that we have not loved our neighbor, that our hearts are stained with the same sin as that which has so soiled and callused the conscience of our nation. But we come in humble faith that God will not let this sin destroy our souls. He will give us to eat and to drink the body and blood of the crucified and risen Lord Jesus that has secured for us life in the face of death and forgiveness of all our sins. We come to receive life. And God gives us life. He gives us eternal life. Amen.