(Westminster Shorter Catechism Q:67-69)
by Bob Burridge ©2011
Human life is a very special part of God’s creation.
Many inhabitants of our world have what we call physical life. They have a unique DNA structure, process foods for energy, respond to things around them, and reproduce their own kind. In that sense grass, bacteria, armadillos, and mold are all alive. It is only us humans who are here to display God’s moral nature. We have an immortal soul.
We were created in God’s image as it tells us in Genesis 1:26-27. We were put here to represent our Creator in his world, and to oversee his creation while doing his work. We need to respect that special purpose for which every one of us was made.
To those who dare to live in God’s world as if it did not belong to him, we are all just animals advanced by evolution, competing to survive, and working to get all we can for ourselves. They are horribly wrong. God did create us, and he made us in his image, even those forever separated from him and hating him. Therefore, every human life is to be respected and highly valued.
When people dislike something their hatred is often taken out on things that represent it. When people hate a nation they burn its flag. When they hate a leader they desecrate an effigy of him. Since evil sets out to disgrace God, an attack on human life made in his image is exactly what we should expect. Violence, hatred, bigotry, and cruelty have stained all of human history. We each need to be sure that we rid ourselves of the sin of disrespect for the life of others who though fallen are created in our Creator’s image.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism teaches about the Sixth Commandment in questions 66-69.
Question 67. Which is the sixth commandment?
Answer. The sixth commandment is, Thou shalt not kill.
Question 68. What is required in the sixth commandment?
Answer. The sixth commandment requireth all lawful endeavors to preserve our own life, and the life of others.
Question 69. What is forbidden in the sixth commandment?
Answer. The sixth commandment forbiddeth the taking away of our own life, or the life of our neighbor unjustly, or whatsoever tendeth thereunto.
The 6th Commandment is found in Exodus 20:13
“You shall not murder.”
The old King James Version has caused some confusion and misuse of this Commandment. By translating it as forbidding killing, the verse has been used by those against things ranging from war and capitol punishment, to eating meat.
There are nine Hebrew words commonly used in the Old Testament for killing. Four of those words are mainly used for the killing of animals for food or as a sacrifice. They are like our words “to hunt”, “to slaughter “or “to butcher”. Those words are not used in this commandment.
God has never forbidden hunting, or killing animals for food and clothing. In fact the Bible actually commands these things. God made clothing out of the skins of animals for Adam and Eve. The diet God mandated for the Jews specifically included beef, and lamb. Jesus sent his disciples out to get a lamb for the Passover meal and sacrifice. Those who use this commandment to teach moral vegetarianism, or to oppose hunting, contribute to the modern confusion about the value of human life.
There are also four very general Hebrew words for killing. They’re like our words “to kill, put to death, execute, and massacre.” These words have a very broad meaning. Their use in the Bible ranges from killing in war, to the destroying of crops.
None of these words are used in the 6th commandment. God does not forbid executing criminals, or killing when necessary in defense of family or country, or killing a roach in our house, or a troublesome weed in our garden if they are bringing in disease or destroying our crops. People who picket executions, meat markets, or clothing manufacturers with signs saying, “Thou shalt not kill” horribly distort the meaning of this word of God.
The Hebrew word God used in this commandment is ratsakh (רצח). Unlike the other 8 words, it has a very specialized and limited meaning. It always means the unjust killing of another human being.
It is used 43 times in the Old Testament. A look at each of the 43 uses shows that it is always used narrowly. It it is very much like our English word “murder”.
The most accurate translation of this Commandment is, “You shall not murder.”
The moral foundation for this commandment
is rooted in the way God made us.
This goes back to creation itself. We were made to represent God in his world. We are to be a display of his communicable attributes, and to show his dominion over creation by managing it for our Lord. We were made in his image to carry out the duties assigned at creation on behalf of the Creator.
This creation principle is why such a high value is placed upon human life. This is the reason the Bible gives for imposing the death penalty for murderers in Genesis 9:6, “Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed; For in the image of God He made man.”
Since all are made in God’s image, human life is never to be treated with disrespect. To take a life unjustly so horribly violates this basic ethic, that execution for certain crimes is mandated. However, even in the execution of convicted murderers by the state, or in war defending our families and neighbors against enemies, the taking of a human life should be done with dignity, respecting the tragedy of the life that needs to be terminated.
Some look at this very superficially. They assume that as long as they don’t commit premeditated homicide they have obeyed all God commands us concerning our attitude toward human life. They forget that God’s moral principles are not limited to the statements of the Ten Commandments. The Commandments are summaries of Creation Principles that apply always to all people in all ages.
This commandment forbids more than
just intentional unjustified homicide.
It is not only addressing those who illegally murder someone. Jesus explained that the moral principle includes hatred and disrespect for human life. In his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:P21-22 Jesus showed that this commandment implies more than just avoiding murder.
First, He pointed them back to this summary of God’s moral principle in the 6th Commandment. He said, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.”
Jesus was correcting abuses in this section of his sermon. He wasn’t taking issue with the 6th Commandment. This creation principle is as old as man being made in God’s image. His concern was the spin the Rabbis added to the law of God.
The legalists perverted the law into a way of salvation. To make it possible for the elite to claim they were righteous, they added to the law of God. They added noble sounding technicalities. By applying the law very narrowly they ruled out the moral principle behind it. The law was reduced to just a set of punishments for certain outward acts.
They allowed disrespect for the image of God in man as long as no one was actually murdered. They were arrogant, rude, bigoted, and judgmental. Jesus was correcting their wrong use of God’s law to justify personal vengeance and hatred. He explained that the principle here goes beyond their narrow use of the Commandment. This is why in verse 22 he said, “But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.”
Without going into the details, there are distinctions made here correcting the rabbinical errors. The Rabbis allowed their own anger, vengeance and hatred to go unjudged. They missed the central issue of God’s creation law.
It is not only actual murderers that offend God. Even personal anger deserves judgment. Calling someone “raca” (which means “empty head”) deserves condemnation by the Sanhedrin. Calling someone a “fool” makes a person guilty of sin and worthy of hell fire. What offends the Creator is the sin of the heart against the image of God in man, not just actual homicide.
In his first epistle the Apostle John gives this same interpretation of the law. 1 John 3:15 says, “Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, … ”
God’s word points to the sins of the heart, not just the things that show outwardly. 1 Samuel 16:7 “… the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
God’s law is not just a set of penalties for certain limited actions. God looks at the state of the soul. It is wrong to hate, or to be cruel and disrespectful toward people. They are creatures that bear the Creator’s image.
When we come to know Christ truly, to love him for the unearned grace by which he loved us, the virtues that honor God will grow in us, and he will bless our lives.
To battle hatred, our first weapon is the gospel that changes hearts. Once we come to Christ, the law of God shows us how to express our gratitude to him, and how to please him in both worship, and in the way we treat our neighbors.
On the practical side, we should apply the
commandment in many areas of life.
While God permits taking a human life in self-defense, and in the execution of a convicted murderer by the state, it does not allow killing for convenience or out of personal vengeance. Without debate, there should be no murder. The unjust taking of a life intentionally is obviously evil and ca not be excused.
By definition, this crime would also include the sin of abortion. From the moment of human conception, life is precious and should be protected. Even in the case of medical threats, every attempt should be made to save the life of both mother and child. Abortion for convenience, for quality of life, or for the mental rest of the mother are all clearly forbidden, not by church rules or policies, but by God’s own law.
Equally tragic is the sin of suicide, either by the person himself, or by those assisting him. There is no justification morally for ending a life to stop physical or mental anguish. As tragic as these sufferings are, there are better ways to deal with them than killing.
As Jesus pointed out in his Sermon on the Mount, hatred and personal vengeance are the heart sins this commandment addresses. These are the moral principles behind it. They show a disrespect for the image of God in all humans. All the violations of this commandment elevate the feelings of a created human over the moral principles revealed to us by our Creator.
Far from leaving us with just negatives,
God’s word points us to what is right and good.
God has always commanded us to appreciate life and to love others. Jesus quoted from the law of Moses in Leviticus 19:18 when he said, “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”
In other words, our love is not just to be shown to those who appreciate us and who are kind to us. It is to be shown toward even those we might want to be vengeful toward, and people who might provoke us to hold a grudge against them. Instead of personal vengeance or bearing grudges, God’s people need to learn to love such people.
As Jesus said in Matthew 5:43-48, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.”
This is the high standard God has always expected of his people. It’s not the distortion of the law some corrupted Pharisees promoted, that we should love only our clearly defined neighbors, those who are like us. They allowed and defended hating those who are different, those who are against us. That is not what Moses said. It is not what Jesus said. This attempt to justify personal hatred and prejudice is morally wrong.
We are called upon to respect the image of God stamped upon all humans, good and troublesome. It does not mean we should excuse violators of God’s laws for society. Loving them does not excuse their sins, or free them from punishments if they commit crimes.
Our duty is to show the love of Christ in how we leave penalties to those authorized to give it. Let God deal with eternal debts for those not redeemed by Christ, and let the civil authorities deal with civil crimes here on earth.
Do not let the evil of others become an excuse for abandoning what God says is right. Do not let their sin poison your own life with attitudes God forbids. Proverbs 20:22 says, “Do not say, ‘I will recompense evil'; Wait for the Lord, and He will save you.”
Your attitudes and actions should show the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Galatians 5:22-23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.”
God tells us what should be in our hearts to crowd out the sinful attitudes. We are required to love our neighbors, even to show love toward those who oppose us.
This is the moral foundation
upon which your life should be built.
You confuse and abuse this 6th Commandment if you fail to appreciate the value of human life, and of God’s moral nature revealed in the creation of humans. It is not just about committing actual homicide. You break this moral principle and offend God by your attitude toward others. It is not a light thing to show hatred, vengeance and anger.
From God’s first words to us in the earliest pages of Scripture, to the words of Jesus himself, such things offend the heart of God, the one who loves you, and has redeemed you. God calls you to love others. This means you should be patient, kind and gentle with self-control.
The promise to believers is that our Savior is there for us as we call upon him in faith. The trust he puts in our hearts is there to be used.
This is serious. It is important. Not one day more should go by where anger or hatred creeps into your heart. When it is discovered there, we are called upon to repent of it immediately,and to count upon the strength God promises us to enable us to overcome our hatreds
No one who trust in the Savior should doubt the power of the Living Christ in him to battle these sins. The Bible says in 1 John 4:8, “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”
Those who know God as his redeemed children have the full potential in them to love. That is what makes God’s children different.
Pray that this love will show its presence in your heart, even in situations where the fallen world cannot imagine you being able to love. We need to show respect for all human life. Not based upon how a person lives his life, nor for the value that life has for us or for society. We are to treat all humans as special because they of the image of God in which they was created. We must respect the image because of the value its Creator.
Your life has this value too. Not for how talented you are, or how rich you are, or how good looking you are. You are made in God’s image and put here to display his wonder, grace, and glory. Make that your primary focus in all you do, and God will bless your life, even when the hard struggles come along.
(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)