Catechism Series: The Fifth Commandment
October 22, 2023
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is Exodus 20:13, “You shall not murder.”
Martin Luther makes the observation that if someone told you not to commit murder, you’d be incredulous: “Of course, I’m not going to commit murder! I don’t need you to tell me not to do it! What kind of animal do you think I am?” Yet, that’s what God does in the Ten Commandments because He knows exactly what kind of animal we are. He doesn’t have much confidence in us, does He? But shouldn’t He? In 2021 there were about 23,000 murders in the U.S., which is a lot. However, there are over 333 million people in the U.S., which means most people have never committed murder and they never will. While you might say this commandment isn’t all that necessary, God says it is and He gives us the Fifth Commandment because murder is a matter of the hands and the heart.
Some versions of the Bible incorrectly translate this commandment as “You shall not kill.” This is a flawed translation because not all killing is a sin. Police officers sometimes must take a life to save lives. The government has the authority to use punish criminals with the death penalty and to wage a just war. The individual, when necessary, has the right and responsibility to use deadly force to defend themselves, their family, and other innocent people. And in the Old Testament, cities were established where those who had accidently killed someone would be protected from those seeking revenge.
Murder, on the other hand, is the shedding of blood by those not authorized to do so. The Lord says, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in His own image” (Genesis 9:6). We were created by God to be different than the animals; we have souls and a relationship with Him, and murder destroys His unique creation. We need this commandment because there are far too many who fail to recognize the value that God places on human life.
The sin of abortion is not new. Historical records from 3,500 years ago report methods for inducing an abortion. The reasons for abortion are probably not that much different between the Egyptians 1,500 years before Jesus or the Americans 2,000 years after. The literature from Planned Parenthood puts forward a number of reasons why abortion is a good thing: women should have control over their bodies, not all can afford a child, the fetus isn’t a human, and girls who conceive through rape or incest shouldn’t have to carry a reminder of their terrible assault. I can’t deny that the last point is a tough one. However, the babies conceived through horrific crime are God’s children are incredible blessings to the mothers who recognize that the baby can’t be punished for the sins of the father. What also cannot be denied is that abortion is wrong, regardless of the circumstances surrounding the pregnancy. Abortion is the murder of a human being, simple as that, and silence when confronted by this barbaric practice is also murder.
Many of you are probably familiar with the name Jack Kevorkian who specialized in Physician Assisted Suicide back in the 1990’s. His life’s goal was to allow people to die in their own way and at the time they chose. He argued that someone with a painful terminal disease should be allowed to commit suicide before their misery becomes too severe. More and more nations and states are legalizing the practice of Physician Assisted Suicide and accepting more reasons for it. It used to be a terminal illness, now it’s if the person is really sick. It used to require psychiatric evaluation, now someone who is depressed can have it. It used to be only with consent, now it’s being used on those who are unconscious or the very young or old who are unable to give consent. We’re told in Job 14 that our days and months are appointed by God. He decides when we live and when we die. He also promises there’s not a disease we’ll endure or a disability we’ll receive that can separate us from Him. He uses every condition, every illness, every death of His faithful followers for His glory and our good. It’s murder to shorten the days He’s appointed for us, whether it’s through drugs which hasten death in the dying, or through our hand or the hand of a physician. And as it is with abortion, silence when witnessing these events in our own situations or in society around us is also murder.
In his explanation to the 5th Commandment Luther wrote: “We should fear and love God so that we don’t hurt or harm our neighbor in his body but help and support him in every bodily need.” Luther followed Jesus’ example by expanding the definition of murder beyond illegal or unjust killing. Any sexual, physical, mental, or emotional abuse is murder. Our lives are sacred, our bodies are created by God, and they are temples in which the Holy Spirit has taken up residency. This is why we have the Fifth Commandment.
The Fifth Commandment, like all the others, goes beyond the physical, it also applies to the heart. This is something we need to take to heart because that’s where our murders take place. It can be hard to believe that our thoughts and feelings can compare to a horrific sin like murder; to the ordinary person they’re not the same at all. This is what Jews believed at the time of Jesus. The commandments were to be taken literally. If they hadn’t murdered someone, they would have kept the 5th Commandment. Jesus says otherwise: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment” (Mt 5:21). St. John says, “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (I John 3:15).
Since the hatred we harbor in our hearts is murder, the first murder wasn’t when Cain killed Abel, it was the moment he began to hate his brother. Hatred is wishing in our heart someone was dead or hoping something bad will happen to them. We murder when we’re filled with spite, when we enjoy the misfortune and failures of others, or even when we seek revenge in one way or another. Have you ever said, “I’ll forgive but never forget”? Well, I’ve got news for you: you’re still harboring hatred and anger in your heart. Now, I agree that this isn’t easy to do. Some sins committed against you or those you love are so truly evil that forgiveness and forgetfulness may never come. In those cases, entrust yourself to God who knows your hurts and whose mercy is greater than our hatred.
If you remember from the first four commandments, the commandments aren’t just about what we’re not supposed to do, there’s also a positive side to them. Martin Luther writes, “We should fear and love God so that we don’t hurt or harm our neighbor in his body but help and support him in every bodily need.” To keep the Fifth Commandment is to take care of the helpless and those in need. It’s to see our fellow people as created by God. Wee them as those loved by God and loved by us, and this includes those who we would rather murder in our sinful hearts. Jesus says, “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:27-28). This is a tall order; most of our enemies won’t respond kindly, those who hate us those whom we no longer hate, won’t ever know we don’t hate them. That’s okay because God knows and we trust that He has the final word when all is said and done.
Perhaps you’ve said once or twice, “I can never forgive”, thank God that He never said that to us. Only one truly had the right to hate and commit murder, and yet, that’s not Jesus’ nature, in fact, He can’t hate at all. Saint Peter writes, “When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly” (I Peter 2:23). Jesus was literally murdered by those who hated Him, He was murdered by cruel Romans who enjoyed murdering people, He was condemned to death by Pilate who had the authority to let Him go. He was murdered by us, by our sins, our hatred, our murder, our failure to help and serve our neighbors. He was murdered for every sin our heart and hands. Confess your hateful thoughts. Confess the multiple murders you commit in your heart. Confess your failure to help and support your neighbors in their bodily needs. Confess your violence against others because that is why He came! He alone is pure in heart and in action. He alone put your needs ahead of His own. In the book of Jeremiah and again in Hebrews were hear the promise that God will remember our sins no more. We hate, He forgives and forgets. We murder, He forgives and forgets. We struggle to forgive, He forgives and forgets. He forgives the faithful who commit suicide or have had an abortion. He forgives our failure to value life, no matter what form it takes. He forgives all your sins because He valued your life over His own. And by His grace and power you can turn from murder and hatred to love and forgiveness.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen