The Fifth Commandment
You shall not murder.
What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our
neighbour in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.
Bible translations often give us a skewed understanding of this commandment. Depending upon which one you read, you will hear it stated as “You shall not kill”. Sadly, our modern understanding of English misses the point of how “kill” is used here and thus many people will argue that we are not allowed to kill ANYthing whether human or animal; driving pacifists and vegans almost to the point of killing those who disagree.
This misunderstanding was also quite common in the early church, and led to many Christians having to choose between their profession of soldier and their faith. This mistaken prohibition against killing in general has extended through the reformation and even today, causing pastors to appeal to Dr. Luther’s treatise “WHETHER SOLDIERS, TOO, CAN BE SAVED” to give comfort to those sworn to serve and protect.
But the Hebrew gives a much clearer understanding of this commandment stating simply, “You shall not murder.” Now this is no accidental act; murder isn’t something that happens by chance. Murder is quite simply “the crime of unlawfully killing a person especially with malice aforethought “ Not a lot of wiggle room there! But notice that word “unlawfully.” It implies that there is actually a type of “lawful” killing. You see there is only one who has the right to take life, namely the author of life himself. Consider God’s words through Moses, ““‘See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.” Yet, as we mentioned briefly last week, our Lord has given us government, military, police, et al, for our care and protection. Thus by the Lord’s sanction these entities are empowered to take life in order to protect life. A soldier who kills in the line of duty is not a murder; the jailer who executes a criminal isn’t either, nor is the police officer who shoots a suspect in defense of others or himself.
But this commandment isn’t speaking of killing for protection and preservation is it? No it is speaking of murder. I bet if I took a quick poll here this morning of how many of you have murdered someone, not a single hand would be raised, right? Yes, our Lord does prohibit killing another person unlawfully, but have we again held to tightly to our own definition of words? Consider Jesus words, “
21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”
I bet if I were to take the same poll now, a few hands might be raised. You see Jesus points out that murder goes far beyond pulling the trigger or plunging the knife. We can and do murder another person by our anger itself, as Jesus says, “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.” You see our angry thoughts, words, and actions, belie what really lies beneath, our old Adam seeking to harm another for our benefit. Thus our angry words and actions are akin to murder itself! Should I take the poll now?
These aren’t easy words to hear are they? It makes it harder still when the Apostle John states, “ 15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” And “19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God”, and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”
Therefore as Christians, as those who purport to love each other, we should and must endeavour to help and support him in every physical need. This then requires us not only NOT to plunge the knife into our neighbour, nor allow angry thoughts and words to come from our hearts, but we are also to do good to our neighbour, to prevent, protect, and save them from suffering bodily harm and injury. It is our duty take every opportunity to give food to the hungry, and drink to the thirsty, to welcome the stranger, to clothe the naked and visit the sick and imprisoned. For our failure to do so is indeed allowing harm to come to our neighbour, therefore we are called to help our neighbour live, and not die, physically, emotionally, or spiritually.
Luther writes that “it is God’s intention that we should allow no one to suffer harm but show every kindness and love. This is directed especially at our enemies.” Just as John says, “21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother…“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.”
You see Almighty God himself has gone even beyond this commandment! For He, the author of life, has the right to both give and take life at will. Just as in the time of Noah, when the world was so wicked that Almighty God sent forth a flood to wipe evil off of the face of the earth, he was not murdering those people, though many would think that. Instead Almighty God was executing his justice, his righteous wrath on his enemies, those who themselves had violated all of the commands even before they were given. In the same way our world could also be described as just as wicked. Yet, while Jesus said, “ Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” He himself came to lay down his life for his enemies. While you and I deserved death and destruction for our sin, Jesus himself was killed in your place. The Father poured out his wrath upon Jesus, who bore all of your sin and mine, and the sins of the whole world, including our sins of hatred and murder. Your sins are forgiven!
In his mercy, Almighty God ensured that he did not hurt or harm his enemy in our bodies, but help and support us in every physical need. Therefore Jesus himself loved his enemies, and prayed for those who persecuted him, in order that all who believe in him may not perish, but have everlasting life. Thus Jesus came to proclaim good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” Even now he at every opportunity to give food to the hungry, and drink to the thirsty, in his own Holy Supper. Even now he continues to welcome the stranger, to clothe the naked, in the waters of Holy Baptism granting you the Robe of Righteousness. Even now he comes visit to the sick and imprisoned, who suffer spiritually and physically.
Beloved in Christ, Almighty God has given us this commandment for our benefit and the benefit our friends and our enemies. He calls on us to daily protect others in their bodies and help and support them in every physical need. He himself for you even by the hands of those gathered here this morning. Amen!