In forbidding murder, the Sixth Commandment gives us a lesson in love and its duties. As with all the Commandments, the negative prohibition of the Sixth Commandment implies a positive requirement. And in the case of the Sixth Commandment, that positive requirement is the same as the basic demand of the whole second table of the Law, that we love our neighbor for God’s sake. This Sixth Commandment, however, requires the highest possible expression of that love when it demands that we preserve the life of our neighbor and seek his well-being.

We must show this love for our neighbor because God Himself is love. Through obedience to the Sixth Commandment we have the God-given opportunity to praise Him as a God of love in deed as well as in word. This, as we have seen, is the teaching of God’s Word in the first Epistle of John. There both murder and hatred, the deepest cause of murder, are forbidden. They are forbidden not only because love is of God, but also because God is love (I John 3:15, 4:7, 8, 20, 21).

That the ungodly neither know nor understand the love of God is evident from their widespread and perverse disobedience toward this Commandment. Not only do they practice murder wholesale, through abortion and other forms of birth-prevention, but they preserve the lives of those whom God commands them to kill, the murderer and the blasphemer, all the while piously speaking of love, even of the love of God.

We must understand, of course, that the Sixth Commandment does not forbid killing, but murder. Killing in itself is not wrong, though the right to kill others does not belong to any private citizen, but to the magistrates and rulers; and even their right is closely bound by the Word of God which gives them their positions of authority. Rulers have the power to kill, first of all, in executing the demands of justice. In fact, they have the express command to kill every murderer (Gen. 9:5, 6Num. 35:31Rom. 13:4). They also have the power to kill in waging war, This power is often abused by ungodly rulers, but the power itself is given by the Word of God, which never condemns war in itself as evil (Num. 31:2Luke 3:14).

The world professes a great horror of war and killing today, to the extent that in most cases they will not put even the worst murderer to death; but this is not out of any desire to keep God’s law, nor even out of natural affection, but a matter of convenience at best, and at worst a symptom of their continued rebellion against God and their refusal to do anything God says. Their hypocrisy is revealed in the practice of abortion. Herod’s murders and the bloody deeds of other great tyrants pale into insignificance when compared with the slaughter that is legally practiced in our country today.

The Sixth Commandment, therefore, is designed especially for the people of God—those in whose heart the love of God has been shed abroad through Jesus Christ. Only by that great work of grace by which God reveals the power and glory of His own love to them are they able to understand love and know what the Sixth Commandment forbids and requires as far as loving the neighbor for God’s sake is concerned. This Commandment is given to them that they may show their love for Him Who first loved them.

As we know, the Sixth Commandment speaks only of murder, but outright murder is not the only sin forbidden. Murder is only the worst form of sin against the Commandment, and in forbidding murder God also forbids all other ways in which we might dishonor, wound, or kill ourselves or our neighbors. This is clear from Christ’s sermon inMatthew 5 (Matt. 5:21, 22), where anger, rash and hurtful words, and hatred are all counted as murder (cf. I John 3:15).

As far as our own lives are concerned, then, the Commandment not only forbids self-murder or suicide, but forbids us to abuse our bodies, to expose ourselves willfully to danger, or even to neglect the proper care of our bodies. We must not only love our neighbor but we must also love ourselves, and care for our lives as gifts from God, and for our bodies as temples of His Spirit (I Cor. 6:19, 20). Drunkenness, gluttony, drug abuse, and all kinds of dangerous sports and amusements must therefore be condemned and shunned by us. Nor may we be hypocrites in condemning these sins. We must be just as quick to condemn our own gluttony as we are to condemn another man’s drunkenness. We cannot in good conscience abhor abortion, while we ourselves freely participate in other forms of violence, or enjoy the murder and mayhem that is fed to us via the television set and radio.

As far as others are concerned, the Commandment forbids not only murder, but also all violence against our neighbor, including all thoughts and words with which we might dishonor, hurt, or kill him. The tongue especially is an instrument of murder. Solomon says that the words of talebearers are as wounds (Prov. 26:22), and Jesus reminds us that the first murder was not in deed but in word when our first parents were murdered by Satan’s lies and slander (John 8:44). Too often this is also the case in the church, so that the whole church is filled with whisperings and gossip, backbiting and slander, until the communion and life of the church is destroyed. For the safety of the church and the glory of God we must put away these works of the flesh.

The opposite is also true. Not only must these sins against the Sixth Commandment be rooted out of our lives through constant watchfulness and prayer, but we must “put on charity,” and walk in love as God for Christ’s sake has loved us (Col. 3:14Eph. 5:2). That is the positive requirement of the Sixth Commandment.

In the church, among the saints, that, love is the bond of perfectness of which we read in Colossians 3:14. It is the glue which binds the people of God together and makes them one, just as it binds the three Persons of the Holy Trinity together in the unity of the Godhead (John 17:23). That love is the bond of perfectness because it is the perfect work of God’s grace in the saints that draws them together in love, just as God’s own perfection is that which He loves and seeks in Himself, thus living in perfect unity as the three-Personed God (John 17:21-23).

We must learn, therefore, to look for that work of grace in one another. That is the first duty of love. We so often fall down in all the other duties of love exactly because we see only the faults of our brethren and are blind to God’s work in them. All the other duties of love are part of a constant effort to encourage and build up that work of God’s grace in them. This we do “by kindly words and virtuous life.”

In love we do not ignore the sins of a brother. Love cannot ignore sin because it is the bond of perfectness. But in love we deal with the erring brother as a fellow heir of God’s grace. We do not use his faults and sins to murder him in the church as far as his name and reputation are concerned, nor wound him by tale-bearing and gossip, but seek his salvation in the way of love which Jesus teaches us in Matthew 18. Even if, in the way of Matthew 18, a brother must finally be excommunicated from the fellowship of the church, the Word of God still requires that we do not count him as an enemy, but that we admonish him as a brother (II Thess. 3:15).

Nor may we ever forget that that love of the neighbor which the Sixth Commandment requires is first of all a love for the brethren. It must be that way, because only with them can love be a bond of perfectness. They only have that perfect work of God’s almighty grace, and only with them can we be one. It is wrong that the officebearers and members of the church attempt to fulfill the demands of love through all sorts of social endeavors, to the complete neglect of their own members. It was for such conduct that Jesus condemned the Pharisees, who compassed heaven and earth to make one proselyte, while their own people wandered as sheep without shepherds (Matt. 23:15, 9:36).

My neighbor is always the man whose life is part of my life. That neighbor is not even first of all my fellow saints in the church, but the wife and children or parents and husband that God has given me. To speak with honeyed tongue in the church and walk softly among the saints while my home is filled with violence and wounding words is also hypocrisy and sin. The closer my neighbor is to me, the more difficult the duties of love become. It is not so difficult to perform the duties of love to those who are relative strangers. That is why so many forsake their duties in the church and in the home for various social causes. To love my brother in the church, who so often sins against me, to love the wife who often is intractable and rebellious, or the husband who seeks only himself, to love and refrain from murdering in thought or word the disobedient and rebellious children God has given me—that is the difficult part of obedience to the Sixth Commandment. That is the part of obedience which truly shows the power and wonder of the love of God.

Nevertheless, though our duties are first toward family and church, the Sixth Commandment also governs our relationship to our unbelieving neighbor. Once again it must be emphasized, however, that even here my neighbor is not some needy person in another country to whom I send gifts of food or clothing through some social or church agency, but the man whose life is intertwined with mine. That is the point of the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). In answer to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus makes it clear that the man who lies weak, wounded, and needy across my life’s pathway is my neighbor. He may be and often is one who calls me a dog, who hates me and refuses to have anything to do with me, just as the Jews treated the Samaritans, but he is nevertheless my neighbor.

My love for him can never be a bond of perfectness, unless he repents and turns from his wicked ways, and in that measure my love for him is also incomplete and unfulfilled. Nevertheless, I must love him, and the great duty of that love is that I show him the love of God, not just by the confession of my mouth, but by the witness of my whole life. Thereby I show to him the power of God’s love in me. In doing so, I can neither disregard his sin nor walk with him in his sin. Yet by kindness, charity, timely assistance in need (I John 3:17James 2:15, 16), as well as by separation from his wicked ways I bring to him the very means that God promises to use for the salvation of his people—the witness of a godly life. Love can do no more.

In these things the children of God are manifested (I John 3:10), and in this they know that they have passed from death into life by the power of the love of God I John 3:14). Thus God, Who is Love, is glorified, and the wonders of His love revealed through Jesus Christ are magnified and exalted.