Lord’s Day 40

Q. 105. What doth God require in the sixth commandment?

A. That neither in thoughts, nor words, nor gestures, much less in deeds, I dishonor, hate, wound, or kill my neighbor, by myself or by another; but that I lay aside all desire of revenge; also, that I hurt not myself, nor willfully expose myself to any danger. Wherefore also the magistrate is armed with the sword, to prevent murder.


Q. 106. But this commandment seems only to speak of murder?

A. In forbidding murder, God teaches us that He abhors the causes thereof, such as envy, hatred, anger, and desire of revenge; and that He accounts all these as murder.


Q. 107. But is it enough that we do not kill any man in the manner mentioned above?

A. No: for when God forbids envy, hatred, and anger, He commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves; to show patience, peace, meekness, mercy, and all kindness towards him, and prevent his hurt as much as in us lies; and that we do good, even to our enemies.

The word “kill” in this commandment refers specifically to the act of murder, which is taking another’s life unlawfully and with premeditation. However, this commandment also applies to words, thoughts, gestures, and even facial expressions. This is Jesus’ point when, in Matthew 5, He says that we are guilty of murder already when we are angry with our brother without a cause or call him a fool.

We should expect that this commandment, like all the others, will expose our depravity, rebuke us for sin, and call us to love and gratitude. There are deeds (and thoughts) that we need to mortify as we learn what this commandment means. Are you ready to do that?

Jesus died for the sin of murder—not only the murderous sin of those who killed Him (Luke 23:34; Acts 2:23), and not only for some murderers on death row, but also for our sin of murder, that is, for us as murderers.

Underlying principles

Behind this commandment, as with all the commandments, are certain principles.

A principle is a foundational truth that never changes— it holds true for all peoples at all times and in every age. Principles have their origin in God and in His Word—both of which are immutable and eternal. In these principles, the law is a revelation of God’s own character.

These are the principles behind the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill!”

  1. God is a living God (Heb. 11:6). Though we need God and depend on Him for life, He does not need us or depend on us. He is the eternal, self-existent God whose name is “I AM.” In His eternal triune life, He has fullness and perfection of life. Without this principle, there could be no commandment concerning human life.
  2. God the Creator gives life. Scripture begins with an enormous contrast: “In the beginning God created….” God is eternal, but everything else is made and has a beginning. Nothing has life, and nothing can live, except God gives it life and existence. As Creator, God is also the One who in His providence sustains us. “He giveth to all life, and breath, and all things…and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation…though he be not far from every one of us: for in him we live, and move, and have our being…for we are also his offspring” (Acts 17:25-28).
  3. God is sovereign over life and death. The “right-to-life,” as well as the “choice” to terminate life, belong to God and not to man. Human life, both in its beginning and in its ending, is never an accident. “I kill, and I make alive” (Deut. 32:39). God appoints a man’s days, determines who will live, how long each will live, and when the end of a man’s days will be. This is our confession in Psalm 31:15, “My times are in thy hand.”
  4. Human life is different than animal life. This is very obvious in the creation account, where man is made in the image of God after a divine consultation (Gen. 1:25-27) and when God by a two-part act of creation makes man body and soul (Gen. 2:7). There is an eternal aspect in man in which he stands as creature in relation to his Creator.
  5. Life, for man, consists of relationships. God came in the beginning and walked and talked with Adam. God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone.” Within every one of us is an innate longing for companionship. The entire law governs our relationships, each commandment addressing an aspect of our love either for God or for the neighbor.

Sins prohibited

This commandment does not forbid all killing. In Genesis 9:6, the Lord says to Noah, “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.” This passage points, not only to the value of human life, but also to what must be done to those who commit murder. Romans 13:4 instructs us to honor civil authorities as appointed by God, and to be afraid of them if we do evil for “he beareth not the sword in vain” but is a “minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.” A sword is an instrument of death—one does not beat people with a sword, he kills them. God has given this power to the civil authority in order to curb evil. This power of the sword applies also to situations of war and defense, when life is threatened.

The fact that Scripture does not forbid all killing points us to a deeper understanding of the commandment. It is not simply about the act of killing, but is about murder that springs from hatred in the heart of man. From the beginning, after man’s fall into sin, murder has been in the heart of man. Genesis 4 records the first death, of Abel, which was the result of murder. In the same chapter Lamech boasts of murdering a man. When, according to Genesis 6, God is ready to destroy the world with the flood, the earth is described as “filled with violence.” This story of man continues through Scripture in Joseph’s brothers, Pharaoh, Saul, Ahab, Manasseh, Herod, the unbelieving Jews who crucified the Savior, and many more. Today, if we pick up the paper, we read the same sad stories of violence and murder. This is the stuff that entertains and becomes an electronic game. This has been legalized in the killing of the unborn and endorsed in “death with dignity.” So desensitized to it are we that a murder must be extreme or serial before it captures our attention.

The application of this commandment is particularly penetrating when we consider what Jesus says about murder in Matthew 5:22 and the surrounding passage: “I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.”

Children are very honest and so often you will hear them calling each other names, but adult refinement in speech, which sometimes praises and flatters, is often just a cover-up for the same murderous attitudes. An angry look, a frustrated glare, a rude gesture, body language that turns away, evil thoughts, bitterness, jealousy, envy, seeking revenge, despising another within—these all are murder because, like lust which leads to the act of adultery, these are the cause and origin of murder. No one ever murdered without first thinking a hateful or envious thought.

In forbidding murder, God requires the preservation of life, that we do all within our power to care for the life that God has given, and which is His prerogative to take. This includes not only care for others, but also personal care. The believer’s body is “the temple of the Holy Spirit,” and so, though we are not to make an idol of ourselves, we also should not harm or abuse our bodies, particularly with substances or recreations that put our health and life in danger.

Love prescribed

The opposite to murder in the heart is love.

The love required here is first that we put others before ourselves. This love is praised throughout Scripture, and is the love that the Savior demonstrates in laying down His life for His sheep. In love we will “esteem others better than ourselves,” will put their needs before our own, will keep no record of wrong, will be patient, kind and humble, bearing, believing, hoping and enduring all things.

Second, the love required is a spiritual care for the souls of others. This is the way we will truly love our children, not merely by feeding their hungry mouths, but by nurturing their needy souls.

Such love is our duty toward every person whom God puts in our path, and so the Bible speaks of family love, love for the brethren, loving our neighbors, and loving our enemies.

The possibility of such love is the experience of God’s love. One who knows God, and in whom God dwells, will and does love his brother. God has loved me, by nature His enemy and certainly undeserving, and so I must love.

Questions for Discussion

  1. What is the meaning of the name Jehovah, and how does that relate to this commandment?
  2. What does it mean that God is sovereign? How does this apply to the commandment concerning life and death? Think also of God’s sovereign providence which puts others in your life.
  3. Does this commandment forbid all killing? If not, give some examples of lawful killing. Can these be justified from Scripture?
  4. List some of the different forms of murder forbidden by this commandment. Are you guilty of many of these?
  5. What are the causes of murder listed in the Catechism? What evil lusts, and emotions lead to murder? Do you think you are capable of murder?
  6. Prove from Scripture that hatred is a form of murder. Also, demonstrate from Scripture that hatred leads to the act of murder.
  7. What consolation is there in knowing that Jesus also died for murderers? Could you forgive a murderer and receive him into fellowship in the church?
  8. What is the positive requirement of this commandment? What are some ways that we are called to show this to our neighbors and even enemies (cf. Matt. 5:43-48; Rom. 12:19-21)?
  9. If murder begins in the heart, what, besides suicide, are some other forms of self-murder? What is the answer to these?
  10. If you knew someone who was contemplating an abortion, how would you counsel them, lovingly, from God’s Word?
  11. If you knew someone who was suffering severely from a terminal illness and simply wanted to take his/her own life, what would you say to him/her, and how would you explain his/her suffering to him/her?
  12. Who demonstrated the greatest love ever shown to enemies? What can we learn from this about how we ought to love one another? Find some Scripture passages to support your answer.