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The Sixth Commandment

By Mike Mazzalongo Posted: Fri. Dec 31st 2010
The 6th Commandment refers specifically to the taking of a "human" life. You kill your cat, you may be cruel but you are not a murderer. There are two purposes behind this command.
You shall not murder.
- Exodus 20:13

The 6th commandment refers specifically to the taking of a "human" life. If you kill your cat, you may be cruel but you are not a murderer. There are two purposes behind this command.

  1. To demonstrate and maintain the nature and value of human life. The sanctity of life is tied to the belief that humans are created by God in His own image. Aggression against another human is also aggression against God and for this reason is wrong.
  2. To protect human life in our evil world. Those who believe that there is no God can easily be led to believe that human life is only as valuable as the service it renders to society. For example, if you are poor, handicapped or old then your life is not valuable because you do not contribute much.

In nations where belief in God is widespread, every person is considered equally important because of their nature not their productivity. Where there is no belief (e.g. communism), there is also no problem with abortion, killing people who speak out, eliminating people like the poor, the sick and elderly, because they are a burden and no more than just flesh - old flesh.

The danger in our country is the growth of humanistic philosophy in the last 100 years. Humanism is dangerous because it denies the existence of God but uses ideas that come from a belief system that does. For example, they believe that caring for the sick and poor is a good idea since this is the best way to run a society and promote peace.

They do not do it because it is a divine command; rather they do it because they see that a system based on the principle of "loving your neighbor" really works and serves their social goals. The danger is subtle here but very real. It is not a big step from believing in God with love to disbelieving in God with love to disbelieving in God without love.

If someone comes along and says that they have a better plan for society (do it my way or I will kill you) and they have the muscle to back it up, there is no moral authority to stop them. This command establishes God as the final arbitrator over life and death, and over how we treat each other - not man.

What is the rule?

You shall not murder. That is the unlawful taking of another human life. What does this mean in every day terms?

1. Unlawful physical aggression. One continuous line of unlawful aggression beginning with anger and including violence, rape and murder. Jesus connects anger and murder in the sense that both are on the same continuum.

2. Suicide. We can permit a terminally ill patient to die naturally without keeping them on a support system that might prolong their lives. We cannot kill someone who requests to be killed because of depression or pain. There are many reasons why people kill themselves (depression, substance abuse effects, pain) but these do not justify the act. As Christians we believe that God will not allow us to carry more than we can bear: physically or emotionally.

3. Abuse. This is the taking of unnecessary risks to our or other's lives in order to feed our egos. Our bodies belong to God, not ourselves. Foolish risks to gain fame or approval or excitement are presumptuous before our creator.

So is the abuse of our bodies through consumption of unlawful or harmful substances. This includes tobacco or illegal drugs as well as the overindulgence of food, drink and prescriptions, etc. The commandment also prohibits damaging our bodies with overwork, over-exercise or overdoing. Christians are to bring honor to God with their own bodies and honor the bodies of others as they honor their own.

What the command does permit

This command does permit killing in certain circumstances.

A. Hunting and Fishing. Animals are not human, not made in the image of God and do not face judgment. There is no intrinsic difference in the value of the life of a bird, an elephant, or a whale - only size and species. The issue here is not murder but stewardship. We are the stewards of the earth's resources of animals; are we managing it well and without cruelty?

B. Capital punishment. The Bible considers life so precious that to unlawfully take one leads to the forfeiting of one's own in many cases (Genesis 9:6; Deuteronomy 19:11-13; Romans 13:1-ff). All murder is killing but not all killing is murder. God gives the State permission to execute criminals. This is seen in both the Old and New Testament.

  • Rapist - Deuteronomy 22:25
  • Kidnappers - Exodus 21:16
  • Murderers - Genesis 9:6; Romans 13:4; Acts 25:1

Of course there are those that argue that a God of love and mercy would not condone such a thing - and this is a Biblical argument for the other side. The balance is found in Exodus 23:7.

Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent or righteous, for I will acquit the guilty

The goal in the consideration of the death penalty is not to stop rape and murder (these will always be because of sin), the goal is divine justice carried out by God's servant - the State. In doing its job the State must make absolutely sure that justice is carried out fairly in every case because in the end God will demand a reckoning from the accused as well as those carrying out His justice.

C. Police Work.

13 Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, 14 or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.
- I Peter 2:13-14

We are not allowed to take the law into our own hands because we have not been given this right by God or the State. Upholding the law is the duty of government and God will judge those who have served in this way. You may have a good reason to want personal revenge, but you have no legal right or spiritual support for it (Romans 12:19).

D. Self-Defense.

If the thief is caught while breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there will be no bloodguiltiness on his account.
- Exodus 22:2

God makes provision for us to use legal means to protect ourselves. This extends to national defense as well.

  • In Luke 13:14, Acts 10, the soldiers in question were not obliged to give up their roles to follow Christ.
  • In Romans 13, Paul speaks of the legitimate right the government has to use force in defending society.

Justified self-defense is where an individual or a country defends itself against unjustified aggression against itself or those it is responsible to protect.

How do we keep this command?

38 “You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.' 39 But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 40 If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. 41 Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.

43 “You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor 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; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
- Matthew 5:38-45

vs. 38 - Refers to the Jewish law of restitution that said that you must repay what you have lost, stolen or damaged. The purpose was to "regulate" restitution so that it would not escalate to revenge (2 eyes for 1 eye) In a broader sense this also refers to the role of government - to regulate justice and mete out punishment fairly for everyone.

vs. 39-43 - Refers to the "law" by which the Christian lives. This law is above the law of government. The idea is that the Christian does not build upon evil for evil but overcomes evil with good. Christians do not run the government but in their personal lives they do control the law by which they will live. Christ calls us to this higher law. This does not mean a Christian cannot protect himself or seek protection or justice from the State.

Even Jesus said that if His battle was on earth He would call 10,000 angels to defend Him (John 18:36).

Allowing a murderer to attack your family or violate your home and responding by "turning the other cheek" is foolish and not really loving your family to whom you owe your first loyalty in society. This type of misguided attitude encourages evil. Obeying this command as Christians requires us to exercise Christian love and forgiveness with wisdom and proper judgment. For example, I will pray for and forgive the drunk driver who kills one in my family, but I will also support the government's right and duty to punish this person according to the law. Both are required of me and the government by God.

Abortion

Let’s look at an issue that is addressed and forbidden by this command, and has become one of our nation's most controversial - abortion. The key question surrounding abortion is:

When does human life begin?

Common sense tells you that once a seed is planted, the beginning of the cycle of life begins. This is why very few farmers are pro-abortion.

In 1967 at the International Conference on Abortion in Washington DC, authorities from around the world and from different fields came to the conclusion that "…there was no point in time between the union of the sperm and egg and the birth of the infant at which point we could say that this was not a human life."

U.S. Court confirmed this decision recently in the case of the fertilized eggs of a woman who won custody of them from her husband. A fertilized ovum is not just a potential human being; it is a human being with vast potential.

But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.
- Matthew 1:20

The Bible teaches that we are not permitted to take the life of another, no matter how young.

What are major arguments for abortion?

A. Rape and incest (emotional). This is a difficult question because you are put into a situation where it seems cruel to force a person to have a baby conceived in this way. The truth of the matter is that the occurrence of this is very rare. Statistics show that pregnancy for this reason is below 1%. In a "legitimate" case of pregnancy caused by rape or incest, the real question is "how will it help the victim of the crime (the woman) by committing another act of aggression against her (killing the innocent child)?”

Two wrongs will not equal right. These rare cases are not easy to decide and there is no painless answer, but having the child will cause less scars than killing it, and it is morally correct and merciful.

B. Psychological reasons. Abortion is necessary because women may have psychological problems if they continue pregnancy. Statistics show that:

  1. There is no mental illness that can prevent a woman from having a baby.
  2. Male suicides: 16 per 100,000
  3. Non-pregnant females: 3.5 per 100,000
  4. Pregnant females: 0.06 per 100,000
  5. Danger of suicide is overrated for pregnant women.
  6. More psychological problems stem from having abortions than being refused to have one.
  7. Studies have shown that when a woman is having serious psychological problems, having an abortion served to increase her problems, not eliminate them.

Most women in the best of circumstances have anxiety, fear, strain and doubt about the pregnancy. These are made greater the more difficult her life situation is. However, to have an abortion to relieve these mental problems usually has a negative effect and creates more problems, not less. Also, this reason is often given as a convenient excuse by women who simply refuse to accept the responsibility of having and rearing a child.

3. Every child should be a wanted child. If we follow this reasoning it gives us the right to eliminate unwanted spouses, sick, old, etc. "Being wanted" is the wrong criteria for deciding whether someone has the right to life or not. Statistics show that a significant percentage of children born were not planned at first but parents grew used to the idea. The argument that unplanned children will become unwanted, battered and abused when born is statistically untrue.

Statistics show that unplanned pregnancies usually become wanted babies when born. In our society we have a well developed system to care for these children who are still unwanted at birth. Adoption is still a better alternative than death - for the child and the mother.

4. (Strongest argument today) Having or not having a baby should be the decision of the woman and her right to decide for her own body. That is why they call it "pro-choice" and not "pro-abortion”.

What we need is medical honesty:

  • An appendix is part of your body, its cells are your cells. You can have it removed or not.
  • A fertilized ovum lives within the body of the woman but has its own genetic code. It is a separate and unique person living within the mother.
  • A woman has a right to her own body but the baby inside of her is not her body, it is a different body, a body being nurtured by her body but not her body.

The ability to conceive also carries with it the responsibility to nurture what is conceived. The only way that a person can defend abortion on the basis of personal rights and freedoms is by completely ignoring the rights of the unborn child. Both parties have rights - to live. We would never condone a child killing his mother because:

  • He didn't want her.
  • She made him feel nervous & tired.
  • She caused him to live in poverty.
  • She interfered with his personal rights & freedoms.

The ability to conceive and carry a child does not automatically carry with it the "right" to destroy it.

5. Abortion saves malformed children and their parents from misery and an unhappy life. The assumption here is that handicapped and retarded children have a greatly deficient ability to enjoy life. This has been shown to be untrue. The handicapped and malformed have the same degree of life satisfaction as the normal. With care and treatment their lives can be fulfilling for them (if not normal by our standards). We should not judge them and their happiness by our standards.

No association of parents of handicapped children has ever endorsed abortion as a means of solving their problems.

Abortion as a means of handling handicapped or deformed children was the first step taken by the Nazis in Germany to solve their problem. It was not long before they had become so dulled in conscience that they saw killing as the solution for those who were old, sick and eventually those who were just different. There is very little difference between the "Master Race" idea and the "quality of life" theory of pro-abortionists. (Let's destroy people who interfere with the quality of our life.)

It can happen here. We already have many groups and politicians who support abortion and euthanasia. This is the first step.

6. Abortion is needed to keep population down. The birth rate has dropped in North America. There is no danger of overcrowding. Mismanagement of our economy and ecology are the problems, not human reproduction. Only 2% of the U.S. population produces the food for the other 98%. The USA has 8 acres of useful land for every person.

The problem in third world countries is not overpopulation, it is economic in nature. When their standard of living is brought up, they will voluntarily have less children. Again, economic greed is responsible for this and many times the leaders of these countries are the ones guilty of causing the poverty. Abortion never solved overpopulation problems (e.g. China).

In any society where life is considered no more than cells evolving from a primal gene pool, abortion can make sense and be defended as an option. But as Christians we believe that life is in the image of God and that any willful destruction of life, no matter how young, deformed or handicapped, is an act of aggression. The reverse is also true: mercy shown to those who are His, is mercy shown to Him.

Abortion: Are there any exceptions?

When the mother's life (not lifestyle) is truly in danger:

  • Pregnancy in a cancerous womb.
  • Pregnancy outside the uterus, etc.

In these cases the doctors are treating the woman and in so doing may harm the fetus, but it is not a direct attack on the fetus - it is a life saving operation for the woman.

In a perfect world there would be no such problems - rape, incest, unwanted babies, life-threatening pregnancies. In our imperfect world the Lord extends His grace and mercy to all children who have died this way - they are with Him.

He also extends His grace, mercy and forgiveness to all those who because of weakness, ignorance or hardness of heart went ahead and had abortions. He also offers strength, mercy and grace to those who risked careers, comfort or health and went ahead with their pregnancies.

In the end, for those who come to Him, Jesus makes all things okay.

Summary

  1. The 6th Commandment establishes that human life is precious because God creates it in His own likeness and to willfully damage our own or someone else's life is an act of aggression against God.
  2. Because of sin and evil in the world, God allows government to protect society against evil by punishing and executing criminals (in fairness and justice) and also defend the nation against evil power in the world.
  3. The Christian attitude toward evil and violent people is to try to win them over with good whenever possible but not at the expense of what is good. I do not allow someone to harm others or me in order to show them I love them.

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for the Ottawa West Church of Christ