How Does the Christian Understand the Sixth Commandment
In our only question this week we’ll get into what the Sixth Commandment says to all men as to what they are not to do because God says not to kill. Our Larger Catechism is going to give us the commandment, what is required, and what is forbidden with each of the second table laws. We’ll follow the pattern established with the sixth in all that comes next: what it is, and how we are to live it out for one week, with what it is against by itself the following week. The purpose the divines have in not going to four or five questions per commandment like they did with the first table is because we need an even greater understanding as to the reasons for not using the Lord’s name in vain or breaking the Sabbath because those are sins against God. We ought not need as much encouragement to not do evil when the transgressee is another human. For unlike our relationship to the Divine we know what it means to be stolen from or lied to. The real-life consequences are great and actual in ways we may not comprehend when it comes to the Lord.
Part of the reason then for taking the space to deal with how we break the statute is because that is really where the controversy is going to begin. Rightly dividing and handling the word of truth is always important, but especially when it comes to telling folks what not to do. It is at that point that people usually get all kinds of kerfuffling going and labels like Pharisee start catching on. We want to be careful to ensure clarity and forthrightness along with a Biblical foundation along the way. So what is our sixth commandment given to keep us from doing?
Well, here is the Q/A for today:
Q. 136: What are the sins forbidden in the sixth commandment?
A. The sins forbidden in the sixth commandment are, all taking away the life of ourselves, or of others, except in case of public justice, lawful war, or necessary defense; the neglecting or withdrawing the lawful and necessary means of preservation of life; sinful anger, hatred, envy, desire of revenge; all excessive passions, distracting cares; immoderate use of meat, drink, labor, and recreations; provoking words, oppression, quarrelling, striking, wounding, and: whatsoever else tends to the destruction of the life of any.
The Catechism comes out with a very serious subject as it names suicide as a sin committed against God in the breaking of the sixth commandment. It’s at this point that we need to be a bit pastoral and explain a few things since the subject is so raw for so many. First of all the WLC is not saying that suicide is immediately going to send someone to Hell. We are not Roman Catholics. We do not believe sin works that way. The grace offered in Christ is meaningfully applied toward all sin, even those sins by whose nature we cannot verbally seek for forgiveness. A human being’s sin cannot undo what Christ has done. (Rom. 8:38). However, that does not mean that self-harm is good nor without warning in the Bible. Some people at this point go to Samson (Judges 16:30) to say that sometimes God commends it, since Samson shows up in the Hebrews 11 hall of faith, but that is the wrong construction of what happens there. Samson is akin to the brave soldier who dives on a grenade to save others, giving of his own life. That is to be praised. (John 15:12). Negative examples like Ahithophel (2 Sam. 17:23), Saul (1 Sam. 31:4), and Judas (Matt. 27:5) show us enough to remind us of God’s calling to provide for life, not end it. Christians should always counsel men away from suicide, but it is not condemnatory in and of itself.
Which brings us to a related subject: physician, or just assisted-suicide in general. In every case this is wrong and should be denounced completely by the church of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the State. It should be no surprise that nations which abandon God seek to self-destroy. It’s part of the nature of their hatred of God, those who embrace it will seek to destroy the creature. Our call as believers is to be tender and show mercy to the sick and those in excruciating pain, especially in situations where terminal diagnosis are made. It is not an act of love to help someone end their life. However, we sometimes can break the sixth command by unnecessarily extending life mechanically or medically when it really extends suffering and just enriches doctors and hospitals. There is no doubt that this requires a lot of wisdom. It’s a question that the church should be willing to come alongside families to help them think through what is right and what is good. As Christians it is wise for us to remember that we believe what we believe about Heaven for a reason. The ethical questions around medical intervention are only going to grow and it would behoove believers to sit down with their pastor and elders and talk through in a serious matter what the Bible would have us to do in these situations.
Another way our culture breaks the commandment is by abortion. There are no Biblical reasons for abortion. One may again sympathize with the difficulties of bearing a child that is a result of rape or incest, but murdering the child is not the balm which will sooth the wound. It only creates more pain, for the unborn particularly. They chose not the nature of their conception, and it is not in keeping with the love of Christ to punish them for another’s sin. Compounding sin is never what the Lord our God calls us to. Abortion actually is a gift to licentious and profligate men to take advantage of women. Ministers of the gospel and churches should provide caring assistance for all women put in an awful position by the wickedness of men, including adoption, orphanages, and other like resources.
In closing, we may actually benefit from spending more time with each of the clauses in the catechism question, but at the end of the day one more is worth considering, especially in the world as it is now. The catechism is always careful to note that not only can individuals break the law, but nations can as well. Hence why WLC #136 makes mention of lawful war. You as a person cannot engage in martial conflict. Only civil governments can. John Calvin laid out a just-war theory that noted a Christian country could only engage in warfare for three reasons: defense in case of invasion, protection of Protestant countryman in danger of genocide, and the maintenance of the true religion within the bounds of the nation. In other words to make application to the United States the only reason we should activate our military is if Canada sends troops to North Dakota, to protect Armenians from the Azeris, and to punish heretics who seek to overthrow the moral order.
I wonder how many of our post-1776 conflicts can fit this paradigm?
Here is something to chew on:
Blessings in Christ,
Rev. Benjamin Glaser
Pastor, Bethany ARP Church