The sixth commandment is an easy one to agree with—or so you would think. It’s short and to the point: “You shall not murder,” (Exod 20:13). It’s even shorter in the original Hebrew: lo râtsach, literally “don’t kill.” But here’s the rub. While just about every culture has some kind of prohibition against murder, it seems that no commandment is more violated in our society today. Even Cain knew what what was right and wrong, but he did so anyway (Gen 4:1-16).
As I’ve shared in previous posts, I’m reading through Philip Graham Ryken’s book on the Ten Commandments called Written in Stone and using it as a guide for our small group Bible studies. Last night we explored what God forbids in the unjust taking of an innocent life. Chapter nine of Ryken’s book was very helpful:1
The sixth commandment preserves the sanctity of human life. It also preserves God’s sovereignty over life and death. Jesus Christ is the Lord of life. He is its author and inventor, its ruler and sustainer. Since He is the giver of life, it is also His prerogative to take it, and to do so at His own time, in His own way.
Now God has delegated His authority, so that in some situations it is lawful for one person to take another person’s life. But this can only be done according to God’s will. To take a life unlawfully is to violate God’s sovereignty over life and death.
To Ryken’s point, not all killing is wrong. Killing that has as its goal the preservation of life is biblical.
This is obviously true in the case of self-defense. Sometimes it is necessary to take a life in order to save a life. In the case of a just war, the same principle applies on a larger scale. The purpose of an army is not to kill people, but to keep a country’s citizen’s safe.
The same life-preserving principle even holds true for capital punishment. The execution of a murderer stops him from killing again and deters other would-be criminals from doing the same. His execution is also a matter of justice. The Bible says, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in His own image” (Gen 9:6). This is the biblical logic behind capital punishment. It is precisely because life is precious that someone who takes it unlawfully must be put to death. What makes life so precious is that every human being is made in God’s image… Calvin wrote, “Our neighbor bears the image of God: to use him, abuse, or misuse him is to do violence to the person of God who images Himself in every human soul.”
For the Christian, there is the God-given duty to oppose every and any violation of this commandment. If you believe that the Bible is the authoritative Word of God, then believer this is where you must stand.
Christians have always believed that an unborn child is a person made in the very likeness of God. To cite just one example, Calvin insisted that “the foetus, though enclosed in the womb of its mothers, is already a human being, and it is almost a monstrous crime to rob it of the life which it has not yet begun to enjoy.” This is what Christians have always believed because it is what the Bible teaches. [See Psa 139:13, 15-16a]
Every life is precious in His sight. None can be discarded; all must be preserved. This means that as Christians we have a duty to oppose euthanasia. God alone is the Lord of life, and He alone has the right to determine when it is time for someone to die. The difficulty is that we now have the medical capacity to keep a body functioning long after that time has come. This raises many more ethical questions than we can address here. But briefly, although we have always have a duty to provide basic nourishment, we do not always have a duty to provide extraordinary measures such as artificial respiration. There is a legitimate moral distinction between killing and allowing someone who is terminally ill to die. In other words, there is a difference between terminating life—which is never permissible—and terminating treatment—which can be a way of turning life (and thus also death) back over to God.
We also have a duty to oppose suicide. God has not given us a right to kill ourselves. To commit suicide is to claim lordship over our own lives. Physician-assisted suicide, in which a doctor becomes an accessory to his patient’s self-murder, is especially dangerous.
Far beyond the criminal act of homicide (which is rampant in America), it could be said that we are living in a culture of premature death. Rather than allowing the end of life to naturally occur, man violates the sixth commandment at every turn, taking matters into his own hands.
Scripture prohibits murder—especially in the forms of abortion, euthanasia, and suicide; and the Christian has a duty to oppose what God opposes.