Water from the Well: November 8, 1995

The Fifth Commandment: You shall not murder.

Most people would consider this command to be an easy one to keep. Most people don't have any desire to go out and commit horrible murders like those we see every day on the TV news. Who could purposely destroy a human life?

You can easily convince yourself that you have never broken the fifth commandment. You may never even have considered murdering another human being. Yet you can take human life in other ways. What about suicide--murdering yourself? Many people today consider suicide an acceptable alternative to living a miserable life. Why suffer? Take the easy way out! Studies show that many people seriously consider suicide at some point in their lives.

What about abortion? When "pro-choice" advocates keep telling us that a fetus is nothing more than a piece of body tissue which can be removed at will, like a wart, abortion can become a reasonable alternative to a woman who is scared, to a couple who may not feel ready for the responsibility children bring. Many are tempted to allow the murder of a life God has given.

God commands us to obey not just the letter of his law, but also the spirit of it. Even if a person has always said no to the temptation of murder, suicide or abortion, Jesus points out that all of us have broken God's fifth commandment. God says "You shall not murder" (Exodus 20:13). Jesus points out that murder is more than killing another human being or oneself. Jesus said, "You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment... Anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell" (Matthew 5:21-22).

When it's explained that way, we can't say we've kept the fifth commandment. Murder isn't simply killing another, as Cain killed his brother Abel (Genesis 4). God considers a murderer anyone who doesn't show perfect love to every human being. Hatred and unjust anger are two chief symptoms of the disease of sin, a disease which leads us to break God's fifth commandment by hating others, by being unforgiving, through anger, through racism and prejudice. When we break the fifth commandment through anger and hatred, even through murder, we are really showing our hatred toward God himself. "Anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen" (1 John 4:20).

Because of our sins, because of our lovelessness toward others and toward God, we deserve God's anger. We deserve his punishment. We deserve to pay the eternal price for breaking God's command, "You shall not murder." Yet our Creator is a loving God. He doesn't want to see us punished for our sins. To save us from our punishment, he sent Jesus. Jesus did obey the fifth commandment--and all God's commands--perfectly. Jesus never murdered or hated others. Instead Jesus reflected God's perfect love by showing love to others, by helping and healing those in need. Jesus showed perfect love for us by suffering the punishment we deserved for our sins and by giving up his own life in our place, to save us from hell. Jesus even showed that love toward those who put him to death: "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34).

Jesus died to pay for our sins. He rose again to show us that he had earned God's forgiveness for us, and a place in heaven along with that forgiveness. Jesus gives us the ability and the motivation to obey all God's commandments, to show love and forgiveness toward those around us when we see the love and forgiveness he showed for us. We forgive those who offend us or hurt us because God has forgiven us much more--a lifetime of sin.     Martin Luther gave this explanation of the fifth commandment in his Small Catechism: "We should fear and love God that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and be a friend to him in every bodily need." Because of the love God has shown us through Jesus, we turn away from breaking the fifth commandment through anger, hatred and actually hurting others. Instead, out of love for God who forgives us, we forgive others who hate and hurt us, and do our best to show love not just to our friends, but even to our enemies.