Afternoon Sermon: What Is The Sixth Commandment And What Does It Require?, Baptist Catechism 72 & 73, Acts 16:25–34

Baptist Catechism 72 & 73

Q. 72. What is the sixth commandment?

A. The sixth commandment is, “Thou shalt not kill.” (Exodus 20:13)

Q. 73. What is required in the sixth commandment?

A. The sixth commandment requires all lawful endeavors to preserve our own life and the life of others. (Eph. 5:29,30; Ps. 82:3,4; Prov. 24:11,12; Act 16:28)

Scripture Reading: Acts 16:25–34

“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ And they said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.’ And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.” (Acts 16:25–34, ESV)


Please excuse any typos and misspellings within this manuscript. It has been published online for the benefit of the saints of Emmaus Reformed Baptist Church but without the benefit of proofreading.


Baptist Catechism 72

Our catechism says that the sixth commandment is “thou shalt not kill.” And that is indeed the way that the King James Version translates the sixth commandment as found in Exodus 20:13: “Thou shalt not kill.” But more modern Bible translations have preferred the word “murder” instead of “kill”. “You shall not murder” is what the ESV says. Really, either term will do. In fact, both are prone to misunderstanding and must be explained.

“Thou shalt not kill”, may be taken to mean that humans should never kill anything. Animals should not be killed for food, therefore. But we know this is not the meaning, for animals were rightly killed for food and sacrifice in the days of Moses and long before that. And “thou shalt not kill” may also be taken to mean that a human must never take the life of another human. And that is not true either. The rest of the law of Moses which was written to explain and apply these ten commandments to the nation of Israel teaches that men may kill in self defense, in righteous war, and as agents of the state to promote justice. Take Genesis 9:6 for example: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” (Genesis 9:6, ESV). This principle of retributive justice runs through the law of Moses and is even found in the New Testament (see Romans 13). So, if you memorize the sixth commandment as, “Thou shalt not kill”, you must keep in mind that it does not mean thou shalt not kill anything or under any and all circumstances. No, you do not break the sixth commandment if a violent intruder breaks into your home and threatens your family, and you take his life. 

The translation, “You shall not murder”, can be misunderstood in other ways. It is a better translation, I think, for it does clarify that it is the unjust taking of a human life that is forbidden here. But the word “murder” may be interpreted too narrowly. Not only does the sixth commandment forbid murder — or perhaps we might say, murder in the first or second degree. It also forbids carelessness which leads to the death of another human being. We might refer to this as murder in the third degree or manslaughter.  

  So take your pick. When reciting the sixth commandment you may say “Thou shalt not kill”, following the KJV, or “You shall not murder”, following the ESV. Whichever translation you choose, the important thing is that you understand what the commandment means — what does it forbid, and what does it require. 

Baptist Catechism 73

Our catechism is most helpful. Today we will ask, what is required in the sixth commandment?

And the answer given by our catechism is, “The sixth commandment requires all lawful endeavors to preserve our own life and the life of others.” This is what is required. Next week will ask, what is forbidden in the sixth commandment? And then we will learn that “The sixth commandment absolutely forbideth the taking away of our own life, or the life of our neighbor unjustly, or whatsoever tendeth thereunto.” And so the pattern continues: what does this commandment require, and what does this commandment forbid?

Before we consider the answer to question 73 piece by piece, I should say a word about the basis for the sixth commandment. I will do this by asking, why are humans permitted to kill animals for food, but forbidden from taking the life of another human without just cause? 

I should say, I do not believe that humans are permitted to kill animals indiscriminately — that is to say, randomly, recklessly, and carelessly. No, humans are to be good stewards of the created world, and they are not to be brutal, not even with animals. 

But with that said, the question remains. Why do the scriptures forbid the taking of human life without just cause? And the answer is that man is made in God’s image. There is something particularly dignified about human life. Human life is to be highly respected because the human being is the pinnacle of God’s creation. The human is made in God’s image, and this cannot be said of anything else in all of God’s creation, not even the angels. I have already quoted from Genesis 9:6, but hear it again. “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image” (Genesis 9:6, ESV). It is because man is an image-bearer of God that murder is to punished with death. 

Think of how perverse our society is. In our society murders are often permitted to die of old age whereas the lives of millions of unborn children are snuffed out in the wombs of their mothers each and every year. This perversion is rooted in the fact that our society has forgotten that man is made in God’s image. If we were to remember this, then human life would be treated with dignity at every stage. Murders would get their just reward, and the lives of the innocent would be protected.

 So what is the basis for the sixth commandment? Man is made in the image of God. And what does this commandment require? “All lawful endeavors to preserve our own life and the life of others.” 

What does the word lawful mean? It means that we are to preserve life so long as it does not require us to violate God’s moral law. This can get a little tricky. Is it ever right to tell a lie to preserve life? In general, no. But what about those who hid the Jews from Hitler’s troops during WWII? Did they do wrong when they deceived Natzi’s? I pray that we will never be faced with such difficult choices. But in general, the principle stands. The sixth commandment requires “all lawful endeavors to preserve our own life and the life of others.”

I do appreciate that our catechism draws attention to the obligation we have to preserve our own life. Human beings are made in God’s image. And this means that you are made in God’s image. Not only do you have the responsibility, therefore, to preserve the life of other image-bearers. You also have the responsibility to preserve your own life! 

Christians should not live recklessly, therefore. This too can get a little tricky when it comes to application. Just how cautious should we be? You will notice that our catechism does not provide us with a detailed application, but only with the principle. And I am glad about that! The Christian should not be reckless. G.I. Williamson in his commentary of the Westminster Larger Catechism (by the way, both of these resources — the Westminster Larger Catechism, and Williamson’s commentary on it — are very useful tools for the study of the Baptist Catechism, which very similar to the Westminster Shorter Catechism)… back to my point: G.I. Williamson in his commentary of the Westminster Larger Catechism lists “dueling, bullfighting [and] shooting the rapids of the Niagara River in a barrel” as a clear violation of the sixth commandment, but he admits that attempting to cross the Atlantic in a small sailboat may not be a violation. I think it is right that we are confronted with the principle that sixth commandment requires “all lawful endeavors to preserve our own life”, and then, in general, to leave it to each person to work out the specifics. 

Does this mean that we should watch what we eat? Probably. But I’m not all that interested in helping you craft a meal plan if you know what I mean. Does this mean that you should exercise? Probably. But again, I’ll leave that to you to work out (pun). But I heard that you were drag racing your car on Domenigoni Parkway, I’d surely rebuke you. I’d rebuke you for a number of reasons. You’d be breaking a civil law — a civil law rooted in the sixth commandment, by the way. And you would therefore be in clear violation of God’s moral law. You would be recklessly endangering your own life and the lives of others. 

Some live recklessly and deserve to be rebuked. But some do also live fearfully. And perhaps this is more of an issue in our day. There is a delicate balance that we all must strike, therefore. We must not be reckless with our lives, but neither can we be driven by fear. No, we must live our lives to the fullest. This means that we must live courageously and with wisdom to the glory of God. We cannot allow fear of sickness or death to hinder us from loving, serving, and worshipping God, nor can we allow fear to hinder us from loving one another. We must live courageously and with wisdom to the glory of God.

I suppose this will always require us to assess risk and reward. And do not be surprised, brothers and sisters, when the world assesses risk and reward differently than we who are in Christ do. For us the sting of death has been removed. But for the one who is dead in their sin, death is an all-consuming enemy. And for us, the greatest reward is to see God glorified and in his glory. But for the world, the greatest reward is health, wealth, and prosperity. Lord, grant us wisdom so that we might know how to walk in this world. Brothers and sisters, do not be reckless with your own life, but neither should you be driven by fear.

Not only does the sixth commandment require us to endeavor “to preserve our own life” it also requires us to endeavor to preserve the lives of others. 

You know about a year ago we were told that there was an epidemic sweeping across our land, and a pandemic sweeping across our world. Our leaders warned us that if we did not quarantine our hospitals would be overrun and thousands upon thousands would perish. I remember hearing our President say, we will see casualties like we haven’t seen since WWII if we don’t act. The call was to lockdown for a brief time in order to flatten the curve, and we complied. We refrained from assembling for corporate worship for five weeks. 

You know, taking into consideration what we knew at the time, I would do the same thing again. I do believe that the sixth commandment should lead us in that direction. And I do believe that the preservation of life does trump the ceremonial observance of the Sabbath day. We should remember what Christ said about Sabbath observance. “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” (Luke 14:5, ESV). And so the preservation of life — even the life of an ox — does take precedence over the ceremonial.  

I will not rehearse everything that has transpired over the last year with so-called pandemic, nor will I do a play-by-play for you as it pertains to our decision-making process. The point that I am making here is that the command, “you shall not murder” does not only forbid unjust killing, it does also require us to think about the preservation of life. Again, this can get tricky. Again, this requires wisdom. Again, the question of risk and reward does come into play. 

I suppose if we were to push this principle of the preservation of life too far, we would never leave our homes. Certainly, we would never assemble. When we leave our homes, we take a risk. We might get into a car accident and be killed, or kill another. And when we assemble — when we shake hands, look into one anothers eyes, sing together, and greet one another with a holy kiss (metaphorically speaking) —  germs are spread. And there is always the risk that someone will get really, really sick, and even perish. Not to mention the fact that when we commute to church our automobiles emit gasses that warm the earth and lead to natural disasters, famine, death, and destruction (or so some people say).  

Brothers and sisters, this principle that we have a moral obligation to preserve our own life and the lives of others can be misused and abused. In fact, it can be used as a weapon against God’s people to keep them from doing what God has called them to do. 

What an interesting year this past year has been.


Q. 73. What is required in the sixth commandment?

A. The sixth commandment requires all lawful endeavors to preserve our own life and the life of others.

Clearly, this is true!

Lord, give us the wisdom to keep this commandment as we live in this world, in our families, and as a church, all to the glory of the Triune God.

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