Afternoon Sermon: What Is Forbidden In The Sixth Commandment?, Baptist Catechism 74, Matthew 5:21-26

Baptist Catechism 74

Q. 74. What is forbidden in the sixth commandment?

A. The sixth commandment absolutely forbideth the taking away of our own life, or the life of our neighbor unjustly, or whatsoever tendeth thereunto. (Gen. 4:10,11; 9:6; Matt. 5:21-26)

Scripture Reading: Matthew 5:21-26

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.” (Matthew 5:21–26, ESV)

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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.

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The reason I have read from Matthew 5:21-26 is to remind you that these commandments we are considering are to be kept, not only externally, but in the heart. Jesus did not make this up when he said, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” No, this was not a new and novel interpretation of God’s law. This was not a stricter application of God’s law. No, Jesus was simply presenting the true interpretation and full application of God’s law. God’s law was always to be obeyed, not only in deed, but also in thought and in word. Remember, the commandments of God are summed up with these two: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5, ESV), and “you shall love your neighbor as yourself…” (Leviticus 19:18, ESV).

So have we kept the sixth commandment when we refrain from murder? Well, not necessarily. The commandment is to be applied more broadly. We are also to seek to “preserve our own life and the life of others.” And the commandment is to be applied to the heart. We must not hate our neighbor. Neither are we to hold a grudge against our neighbor, insult them, or curse them.

All of God’s commandments are to be kept from the heart, friends.  I’m sure Jesus said what he said as recorded in Matthew 5 to combat legalism. Legalism takes many forms, but the most common form is the thought that men and women may stand before God righteous through obedience to God’s law. And you can see how some might think that they are able to keep God’s law perfectly if they apply God’s law only to external behavior. 

“Thou shalt not murder.” Check.

“Thou shall not commit adultery.” Check. 

“Thou shall not bear false witness.” Check.

But wait a minute. Is God only concerned with the act of murder, the act of adultery, and the act of bearing false witness in the court of law? No. If we think so, we have badly misunderstood God’s law. God requires us to love him with all that we are, and our neighbor as we love our own selves. Once we understand this we will be able to see that all have violated God’s law in thought, word, and deed. And then we will also clearly see our guilt and our need for a Savior.  

We have learned what the sixth commandment requires. “The sixth commandment requires all lawful endeavors to preserve our own life and the life of others” (BC 73). And now we learn about what it forbids. “The sixth commandment absolutely forbideth the taking away of our own life, or the life of our neighbor unjustly, or whatsoever tendeth thereunto.”

Baptist Catechism 74

First of all, “the sixth commandment absolutely forbideth the taking away of our own life…”

Suicide and assisted suicide is a violation of God’s law. Some might reason in this way: My life is so miserable that it would be better if I died. But that is not your decision to make, friends. God has numbered our days. It is his right to give us life, and to take it away. It is a great evil to take that decision into our own hands. 

I’m afraid that those who think this way have forgotten that God is able to use our suffering for good. I run the risk of sounding insensitive here. I do understand that people do sometimes suffer greatly. And I am aware that I myself am not currently suffering, nor can I claim to have endured any great suffering in my life. So I acknowledge that I do not speak from experience here. But if I am only allowed to speak from experience, then there will be many things that I will never be able to say a word about, for my experiences are limited. So I do not speak on the authority of experience, but on the authority of God’s word. And God’s word is clear — he works through suffering. He refines his people through suffering. He is able to bring good out of suffering. 

Do you want proof of this? Then look to Christ. See the good that came out of his suffering. More examples can be given — indeed, I could pile up scriptures texts. But the sufferings of Christ provide sufficient proof that God accomplishes his purposes through suffering. 

If we lose sight of this, then we will struggle to suffer well. In fact, we may even despair of life in the midst of suffering.  Brothers and sisters, do not despair. Persevere through suffering, knowing that God will keep you. He will use the suffering to refine you, to bring about good, and to accomplish his purposes.

And some may be tempted to take their life into their own hand’s reasoning that they do not wish to be a burden to others who must care for them in their suffering. But this too is a great error. You must remember that God may use your suffering to refine those who have the privilege to care for you in the mists of it. 

Whatever the reason, the sixth commandment is a great help to those who are despairing of life, for it strictly forbids us from taking our own life. It simply is not an option. We must leave the matter to God. God determined the moment of our birth, and we are to leave it to him to determine the moment and circumstances of our death. 

Some have wondered if those who commit suicide can be saved? Two things should be considered. First, Christ atoned for all kinds of sins when he died on the cross for his people, including violations of the sixth commandment. So no sin, with the exception of the sin of unbelief, is beyond the atoning power of Christ’s blood. But secondly, the scriptures do teach that we will know Christ’s disciples by their fruits. Those who belong to Christ will keep his commandments. It is no wonder, then, that the sin of suicide leaves everyone wondering what they are to think about the salvation of that soul. For that one’s life comes to an end in an act of sin. I have heard many describe suicide as a selfish act. Why is it described in that way? Because it leaves so many behind wondering and morning the loss.

With that said, by heart does break for those who have come to such a dark place of despair. They need the gospel of Jesus Christ. They need to know that hope and peace is found in him. They need to know that there is a purpose to life, and even to the suffering. And they need to know that life does not end when we pass from this world. No, every human is in fact immortal. All will live forever either in heaven or hell. We must be found in Christ if we are to spend eternity with him in heaven, for he is the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through him. And of all people, the Christian ought never to take their own life.

Secondly, “the sixth commandment absolutely forbideth the taking away of… the life of our neighbor unjustly, or whatsoever tendeth thereunto.”

The words “whatsoever tendeth thereunto” remind us that we are not to participate in anything that leads to the unjust taking of human life.

And the word “unjustly” is also crucial. It indicates that while it is true that it is not our place to take away life — our own life, or the life of another — there are exceptions. And the exceptions are when the taking away of the life of another is “just”, or “right”. 

Three instances come to mind: One, in self defense. Two, when the state rightly uses its power to punish a murderer. And three, in just war. 

As Christians, we must learn to think carefully and biblically about these things. 

If someone commits a crime against you, is it your place to punish them? No. That is the job of the state. 

And should the state punish every sin? No. There are many sins that are not criminal. Lying is a sin, but is not a crime, unless the lie is uttered while under oath, or leads to the damage of another’s person or property. 

And should the state use the death penalty to punish every crime? No. The murderer is to be put to death (Genesis 9), and the murder had better be proven. But other crimes may be punished through restitution. 

Also, the Christain should think very carefully about what constitutes “self defense”, and what is to be considered “just war”. We are walking in the realm of ethics again, and ethical questions can be complicated. 

I would be remiss if I failed to address the great sin of abortion. Abortion is the taking away of life. And these lives of the unborn are taken away unjustly. These little ones did not do anything to deserve being put to death by their own mothers and fathers. No, in the vast majority of cases they are put to death on the basis of the preference of the parents. It is often about convenience. This is not right.

If you have had an abortion I must say, it was a sin to do so. You violated the sixth commandment. But their forgiveness in Christ Jesus. Acknowledge your sin, trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins, and serve him as Lord from this day forward. You will not be shunned by him, for he is gracious and kind. And neither will you be shunned by us, for we are all sinners saved by the marvelous grace of God.   

Lord, help us to know your word and give us the wisdom to apply it in every circumstance, should be our prayer.  

Conclusion 

But here is where we must begin: with God’s law. And what does God’s law say? “You shall not murder” What does this commandment forbid?

A. The sixth commandment absolutely forbideth the taking away of our own life, or the life of our neighbor unjustly, or whatsoever tendeth thereunto. (Gen. 4:10,11; 9:6; Matt. 5:21-26)

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