This article is part of a series from our monthly newsletter written by Pastor Steve. Read more from the series by clicking the button below:
The Fifth Commandment
Throughout the year, I will be reflecting upon the Ten Commandments in the newsletter. This month we continue by examining the Fifth Commandment. I plan to begin with Luther’s explanation and then move into what this might mean for us today.
The Fifth Commandment
You shall not murder.
What does this mean?
We are to fear and love God, so that we neither endanger nor harm the lives of our neighbors,
but instead help and support them in all of life’s needs.
This commandment seems very straightforward and one that many can think that it is one of the easier ones to obey—for most of us have not actually killed anyone else. Luther in writing on this commandment broadens out the meaning. In his Large Catechism he writes:
‘The meaning of this commandment, then, is that no one should harm another person for any evil deed, no matter how much that person deserves it. For whenever murder is forbidden, there also is forbidden everything that may lead to murder. Many people, although they do not actually commit murder, nevertheless curse others and wish such frightful things on them that, if they were to come true, they would soon put an end to them. Everyone acts this way by nature, and it is common knowledge that no one willingly suffers injury from another. Therefore, God wishes to remove the root and source that embitters our heart toward our neighbor. He wants to train us to hold this commandment always before our eyes as a mirror in which to see ourselves, so that we may be attentive to his will and, with heartfelt confidence and prayer in his name, commit whatever wrong we suffer to God. Then we can let our enemies rave and rage and do their worst. Thus we may learn to calm our anger and have a patient, gentle heart, especially toward those who give us cause to be angry, namely, our enemies’. (The Book of Concord, p.411)
In many ways this echoes Jesus’ teaching on the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:21-26); where Jesus says that it was said you shall not murder, but he goes on to say that if we have anger toward others, we also are liable to judgement. This commandment is about not just bring physical harm toward others, but our attitude and treatment of others.
I remember when I was in seminary a classmate of mine used to talk about the meaning of this commandment is really about fostering life. He was picking up on Luther’s line about ‘help and support them in all of life’s needs.’ For when we help and support other, in reality we are fostering life for those that we help.
In our world today, how do we live out this commandment?
As we think about this question, one place I think we need to start is to think about who is our neighbor? Too often in our world today, I think that it can be easy to help foster life for those who are like us or people we hang around. Many times we may think about our neighbors in a narrower way. I think that if we take seriously the Bible it becomes more and more clear that our neighbor is really anyone who is in need. Neighbor is not defined by ethnicity, physical location, nationality, or any of these type of groupings. Rather neighbors come in all shapes and sizes.
I think that this challenges us when we begin to think and wrestle with complex issues within our world today and
attempt to ask questions about how our view on an issue is being shaped by seeking to be a neighbor to others and seek to help and support them.
Going back to the question of ‘how do we live out this commandment?’ There can be easy ways to do this: donate stuff to organizations such as food pantries, clothing center, Matthew 25 Ministries, Orphan Grain Train, etc.; support organizations like Wernle, Heifer International, World Hunger, etc.; give blood or platelets; collect stuff for Lutheran World Relief (school kits, baby layettes, etc.).
But then there are more complicated issues to wrestle with how we help and support our neighbors: criminal justice issues, racial relationships, immigration, etc.
With what seems like an easy commandment to follow, if we take seriously Luther and the teachings of Jesus—it calls us to ask ourselves how are we helping and supporting all those in need? Then go and seeds of Christ’s love in our world.