The TV show Seinfeld provided laughter in many homes for 172 episodes. For almost a decade, America watched the show about nothing. Those who remember when Seinfeld aired its last episode likely remember the disappointment that followed in the hearts of many of its most loyal fans. At the end of it all, the four characters wind up in prison for failing to help another person who was being mugged. They violated the “Good Samaritan” Law, and their inaction resulted in incarceration. The show about nothing ended with the characters in trouble for doing nothing.
The Fifth Commandment speaks a similar message to the baptized children of God. Not only are we prohibited from ending life that we do not have the authority to end, we are called to be active in our support and defense of life. With regard to the ending of life, it is important to note that the commandment is not simply “You shall not kill,” but “You shall not murder.” The Fourth Commandment dealt with authority. Paul makes it clear in Romans 13 that the government has authority to take life in defense of life, to send soldiers and police out to defend the lives of its citizens and to curb the effects of evil in the world. Such ending of life is not murder, but is the justice of God meted out in this world.
The Fifth Commandment forbids us from taking life without authority. While the Bible certainly has examples of God using Israel or other nations to enact his divine justice by ending lives, individual Christians are told not to seek revenge for personal grievances, but to turn it over to God [Romans 12:19]. Other instances of ending life without authority are far more common than vengeance killing in our day and age. Our world as a whole condones the ending of unborn and aging life. It is common to hear of a person taking his or her own life. We have not been given the authority to end life in such circumstances, but are called to be people of mercy who maximize care for those who suffer from depression, an unplanned pregnancy, or the loss of abilities that comes with old age.
God’s children are called to protect and defend the gift of life, even the lives of our enemies. This godly love for life comes from the realization that each day of our lives is a gift. It comes with the Psalmist who beholds the majesty of the universe and asks, “What is man that You are mindful of him, or the son of man that You care for him?” [Psalm 8:4]. It comes from the humble confession that I am not as in control of my existence as I like to believe I am. I do not cause my heart to beat or my lungs to work – these are gifts from God. Each day is a gift from God. Life itself is a gift from God, and we as his people are called to defend this gift in ourselves as well as in others.
Not only are we called to defend life in this commandment, but also we are called to honor the living. We are called not only to avoid the ending of another’s life, but also to avoid the anger or hatred of heart that would lead to such an action of the hand [1 John 3:15]. We are called to avoid killing another by tongue or speech [Matthew 12:36], by speaking words that would kill another person’s spirit or drive them to take their own life. The sinful tongue is full of poison, and its bite can be fatal [James 3:8]. Rather than using our tongues to make the life of another person miserable, we are called to speak words of kindness and forgiveness, for these are the words that Jesus has spoken to us.
While most people make it from cradle to grave without actively ending the life of another human being, no one goes that time without speaking hurtful words or harboring hateful thoughts. Thanks be to God for the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Thanks be to God that Jesus is in heaven now speaking words that give life, words that defend us, words that cover our sin [1 John 2:1]. Because such words are spoken of us, we speak such words of others. Because we have been given the gift of life, we treat our life and the lives of others as the gift that it is, supporting and defending it at every turn.