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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
 
Title:The Sixth Commandment calls us to uphold the life God has given
Text:LD 40 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic: 6th Commandment (Murder)
 
Preached:2012
Added:2012-08-07
Updated:2013-01-05
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

NOTE:  all songs from the 2010 Book of Praise

Psalm 133
Psalm 119:13,14
Psalm 101
Hymn 1
Hymn 9

Scripture readings:  Genesis 4:1-16, 1 Peter 4:1-11
Catechism lesson:  Lord's Day 40
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Christ our Lord,

In May of 2011 we heard the news for which much of the world had been waiting ten years.  A team of US Navy SEALS had shot and killed Osama Bin Laden, the world’s most wanted man.  In the wake of that, some began thinking carefully about death and killing.  Why do human beings kill other human beings?  Why did Osama Bin Laden have such callous disregard for the lives of others?  How could he rejoice to see thousands lose their lives on September 11, 2001?  How do we process his death?

Over in the UK, the BBC featured a radio program that discussed these important questions.  Listen to how they introduced it in the program notes, 

What is it that makes some people want to hurt or kill?  In the wake of Osama Bin Laden’s death, we investigate the triggers, in the brain, and in society, that make crime and cruelty flourish.  One of Britain’s leading psychiatrists, Simon Baron-Cohen, suggests that if we want a scientific understanding, we should stop talking about evil and consider how our brains are wired for empathy, or lack of it.

Baron-Cohen says that some people have a defective empathy circuit in their brain or some other neurological dysfunction that makes them more susceptible to cruelty or to the enjoyment of killing.  Of course, the implication is that Osama Bin Laden is probably one of these people with a neurological problem and that caused him to become a terrorist. 

This approach to the question reflects a materialistic worldview.  A materialistic worldview says that all that exists is what we can observe and touch.  Only material things exist.  There is no spiritual aspect to reality.   Everything has to be explained with material explanations, including why people kill and why people are cruel.  There can be nothing about sin, because in a materialistic worldview there is no such thing as sin or evil.  There are just things that happen because material interacts with other material.  And all of that is morally neutral.  In the end, this materialistic account of cruelty absolves human beings of ultimate responsibility for their actions.  Osama Bin Laden was just a victim of a defective empathy circuit in his brain.  He could not help being a terrorist.  This is the way unbelieving people try to explain away murder and cruelty. 

As Christians, we approach this entirely differently.  We readily acknowledge that this is a broken world.  We confess that the world and everything in it has been scarred by the fall into sin.  So we can agree that some people might have neurological issues that leave them with little or no empathy, no regard for the feelings of others.  Sure, but there is so much more to say.  Why do people kill?  Why do people sometimes have little or no respect for life?  It’s typically because of a spiritual problem.  It’s because unregenerate human hearts are dead in sin.  And because of sin, human beings can become indifferent to one another, hate one another, and even kill one another.  No, thankfully, not every human being goes to the extreme of physically taking other lives.  But the seeds for that are in everyone in the unregenerate state.  This is a serious problem.

And it is a problem which the gospel addresses.  Jesus Christ came into this world to bring life.  He said that he was the way, the truth, and the life.  He came so that dead sinners would be brought back from the grave.  He lived and died and lived again so that people would live in fellowship with one another and with God.  Christ’s person and work are all about restoring life and bringing things to the way they should be, the way they were designed to be. 

God’s design from the beginning was about all about life.  Adam and Eve living in the Garden, enjoying life with one another and with God himself.  Even before the fall, God told Adam and Eve that there was another way:  the way of death.  He told them that if they would eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they would surely die.  God did not want Adam and Eve to die, so he warned them to steer clear of the tree.  They didn’t listen and they introduced death into the world. 

But that doesn’t alter God’s design.  His design is always for life.  God loves life and he wants us to love life too.  He wants us to uphold the life he has given.  For us as Christians, this commandment takes on deeper dimensions because of the life we have in Christ.  Christ has given us life.  He has enriched the lives we live here on this earth now already.  Because he has bought us with his blood, we have meaning and direction.  He holds out to us the promise of an even richer life in the age to come.  Through him, we are truly alive and will be eternally.  Because Christ is our life, we want to follow God’s design for life, we want to uphold the life God has given.  By doing this we express our love for our God and we show him our thankfulness for his grace in our lives.  Let’s keep that in mind this afternoon as we consider the Sixth Commandment and its call for us to love life and uphold it.  We’ll consider our calling with respect to:

1.      Creation

2.      Society

3.      Ourselves

We all know the Sixth Commandment, “You shall not murder” or “You shall not kill.”  We understand that this commandment has in mind the unlawful taking of human life.  Our Catechism focusses on that too.  But human life is intimately connected to other life on this earth.  In the Nicene Creed, we confess that the Holy Spirit is the Lord and giver of life.  That means all life on this earth.  We live on this earth because the Holy Spirit is instrumental in producing life and sustaining life.  Our existence is inextricably connected to the existence of other parts of creation.  For instance, for us to live, we need plants and animals to provide us food.  We rely on plants to produce the oxygen that’s essential for our survival.  We can’t live apart from other living things.  This is the way God has created the world.  Thus there is a natural or logical connection between the Sixth Commandment and how we think about the world around us and how we interact with it.

But there is also an explicit biblical connection or two.  In Genesis 9 when Noah comes out of the ark, God establishes a covenant with him.  Right before that, he gives directions to Noah about what he can eat.  As before, Noah is permitted to eat anything that plants produce.  But God now also allows Noah and his descendants to eat meat, to kill animals for food.  This comes right before those well-known words against murder, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.”  That falls right in line with the Sixth Commandment.

With the ark of Noah, too, God had shown concern for human life.  He spared the lives of eight who would continue the human race.  But he also had concern for the animals – he saved their lives too.  We could think too of God’s words to Jonah at the end of Jonah 4.  God says that he cared about the lives of 120,000 people who couldn’t tell their right hand from their left.  Then he adds, “and many cattle as well.  Should I not be concerned about that great city?”  Because God cares about the animals, because they belong to him, we can’t go about randomly killing them.        

Let’s make this concrete, also for the sake of the kids here.  You kids are walking along the sidewalk in the summer and you see a huge squirming mass of tiny ants.  There are these small ants and there are just thousands of them congregating around cracks in the sidewalks in some places.  I don’t know what they’re doing, but there are tons of them.  What do you do?  You might be tempted to squash them with your foot.  You could easily do that.  You could kill thousands of ants just like that and you might think it’s fun.  But what does God think of it?  Those ants are his creatures too.  When you kill an ant for no reason at all, just because you can, God is not pleased with that.  We are allowed to kill animals if they are threatening us in some way or if we will use them for food or for some other good reason, but we cannot kill animals just because we’re bigger or just because we think it’s fun.  God’s Word teaches us to love life in the world around us too.  We do that because we are in Christ, because we have been graciously given life through him.  So kids if you see those thousands of ants, don’t stomp on them, instead, stop and look carefully.  Admire them.  Praise God for them.  You know, God tells us in the Bible to watch the ants carefully.  Listen to what he says in Proverbs 6:6-8 [look up and read].  You see, we can learn wisdom from ants and the way they work.

There’s more in God’s Word about the connection between the Sixth Commandment and creation.  Take Deuteronomy 20 for instance.  Many see Deuteronomy 19 to 22:8 as a sort of commentary on the Sixth Commandment, showing how the commandment applies in all sorts of circumstances.  Deuteronomy 20 speaks about war and war obviously involves death and destruction.  God gave Israel specific laws about how to go to war.  One of the laws had to do with trees.  When the Israelites would besiege a city, they were not allowed to cut down the trees, especially the fruit trees.  If they needed to, they could use the non-fruit bearing trees for their siege works.  But they definitely had to leave the fruit trees alone.  Two reasons were given by God.  One is the practical reason that after capturing the city, they could use the fruit trees for food.  The other reason is found at the end of verse 19 of Deuteronomy 20, “Are the trees of the field people that you should besiege them?”  The trees need to be taken care of by God’s people, even during war. 

That fits with the calling God has given mankind to have dominion over creation.  Dominion is not about carelessness and thoughtlessness.  The call to have dominion is a call to responsible stewardship.  We are to care for all the life on this earth because God has placed it in our care.  It all belongs to him, but he has entrusted it to us.  We are managers of creation and we have to take that calling seriously.  That means that both plant and animal life must be respected by those who have been bought with the blood of Christ.

As you may know, there are a lot of unbelievers who are concerned about the environment too.  They have their reasons for doing that.  Some of those reasons are quite religious – for some the environment becomes a sort of god or goddess.  Some of their concerns are rather controversial too.  I think here especially of the whole question of climate change.  There are good arguments for and against.  Thoughtful Christians can and do fall on both sides.  But we don’t have to buy into all kinds of theories to be responsible with the life God has placed on this earth.  We just have to take the Bible seriously on this.  As Christians, we should be known as people who are environmentally responsible, who care about all life.  Why?  Because God cares.  And because Romans 8 also teaches us that the salvation we have in Christ is something that impacts all of creation.  Paul says, “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.”  This refers to liberation from bondage to decay.  It’s God’s design that the created world be “brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.”  That will fully take place in the age to come.  But now already the transformation of our hearts and lives through Christ will and must impact the world in which we live.         

Of course, this commandment also impacts how we live in society with other human beings.  This commandment is primarily about how we live with our neighbour.  The world around us is in such a mess over this.  There’s so much confusion and inconsistency.  Let me give one example.  Gary North is a fairly well-known and controversial figure in the Reformed world.  He’s connected with the theonomy and Christian reconstruction movement, a movement which advocates applying the civil laws  of the Old Testament to society today.  By referring to Gary North, I’m not saying that he’s a great author to be reading or learning from.  But sometimes he draws attention to glaring inconsistencies in the world of unbelief and that can be helpful.  Gary North once saw a protest somewhere in the United States.  There was a person with a two-sided sign.  On one side it read, “Down with capital punishment.”  On the other side it read, “Up with abortion rights.”  So, one side called for prohibiting the death of a convicted murderer, while the other called for the death of a judicially innocent person.  The principle apparently held is that we should protect the guilty and condemn the innocent.  There’s no understanding of the value of human life in this type of worldview.  No sense of justice. 

That perverted thinking has been around for thousands of years.  There was Cain with the blood of Abel on his hands in Genesis 4.  He should have protected the life of his brother, but instead, because he hated his brother so much he murdered him.  Cain was filled with envy, hatred, and anger – the roots of murder.  And those roots grew upwards and outwards and produced the fruit of a violent death. 

The apostle John refers to this incident in 1 John 3.  He says, “Do not be like Cain who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother.”  Why did he kill him?  Because he was filled with hatred.  Christians recognize that hatred is on the same trajectory or path as murder, and therefore hatred is a violation of the Sixth Commandment.  So is everything associated with hatred, every negative feeling, attitude, and word towards your neighbour.  Because of Christ, we have to kill, we have to put to death, but it’s not our neighbour that we have to kill, but our own sinful attitudes and feelings towards our neighbour.

But, as the Catechism rightly teaches, it’s not enough that we just don’t hate or kill.  It’s not enough to just be indifferent.  The Sixth Commandment also requires the opposite of us.  It requires us to love our neighbours.  Think of what we read from 1 Peter 4:11, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”  Through love, we can be more patient with others around us.  We can let the little things go.  Through love, we can pick our battles and sometimes even just let people be wrong on things that aren’t of great importance.  We’re also called to have peace, gentleness, mercy and friendliness with our neighbours – with all whom God puts on our path.  And we’re to protect them from harm as much as we can.   

That’s all on the personal level.  But there’s also a responsibility on the broader level.  We live in a culture that has a love-hate relationship with death.  Our society hates to be confronted with the reality of death.  People don’t have funerals anymore, they have “celebrations of life.”  Cemeteries are now “memorial gardens” and they’re usually out of the way.  They used to be beside churches and church-goers would see the cemetery every Sunday and be reminded of the inevitability of death.  Today people don’t die, they “pass away” or “go on to a better place.”  Our society is uncomfortable with death.  And yet, for all that, there’s a lot of death going on, and a lot of murder.  And think of how so many entertain themselves.  Does anybody else see the terrible irony when a theater is crowded with people being entertained by a violent movie and then real violence erupts?  Hardly anyone in our culture seems to grasp this.  We love to be entertained with murder and death, but if it touches our lives in reality we gasp in horror and struggle to make sense of it.  As Christians, don’t we have a calling to be different here?    

And don’t we have a calling also to take a stand against murder and violence in society?  Here we can think again of the awful reality of abortion in our country.  Countless unborn children’s lives are taken in the name of a woman’s right to choose.  This is an enormous injustice in our land and there is not a single law dealing with it.  We have two responsibilities.  The first is to continue to cry out to our governing officials about this travesty.  They need to hear from us.  The second is to those who have had abortions or who would contemplate doing so.  To them we need to hold out the gospel of life and hope in Christ and we need to show love and mercy.  To those who have had abortions, they need to hear that this is not an unforgivable sin.  Jesus Christ can give salvation to them also; they are not beyond the grace of God.  They can find healing and peace within and with God through Jesus Christ.  To those who would contemplate having an abortion, Christians need to give support and give real concrete help.  It’s not enough just to be against abortion.  To really be pro-life, we need to show the love of Christ in word and deed. 

Sometimes we think that there are no people in the church who have had abortions, so we speak quite strongly about abortion and those who have had them.   We can be quite judgmental and harsh.  First of all, we should not assume that there is no one in the church who’s ever had an abortion.  Some people have abortions because of their pride, because they are afraid of what other people will think of them.  Are there no proud people in the Canadian Reformed Churches?  Don’t we have enough people who are governed by what other people think of them?   Please don’t be naïve.   Second, what about people who may come to visit our churches?  Don’t we want people who have fallen in all sorts of ways to find hope and comfort in the gospel of Christ?  But what if they come to our church and then discover that the church is only for people who have it all together?  What if they hear us talking and conclude that the gospel is only for the righteous?  They hear a judgmental person and they decide that this church is a harsh and hateful place and they never come back.  Loved ones, the Sixth Commandment means that we will be pro-life and against abortion.  But that commandment also means that we must be loving, patient, and merciful with those who have had abortions.  In all our speaking, whether in the church or outside, we must reflect Christ.  Our Saviour had a heart for the broken, he had compassion on the afflicted, those who were falling apart.   Our calling through this commandment is to reflect our union with that Saviour.

Last of all, this commandment also gives us a calling with respect to ourselves.  The words of Question and Answer 105 are often repeated, “Moreover, I am not to harm or recklessly endanger myself.”  We are to uphold all life, including our own.  The applications are predictable.  You what the minister often brings up at this point.  The usual warnings against smoking, bad eating habits, under-exercising, recreational drug use, alcohol abuse.  Those warnings are still important to hear.  Since our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, we do have to take care of our own lives.  The life of our neighbour is precious, but so are our own lives.  So we must take care with our bodies and not doing anything that would deliberately poison them, disease them, or ruin them.  This is God’s will for you. 

Reckless living is included here too.  Reckless living is warned against in our reading from 1 Peter 4.  Peter speaks about debauchery and lust, orgies, partying and drunkenness.  The people who do that stuff live without a care.  They don’t think about what they’re doing and how they are wasting and ruining their lives.  Habitual drunkenness will lead to liver cirrhosis.  One day you’ll go to the doctor and find out that your liver doesn’t work anymore.  Orgies and sexual promiscuity leads to sexually transmitted diseases, some of which are fatal, and many of which are just plain ugly and extremely painful.  How many people don’t end up dead because they were in a place they shouldn’t have been?  If you live recklessly, you will pay the price in your body.  The warnings of the Bible are clear on this. 

But Peter has something different in mind for his readers.  They have Christ who suffered and gave his body for them.  They have believed the gospel message and they have been bought body and soul with the precious blood of Christ.  They recognize that the end of all things is near.  Christ could return at any moment.  Therefore that reckless living is not going to feature in their lives.  It may have before at some point when they were unbelievers  -- they spent enough time in the past doing that garbage – but now things are different because of Christ.  Reckless living does not belong.  It cannot feature in our lives either brothers and sisters.  Instead, there is verse 7, “be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.”  Taking care of our bodies by living soberly and godly, that is designed to lead us to closer communion with God.                 

Brothers and sisters, God loves and treasures life and he wants us to as well.  The redemption that we have in Christ is unto life.  That means we have eternal life in Christ, but it also means that as he transforms us with his Spirit, we love and affirm life.  The world of unbelief is destined for death.  Death exists because of unbelief and sin.  Christ has come to set us free from the bondage of sin and death.  Through him, though we die, we will live eternally and because of him we will uphold life now in this age already.  AMEN.

Prayer:

Our wise and good God in heaven,

Your law is good and shows us the way of life.  Father, we want to keep your law.  We have been saved through the life and death of Christ and we’re grateful for that.  We want to show our love for you by following your precepts.  Please give us more grace with your Spirit so that we may obey from the heart, that we grow in our obedience.  You have created this world and all the life in it.  Please help us to take care of all that life, from the plants and animals to the neighbours you put on our path.  We pray again to you about the murder of unborn children.  We pray that our leaders would see this for the evil that it is and bring legislation to end it.  We also pray for those who have had abortions.  Please help them to find healing and forgiveness with your grace in Christ our Saviour.  Help us also to be winsome and compassionate with those who are broken in this way.  Father, we also ask for your guidance too in taking care of our own bodies.  Help us not to be reckless, but careful in what we do with ourselves.  We want to walk in your light and we need the help of your Spirit.  Let him work in us each day so that we grow as your children.       




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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