Fifth and Sixth Commandments
Since the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade of 1973 allowed abortion in the United States, about sixty two million babies have been murdered in our country. The practice of abortion immediately reveals a close connection between the Fifth and Sixth Commandments. Abortion is the murder of an unborn child. Ironically, those in our world who are most likely to trumpet “science” as the final authority on all matters, ignore what science has clearly revealed about life in the womb when it comes to abortion.
Abortion is murder and breaks the Fifth Commandment. And of course the main reason it is practiced is because people think they are free to have sex with whomever they want. They want to use sex for pleasure, and ignore the setting of marriage in which God has established it. They want to break the Sixth Commandment. But of course, the life giving power of the one flesh union created by God has a way of winning out. And so people want the “right” to kill the life they have created. They want to be able to break the Fifth Commandment so that they can continue to break the Sixth Commandment.
The Fifth Commandment says “You shall not murder.” It teaches us that God is the giver of life. He is the Creator, whose act of creation continues in this world. He creates life, and with exception of the government that can act as his representative in executing the guilty, only God can end life.
On the surface, it seems as if for us personally the Fifth Commandment is easy to keep, even as it is very difficult to affirm in our society. Almost certainly, you have never murdered a person. On the other hand, our society increasingly acts as if it is free to kill the unborn, those whose lives it deems not worth living, and even to encourage people to end their own life. While we need to speak out and take part in those opportunities to oppose abortion, euthanasia and assisted suicide, we also must recognize that the Fifth Commandment reveals the sin in our lives, and provides guidance for how we are to live.
The Small Catechism explains the Fifth Commandment by saying that should not “hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.” The commandment includes our neighbor’s physical welfare and all the ways that we can provide assistance. Martin Luther comments in the Large Catechism: “In short, God wants to have everyone defended, delivered, and protected from the wickedness and violence of others, and he has placed this commandment as a wall, fortress, and refuge around our neighbors, so that no one may do them bodily harm or injury.”
The Fifth Commandment does not only speak in the negative. It also tells us what we are to do. We are to help and support our neighbor whenever there is opportunity to do so. And this kindness is not only to be shown to people we like. As Luther says in the Large Catechism, “Therefore it is God’s real intention that we should allow no one to suffer harm but show every kindness and love. And this kindness, as I said, is directed especially toward our enemies.”
This is something with which we struggle in our heart. And ultimately, the Fifth Commandment addresses what is in our heart. The apostle John wrote in his first letter, “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” Anger is the source of murder, and when the Fifth Commandment forbids murder, it also forbids everything that leads to murder.
The Sixth Commandment says, “You shall not commit adultery.” We use it to summarize all that Scripture teaches about sex in general, and marriage in particular. The starting point for understanding the Sixth Commandment must be that sex is God’s good gift. God created man as male and female. God saw that it was not good for the man to be alone and said, “I will make him a helper fit for him.”
God created Eve from Adam as the helper who corresponded to him, and in doing so he instituted marriage. Genesis tells us about God’s intention: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” The one flesh union of husband and wife in sexual intercourse enacts the way God now sees the couple. And it has the purpose of producing children and family, for God blessed Adam and Eve and said, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
The Small Catechism explains the Sixth Commandment by saying that we should “lead a sexually pure and decent life in what we say and do.” This means that only a husband and wife are to have sex with one another. Sex is not to be used outside of marriage. Those who are married are not to commit adultery. And of course, sex is never to take place between two men or two women.
But like the Fifth Commandment, the meaning of the Sixth Commandment is not limited to the physical act. Jesus said, “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Our Lord tells us that sexually impure and lustful thoughts cause us to be guilty of breaking the Sixth Commandment. Therefore Christians must avoid every form of pornography and sexually explicit material which are intended to provoke lust.
It is in relation to the Sixth Commandment that the Church faces some of its greatest challenges here in the twenty-first century. The world says that people are free to have sex with whomever they want. It is assumed that couples who date will be having sex. Couples living together before marriage has become common, and they expect to be married in church. Our culture promotes the acceptance of homosexuality, and increasingly seeks to penalize and punish those who don’t. Both as individuals and as the Church as a whole, God’s Word calls us to be faithful to his will even if it means experiencing difficulties and hardships.
God established marriage as the one flesh union of a man and a woman. The Sixth Commandment also teaches us about how we are to live in marriage. As the explanation says in the Small Catechism, husband and wife are to “love and honor each other.” The Sixth Commandment teaches us that our spouse is a great blessing from God. We are to treat him or her as such. We seek the welfare and good of our spouse, and put their needs ahead of ours. We must be willing to sacrifice in order to help and assist our spouse. St Paul wrote, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” The self-giving love of Christ provides the model for how husbands are to treat their wives.
Even where we remain sexually faithful to God’s will in the physical act, we recognize that we are guilty of breaking the Sixth Commandment. We succumb to lustful thoughts, and unless the group to whom I am speaking is a complete statistical anomaly, there are those here who look at pornography. We know that we don’t always love and honor our spouse, since instead at times we speak angry words and act in selfish ways.
During Lent we are preparing to remember a murder. We are preparing to remember an occasion when the government unjustly exercised its role in using death as a punishment. Jesus Christ was murdered. He was executed by the Roman governor, in the full knowledge that the death was unjust.
Murders happen all the time. But this murder was remarkable because the God the Creator, allowed his creatures to kill him. God the Father sent the Son into the world as he was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and born of the virgin Mary. The Son, who was in the beginning with God and was God, and by whom all things were made, became flesh. True God and true man, he lived in this world in order to be murdered by us – by man. Jesus Christ submitted himself to this in order take our sin and God’s’ judgment against it.
On Good Friday Jesus died on the cross and was buried. But Lent and Holy Week lead us to Easter. On the third day, God raised Jesus from the dead. Through Christ, God defeated death. The risen and ascended Lord has given us his Spirit by whom we have been born again in baptism and through whom he will raise our bodies on the Last Day.
Because of Jesus’s love and sacrifice for us, we are now able to love and sacrifice in order to help our neighbor in every physical need. Forgiven in Christ, the Spirit enables us to forgive others and not to give in to anger. As a new creation in Christ, the Spirit leads us to love and sacrifice for our spouse. He gives us the strength to speak and live according to the truth God has revealed about his gift of sexuality. This we do as we look for the return of our risen Lord who will make all things “very good” once again.