The Bible teaches, and the ten commandments affirm, that since God is the giver of life, all life is to be lived on His terms. It follows by necessity, that death is only justified when it too occurs on His terms. This is the subject of the sixth commandment.
Thou shalt not kill (Exodus 20:13)
The sixth commandment forbids all unjust violence against our neighbour. More than just a prohibition against murder, this commandment includes any action, act of aggression or threat (Matthew 5:21-22) which can or does threaten our neighbours’ wellbeing, his means of existence (livelihood) or his possessions.
At the same time, it does not forbid discipline, capital punishment, legitimate warfare and self-defence, which the Bible clearly affirms when undertaken on Gods terms.
And so, under the law of the Lord, a man who attempts to defend his property in the dead of night from a burglar, might not be guilty of murder if the ensuing scuffle led to the intruders death (Exodus 22:2).
The sixth commandment, like all of the other “thou shalt not” commandments, also presupposes the opposite. That is, not only must a man not harm his neighbour without just cause, he is to actively work for his neighbours good.
Not only are we to do no harm to our neighbour, or any of the things that lead to my neighbours harm, we are to actively love our neighbour.
This is an important point to make as it opens the possibility of guilt or sin by association. To walk past a woman being kicked to the ground by her husband and do nothing is to affirm unjust violence, as is to knowingly profit from the oppression of others, abortion, violence, property theft and more.
Failure to defend the weak when it is in our power to do so is akin to murder since it affirms actions which can rob the weak of his life, livelihood or means of existence. This application of the sixth commandment trickles all the way down to the act of robbing a man of his rightly earned wages since these are his means of existence.
This duty to defend and uphold godly law is a principle that has been enshrined into common law in the West, namely, the police power of every citizen.
The law asks two things of every man, obedience and enforcement. Gods law is not a private matter. It is not for us to obey personally simply because we like it while leaving other men to follow whatever law they choose. The law is valid for us because it is valid for all. To obey God’s law means to accept that there exists a universal order that is as binding on all men. This includes a common defence of godly order.
Capital punishment is one example of this godly order. As Christians, we can defend capital punishment when it means the taking of a life on Gods terms and under His law, but we could never condone private acts of vengeance.
Finally, since life is a gift from God and our lives are in His hands, this commandment also forbids personal violations of this law that involve a deliberate abuse of our own body.
Euthanasia, like suicide, is an attempt to wrestle the right to life from God’s hand and place it in the hand of man. There is nothing compassionate about it. It is murder and those who affirm such practices are guilty of failing to love their neighbour and liable to judgement by God.
Other abuses of the body, including self mutilation (of which tattooing is a subset, but circumcision is not) are also forbidden by this commandment.
The believer, as a free man in Christ, demonstrates the lordship of Jesus over his life by his obedience, not by servile markings that magnify the gods of men (Leviticus 19:28, 21:5, 1 Kings 18:28).
The sixth commandment, like the first commandment, is connected to all ten commandments. When the law declares, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me”, it means in part that every violation of any law involves placing ourselves and our will above God’s law word.
Similarly, when the law declares, “Thou shalt not kill”, it means that any violation of the commandments involves the destruction of our life in relationship to God. We pass under the penalty of death for our disobedience.
It is only in Christ that a man is freed from the guilt of his disobedience. In the gospel, Jesus takes upon himself the death of everyone He calls his own.
Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. (Romans 13:10)
We follow Jesus when we affirm that love does no harm to his neighbour. And we are following Jesus, not only when we refuse to participate or profit from those things which threaten another man’s existence, but when we are willing to also suffer to defend the life and livelihood of those around us.