The command, “you shall not kill”, points to the supreme value of mankind: created in God’s image, given authority over the rest of creation and filled with his breath, every part of man’s life reveals God’s glory. Each human life is thus of supreme worth in its potential to glorify God, this imbues it with sacred value. It is only the effects of sin arising from the Fall that blind us to this value in other people. Blinded to the value of others, the command exists to remind us that authority over human life belongs to God alone. No-one can claim for themselves the right to directly take the life of another innocent human being.
Flourishing: It is obvious why murder is bad for us! However, we need to be aware of how easily these murderous tendencies can be unleashed: Our broken way of seeing each other can very easily end up with whole sections of society being seen as less than human, this can lead to the mass-killing of the innocent. It only takes the right combination of political, personal or ideological incentives and whole societies can descend into murderous violence toward the innocent, justified by the fact that their lives are of limited worth. This has happened in the recent past in the terrible genocides of the 20th Century, where whole people groups were destroyed for economic and ideological reasons. It has happened increasingly since the second half of the 20th Century with the exponential increase in abortion and the use of human embryos for medical research, that has seen unborn children treated as less than human. There is a growing push to accept euthanasia in Western Europe and North America, where individual quality of life is seen as of greater importance than sanctity of life. Giving human beings the power to take life at will exacerbates the most prideful effects of our fallen nature. Moreover, because of the sanctity of life wherever innocent people are killed, God’s name is blasphemed, great evil enters the world, God’s name and glory is obscured, and the effects, individually and socially are incalculably damaging.
Fencing: In brief: The command refers to the deliberate killing of people (not any other creature). It does not automatically lead to absolute pacifism. It allows for the state to wield the sword, (Rom 13:4) but not the individual, thus allowing for the possibility (but not the desirability) of both capital punishment and just war. It also allows Christians to defend themselves and others under their protection even if that defence could unintentionally but potentially lead to the death of the aggressor. Otherwise all killing of humans, premeditated or otherwise, is obviously prohibited by this command. Because life is under God’s Lordship from conception to death, Christians are forbidden from killing the unborn and from committing euthanasia. Suicide is also forbidden by this law. The encouragement or enabling of others to carry out any of these acts also makes us guilty of breaking God’s law. There are many difficult ethical cases that arise from the need to protect the sanctity of life, we should approach these cases with the humility and awe that human life demands, seeking counsel from God through his Word and the wisdom of God’s people throughout history.
Freeing: The fourth commandment identifies the sin that blinds us to the value of others, that we can call a brother, made in the image of God, “fool” is evidence enough of this blindness (Matt 5:21-22), let alone our capacity to kill one another. It is absolutely vital that every Christian recognises this sinful tendency in themselves. If frees us by calling us to repentance, showing us how highly we should value other people, as immortal beings made in God’s image. The law frees us because it shows us how God sees and values us, of inestimable value, and calls us to treat each other in the same way (Col 3:12-17). The law frees us because it proclaims God’s forgiveness for even this, the gravest of sins, God saved and commissioned murderers in his service. The law frees us because it proclaims God’s intentions to heal our blindness to the value of others and enable us to love as he has loved us. He places us within the Church and leads us out of hatred or mere tolerance of others into acceptance, enjoyment and delight in others as they give glory to God. And he gradually enables us to love the world as he loves the world, with a self-sacrificial love.
Fulfilment: Christ fulfils the command, because at the crucifixion we didn’t just kill someone made in the image of God, we killed the visible image of the invisible God. We took the life of the Son of God, and in return the Son of God gave us his life. At the resurrection, the command “You shall not kill” was transformed from a command into a prophecy, as he proclaimed victory over death, and turned the ultimate murder into the source of our eternal life.