Have Regard For Your Neighbor's Life
HAVE REGARD FOR YOUR NEIGHBOR’S LIFE
A Midweek Lesson
By Pastor Brian Wilbur
Date: May 1, 2019
Note: Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
In these midweek lessons we are working our way through the Ten Commandments. Exodus 20 begins, “And God spoke all these words, saying” (Exodus 20:1). All of the following words and instructions – “all these words” that run from Exodus 20:2-17 – were spoken by the Lord, to the people that He had redeemed “out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Exodus 20:2). We honor the Lord our God by loving Him and keeping all of His commands (Exodus 20:6).
Even so, as I attempted to show in my previous lesson, there is a particular Godward focus to the first five commands. In the New Testament, Jesus taught us that the foundational principles of all Old Testament instruction is that we should love the Lord our God with our whole being and that we should love our neighbor with the same devotion by which we love our own self. Love the Lord your God, and love your neighbor as yourself.
In terms of the Ten Commandments, the first five commands relate especially to that greatest command to love the Lord our God. We ought to love the Lord by worshiping Him only (v. 3), by refusing the lure of idolatry and being faithful to obey His Word (v. 3-6), by representing Him faithfully (v. 7), by keeping the Sabbath day holy (v. 8-11), and by honoring our parents and the godly heritage that they hand down to us (v. 12).
As we now come to commandments 6–10, we find that these final five commands relate especially to that second great command to love your neighbor as yourself:
- “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13) means ‘love your neighbor by having regard for your neighbor’s life’.
- “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14) means ‘love your neighbor by having regard for your neighbor’s marriage’.
- “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:15) means ‘love your neighbor by having regard for your neighbor’s property.’
- “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16) means ‘love your neighbor by having regard for your neighbor’s reputation’.
- “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house…, or anything that is your neighbor’s” (Exodus 20:17) means ‘love your neighbor by having regard for your neighbor’s general welfare and flourishing’.
Your neighbor ought to have confidence that would do nothing to undermine his life, his marriage, his property, his reputation, his general welfare and flourishing. In fact, your neighbor ought to have confidence that you would do what is in your power to defend, promote, and secure these precious realities. And your neighbor includes human embryos that were conceived three hours ago!
THE BASIC MEANING OF THE SIXTH COMMANDMENT
So, let’s probe the basic meaning of the sixth commandment, which says, “You shall not murder.” To put it simply, this command forbids the unauthorized killing of human beings.
The word ‘unauthorized’ is a very important one, because there are instances in which killing a human being is authorized and justified. For example, God authorized the nation of Israel to execute Israelites who were guilty of especially egregious sins: murdering someone (Exodus 21:12), striking or cursing your father or mother (Exodus 21:15, 17), kidnapping and human trafficking (Exodus 21:16), practicing sorcery (Exodus 22:18), practicing child sacrifice (Leviticus 20:2), and committing adultery (Leviticus 20:10) were among the sins that were to be met with capital punishment. Beyond the specificity of these Old Testament instructions, the general principle is that God has entrusted the power of “the sword” (Romans 13:4) to human government, and this power includes the authority to execute criminals (Genesis 9:5-6, Romans 13:1-7).
God also authorized the nation of Israel to enact His judgment against the Canaanites (see the Book of Joshua).
There is also good reason to think that limited killing in the prosecution of a just war to defend our country (and our allies) is justifiable. Finally, there is good reason to think that in the face of criminal aggression, killing in the interests of self-defense (or in defense of one’s family) is justifiable (see Exodus 22:2). In both defensive war and self-defense, there is a principle that we are killing the aggressor for the express purpose of preserving life.
It is important to keep in mind that God always has authority to take life – for He has absolute sovereignty over every human being – and He can take a person’s life for any reason that He sees fit. But human beings must not take life unless they have authorization from God to do so. The sixth commandment does not prohibit authorized killing, and the sixth commandment should never be employed as an argument against capital punishment. Instead, the sixth commandment prohibits the unauthorized killing of human life.
So let’s think about a few different levels and types of unauthorized killing.
First, the sixth commandment prohibits premeditated murder. Exodus 21:12-14 says,
“Whoever strikes a man so that he dies shall be put to death. But if he did not lie in wait for him, but God let him fall into his hand, then I will appoint for you a place to which he may flee. But if a man willfully attacks another to kill him by cunning, you shall take him from my altar, that he may die.” (Exodus 21:12-14)
As you can see, God makes a distinction between premeditated murder and manslaughter.
Second, the sixth commandment prohibits manslaughter that arises from reckless or negligent behavior. There is such a thing as an accident that no human being could see coming and thus no human being could act to prevent – and there is no criminal liability for the resultant death. At other times, however, the resultant death is owing to reckless or negligent behavior on our part. Scripture says:
“When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” (Exodus 21:22-25)
“When an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten, but the owner of the ox shall not be liable. But if the ox has been accustomed to gore in the past, and its owner has been warned but has not kept it in, and it kills a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned, and its own also shall be put to death.” (Exodus 21:28-29)
“When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, that you may not bring the guilt of blood upon your house, if anyone should fall from it.” (Deuteronomy 22:8)
What these passages show us is that the full-orbed significance of the sixth commandment goes beyond the avoidance of malicious violence against our neighbor and extends into proactive conduct that helps to protect our neighbor’s life. One very important reason why you shouldn’t ‘drink and drive’, one very important reason why you shouldn’t text while you are driving, one very important reason why you shouldn’t drive recklessly or distractedly, is because you regard your neighbor’s life. Love your neighbor by having regard for your neighbor’s life.
We should also understand that the sixth commandment prohibits abortion and euthanasia, and also – at least by way of application – suicide. Although suicide is not a malicious act against our neighbor, it is nonetheless a malicious act against an image-bearer of God. God commands us to repent of sin and live in holiness, and suicide represents the very opposite.
THE REASON WHY WE MUST HAVE LOVING REGARD FOR OUR NEIGHBOR’S LIFE
Having established that the sixth commandment prohibits willful or negligent disregard for our neighbor’s life, we must give the reason that stands behind this command. Of course, on one level we can and should say that it is wrong to disregard our neighbor’s life simply because God says it is wrong. But Scripture gives us another reason as well:
“So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.”
“From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man.
Whoever sheds the blood of man,
by man shall his blood be shed,
for God made man in his own image.”
Albert Mohler gets it right when he says: “this commandment is not about a generalized or a generic reverence for life. Instead this reverence is for life made in the image of God, with the dignity and worth of that life grounded in the Creator rather than in the creature.” Our neighbor’s dignity and worth is not grounded in himself, in society, or in laws passed by men. Instead, our neighbor’s dignity and worth is grounded in God. God has created this neighbor of ours, and He has created this neighbor as one of His image-bearers. Whether or not our neighbor knows He is an image-bearer of God, and whether or not our neighbor is an exemplary image-bearer of God, the fact of the matter is that our neighbor is an image-bearer of God. Thus violence against our neighbor’s life is, in fact, violence against the Creator, in whose image our neighbor was made.
Further, the truth of our neighbor’s image-bearer status not only prohibits violent action against him, it also prohibits violent speech against him.
“For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.” (James 3:7-10)
James doesn’t just say that our toxic tongues “curse people.” He says that our toxic tongues “curse people who are made in the likeness of God.” We are cursing God’s appointed representatives – and when we do so, God is not pleased. Attacks on men are, more fundamentally, an attack on God.
THE HEART OF THE MATTER
Interestingly enough, the prospect of violent speech is a good segue into the heart of the sixth commandment. For most of us, most of the time, violent speech – more than violent behavior – is the more common expression of unrighteous anger. And yet, the presence of unrighteous anger is enough to render us guilty of breaking the sixth commandment. Jesus always gets to the heart of the matter:
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:21-24)
Instead of being the kind of person who would seethe in anger toward my neighbor and in that anger to disregard the preciousness and value of my neighbor’s life, I ought to love my neighbor. Instead of making war against my neighbor, I ought to make war against my anger: “But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.” (Colossians 3:8) And the reason I ought to make war against my anger and against every other sin (whether carelessness, or recklessness, or negligence) – the reason I ought to make war against my sin is so that I can love my neighbor and be in a right relationship with him. “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32)
It isn’t enough to just avoid toxic attitudes and toxic actions toward my neighbor. In Matthew 5 Jesus tells us that instead of being the kind of people who abide in unrighteous anger and thus bring further damage to other people and bring about further relational breakdown with other people, we ought to be peacemakers who are drawing near to our neighbors with loving intent, that we might be reconciled to them, and that they might be reconciled to us (Matthew 5:9, 23-24). Love your neighbor as yourself. Love your neighbor by having regard – a kind and loving regard – for your neighbor’s life. Love your neighbor by being a blessing to your neighbor and by seeking a good and wholesome relationship with him.
The very people that we are tempted to feel anger toward, are the very people that we ought to take special care to love well. “[If] your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink” (Romans 13:20). “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” (Luke 6:27-28)
It is also very important to point out that having due regard for our neighbor’s life means that we must care deeply about his spiritual and eternal welfare. Our unsaved neighbors are perishing – and if they do not repent, then they will face eternal ruin. We shouldn’t just seek to protect and preserve our neighbor’s life today and tomorrow on planet earth; we should seek to protect and preserve our neighbor’s life forever in the new heaven and the new earth. Let us learn from Ezekiel and Paul:
“And at the end of seven days, the word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die for his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul.”” (Ezekiel 3:16-19)
“Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.” (Acts 20:26-27)
Let’s endeavor to preach the gospel in order to save sinners from the second death.
THE GOSPEL OF THE ONE WHO WAS MURDERED FOR LAWBREAKERS
Let me conclude by reminding us of the gospel – the gospel of God’s grace for sinners. We are all sinners. We are all lawbreakers. And even if we have been spared the guilt of murder or manslaughter, we are all guilty of failing to have had proper regard for all of the neighbors with whom we have ever rubbed shoulders.
The good news of the gospel is that there is One who always loved the Lord God with His whole being and who always loved His neighbor as Himself. This perfectly obedient, perfectly loving God-Man – our Lord Jesus Christ – was then murdered by scoundrels:
“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know–this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” (Acts 2:22-23)
But over and behind and above this murderous act, was God’s sovereign plan to save sinners through the atoning sacrifice of the Crucified One. Yes, Jesus was murdered by scoundrels. But more importantly, Jesus was delivered up according to God’s plan in order to make atonement for scoundrels.
Jesus laying down His life for sinners is the ultimate embodiment of the sixth commandment. A murderer does not have proper regard for his neighbor’s life. But in keeping with the sixth commandment, Jesus had such love for His neighbors – and His very sinful neighbors at that – that He laid down His life for them, in their place, that they might be saved. A murderer sacrifices his neighbor’s life in order to supposedly make his own life better. Jesus sacrificed his own life in order to give spiritual and eternal life to his perishing neighbors – to as many as repent and believe this good news.
TRANSFORMED BY THE GOSPEL
Once we come to understand in the depth of our heart that Jesus laid down His life for our good, we become the kind of people who begin to lay down our lives for our neighbor’s good. In so doing, we fulfill the true intent of the sixth commandment. Let us understand and live these words:
“For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:11-18)
May it be so.
 Regarding suicide, abortion, and euthanasia, see Kevin DeYoung, The Ten Commandments: What They Mean, Why They Matter, and Why We Should Obey Them (Foundational Tools for Our Faith). Wheaton: Crossway, 2018: p. 98-103.
 R. Albert Mohler, Jr., Words from the Fire: Hearing the Voice of God in the 10 Commandments. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2009: p. 113.