Home‎ > ‎Sunday School & Youth‎ > ‎

Forum Readings

Luther's Explanation of the 5th Commandment in the Small and Large Catechisms:

"You shall not kill."  What is this?
We should fear and love God, and so we should not endanger our neighbor's life, nor cause him any harm, but help and befriend him in every necessity of life.

"You shall not kill." 
We have now dealt with both the spiritual and the civil government, that is, divine and paternal authority and obedience. In this commandment we leave our own house and go out among our neighbors to learn how we should conduct ourselves individually toward our fellow men. Therefore neither God nor the government is included in this commandment, yet their right to take human life is not abrogated.  God has delegated his authority of punishing evil-doers to civil magistrates in place of parents; in early times, as we read in Moses, parents had to bring their own children to judgment and sentence them to death. Therefore what is forbidden here applies to private individuals, not to governments.
This commandment is simple enough. We hear it explained every year in the Gospel, Matthew 5 where Christ himself explains and summarizes it: We must not kill, either by hand, heart, or word, by signs or gestures, or by aiding and abetting. It forgives anger except, as we have said, to persons who occupy the place of God, that is, parents and rulers. Anger, reproof, and punishment are the prerogatives of God and his representatives, and they are to be exercised upon those who transgress this and the other commandments.
The occasion and need for this commandment is that, as God well knows, the world is evil and this life is full of misery. He has therefore placed this and the other commandments as a boundary between good and evil. There are many offenses against this commandment,  as there are against all the others. We must live among many people who do us harm, and so we have reason to be at enmity with them. For instance, a neighbor, envious that you have received from God a better house and estate or greater wealth and good fortune than he, gives vent to his irritation and envy by speaking ill of you.
Thus by the devil's prompting you acquire many enemies who begrudge you even the least good, whether physical or spiritual. When we see such people, our hearts in turn rage and we are ready to shed blood and take revenge. Then follow cursing and blows, and eventually calamity and murder. Here God, like a kind father, steps in and intervenes to get the quarrel settled for the safety of all concerned. Briefly, he wishes to have all people defended, delivered, and protected from the wickedness and violence of others, and he has set up this commandment as a wall, fortress, and refuge about our neighbor so that no one may do him bodily harm or injury.
186 What this commandment teaches, then, is that no one should harm another for any evil deed, no matter how much he deserves it. Not only is murder forbidden, but also everything that may lead to murder. Many persons, though they may not actually commit murder, nevertheless call down curses and imprecations upon their enemy's head, which, if they came true, would soon put an end to him.  This spirit or revenge clings to every one of us, and it is common knowledge that no one willingly suffers injury from another. Therefore God wishes to remove the root and source of this bitterness toward our neighbor. He wants us to keep this commandment ever before our eyes as a mirror in which to see ourselves, so that we may be attentive to his will and with hearty confidence and prayer commit to him whatever wrong we suffer. Then we shall be content to let our enemies rave and rage and do their worst. Thus we may learn to calm our anger and have a patient, gentle heart, especially toward those who have given us occasion for anger, namely, our enemies.
Briefly, then, to impress it unmistakably upon the common people, the import of the commandment against killing is this: In the first place, we should not harm anyone. This means, first, by hand or by deed; next, we should not use our tongue to advocate or advise harming anyone; again,  we should neither use nor sanction any means or methods whereby anyone may be harmed; finally, our heart should harbor no hostility or malice toward anyone in a spirit of anger and hatred. Thus you should be blameless toward all people in body and soul, especially toward him who wishes or does you evil. For to do evil to somebody who desires and does you good is not human but devilish.
In the second place, this commandment is violated not only when a person actually does evil, but also when he fails to do good to his neighbor, or, though he has the opportunity, fails to prevent, protect,  and save him from suffering bodily harm or injury.  If you send a person away naked when you could clothe him, you have let him freeze to death. If you see anyone suffer hunger and do not feed him, you have let him starve. Likewise, if you see anyone condemned to death or in similar peril and do not save him although you know ways and means to do so, you have killed him. It will do you no good to plead that you did not contribute to his death by word or deed, for you have withheld your love from him and robbed him of the service by which his life might have been saved.
Therefore God rightly calls all persons murderers who do not offer counsel and aid to men in need and in peril of body and life. He will pass a most terrible sentence upon them in the day of judgment, as Christ himself declares. He will say: "I was hungry and thirsty and you gave me no food or drink, I was a stranger, and you did not welcome me, I was naked and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not visit me."That is to say, "You would have permitted me and my followers to die of hunger, thirst, and cold, to be torn to pieces by wild beasts, to rot in prison or perish from want."
What else is this but to reproach such persons as murderers and bloodhounds? For although you have not actually committed all these crimes, as far as you were concerned you have nevertheless permitted your neighbor to languish and perish in his misfortune.
It is just as if I saw someone wearily struggling in deep water, or fallen into a fire, and could extend him my hand to pull him out and save him, and yet I did not do it. How would I appear before all the world in any other light than as a murderer and a scoundrel?
Therefore it is God's real intention that we should allow no man to suffer harm, but show to everyone all kindness and love. And this kindness is directed, as I said, especially toward our enemies. To show kindness to our friends is but an ordinary heathen virtue, as Christ says in Matthew 5:46, 47.
Here again we have God's Word by which he wants to encourage and urge us to true, noble, exalted deeds, such as gentleness, patience, and, in short, love and kindness toward our enemies. He always wants to remind us to think back to the First Commandment, that he is our God; that is, he wishes to help and protect us, so that he may subdue our desire for revenge.
If this could be thoroughly impressed on people's minds, we would have our hands full of good works to do. But this would be no preaching for monks. It would too greatly undermine the "spiritual estate" and infringe upon the holiness of the Carthusians. It would be practically the same as forbidding their good works and emptying the monasteries. For in this teaching the ordinary Christian life would be considered just as acceptable, and even more so. Everybody would see how the monks mock and mislead the world with a false, hypocritical show of holiness, while they have thrown this and the other commandments to the winds, regarding them as unnecessary, as if they were not commandments but mere counsels. Moreover, they have shamelessly boasted and bragged of their hypocritical calling and works as "the most perfect life," so that they might live a nice, soft life without the cross and suffering. This is why they fled to the monasteries, so that they might not have to suffer wrong from anyone or do anyone any good. Know, however, that it is the works commanded by God's Word which are the true, holy, and divine works in which he rejoices with all the angels. In contrast to them all human holiness is only stench and filth, and it merits nothing but wrath and damnation.

Click on this Link to read a letter from the Bishops of the ELCA