Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
What is the 5th Commandment?
You shall not murder.
What does this mean?
We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.
There is a wonderful summary of this commandment in Concordia: A Reader's Edition of the Book of Concord:
Luther distinguishes between spiritual and civil government and authority, which we commonly refer to as the doctrine of the two kingdoms. God takes care of us in the Church through the ministry of Word and Sacrament, the means of grace. In our homes He cares for us through our pastors. In the world, he cares for us by means of civil government. God gives to the civil government the authority to punish criminals and, when necessary, to execute them. The spiritual meaning of this commandment is that we are not to "kill" our neighbor in our hearts, with our thoughts, with our words, or with our hands. No one has the right, on his or her own authority, to murder another person. Only God may take a human life, and He entrusts this authority to civil rulers. So Christians can in good conscience wage war and punish and execute criminals under rightful government authority. Luther goes on to explain that we break the Fifth Commandment not only be acting against it, but also when we fail to protect our neighbor. To explain this commandment, Luther relies on the Sermon on the Mount, particularly Matthew 5:46-47 (p. 378-379).
A good summary paragraph from the Large Catechism reads as follows:
Therefore, it is God's ultimate purpose that we let harm come to no one, but show him all good and love. As we have said, this commandment is especially directed toward those who are our enemies. For to do good to our friend is an ordinary heathen virtue, as Christ says in Matthew 5:46 (LC, I, 193).
So how do you know if you've sinned against the Fifth Commandment? Begin by asking yourself these questions:
- Have I unjustly taken the life of anyone, born or unborn?
- Have I injured my neighbor with violent actions, hitting and debating my neighbor, spoken debasing and insulting words, using foul or dirty words to describe my neighbor, or murdered him with thoughts of anger or contempt, and hatred?
- Do I hold grudges or harbor resentment?
- Am I abusive (in word or deed) toward my spouse, children, or anyone else?
- Have I ignored the plight of the helpless or been callous toward genuine need?
- Do I abuse my body with neglect of health care, excess of food, drink, tobacco or drugs?