(This post comes from 1517.org. It was written by Pastor Donavon Riley, of St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Webster, Minnesota. You can find the original post here.)
We help our neighbors care for their bodies and lives by doing our jobs. Whether it’s teachers, doctors, police officers, plumbers, ranchers, or Uber drivers, everyone is given a vocation by God to help our neighbors with their physical needs.
But how much help should we give our neighbors? The answer to that question is discovered in another question. How much help do we need? If we are honest with ourselves about how much help we need to maintain our physical needs, we will likewise learn the answer to the question about how much we are to do for our neighbors. In faith, we also learn there’s a deeper truth bubbling up out of the question. The question reveals how God uses our neighbor’s physical needs, summarized by the fifth commandment, as a goad that incites us to action.
God uses the fifth commandment to protect us from selfishness, prevent us from only thinking about our needs, and to drive us to Christ and our neighbors. In relation to Christ, he provides all we need for our soul’s salvation, and in relation to our neighbor, we serve them in their needs. As simple as that appears on the surface, our old, selfish, sinful-self likes to make it difficult and complicated. Sometimes there is no easy choice about serving our neighbor in their need. Sometimes we are compelled to choose the lesser of two evils.
For example, should Christians kill to protect their neighbor’s life in times of war? When one country attacks another country, there is a lot of killing. So what do Christians do? If we pick up a gun and fight back by joining one side or the other, we will most likely end up killing someone. If we don’t fight, our neighbors and we will likely be killed. Do we break the commandment and kill to protect our neighbors, and thereby ourselves? Do we refuse to pick up a gun and fight because God has forbidden killing?
First, we must ask ourselves, “If we were attacked and our life was threatened would we want our neighbor to protect and defend us?” God has commanded us to help our neighbors in all their physical needs, as he commands them to help us in all of our needs. God has put us in relation to each other in such a way that the well-being of our neighbor is our well-being. Therefore, killing another person is never good, and we must never kill for our own benefit, but there will be times when killing is necessary. Killing is necessary whenever our neighbor’s lives are put in jeopardy because of the murderous actions chosen by another.
God gives life and protects our lives even before we are born. He gives us to each other to protect and watch out for each other from conception to the grave. He surrounds us with neighbors and commands us to help each other in all our physical needs. But because we are selfish, sinful people, God also gives us his command that we are not to hurt our neighbors but help them in every way.
God doesn’t allow anyone to take our life away from us, and he will work through different peoples’ vocations to protect it. Ultimately, he intends this to drive us to Jesus’ cross, where God himself sacrifices himself to secure our life eternally. We receive forgiveness, new life, and salvation, even amid death, because there is a fate worse than physical death, and that’s the living death of those separated by sin from their Savior. So we protect and help each other in all our bodily needs that we may all be goaded by God to Christ’s cross, where we receive new life and life eternal when he is killed by us sinners for us sinners.