The Westminster Larger Catechism can be a helpful tool when teaching our children the Ten Commandments. This catechism (which is simply a teaching tool in a question-and-answer format) was written by godly men and church leaders in the 17th century as an aid to teaching congregants the basic doctrines and beliefs of the faith. The language is a bit difficult, but taking the time to unravel the older English will foster a fuller understanding of the commandments.
According to the Westminster Larger Catechism’s teaching on the Ten Commandments, the duties required in the sixth commandment are (quoted directly, except for parentheses):
- All careful studies, and lawful endeavors, to preserve the life of ourselves and others by resisting all thoughts and purposes, subduing all passions, and avoiding all occasions, temptations, and practices, which tend to the unjust taking away the life of any
- By just defense thereof against violence, patient bearing of the hand of God, quietness of mind, cheerfulness of spirit
- A sober use of meat, drink, physic (medicine), sleep, labor, and recreations
- By charitable thoughts, love, compassion, meekness, gentleness, kindness
- Peaceable, mild and courteous speeches and behavior
- Forbearance, readiness to be reconciled, patient bearing and forgiving of injuries, and requiting good for evil
- Comforting and succoring (assisting in time of distress) the distressed, and protecting and defending the innocent.
The sins forbidden in the sixth commandment are (again, quoted directly):
- All taking away the life of ourselves, or of others, except in case of public justice, lawful war, or necessary defense
- The neglecting or withdrawing the lawful and necessary means of preservation of life
- Sinful anger, hatred, envy, desire of revenge
- All excessive passions, distracting cares
- Immoderate use of meat, drink, labor, and recreations
- Provoking words, oppression, quarreling, striking, wounding
- Whatsoever else tends to the destruction of the life of any
Take some time to reflect on these lists. Can you see how our children (and their parents) often break this commandment without actually killing someone? Losing one’s temper; bearing a grudge; hitting someone in anger; abusing our bodies with excessive food, drink, and even work (!); not defending the innocent (such as unborn babies or children that others make fun of), are all violations of this law that we often self-righteously think we have mastered.
Make a list of common sins in your household that relate to this commandment. Then be ready to explain to your children that they can and often do break this Sixth Commandment, even if they would never think of murdering someone.
We all do need Jesus.