Love of Life and Self-Control
Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.
Today we continue our study Question 136 of the Larger Catechism, which asks, “What are the
sins forbidden in theSixthCommandment?” The third part of the answer states, “The sins
forbidden in the Sixth Commandment are… sinful anger, hatred, envy, desire of revenge; all
excessive passions, distracting cares...” Last time we considered our obligation to maintain our
own life and the lives of others. Today we examine our duty to discipline our hearts and minds to
keep out those thoughts and desires which despise human life.
All sin begins in the heart. Jesus taught that outwardly refraining from actually murdering
another person, while being angry with them “without cause,” is to sin in our hearts (Matt. 5:22).
Here we notice that anger itself is not inherently sinful. There are legitimate reasons to be angry
with someone. In fact, there are times where a person should be angry. God is sometimes said
to be angry in the Bible, and when the perfectly righteous God is angry, we know that it is right
for Him to be. Jesus was angry on occasion (Mark 3:5). The Word of God even commands us to
“be angry, and do not sin,” (Eph. 4:26). That is, do not let your anger pass the bounds of what is
right. We need this warning because anger isa powerful emotion that very easily seduces a
person to sinful excess. As the Scripture at the head of this article declares, we cannot harbor any
thoughts or desires with a spirit of malice, that is to say, with ill will towards another person.
Hatred like anger is not always sinful. There are things that we should hate. Scripture
commands us to “hate evil, love good,” (Amos 5:15). However, unlike anger, we are not permitted
to hate other people in this life. Christians must love all people with the love that is appropriate
for each kind of relationship. Husbands must love their wives (and only their wives!) with the love
of a husband, neighbors must love according to the love due to neighbors, and we all must love
our enemies to do them good when and to the degree we justly can. It is true that God hates the
reprobate (Psa. 5:5; 11:5; Rom. 9:13), but this side of the final judgment, He alone knows who they
are. When David commends himself for hating those who hate God (Psa. 139:21-22), he is either
speaking with supernatural knowledge of some reprobate people given to him asa prophet, or
else he is speaking with reference to that day when God’s will for all flesh is fully revealed and
everyone goes to his assigned place for all eternity. Then the godly will rejoice over the salvation
of the righteous and over the destruction of the wicked (Rev. 19:2-4). Then we will perfectly—with
full knowledge—love and hate as God loves and hates.
Envy and personal vengeance are not permissible for human beings. God can call Himself a
jealous God (Exo. 20:5), and God alone can say “Vengeance is mine, I will repay” (Rom. 12:19),
because God alone is perfectly righteous in His zeal and in His justice. However, these passions
are by definition excessive in man. We are not permitted to be envious. It is not our place to be
the avenger. The reason is because of who God is and who we are. God alone is owner and ruler
of all. Therefore, He alone can rightly be jealous, for to Him alone belongs all things. Likewise, He
alone is qualified and able to be the judge, for He has all knowledge, is master of all, and all owe
all of their lives to Him. In contradistinction, how can we be envious of anything when all that we
have has been given to us without desert? And how can we impartially exact judgment on
another, when we ourselves are sinful? Human governments are given the title “avenger” by God
(Rom. 13:4), but the desire for personal vengeance in any individual heart is excessive.
Other passions can be permissible as long as they are kept in moderation. When any legitimate
passion becomes excessive we have created an idol in our hearts. So hard work is good, but a
workaholic has turned that good thing into an idol out of greed for money, power, or position. So
also with hobbies, relationships, and commitments: everything must be kept to its proper place. I
should take care of my house but it cannot distract me from other obligations that are more
important. We must not be overly distracted with legitimate cares, even for the necessities of life.
Too much care and worry is harmful to our health, and for that reason breaks the
commandment, which requires us to not only refrain from murder, but from anything that would
tend to harm life. May God give us the faith to discipline ourselves to refrain from any thoughts
and desires that do not promote human life!