What are we worth?

Let me start by asking you how valued do you feel, and what makes you feel valued? Maybe you’ve just thought of the people who love you or about your work, what you do that makes you feel worthwhile. But more and more, people are feeling they don’t have any value because of the story our society is telling about human beings. Which is that there’s no God and that we’re each just a bunch of chemicals thrown together by evolution. So one writer says:

What is a human being? The answer is: fat enough to make 7 bars of soap, iron enough to make one nail, sugar enough for 7 cups of tea, lime enough to whitewash one garden shed, magnesium enough for one dose of salts, phosphorus enough to tip 2,000 matches, and sulphur enough to treat one dog for fleas. [CEM Joad]

Which at today’s prices has been estimated at £51. That’s your value. But most people still believe deep down that we’re worth more than that, and the Bible says that’s right. And the value God places on us is what today’s commandment in our series on the ten commandments is all about. So would you turn in the Bibles to page 150. That will get you to Deuteronomy 5. And Deuteronomy 5.17 is where you’ll find commandment six – which is all about what are we worth. But first let’s pray.

So first heading:

1. The commandment against murder

And Deuteronomy 5.17 simply says:

You shall not murder.

Ie, ‘You shall not intentionally kill an innocent fellow-human.’ Now by and large, Christian thinkers have agreed that the Bible says taking the life of a fellow-human can be legitimate in some cases – like self-defence, or a just war or capital punishment. But this commandment is saying, ‘You shall not intentionally kill an innocent fellow-human.’ And that’s because of what a human being is. So would you turn back in the Bibles to page 1 and Genesis 1.26-27:

Then God said, “Let us make man [which means mankind, men and women] in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

So images represent the original. For example, up on screen is an image of me, but it’s not a great image (because I’m a 3-dimensional, living, speaking, acting person) whereas that’s just a two dimensional bunch of pixels. And Genesis 1 is saying God made us to be the image of him so that as others look at us and our relationships they would see something of what he is like. And because he’s a living, speaking, acting person, only a living, speaking, acting image could even begin to represent him. Which is why in commandment two he said (Deuteronomy 5.8):

You shall not make for yourself [an] image [of me].

Because he’s already made the only image that could even begin to represent him by living in relationship with him and reflecting what he’s like. And that image is us. So we may share 98% of our genes with chimpanzees but we’re uniquely different, and that’s why God values human life uniquely and calls us to care for and protect it. And that’s why he’ll hold us to account for how we’ve done that. Just turn on to page 6 and Genesis 9.5. So this is after sin has entered the picture, when humans are now tempted to kill oen another. And God says, Genesis 9.5-6:

And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man [which again means mankind]. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, [so God values human life so highly that he even sanctions the death penalty for those who take it illegitimately. Why?] for God made man in his own image [to live in relationship with him and reflect what he’s like – just as we might call a son the spitting image of his father].

And that means God sees any assault on human life as an assault on him. It’s like if you’re a parent in the park and another kid hits your child you see that as an assault on you because your children bound up with you, in your love. And that’s how God sees us. So back to Deuteronomy 5.17. You shall not murder because to murder a fellow-human is at the same time to assault God. But it’s also to play God because human life is his gift, not our creation. And it’s on long-loan like a library book – which, although we have it, always remains his property and calling it back in is his perogative alone, which is why after Job lost his children, he said (Job 1.21):

The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.

Now a commandment against murder may not seem the most relevant thing. So next, let’s think about:

2. How Jesus puts this commandment in our hearts

So would you turn on in the Bibles to page 977. That will land you in Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 5. And once you’re there, look down to Matthew 5.21-22, Jesus says:

You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgement.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother [or sister] will be liable to judgement…

The logic being that what’s going on in the heart in both cases is the same. So now we’re in very relevant territory, aren’t we? Anger. And there is such a thing as right anger – for example, against injustice, for example Putin’s war against Ukraine. But the Lord Jesus knows we’re full of wrong anger – as in the wise words of Andy Gawn, who said to me shortly before Tess and I got married, “Ian, God gives you marriage to show you how selfish you are, and children to show you how angry you are”. So the Lord Jesus is talking about wrong anger, here. In fact, the level of anger where we’d like to get rid of someone, because if we’re honest we’ve come to resent their demands or how they’re stopping us getting our own way. So we strip them of value by thinking “I wish they weren’t here”. And Jesus says that’s just what goes on in the heart of the murderer. And it comes out of the heart in devaluing words. Read on in Matthew 5.22:

…whoever insults his brother [or sister] will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.

And Jesus is just saying the same thing two different ways, there. Which is that if I say to someone, “You idiot”, or I say about them, “He’s such a moron” or “She’s so stupid”, then I’m courting God’s judgement for valuing them as nothing, when he values them as the crowning piece of his creation. And like we saw earlier, I’m not just assaulting God when I devalue someone like that. I’m playing God because I’m saying in my heart I want to be the centre of the universe. I want my own way. And I want to remove anyone who stops me getting it. And it’s sinful hearts like that which Jesus came to rescue us from. Just look back to Matthew 5.17, where Jesus says:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them.

Now we probably get the idea that Jesus came to fulfil the Old Testament prophets because the prophets promised a rescue from sin and Jesus came to deliver it. But Jesus says it’s the same with the Old Testament law because the law promised something as well. It promised a life with God at the centre and with his values being lived out but the law couldn’t deliver that. Only Jesus can deliver that (though only imperfectly this side of heaven) by changing hearts. And he changes our hearts as we come to see what he did for us on the cross because when we look at Jesus dying for our forgiveness, we see the infinite value God placed on us despite us not valuing him at all, despite us making ourselves the centre of the universe and pushing him out of the picture. And that’s what changes your heart and humbles you and gives you a new will to value others as the Lord values them. Which is what I meant by my heading, ‘How Jesus puts this commandment in our hearts.’ Because it’s only knowing Jesus that makes us want to live out the values behind these commandments. Then thirdly, let me say something about:

3. How this commandment speaks to issues today

And on the one hand, to beginning of life issues. So we need to think about abortion – which I realise is sensitive, and will be part of some peoples’ experience, here. So can I say if you don’t yet believe God can forgive everything (including abortion) through Jesus’ death on the cross then can I assure you he can! It’s not ‘the unforgivable sin’. And if you do believe that, you need to keep trusting that you’re forgiven through Jesus’ death on the cross, just like all your fellow-sinners here need to be, as well. Spiritually, we’re all on level ground.

That said, we do have to face the question: Is abortion the intentional killing of a human being? Well, some say it’s not until a stage later than conception that we should treat the unborn child as a human being with all the value and claim on our care and protection that implies. But biology says the great step-change when a genetically new individual starts life is the point of conception. And after that there are no comparable step-changes just the continual development of that same individual. And the Bible says the same that the life of a human individual starts at conception, and should be valued and cared for and protected from then. For example, turn back to page 522 and Psalm 139.13-16 where David thinks back to being in his mother’s womb:

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. [Which of course is picture language, not to be taken literally]. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; [the original word is what they used of the early, unformed foetus] in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.

So David was saying God’s relating to him and involvement in his life went all the way back to the womb. And in Psalm 51.5 he admitted:

Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.

In other words, his being human (which, since the fall, includes sharing in human sinfulness) went right back to his conception. So, from conception, the unborn child is a human being with all the value and claim on our care and protection that implies. Which means we do have to face the answer that abortion is the intentional taking of human life. There are hard situations when a mother’s life is clearly endangered by pregnancy, and it’s legitimate to end the unborn child’s life to save hers but that’s not causing death where death wouldn’t otherwise have happened. That’s a decision, given that death will happen, about who will die, and with the intention of saving life. And there are also hard situations with prenatal scanning. And the pressure will only grow on parents and medics to do more tests and consider more abortions. But we need to accept the mystery that God’s plan does include babies (and then children and adults) with difficulties and disabilities and diseases. And if he values them for their particular purpose in his plan, then so must we.

So that’s how commandment six speaks to beginning of life issues. Which I realise has big implications. So you may be dealing with personal involvement in abortion. In which case, can I say, if you feel it would help please talk to one of us on the church staff, or to someone else in the church family. People dealing with this personally have also found our Celebrate Recovery group a real help, and you might like to contact Catherine Robinson to ask about that. But we’re all involved in a society where abortion, sadly, is happening more and more and we need convictions about the value of unborn children and we need to care for those who’ve been involved in abortion, and we need to work to change what our society is doing. So I highly recommend Ben & Valentina Cadoux-Hudson’s book, written with Dr Chris Richards Thinking about abortion. And it’s not ivory tower thinking. It’s written out of their experience of their son Nathan’s serious health problems, and their commitment to the value of his life.

So then, on the other hand, how does this commandment speak to end of life issues? Especially when assisted suicide is again being called for in Baroness Meacher’s Assisted Dying Bill. Well, the first thing to say is that Christian thinkers have agreed that commandment six speaks not just against murder but also self-murder – suicide. But then it’s important to say that suicide is not ‘the unforgivable sin’, any more than abortion is. So I took the funeral of one of our church family who took his own life in the face of profound depression. And I said this in the address:

John is now with Jesus, and the way his life ended doesn’t change that. It’s true that ending one’s own life is wrong in God’s eyes, but two other things are true as well. One is that God understands people who come to an end of themselves. The Bible mentions three great believers (Moses, Elijah and Job) who all at certain points in their lives wanted to die and God dealt gently and graciously with them. And the other thing that’s true is that what was wrong about the end of John’s life is just as forgivable as everything else he ever did wrong. Because when Jesus died on the cross, he was paying for the forgiveness we each need for everything we do wrong from the start of our lives to the end. And that includes what John got wrong at the very end of his.

If you’ve still got Psalm 139 open, just look again at Psalm 139.16:

Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.

So that’s saying God had a plan for every day of David’s life to come, including when and how his last day would come. So God is in control from our conception to our death. Whereas our society says there is no God to be in control so we should take control of our own lives, and even try to take control of our own deaths. Which is the thinking behind the call for assisted suicide and euthanasia. And just like we need to understand what makes people consider abortion (in order to help them) so we need to understand what makes people think of ending their lives. And research by one senior doctor came up with four main things: Fear of pain, fear of indignity, fear of dependence, and above all, the social pressure not to be a burden. And on that last one, he writes:

Perhaps the greatest pressure on the sick, disabled and elderly is the secular idea that…there is a life not worthy of being lived. [Matters of life and death, John Wyatt]

Whereas the Bible says our value is in what we are (God’s image-bearers) and not in what we can do. And it may be that, at some times in our lives, our part in the corporate job of imaging God is to be a significant burden for the love of others to rise to. But let’s face it, we’re all burdens to some extent to those around us – that’s not just the life of a baby or of someone with dementia. That’s life.

So the application to the end of life is that we’re not to try to take control of our own deaths because, as we saw earlier, human life is God’s gift. It’s on long-loan and always remains his property and calling it back in is his perogative alone. And so we need to work against the legalising of assisted suicide and euthanasia – get behind the Care Not Killng campaign. We need to protect the Hippocratic ideal that medics should do nothing to harm or take life. And we need to work for the conscientious convictions of medics to be respected.

Let me suggest some resources on all this. On the Christian Institute website are helpful, short articles on the sanctity of life, abortion, euthanasia and much more. The Care Not Killing website tells you about that organisation, which promotes palliative care and opposes assisted suicide and euthanasia. I’ve mentioned Ben & Valentina’s book, Thinking about abortion which I think is a ‘must read’ for most of us. And then two ‘must read’s for medics, at least, are: Matters of Life and Death, by John Wyatt and Fearfully And Wonderfully Made, by Megan Best. So that’s commandment six you shall not murder.

And behind a Bible negative there always stands a positive. And here it’s the overwhelming positive that you and I and every human being from conception on are worth infinitely more than that £51 list of chemicals we began with. Because we’ve each been created by God to relate to him and image him. Which means that whatever value others place on you, you can echo Psalm 139.14 even as a person whose mind and body is marked by the fall and say to the Lord I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

Back to top