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Oct 12

Christ’s Teaching on Murder and Anger Matt 5:21-26

love one anotherLast week we discussed Matt 5:17-20, where Jesus taught the necessity of exceeding the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.  The scribes and Pharisees had supplanted God’s word through their oral tradition and commentary.  Jesus said that, unless we exceed their righteousness, we can’t enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  We accomplish that by reverencing His word in its entirety.

Today, let us consider our Lord’s teaching on the 6th commandment (Ex 20:13) recorded in Matt 5:21-26.   What was the traditional interpretation and application of this commandment, and how did Jesus say that compared to the righteousness of the Kingdom?

Jesus said that the traditional interpretation of the scribes and Pharisees was that, whoever committed murder was subject to the judgment of the local court (Matt 5:21).  True, the Law of Moses authorized a local, civil court to mete out punishment for infractions of the Law (Deut 16:18).  Special cases were often appealed to the Sanhedrin.  The Law of Moses declared that the murderer should be put to death (Lev 24:21; Num 35:16).  The traditional interpretation was correct, but it did not go far enough.

Not only murder was wrong, but the emotions which led to it were wrong as well.  Notice Prov 6:16-19.  Sure, “hands that shed innocent blood” are an abomination to the Lord.  But, notice:  “a heart that deviseth wicked imaginations” are an abomination to the Lord, too.  Now we are talking about something inside a person’s mind – not just external actions.

Jesus is expressing this contrast in Matt 5:22.  He first says, “Whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment”.  The first thing we should notice is the qualification, “without a cause”.  Justified anger is a legitimate feeling (Eph 4:26).  Both God (Psa 7:11) and Jesus (Mk 3:5) have expressed anger.  Justified anger is a feeling that can prompt us to defend ourselves when we are in danger.  It is also a proper expression of our disapproval of sinful conduct.

But, Jesus is referring here to anger “without a cause”.  He is referring to anger that is not justifiable.  Anger, when it is uncontrolled, can lead to extreme expression:  assault, malicious conduct, and even murder.  This is why the apostle John connects it to murder in 1 Jn 3:15.  The local, civil counsel punished murder, but did very little to discourage the attitudes which lead to this crime.  In the Kingdom of God, leaders of the church (elders), evangelists, and teachers should seek to diminish these unlawful feelings before they lead to something far worse.

Jesus went on to say in Matt 5:22 that, whoever said to his brother “Raca!” is in danger of the counsel (the Sanhedrin).  The word “raca” means empty, vain, or worthless.  The Sanhedrin should step in to intervene in cases of anger which had escalated, and which the local civil counsel could not correct.  The Sanhedrin had relegated itself to civil matters almost exclusively while neglecting the spiritual problems confronting the nation.  In God’s Kingdom today, there are times when churches must take more extreme disciplinary measures.

Jesus goes on to say that, whoever said to his brother “Thou Fool” would be in danger of Hell fire.  Fool is from the Greek “moros” which means, “dull, stupid, heedless, blockhead, shallow brains, senseless”.  This is an expression of great contempt.  Thayer said this word represented “a wicked rebel against the Lord”.  Unlawful anger unchecked has now progressed to the most vicious of verbal expressions.  One guilty of this expression was in serious danger of Hell fire (from the Greek “gehenna”), referring to the place of eternal torment (Mk 9:43-48).

So, what does all of this mean to us today?  Traditional interpretation of the Law of Moses had fallen fall short.  The oral teachings and commentary of the scribes and Pharisees had diminished the importance of controlling one’s feelings and thoughts.  Our inner thoughts are important.  We can’t please God if we do not love our brethren (1 Jn 4:20-21).  The righteousness of the Kingdom is in harmony with the original intent of the Law (Gal 5:19-21).

Our thoughts affect our relationship with God and one another.  This is why Jesus goes on to say that we must fix our broken relationships with one another before worshipping God (Matt 5:23-26)  If we have hatred in our hearts for our brethren, our worship becomes compromised.  Unless we are quick to make amends, uncontrolled anger can land us in court… and possibly prison (Matt 25:25-26).  People go to prison every day who have allowed their anger to get out of control.  Citizens of the Kingdom have higher ideals (Rom 12:18-21).

What usually keeps brethren from working out their differences?  Pride.  Selfishness.  However, if we love (agape) our brethren, we will put his or her welfare above our own.  If anyone had good reason to be angry, it was Jesus.  He was unfairly tried, the victim of false testimony, humiliated and ridiculed, and physically abused.  The very one’s he came to save shouted, “Crucify Him, Crucify Him!”.  Though he suffered at the hands of their cruelty, His crucifixion was actually an act of reconciliation with His enemies.  The Just for the unjust.

His sacrifice was an example to us of the self-less attitude that leads to reconciliation, and the first step in being reconciled to our brethren is the determination and resolution to submit to God’s will.  We hope you will accept our invitation to worship God with us – the Chattahoochee church of Christ meets at 10 am each Lord’s Day at 125 West Washington Street in Chattahoochee, FL.

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