Sermon on the Mount: Considering Murder
““You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent.”
Matthew 5:21-26 NASB1995
Now that Jesus has told us that He is here to fulfill the law, He begins to preach on a variety of issues concerning personal relationships. His first topic is murder, likely referring to the sixth commandment and the long-standing cultural norms that consider murder to be a major offense against God and man.
Whew! What a relief! I have never murdered anyone so I am righteous in that respect, right? I have read this passage before, many times when doing my daily Bible-in-a-year plan. But when you start to really dig into the words and read many commentaries, you are immediately convicted of sin! Murder is the ultimate outcome of an angry heart and, remember, God looks into the heart. Every time you curse someone in your mind or hold a grudge about something or actually feel real hatred for that person or lament the “idiots” on the road or argue with those “fools” on social media, you are as guilty as if you followed through and killed that person. It’s but a matter of degree as far as God is concerned.
God does not condemn true righteous anger about injustice or lamenting the fallen and sinful state of the world. We can have that anger and indignation, but we are not to sin in that anger (Ephesians 4:26) but work productively towards improving God’s kingdom. What is being condemned by Jesus is selfish anger. Here is an excerpt from a Commentary by David Guzik on this selfish anger:
i. Jesus exposes the essence of the scribes’ heresy. To them, the law was really only a matter of external performance, never the heart. Jesus brings the law back to the matters of the heart. “The supervision of the Kingdom does not begin by arresting a criminal with blood-red hands; it arrests the man in whom the murder spirit is just born.” (Morgan)
ii. We should emphasize that Jesus is not saying that anger is as bad as murder. It is profoundly morally confused to think that someone who shouts at another person in anger has sinned as badly as someone who murders another person in anger. Jesus emphasized that the law condemns both, without saying that the law says they are the same things. The laws of the people could only deal with the outward act of murder, but Jesus declared that His followers understood that God’s morality addressed not only the end but also the beginning of murder.
iii. Barclay, commenting on the specific ancient Greek word translated angry: “So Jesus forbids for ever the anger which broods, the anger which will not forget, the anger which refuses to be pacified, the anger which seeks revenge.”
I feel this simmering anger about a relative in our family right now because he refuses to communicate with us and reconcile, in spite of multiple pleadings for him to forgive what we might have done. I must pray to God to remove that anger from me and leave reconciliation in God’s hands in His timing.
In the KJV version of these verses, the word used for “fool” is “Raca”, which is a word of Aramaic origin meaning a senseless, empty-headed man. Just sit back and think about how many times you have used terms like “moron”, “idiot”, “fool” and epithets that are even worse (and may include invoking certain body parts used to emphasize your anger) in your encounters with our fellow humans everyday? This simmering impatience and frustration dehumanizes others and may give us temporary satisfaction, but it is grievous to God. I have a short fuse and am guilty of these reactions several times a day (I think I’m a little bit better than I used to be before returning to the Lord, but I have a long way to go). When you can’t think of any sins to confess, grab this one - it will keep you busy for a while! And pray for the Holy Spirit to continue to guide you into the fruits of the Spirit and to seek to be poor in spirit, meek, mournful, and hungering for righteousness.
My next Sermon on the Mount devotional will examine Matthew 5:27-30 on Adultery.
Photo by Andre Hunter on Unsplash
Commentary by David Guzik on Enduring Word is used by written permission.