As we dig deeper into Jesus’ sermon on the mount, we’re going to find ourselves reading a lot of passages where Jesus goes over various laws. As His disciples, we are called to keep (or obey) Jesus’ Word, since He is God. But I want to be sure that we remember what Jesus said in previous passage. He pointed out that we could never fulfill the law and enter into the kingdom of heaven ourselves (because we’d have to be even more law-abiding than the Pharisee, and that’s really difficult!), and reminds us that He, Himself came to fulfill the law. So as we read these passages, I encourage you to remember that we’re not trying to obey in order to gain access to God, or to earn a spot in heaven. To repeat part of the quote from David Guzik that I shared last week:
“…after we come to Jesus, He sends us back to the law to learn the heart of God for our conduct and sanctification.“
We will see Jesus unpacking many of the laws found in the Old Testament in the remainder of Matthew 5. In it, we’ll see Him challenge how the Jews and even the Pharisees interpreted & conveyed the law. While I think it’s probably human nature to think “How far can I go before it becomes a sin?”, I think Jesus’ Words challenge me to instead think again about understanding the heart of the law instead. I think that’ll give us a better idea of the heart of God & His will for our lives.
The topic of the first passage we come across in Matthew 5:21-26 as He begins this portion of His sermon has to do with anger & murder. When we first hear the two put together, I think it’s natural to think that those who murder are extremely angry or perhaps crazy. But when we think of anger, I don’t think we jump to the extremity of it turning into murder. On it’s own, anger is much more acceptable than murder. So it can be a bit weird to see that Jesus says that even those who are angry with another person are “liable to judgement”, just one who commits murder is. He places them both on the same level. He then breaks it down even further to say that someone who insults (or curses) another is also liable as well (“You fool!” or “Raca” is a phrase that conveyed contempt and was used as a vulgarity towards someone that was despised by another). To us, these three things might seem like they’re on very different “levels”, but Jesus compares them all the same. So why is that?
Historically speaking, I read before that the Pharisees and the scribes taught correctly that God said, “You shall not murder”, but also taught at the same time that anything short of murder was “okay”. Again, we see the sinfulness of man with the thought of “how far can I go & get away with it?” The idea was that as long as they didn’t act upon it, it was okay to hate a person and curse them in bitter contempt. To many at the time, the law was only a matter of what you did outwardly without addressing the heart.
But we know from throughout the Bible, and we’ll continue to learn in the Sermon of the Mount, that sure, what we do matters, but that the Lord looks at the heart (“For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” // 1 Samuel 16:7). Jesus is reminding those around Him that attaining true righteousness on our own is impossible. But He’s also teaching us what God cares about.
I think many, especially now, struggle with the concept of “Is it then wrong to be angry?”, “What about righteous anger?”, etc. To be honest, those are things that I also am praying and asking for wisdom on. Being a generally peaceful & calm (though at times excitable) person by demeanor, from time to time I struggle in feeling heard. I even somehow got to a point where I told myself that if I didn’t show my anger and rage then the other person wouldn’t understand my feelings or the seriousness of my thoughts & words.
I “tested” out this theory in one of the safest relationships I have: my marriage. I remember crying & raising my voice in anger after finally releasing pent up frustrations I had earlier in our marriage. It perhaps felt “good” and felt “right” because in that moment, I knew that he knew I was angry and felt the weight of it as well. But what followed immediately was sorrow & pain from the both of us–he felt hurt by my tone & also felt irrevocably condemned, and my heart hurt to realize the guilt he felt locked into.
While we can both attest that my frustrations at the time were valid and important to bring up (and praise God we’ve long since worked together to figure out how to better help one another), I realized that my theory of being heard was potentially more selfish than helpful in finding a way to move forward together. Perhaps there are times where showing your emotions in healthy ways in order to demonstrate the seriousness of a situation is needed. But I think it’s important to check your heart in doing it and whether or not you’re seeking reconciliation and growth, or to spew hatred (even going so far to murderous intent), or to cast judgement (cursing another person). I think there’s a world of difference at how you then proceed to discern how to communicate your emotions.
With the world as it is, it’s almost impossible to think about living an anger-free life. Again, I think that’s why we cannot attain perfect righteousness by our own strength, by through Jesus. We’re here learning about the heart of God so we can know Him deeper & in turn, be more & more like Him. I think the later half of the passage (verses 23-26) helps us to understand the heart of God towards murder & anger a bit further.
Jesus points out that “everyone who is angry with” or curses another person (or of course murders another being) will be held liable, which focuses on our own heart. But in verses 23-26, there’s a shift in focus that points us to what to do when we’re the subject of another person’s anger, or even curse. Jesus tells us to reconcile with a brother (or sister) before even giving an offering to the Lord. He even says to come to settle things with our accuser quickly. I think the fact that we’re called to reconcile before giving an offering signifies that God finds reconciliation important. This significance is solidified as we read on through the New Testament of the Bible, where Jesus tells us that the greatest two commandments are:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”Matthew 22:36-40
We’re blessed because we can read God’s Word in its entirety and see passages such as this, which give even more fullness & context to the prior passages, like the one we’re looking at today. Remembering that loving God & loving our neighbor (as Christ has loved us, as it’s written in John 13:34), allows us to piece together that a part of loving others includes reconciliation when we find ourselves angry or at odds with another person. As we have been given peace and reconciliation with God through the sacrifice of Christ, it’s also to pass on through & into our relationships with those around us, especially within the church but also outwardly into the community and with nonbelievers.
Looking back at anger & murder: The American Psychological Association defines anger as “an emotion characterized by antagonism toward someone or something you feel has deliberately done you wrong.” There is no more room for reconciliation (at least during our time on earth) when you murder the person at the end of your contempt. When you curse someone with angry contempt, you are not allowing room for reconciliation at that moment, either. And in the heat of our anger, when we do not allow the Holy Spirit to manifest in us self-control, we are also most likely not in a place that’s desiring reconciliation with the one who we find has done us wrong.
With that in mind, I encourage you to consider again the pardon we’ve been given through Christ. In our sin, we offended & wronged God to the fullest–unable to do “good enough” to cover the debt of our sins. But by His grace, Jesus took our sin and the punishment we deserved from it at the cross so that we could have peace and a restored relationship with God. The mercy & reconciliation we received because of the love of God is truly something amazing. To love as He loved us calls for a softened heart with a desire for reconciliation. Of course, first to see ourselves & others reconciled with God through the love of Christ, but second, to live a life reconciled (or at peace) with those around us.
You may be thinking that this is a hard thing to do. Trust me, I wholeheartedly agree–it’s hard. People, even others walking with the Lord, can be challenging to reconcile with if they’re not in a place ready for reconciliation. And it’s hard when we ourselves find ourselves in heated anger. All we can do is check our own hearts before God.
Are you finding yourself angry with another person today? Or do you find that in your heart there is a person you’ve cursed or cast away? Bring it before the Lord and ask Him to help you. Remember the love of Christ, and the marvelous gift we have been given. The wisdom & discernment we need to reconcile with others can be found in the Word of God & by the Holy Spirit. & The strength we need to persevere in loving others & reconciling with them can be found in the Lord.
Take some time to listen to the hymn “Come They Fount (Above All Else) below & ask the Lord to reveal to you if there is anyone He is prompting you to reconcile with.
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace.
Hungry for more?
Create an atmosphere to encounter God
During this historical time, we’ve been collecting songs along the way. You can find the playlists on SGPC’s Spotify profile (requires a free Spotify account). Listen to old favorites and discover new songs of the season! Spring off into some of the suggestions generated by Spotify or search for your own go-to songs. These also work well as background music for studying scripture (or anything else).