Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Sermon on the Mount - Murder and Anger


Today we will be getting into the specifics moral principles taught by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.  As we have seen so far, what we learn in the Sermon is impossible in our own strength.  Just as the Beatitudes go against our very nature, it is God who makes us the salt and light of the earth, and that the righteousness required to meet God's standards is only possible through faith in Jesus and having His righteousness imputed to us, the lessons we learn are also impossible on our own strength.  We are not to strive to meet all these standards, but have a desire to please our Lord and a reliance upon Him to give us the strength to live a life that is pleasing to the one that we love.  Here is today's text.
You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.' But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, 'Raca!' shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, 'You fool!' shall be in danger of hell fire. Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny.  Matthew 5:21-26 NKJV
Jesus is now going to go through some parts of the law where he gives the letter of the law as taught by man, then compares it to the spirit of the law.  In other words, Jesus is going to give God's intent behind these parts of the law.  This is important because when people focus on the letter, they forms lines in the sand.  We figure as long we are not breaking the actual letter of the law, we are still in compliance with the law.  That is not the heart we should have at all.  A great illustration of this is when parents tell one brother to stop poking at a another brother.  We all know what happens.  That child will poke his fingers as close to his brother as he can come without actually touching him and say something like "Not touching you!"  When the parents question the child, his defense will be that he was not poking him.  That child was following the letter of their parent's law, but certainly not the spirit.  Like those rebellious children, we often try to see how close to breaking the law we can get without actually breaking it.  If our motivation to please God is now out of love, then that is not how we should behave at all.  Our motivation should be one that would please, not one that sees how close we can get to displeasing.  I am sure any loving husband or wife would try to see how close they can get to hurting their husbands or wives without actually doing it.  If you do, then you are a terribly selfish and unloving spouse. 

The first law Jesus talks about is one we all know.  "You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment."  I do not think there is a person alive who does not know that murder is covered in the Ten Commandments.  The letter is not murdering someone.  The spirit is "But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, 'Raca!' shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, 'You fool!' shall be in danger of hell fire."  That certainly raises the bar, but it makes perfect sense.  Where exactly is the line we should draw with God.  Should you be able to beat someone within an inch of their life, but tell God that you were obedient in that you did not murder?  Should you be able to have that murderous anger inside you, wishing bad things upon another, or harbor the desire to murder and think that is fine with God because you did not do it?  What if you merely use abusive language and do not even strike a person?  Jesus uses the examples 'Raca' and fool here.  Both are insults and call into question the character or intelligence of another.  Can you tell God that you merely abused someone with insults instead of physical blows and think that is just fine?  You see, in all those cases, we are being that impetuous child looking for a line we can cross and get away with it. God telling us not to murder does not mean anything and everything short of murder is fine.  God telling us not to murder is telling us to not even begin down that road.  If you so much as call someone a demeaning name, you have committed murder in the eyes of God.  You violated the spirit of His law. 

Jesus now takes things a step even further. "Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift."  If we are in any kind of dispute with any of our brothers or sisters in the Lord, it is of the utmost importance to settle that argument. This takes it a step further in that not only are we to avoid any anger on our part, but we keep any anger from even welling up whether in our own hearts or in the heart of one who has something against us.  We are called to love one another and Jesus tells us that our love for one another is a proof that we are of Him.  If there is a breach in that love, it is a problem that must be settled.  I know pride gets in the way sometimes.  We almost always we feel we are in the right, and you may very well be in the right.  That does not excuse you, though, of trying to make peace.  A personal schism has no place in the house of God and both parties need to make the healing of that schism of the utmost importance.  Jesus even says to put priority on that over performing a service for the Lord.  This is not a case of idolatry.  You are not putting the settling of that dispute over and above the importance of God in your life.  You are settling that dispute because God is first in your life as our love for one another is exceptionally important to Him. 

Finally, Jesus tells us "Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny."  Jesus now takes his message regarding anger and expands it to your relationship with everyone else.  It is not only inside the church where we should not have adversaries, but in the world at large as well.  I am not saying we will not have enemies, but while many will consider us their enemy because of our faith, we are not to treat them the same.  If someone has a dispute with you outside the church, settle it.  Do not get dragged into arguments  lowering yourself to your former worldly self, but just let it go.  Swallow what personal pride is getting away, and do not let anger to take hold of you.  Jesus is specifically referring to debtor's prison, but it can be applied to our lives as well.  Anger and bitterness imprisons us and keeps us from that freedom and joy we enjoy in Christ. Remember, we are called to be peacemakers not warmongers.

We see here a great contrast between the letter and the spirit of the law. The letter says that we should not murder. The spirit says to not even begin down that road or have those thoughts.  Those under the law as law follow it to the letter.  Those in a loving relationship with our Father desire to obey the spirit.  We do so because obedience is no longer a means to satisfy the requirements of God.  Our obedience is out of love and a desire to please our Father.  The difference between the two is profound.  When you approach God from the standpoint of a child loving his Father, obedience takes on a whole new meaning.  We are no longer grudgingly adhering to a law, but living in a desire to please the One whom we love.  That results in a desire to obey for love's sake not out of the fear of judgment.  The law tells us not to murder, but Jesus tells us to not even be angry without cause (self offense does not count as a cause).  Do not even begin down the path to anger, bitterness, wrath, violence, and eventually murder.  Love your brothers.  Love your enemies.  Love those who hate you.  Remember the example of Jesus who loved us enough to die for us while we were still His enemies.
Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.  Ephesians 4:31-32 NKJV

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