But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. (Matthew 5:22)
I’ve heard it many times, when people try to justify themselves and declare that they are not that bad, they are not as sinful as others; “Well at least I have never murdered anyone!” If that is your hope for not being on the receiving end of God’s righteous judgement, then I’ve got a shock for you today. He sees things quite differently than we do.
We sort of have an inkling that this is true anyway, the bible reveals God as ‘all seeing’ and ‘all knowing’ and so He can quite easily look into the very thoughts and motives of our hearts. It’s these secret attitudes that condemn us.
Jesus was speaking to quite a crowd on ‘the sermon on the mount’ but it seems that a lot of the content was directed at the religious leaders who were obviously present. They were all about the external. As long as everything was said and done in an acceptable manner, it didn’t matter what was inside. Jesus saw it differently. Elsewhere he called them “whitewashed tombs” (Matthew 23:27-28). They had a paint job on the outside, but it covered over death and destruction. Jesus is gradually exposing their hypocrisy and revealing their hearts.
All sin begins in the heart.
Jesus is revealing in this verse today that murder is not simply the act of physically killing someone, but the anger and hatred in the heart that leads to the act. People who commit murder are very often angry inside first, for any number of reasons. It could be an explosion of rage in a moment or the slow build up of anger over years and years but it all starts in that inner place first. Just because we don’t necessarily have an opportunity to physically murder someone, doesn’t mean we don’t wish to do it in our hearts which in God’s eyes, amounts to the same thing. It’s all sin and consequently separates us from God, meaning we are heading for hell.
In the verse today, Jesus uses as an example the word ‘fool’. But it could be any similar word that conveys the same meaning. The word he uses is the Aramaic word ‘raca’ which can mean; fool, idiot or imbecile. The Greek translation of the word is ‘moros’ where we get our word ‘moron’ from. None of these words are very pleasant although some of us might just shrug them off, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” we might say. The fact is that words like these can have lasting impact on many of us. They would have had more impact in Jesus’ day as He lived in a very ‘honour’ based culture. Honour was very important and therefore shame had a much greater impact than it does in the west today, although there are a number of far eastern cultures that would consider it devastating to ‘lose face’. To be shamed, would lead a person to wish that they were dead.
We have already seen from the examples of ‘the beatitudes’ a few verses before this one, that God’s people are not the sort of people who would shame others, or get angry with one another. God’s people are known for their humility, they are meek people whose hearts are pure and who seek after peace. They are the ‘salt of the earth’.
So is every expression of anger a sin?
Well no. It is possible to be angry and not to sin. It says in Ephesians 4:26 “Be angry and do not sin.” It’s important we differentiate between righteous anger and unrighteous anger. The bible is clear that God gets angry and that is part of His holiness. Jesus himself got angry when he turned over the money changer’s tables in the temple and made a whip of cords (John 2:13-22). The important thing to notice is that Jesus’ anger was not personal but a righteous anger. It was an anger that was concerned for God’s name and His honour.
So to sum up what I think Jesus is saying in this passage is;
“Murder is always wrong and it will always be condemned and brought before a human court. But you need to realise that I’m more concerned with the root cause, the inward infestation of sin in a person’s heart, the anger that get’s a foothold because it is allowed uncontrolled and free reign to rule over a person’s heart. This careless and vengeful anger can destroy the character and reputation of others and is just as worthy of the highest judgment as murder. In fact it comes from the pit of hell and deserves the same kind of judgment.”
Let’s be those who deal first with the anger we hold in our hearts. You might even want to make it a New Years resolution.