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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at Life BPC 8am & 11am service, 2017-09-17

Text: Matthew 5:21-26

This section in the Sermon on the Mount is the first of five sections in this chapter that begin with the same formula: “Ye have heard that it was said ….” and is followed by the words, “But I say unto you.”  What this means is that Jesus was correcting the wrong interpretations of the Law that had been made by some ancient rabbis. These interpretations were either too narrow, or made too many concessions for the sinful tendencies of man. Such wrong interpretations of the Law enabled the Jews to claim that they had kept every commandment of God perfectly. And so they thought that they were good and sinless before God. How terribly mistaken they were!

 

In contrast to all of these, Jesus spoke as one with authority (“But I say unto you.”). Since Jesus is God Himself, He is the author of the Ten Commandments that were given to man! And He enables us to see beyond the superficial meaning of each commandment, to understand the true intention for each one of them. Here in the exposition that He gave concerning the sixth commandment “Thou shalt not kill,” we see Jesus getting right down to the very root of the problem which this commandment was meant to deal with.

 

And as we learn what the sixth commandment is really all about, we will soon realize that we have been guilty of breaking it sometimes. This is because anger and verbal abuse are sins against this commandment. These sins are not as evil as murder. But they are the same kind of sin and we should not try to excuse them as mere human weakness. You may have noticed that anger is only one letter short of Danger. The anger that rages in one’s heart can easily lead to hatred and even murder if it is left unchecked.

 

Every act of murder originates from the human heart – a heart filled with hatred for others. And even if it does not lead to violence, those who harbour hatred and allow it to grow and fester are just like murderers in God’s eyes. We can call this mental murder, or homicide of the heart. Let us study this passage carefully now to see what it teaches us on this sin:

  1. It Can Lead to Murder (vv. 21, 22a)

The passage begins: Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.”

 

This was the anger that Cain felt against Abel when he was jealous of his brother’s offering, and which eventually led him into committing the first murder. It was also the same anger that King Saul felt against David, when the Israelites began praising David for his victories over Israel’s enemies, as 1 Samuel 18:8 describes: “And Saul was very wroth, and the saying displeased him; and he said, They have ascribed unto David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed but thousands: and what can he have more but the kingdom?” This was followed by several attempts that Saul made on David’s life.

 

And this was also the same kind of anger that Joseph’s brothers had against him because of the special favour that their father gave him, and because of the dreams that Joseph had which portrayed them as bowing down to him. Their hatred led them to conspire to kill him when he came looking for them. Had it not been for Reuben’s protection of Joseph, their heart homicide might have become actual homicide! (Genesis 37:3-22).

 

The Bible abounds with many more examples of anger that led either to murder or to attempted murder. But these are sufficient to prove what Jesus said in v.22 of our text: “Whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.” Dearly beloved, have you ever been angry with a brother or sister without a cause?

 

One phenomenon that has become common in Singapore is road rage. In one incident that happened on the Central Expressway a male driver became upset when a female driver of a Mercedes cut into his lane. He overtook her, got out of his car, shouted at her and slammed his fist into her car windshield so hard that it cracked! It turned out that the driver who vented his rage was actually a high-ranking executive of a well-known bank. In cases of road rage, there is often verbal abuse and even violence.

 

I want you to notice that verse 22 carries the qualifier in the words, “without a cause.” This implies that if there is really a good and just cause to be angry, that anger is not sinful but righteous. Righteous anger is sometimes needful as a proper response to sin. Exodus 32:19 tells us that when Moses came down from Mount Sinai and saw the Israelites worshipping the golden calf, his “anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands and brake them beneath the mount.” And yet after this, Moses went on his knees to plead for God’s mercy for those people in one of the most selfless and loving prayers recorded in the Bible! Moses was clearly angry with the sins of the people, but he still loved the people.From this we learn that righteous anger is directed against sin rather than against the people who had committed the sin.

 

Can we then justify our own anger against others by saying, “My anger is righteous anger. So there’s nothing wrong with it.” It’s not so simple! The difficulty we have is that our motives are often mixed, especially when the sin offends us in some way. So before you excuse any anger you have against someone as being righteous anger, please examine your heart. Have you been personally offended by what that person did, and do you hate him for that? Are you willing to pray for his welfare and restoration? If you are not, then your anger is an unjust and sinful anger, and it may lead you to commit worse sins, if it is left unchecked. Now let us return to our text to see what other sins can be caused by nursing an unjust anger against others:

  1. It May Make Others Seem Worthless (v. 22b)

It soon transforms into an arrogant contempt for them, as the middle part of v.22 says, “Whosoever shall say to his brother Raca, shall be in danger of the council.” The wordRaca was a common Aramaic term of strong abuse that was used in New Testament times, and it means “empty or useless.” Today, the same effect is achieved when we scold a person as being ‘good-for-nothing’ or refer to someone as having ‘no-sense’ or being an ‘idiot’ ‘empty-head” “imbecile,” “blockhead,” or, to use a local word, ‘goondu.’ Please don’t ever use such words against anyone! Whenever you regard others as being worthless or subhuman you make yourself worthy to be tried before the supreme court of heaven.

 

The book of James demonstrates the seriousness of calling a person by such abusive names: Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.” (James 3:9) To call a person ‘worthless’ or ‘useless’ is to insult the very image of God in which he is made! Let us see what other things we should not call a person in the last part of v.22:

  1. It Often Results in Condemning Others (v. 22c)

“But whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.” The word “fool” here is worse than the previous term “Raca.” It is actually the word, “moron.” Even today, this term is still used commonly for scolding someone.  But in biblical times, this word ‘moron’ denoted a moral fool, not a mentally deficient person, as it does today. This kind of fool is worse than worthless – he has negative worth! This is because he has no respect for the truth at all, but prefers his own opinions (Proverbs 15:14). The fool is a person who mocks at sin (Proverbs 14:9), and even at God. Psalm 14:1 tells us, “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.” Thus, he is beyond all hope of redemption.

 

To call someone a fool in this sense is tantamount to passing judgment on his character and his destiny. Only God has the right to do this. If we condemn anyone as being completely beyond redemption, then we are making ourselves God. That is a very serious matter. Jesus says that all who make such judgments are themselves in danger of being cast into the fires of hell!

 

One sin that is very similar to this is backbiting or gossiping. There is nothing wrong with talking about others if the things mentioned about them are all good. But when we speak or write about others in a critical, judgemental manner and it goes viral by word of mouth or through social media, we damage their reputation. Any criticism that can damage a person’s reputation breaks the sixth commandment, unless it is spoken in love personally to that person alone, or it is spoken only to someone who is responsible to correct that person’s sin. So please be very careful about anything that you say or write about others behind their backs.

  1. It Must Be Taken Very Seriously

Some of you may be wondering why three levels of judgments are mentioned here in v.22 – “The Judgment,” “the Council” and “Hell fire”. There is a progression here. In the Jewish system, the Judgment refers to the lower courts, usually consisting of a tribunal of seven judges. They could sentence a person to death only by strangling of beheading. Cases that were more serious were handled by the Sanhedrin Council in Jerusalem. This consisted of 72 elders who had the right to sentence a person to a worse form of death – by stoning. The third kind of death is the worst of all – Hell fire. This is the torturous painful death that never ends (cf. Luke 16:23).

 

But this does not mean that different kinds of sins will be punished in different ways and that hell fire is reserved only for the worst kind of sinners. You see, Christ is not talking at all about human courts of law here, because there is no court of law in this world that can sentence a person to death because of anger or even for calling someone by an abusive term. The terms ‘Judgment’ and ‘Council’ here therefore refer to God’s court of justice, for God alone can see all the hidden intentions and motives of the heart. Other verses of Scripture reveal to us that hell fire is the only place where all who are guilty of sins will be punished no matter how big or how small their sin may be (cf. Luke 16, Revelation20:14,15). Hence all three terms used in v.22 – the Judgment, the Council and Hell fire – actually refer to the same end and the same punishment. All unsaved sinners who go through God’s judgment and council will certainly face the same hell fire!

 

The real point that is being highlighted is that these sins of the heart and mouth that men tend to regard as being ‘minor’ offences, must be taken very seriously, because God counts all who do them as being worthy of eternal death!

 

This shows how impossible it is for anyone to stand faultless before God, the Supreme judge. Even the most upright person on earth will not be able to bear the penetrating vision of the Lord that can expose the tiniest specks of sin in his life. No one can stand under such intense scrutiny and face such exacting judgment. That is why we are told in Romans3:23“For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”

 

There is only one way that we can avoid this awful judgment, and that is to be washed in the blood of Jesus Christ. Only His blood that He shed for us on the Cross can remove every speck of sin from our lives so that we can stand faultless before the Lord. As we study this text, and see how high God’s standard of holiness is, we should be more thankful for the salvation that we have in Christ! Isn’t it wonderful to know that we who are in Christ will not be in danger of the judgment, or of the council, or of hell fire?

 

But if you are not in Christ yet, then I am sorry to inform you that you are still in danger of these things! The only way to be saved from this is to turn to Christ to save you now without any delay. Come to Him and seek His salvation, now, before it is too late, before the day comes when you will be judged by Him!

 

That is not all that this passage should do for us. It should also make us, who are in Christ, do everything we possibly can to away these sins. Although we are not in danger of the awful judgments listed in v.22, the fact that these sins against the 6th commandment deserve them should compel us to get rid of them. How can we please our Lord if we are still tolerating these sins which He hates, in our lives? So let us learn what we must do now. Returning to our text in Matthew 5 we see that after dealing with the sins of unjust anger and verbal abuse, the Lord Jesus gives some urgent advice that can keep us from becoming guilty of these sins:

  1. It Needs to Be Resolved Quickly (vv. 23-26)

vv.23-24 – “Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.” The main point that is emphasised here is reconciliation. This means that if someone makes you angry, you must not allow your anger to keep on festering and burning within you.

 

How can you tell if you have such internalized anger? When the event that provoked the feelings of anger can still be remembered vividly for a long time, as if it happened just a moment ago. We can still remember the exact words used, the tone of voice and facial expression. So what should we do? Ephesians 4:26 tells us – “Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath…” Whether you are angry with someone or someone is angry with you, that anger must not be allowed to remain for long. You should seek to be reconciled with him. As Jesus said in v.25 of our text: “Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.”

 

The situation described here is similar to what we call an “out of court settlement.” Before being confronted by the Supreme Judge, you should make an effort to be reconciled. If you have sinned against someone, but have not yet made any effort to put things right with him, please do not just shrug it off and say, “I don’t have the courage to admit that what I did was wrong. I don’t like to ask for his forgiveness.” 

 

If you have sinned against anyone – whether it is your parents, your spouse, your children, your friends or colleagues, or even against fellow brothers and sisters in Christ – please do not let that sin remain unresolved. Deal with it wisely by putting it away so that you can both find closure.

The same thing goes for anyone who is on the receiving end. If someone has sinned against you, you need to forgive him. Do not bear a grudge against him, even if he has not repented of that sin and made any restitution for it. For, if you bear a grudge against him, you may one day become angry with him unjustly, and that in turn may lead you to commit sins that are much worse than his!

Now that we have seen that the 6th commandment includes prohibitions against unjust anger, verbal abuse and allowing unresolved grievances in our relationships with others, it will be helpful for us to learn what steps we can take to avoid these sins.

  1. Learn to be slow to anger.

One of the characteristics of God is that He is slow to anger. We must learn to be like God in this aspect. James 1:19 tells us, “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.” When we resolve a conflict with someone James recommends that we do less speaking and focus instead on understanding his viewpoint as he speaks. That is the meaning of “being swift to hear.” Tempers often flare up because of misunderstandings, and then after things are made clear, we regret that we had jumped to the wrong conclusion.

  1. Love those who offend you.

Doing this will enable you to forgive them for whatever they do or say against you. Proverbs 10:12 tells us: “Hatred stirreth up strifes: but love covereth all sins.” And when their sins are covered with love, please don’t go back to uncover them. Proverbs 17:9 tells us not to dig up the sins of the past – “He that covereth a transgression seeketh love; but he that repeateth a matter separateth very friends.”

 

But in order to love others like this, you must first know the love that God has for you. If God has loved you so much as to forgive all your sins and to spare you from His great wrath, surely you must do no less than that for others!

And sometimes the one that you need to forgive is yourself. Some time ago a young lady came to see me for counseling. She said that she had gotten so upset with her fiancé that she slapped him in public. Now she could not forgive herself for what she had done, and was so angry with herself. And as long as she did not forgive herself, she could not face her fiancé. I advised her that what she needed to do is to confess her sin, seek forgiveness from God and from her fiancé, and then seek God’s help to forgive herself and to stop hating herself. This would then free her to solve her own problem objectively.

  1. Walk in the Spirit.

Galatians 5:16 says, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.” The sins that are listed as the lust of the flesh a few verses later include hatred, variance, wrath and strife. These are the very same sins that Christ addressed in our Scripture text. So this is God’s remedy for anyone who is short-tempered: Walk in the Spirit. Every Christian is indwelt by the Spirit of God. Let Him lead you and fill you so that you can overcome the flesh.

always available for you. And God’s love for you is always the same. It remains the same even when you have tried your best but failed to meet His standards. And please remember that God’s grace is always sufficient for you to handle your temper before it erupts, and even to help you resolve all the damage it causes after it erupts. Let us always turn to God for all the help, love, grace and power that we need so that we may live this life for His glory.

 

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

December 3 & 10 - Holy Living

Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, 2 Peter 3:11