The sixth of the Ten Commandments, written in Exodus 20:13 and Deuteronomy 5:17, says simply, “You must not murder.”
Jesus starts with this commandment in his exploration of how to live according to his new righteousness that is greater than the old righteousness of the Pharisees.
Jesus seems happy with the consequences if you murder someone as stated in Numbers 35:12, “The slayer must not be put to death before being tried by the community.” The penalty is death, but there must be a fair trial first.
Jesus is instead expanding the definition of murder to include anger and insults.
What kind of person are you? What are you like when you get angry?
Some people are simmerers. They stay angry for a long time without exploding. They can brood and simmer for years, secretly working on their anger. Other people are high explosive. These people just erupt like a volcano, and if you are close you may be in danger from the smashing plates and cups. Some people have a safety valve and when the stress gets to a certain point they let out the steam, and it may be nothing to do with the source of their original anger. And others are like army sergeant majors who deliberately use their anger in a calculated way to create fear and get what they want.
Jesus says all of these people are ‘subject to judgement!’ This is the same phrase traditionally used for murderers. The consequences are the same, and they are the same whether you hid your anger or you let it out.
Being angry and rude to people is seen by the world as an acceptable part of normal daily life. What have you learned in life about anger and insults? Get a thick skin so you don’t notice! Don’t worry, get over it, it’s no big deal, it doesn’t mean anything, forget it. We are taught to play down anger and insults, but Jesus says it is a big deal.
If you get angry at someone, if you call them merely a fool or worse, you have violated the love command, and you will be in big trouble on judgement day. Thoughts and words that are socially acceptable are so often unacceptable before God.
Our English translation unfortunately says ‘someone’, but Jesus says ‘brother’.
“I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgement; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council.”
He says ‘brother’ four times. It could be that it was true then as it is true now that most murders happen within the family, but that is probably not what he means. Brother was usually understood by the first Christians, to whom Matthew was written, to mean fellow believer. I hope you remember what we said last week about this word.
Jesus is saying how awful it is to be angry at a fellow disciple, how terrible to utter insults about a fellow disciple. He is not saying it is OK to be angry at non-believers.
Jesus is clearly against all anger and insults, but especially among the fellowship of believers. The love commandment says we must love our neighbours as ourselves.
In John 13:34 Jesus says, “I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.” “이제 내가 새로운 계명을 너희에게준다. 서로 사랑하여라. 내가 너희를 사랑한 것처럼 너희도 서로 사랑하여라.”
The life of a disciple finds its full expression in fellowship. The life of a disciple is very much about learning to love in community. This is what is written in 1 John 4:20: “If someone says, ‘I love God’, but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see?”
“하나님을 사랑한다고 하면서 형제를 미워하는 사람은 거짓말쟁이입니다. 눈에 보이는 형제를 사랑하지 못하는 사람이 보이지 않는 하나님을사랑할수는없습니다.”
If we are to have greater righteousness than the Pharisees, it is not enough to avoid murdering people. We have to get rid of all the anger and bitterness in our hearts.
In all of our hidden feelings toward people, and especially toward fellow believers, we have to clean our hearts and get rid of all feelings of anger, all feelings of hatred, all feelings of animosity. We have been called to walk a higher path, a better way.
Jesus isn’t done yet, though. This is not enough for him.
We have to also pursue active reconciliation.
Jesus uses two stories to explain this.
It is not enough for us to avoid the breakdown of relationships through murder and name calling. We have to be active in repairing relationships. With God of course, but also with our brothers and sisters.
So for example, you are about to be married and the service has begun. You are both standing in front of the minister, and he is about to conduct the ceremony. And you recall a relationship problem with a brother or sister. Stop the ceremony, run out of the church, dash to your friend, repair the relationship. And then go back and get married.
Common sense would suggest that you should complete your wedding first. Religious sense suggests that it is most important to perform the ceremonies in Church.
But Jesus is having none of this. He clearly indicates that relationships take first priority in his kingdom, and they always win over common sense and religious sense.
It doesn’t matter who damaged the relationship, you are a disciple of Jesus.
So it is you who has to make the first move to repair the relationship. Just as Jesus took the first step to initiate a relationship with us.
God is more concerned with your relationships than with your piety. Giving large gifts is no compensation for having a bad relationship. God is not impressed if you are here on time on a Sunday morning because you didn’t stop to mend a relationship. On the other hand, if you are late because you were repairing relationships, then God will be pleased.
The second story Jesus tells is not about a brother or sister. In verse 25 he is talking now about an adversary. The believer is in a legal conflict with an unbeliever. The unbeliever is ready to use any means, he is ruthless and determined to exact a high price. He wants to send the believer to prison, and get revenge.
What does Jesus say this time?
He says you should take the initiative to improve this relationship. It is your job to make the first effort to improve things. He says you should ‘settle your differences quickly’.
At first glance it looks like simple sensible advice to resolve problems quickly so that they don’t escalate.
But in both stories there is a great urgency. Before you reach the altar, before you get to court, reach out to mend relationships. The haste is the same in both the story about the brother and the adversary.
The kingdom of heaven is at hand, now. There is no time to delay the essential things, such as repairing love. It is your job to initiate the repair and not wait for anything. If you have just realised you need to leave now, please do. And go in love.
You may want to call your neighbour a moron, but Jesus says hurry to become his friend. You may have good reason to be angry at your neighbour, but Jesus says there isn’t a moment to be lost in loving him. This is most important for your eternal life. It is urgent and cannot be put off.
It isn’t something someone else has to do, it is you who must do it right now without delay.
Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.
You know your own heart, you know who you need to reach out to. And God also knows, and he urges you to do it immediately. Before lunch, before prayers, before anything else.
You are a disciple of Jesus, so it is your responsibility to make the first move. Don’t wait for your adversary to have a change of heart.