Jesus' audience had heard the law. Murder was wrong (Exo. 20:13; Deut. 5:17). Those who murdered would be tried and condemned (Num. 35:30,31). Jesus did not have a problem with the statements, but with the meaning of those who touted them.
FIRST, the legalistic Pharisees reduced the law to mean as long as they didn't actually commit murder, they were fine. They could speak slander and sedition, mar reputations and ruin livelihoods, but as long as no lifeblood was shed, all was good. No harm, no foul.
SECOND, the Pharisaic reductionism missed the real problem with breaking the law. To them, if a person committed murder, they might be guilty before the court. Eternally there was little problem. They might be executed for their infraction, but their souls would be fine.
The Heart Of The Problem: -- Jesus was not saying that murder shouldn't be viewed as sin. It is. Nor was he saying that human courts should not judge murderers. They should. Jesus was saying that such is not the whole picture. The kingdom citizen living according to the beatitudes is held to a higher standard, a righteousness that surpasses the legalistic, line drawing Pharisees who seemed to be certain they could never do anything to endanger their resurrected souls. Righteousness begins in the heart. If the heart is bad, it doesn't matter how pure the actions seem. Further, the danger of corrupted hearts is not the rulings of human courts, but the ruling of God's final court. Our anger, hatred, bitterness, resentment and seething malice endanger our souls, not just our lives.
Jesus' teaching does not conflict with Eph. 4:26. Paul says we can be angered without sinning. Jesus is not saying all anger is sin. The use of passive verbs in both texts demonstrates the anger is caused by outside sources. We will never stop it completely (though as we grow in the beatitudes we will learn not to be easily provoked). The context of Jesus' statement demonstrates He is dealing with anger that is not quickly or properly resolved, even if it never actually leads to violence or murder. Both passages teach the same principle. When we are angered, we need to respond quickly. Otherwise, we are allowing Satan's foothold in our lives.
Attitudes And Consequences: -- When someone has sinned against us, angering us, we do not go to them as judges intent on putting them in their place (Matt. 7:1,2). Instead, we go as brothers and sisters, concerned for their souls. We do not merely see the hurt agains us, but their sin against God. Thus, we come in gentleness ("blessed is the meek") to restore them (Gal. 6:1,2). We come alongside to help bear their burdens. As Jesus went to the cross to provide foregiveness for those who hung Him there, we sacrifice ourselves to help those who have made themselves our enemies so they might be saved (Matt. 5:43-48).
Sometimes, however, the sin does not lie with others. Let's face it, we all sin. Just as others will sin against us, we will sin against them. Sadly, even when we are at fault, we sometimes want to wait around for our offended brother to let us know. After all, we convince ourselves, how can I really know I was offensive unless they tell me? We even act as if we are taking the high ground by relying on Jesus' previous principle, explaining that Jesus gave them the responsibility to talk to those who had sinned against them. It is their responsibility, not ours. Yes, they have responsibility, but so do we.
The Humble Path Of Peacemaking: -- Jesus says we should immediately go to the brother or sister we have hurt and reconcile with them even if it means leaving our gifts at God's altar (Matt. 5:23,24). We often say this means we should reconcile before we worship. This is not the exact picture. The sacrifice Jesus mentions is not a picture of worship, but seeking forgiveness. Trying to reconcile with God does us absolutely no good if we won't reconcile with our brethren. Before we seek God's forgiveness, we must get up off our knees and go to our neighbor. Seek peace with them and then we can seek peace with God. This should not be hard for us if we are truly peacemakers (5:9).
We are all heading for God's tribunal. The only way we will hear good news in God's court is if we have reconciled with our opponents and walk in the courtroom as friends (5:25,26). Yes, I know we can only do so much (Rom. 12:18). But we had better be doing what depends on us.
Kingdom citizens walk a narrow path. When wronged, we offer forgiveness without reservations; when having wronged, we seek forgiveness without excuse, and we do both without delay.
By Edwin Crozier in Biblical Insights, Vol. 8, No. 4, April, 2008.
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