Christianity is meant to be different. It is to be different from other religions and different from the way this world thinks. The Old Testament prophets continually spoke of a different and better kingdom that was coming. The first word preached by both Jesus and John the Baptist was, “Repent!” which is a commandment to change… or be different than the way you were before. In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5, 6, and 7), Jesus calls His disciples to, not surprisingly, be different.
Primarily, Jesus teaches us to:
- Be different than the standard of the world.
- Be different than the standard of religious teachers.
Consider how beautiful the world would be if everyone followed the teachings in this sermon. Jesus gives such a standard that he is able to say, “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20). He concludes this section of His sermon with, “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). Such high callings!
Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:17-20
Jesus fulfilled the Law and the prophets (see Luke 24:44). The last words He uttered on the cross were, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Entire books of the New Testament were written to teach Christians that Jesus and His New Covenant are better than the Old Law and have made the Law of Moses obsolete (i.e. Galatians and Hebrews). Jesus didn’t destroy the Law; He fulfilled it.
What Jesus was saying was, “Your religious teachers have twisted and abused the Law and the prophets. Let me explain to you perfectly what the Scriptures mean.” Jesus then begins six contrasts of what the religious teachers of the time were saying, versus what God is saying. In this article, we will study the first one, where Jesus presents His divine take on murder (Matt. 5:21-26).
You have heard…
You have heard that the ancients were told, “You shall not commit murder” and “Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.” Matthew 5:21.
“You shall not murder.” These people would have heard this from the Ten Commandments. Is Jesus about to annul one of the Ten Commandments? By no means!
It seems that the teachers of the time were saying that simply the commitment of murder was wrong. Perhaps the teachers had forgotten that the Law defined murder as an act that resulted from hatred, or at least, the intention of murder in the heart (Num. 35:20-21).
You shall not go about as a slanderer among your people, and you are not to act against the life of your neighbor; I am the LORD.
You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD. Leviticus 19:16-18.
But I say…
But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, “You good-for-nothing,” shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, “You fool,” shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. Matthew 5:22.
Being guilty of the court, in Jesus’ eyes, requires only one thing: anger. Deuteronomy 16 and 17 put forth Israel’s court system, which Jesus refers to here. Murder is easy to see and convict, but how is anger to be judged in the court system? There are, of course, different types of anger.
Some translations have, “whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger…” (see KJV and NKJV). There is what people have called “righteous indignation.”
God is a righteous judge, and a God who has indignation every day. Psalm 7:11.
Just as God is one who hates sin, when one of His children exemplifies the heart of Christ, he or she will also hate sin.
And on some have compassion, making a distinction; but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh. Jude 22-23.
When Jesus saw the money changers at the temple, He responded in anger. Yet in all of His “righteous indignation,” Jesus never sinned (Heb. 4:15). We have the same calling–the one to be angry, yet without sin.
Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity. Ephesians 4:26-27.
To call someone raca (KJV), or, you good-for-nothing (NASB), insults the Creator, who saw in His good will to create everyone for something. When we let anger take its natural course, it boils inside of us. Where there is the presence of anger and a lack of self-control, there is the presence of insult and lack of love. According to Christ, putting down someone’s life, skill, and cognitive ability condemns one to the fiery hell.
Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. Matthew 5:23-24.
So, what’s the application of all of this? Verse 23 begins with, “Therefore.” Based on what Jesus says in verses 21 and 22, be reconciled to your brother.
The Law of Moses taught the Israelites to “not appear before the Lord empty-handed” (Deut. 16:16). Sacrifice was the way to worship, forgiveness, and reconciliation. However, it didn’t work by itself. Along with the sacrifice, three other things were to be present–intention, purity of heart, and repentance.
The longer one lives in Christ, the longer he or she develops a deep love for the work of God among men, which is boiled down to reconciliation. There should be no wonder, then, why Christ requires reconciliation to be exercised within our relationships with all others who also worship God.
Of course, there is no physical altar in the Law of Christ. Christ is our sacrifice. However, we still approach the same God in worship, and we must not appear before the Lord stained-hearted, or in other words, while ignoring broken relationships within the body of Christ.
Scenario: You come before God, and like the tax collector in the temple, you realize your sins are laid bare before a holy God. You then remember of how you have offended a brother or sister in the previous week. What are you to do?
- Leave your sacrifice.
- Be reconciled.
Is that the trend today? Unfortunately, we live in a day where victimization is exalted, where parents treat their children like the world revolves around them, where culture teaches that you’re entitled to your heart’s desires. If we’re not careful, and if we’re not intentional, this world will shape us, and the gospel will not. When there is offence, the world says, “Leave the relationship.” The Master says, “Leave your sacrifice.”
In case you’re justifying yourself by saying, “So-and-so is not offended at me; I’m offended at him; therefore, I’ll share this article in hopes he will read it and come to me for reconciliation!” don’t be so hasty. First, there are other Scriptures that command even those who are “innocent” to initiate the reconciliation (e.g. Matt. 18:15-17; Rom. 12:18). But even within the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus leaves no room for self-justification. If you can come to worship with a clean conscience because of your pride (“Sure, my relationship with someone in the faith is on rocky ground, but it’s his fault; he’s the offender”), then you’ve proven otherwise by your attitude. The commandment is for you:
- Leave your sacrifice.
- Be reconciled.
Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent. Matthew 5:25-26.
Imagine a situation where you ignore one whom you have offended. Will the situation get better by itself? In most cases, it will get worse. The longer you ignore the problem, the more awkward it gets. Perhaps while you ignore the problem, the person you have offended is busy taking things to the next level, even to the point of drafting court papers. Being proactive in fixing relationships has its spiritual benefits–it allows you to worship spiritually without hindrance. It obviously has earthly benefits, too. Settling matters before third parties get involved can prevent complicated, awkward, expensive, and undesirable results.
If our righteousness is to surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees, we must follow Jesus’ teachings against murder. Doing so includes making friends with our enemies quickly. In a culture that loves to be offended and victimized, we are to take the heroic initiative by fixing relational problems before a third party is needed.
If we are to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect, we must:
- Treat our brothers and sisters kindly.
- Recognize a person’s inherent value. God created him or her to be good for something!
- Be willing to see a friend’s point of view. Sometimes all it takes is a change of perspective to see that we are the ones who are actually foolish.
- Be reconciled to our estranged members of the household of faith so that our worship to God may be unhindered.
Do you want to be the true worshiper who worships God in spirit? How can you when you harbor hate inside your heart? Deal with your relationships Jesus’ way, and you’ll be that much closer to God’s perfection.