“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 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 5:21-22 ESV)
A few days ago, as part of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus stated that no one can earn their way to heaven by our behavior – either doing certain things and/or not doing certain things. We learned that our behavior can be superficial or hypocritical. God instead looks at our heart. Beginning today and over the next few days Jesus will give some specific examples.
The first example Jesus gives pertains to murder. Commandment number six of the Ten Commandments is “You shall not murder“. Every Jew would have been familiar with this command, as is pretty much everyone today. The word “murder” here refers to a selfish, criminal act. It does not refer to self-defense, manslaughter and the like.
Back then the religious leaders had diluted this commandment much like we do today. We’ve come up with all kinds of excuses and loopholes such as “justifiable homicide”, “crimes of passion”, or the infamous “Twinkie defense”. Human beings are very experienced at lowering the bar to raise our egos. But God holds us to a higher standard.
Jesus, who is God and has the authority to define sin (But I say to you), says that everyone who is angry with his brother or whoever insults his brother or whoever says ‘You fool!’ to another person is liable to judgment. According to Jesus anger and insults directed at another person is sin equivalent of murder.
Every human being was made in the image of God [Genesis 1:27] – they are extremely valuable to Him. When we are angry with another person or insult them we are devaluing them: we are murdering them in our heart.
We know that not all anger is sin. We learned this in our study of Ephesians. The anger that Jesus is talking about here via the use of the Greek word οργιζο (pronounced: or-gid’-zo) is selfish, unforgiving anger derived because we believe that we have been wronged.
Sin is an act of the will. Before we ever commit a physical sinful act, like murder, we first had to have thoughts and emotions that are sinful. As any psychologist will confirm, our actions are driven by our thoughts. Our thoughts are fed by our heart [Jeremiah 17:9; Matthew 15:19].
This is why man can never create a righteous planet. Through threats of incarceration or by promoting “tolerance” we may alter our outward behavior. But we can never change our hearts, which is what we really need. Only God can do that [Exodus 36:26; Ezekiel 11:19; Romans 2:29]. Hence, our world will only get worse.
While we might stop short of murdering someone, everyone of us has been angry with another human being. Therefore, none of us are truly innocent of murder [1 John 3:15].
God is not interested in our external keeping of rules. That is a low bar. He wants our heart to be right. It is the state of our heart that is the true measure of one’s guilt.
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