Throughout the Sermon on the Mount Jesus repeatedly says, ‘you have heard’, indicating that what the people were being taught and the way these Old Testament verses were being interpreted by their teachers, were not accurate.
The way they were being interpreted often led to confusion and in more cases than not, the division between the rabbis and the people as a whole.
Jesus quotes from the Old Testaments Scriptures, Exodus 20:13 / Deuteronomy 5:17 which said, ‘you shall not murder’. In the Old Testament murder was punishable by death, Exodus 21:12, but by the time Jesus came on the scene, the leaders had messed with this law to such an extent that if anyone committed murder, they wouldn’t be punished to death but simply be brought to judgement and be spared the death penalty.
Once again in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus begins by saying, ‘you have heard’ but then goes on to say, ‘but I tell you.’ This shows Christ’s authority and exposes the false interpretations by the nation’s leaders.
Here we see Jesus explaining the consequences of anger, the anger grows into hatred which then grows into the action of murder. And notice that Jesus says if ‘anyone of angry with their brother or sister will be subject to judgment.’
He puts anger at the same level of sin as murder, any who has murderous thoughts in their heart against their fellow brother or sister is considered in the eyes of Jesus to be a murderer.
The word, ‘Raca’ is an Aramaic expression of reproach and contempt which simply meant, ‘empty head’ or ‘vain person’, 2 Samuel 6:20. Anyone guilty of saying this kind of derogatory statement would be answerable to the court, the court in question, would be the Jewish Sanhedrin, which consisted of seventy men.
The words, ‘you fool’ are also derogatory and highly insulting and the punishment for using such statements, if not corrected, is clearly said to be hell.
Jesus is teaching us that if we use derogatory statements like these we will be guilty of sinning against our brothers and sisters.
The Jew’s interpretation of the Old Testament law demanded punishment for the outward actions of crime against our brother or sister, but Jesus wants to prevent murder in the first place by pointing out where it all begins, in the heart.
Jesus is very clear in what He teaches us here, He says that all sins which have these attitudes, anger, reproach, and insults are all punishable offences. Notice the natural three-stage progression of the inflicted punishment, the judgment, the council, and finally, the destruction of hell, the place where the evil soul will spend eternity. 1 John 5:17.
We all need to be all so careful of the words we use, especially towards our brothers and sisters in Christ. If we truly understood the consequences of Jesus’ words here I believe we all would be a little more careful in what we say, James 3:9.
The way Christians speak to each other is embarrassing at times, especially if they don’t agree with some Bible Scripture, it’s amazing when someone receives ‘a letter’ condemning a person to hell and it’s usually signed, ‘in Christian love.’
I mean when people receive this kind of correspondence, you can almost feel the anger and hatred in the words of the one who sent it, these people need to listen to Jesus’ words here and be careful.
Later in Matthew 18:15, Jesus speaks of the one who causes the sin, the one who is sinned against must take the first step and go to the offending brother or sister, but here in Matthew 5, Jesus speaks about the innocent person who remembers that someone had a complaint against him. In both cases, we see Jesus encouraging both the offended and the offender to get together to sort their issues out.
Jesus uses the word ‘therefore’, because of the seriousness of the attitude sins He’s just spoken about. In Jesus’ mind unity amongst believers is more important than worship because if unity doesn’t prevail our worship is a waste of time and God won’t accept our worship.
Reconciliation with our brother or sister who has something against us needs to be dealt with first, simply because anyone with hatred in their hearts can’t receive mercy from the One who gives it. Jesus says, ‘go and be reconciled,’ then you can come to worship, the Christians needs to settle matters quickly because that evil in our heart will just grow into bitterness.
The word, ‘adversary’ is a word used by the accuser in a lawsuit and implies in the context that it’s better to settle any disputes as quickly as you can before it ends up going to court where the judge will get involved and exercise the law against one of them by that time it’s usually too late for reconciliation, because either party may find themselves in prison.
A ‘penny’ was a small, insignificant copper coin. After the debtor was put into prison he was held there until the debt was paid, but if he couldn’t pay the debt, he would stay in prison until he died.
Jesus’ warning against lawsuits is clear, but we could easily avoid all these problems if we simply went and settled matters between ourselves first.
It’s never easy settling disputes between Christians, usually, pride and self-righteousness or the pain of being hurt get in the way but here Jesus reminds us of the consequences of harbouring sinful attitudes towards each other.
I’ve seen it a few times when things aren’t dealt with quickly, the situation just gets worse, the hatred grows into resentment and so forth, James 1:14-15. We only have to look at what’s happening in the world today between countries to see this in action.
The words we use to communicate with one another can be very encouraging but if we’re not careful they can also be very damaging, James 3:8. There is much wisdom in Christ’s words here because when we do ‘go and settle matters quickly’, we soon discover that it becomes very therapeutic in terms of feeling at peace with one another again as the reconciliation begins. The unity of the church is paramount to Jesus and should be for Christians too.
Over the years as a Christians, I’ve heard people who say that they won’t partake of the Lord’s Supper because they have an issue with someone or someone has an issue with them. While all this sounds very noble, Jesus’ teaching here goes way beyond the Lord’s Supper, He says we shouldn’t even be trying to worship God, we shouldn’t be in worship until we first go and settle our issues and bring about reconciliation.
Do you know a brother or sister who has something against you? Or do you have something against a brother or sister?
Maybe today would be a good day, to be reconciled with your brother or sister in Christ.