Matthew 5:21-25: Murder in the Heart
Read: Matthew 5:21-25
Jesus’ concern for holiness started at the heart. Many of the teachings that he gives concerning spend more time addressing one’s inner condition than it did addressing the acts forbade by the law themselves. Jesus doesn’t pull any punches when he’s addressing something as heinous as murder either. He says that even the act of calling one a fool makes puts one in contempt of the fires of hell as much as murder itself. The reason Jesus does this is because so often times pent up anger leads one to enact vengeance against another, sometimes even going as far as killing that person.
To protect people from the wrath of accusers, the Law set up a number of refuge cities where those who had been accused of murder could flee to to avoid the wrath of others. The purpose of these cities was not to harbor criminals, rather to protect the innocents of the accused and prevent the accuser from seeking revenge rather than justice (Number 35).
One shouldn’t use this passage to trivialize murder though. One might be tempted to say that God is not fair in that he treats a name caller the same way that he treats a murderer. This view, however, doesn’t make a distinction between God’s standards and human standards. In God’s economy, a sin no matter how great ore small is what makes one unholy before a perfect and righteous judge, and anything less than perfect is what makes one guilty. Human law judges more quantitatively, seeking to make reparations relatively to crime committed, such as restitution under theft or a life for a life in the case of murder. In many ways, God’s standard is much higher, and one ought to be thankful that human standards don’t judge the same way this side of heaven. And if that wasn’t enough, it is not fair that Jesus himself died on the sinner’s behalf so they didn’t have to. Furthermore, this ought to give one pause before even thinking about uttering a harsh word towards another, which is what Jesus was getting at concerning calling. God in his mercy wanted to reconcile the human race, and he did so rather than carrying out the sentence that was due to them.
An attitude of gratitude compels one towards mercy, and in this vein, this Jesus offers sound advice: be reconciled to others quickly to prevent pent up anger from building up in ones life. Paul makes a similar appeal, telling believers to not let anger take up residence in one’s heart, rather be angry, but get over it quickly and be angry without sinning so the devil doesn’t get a foothold in one’s life (Ephesians 4:25-32). In the way that Christ forgives the believer, Christians ought to forgive and be forgiven so that anger doesn’t grow and become something much worse!
Lord, help me expel anger to take up mercy!