|Matthew 5:21–22 (ESV): 21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 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.
The most prominent river in the land of Israel known as the “river Jordan” begins as a collection of small creeks at the base of Mount Hermon. As with most rivers, its various starting points can be fairly hard to notice and therefore considered insignificant. In the same way, most sins that we commit are the result of smaller creeks that went unnoticed much earlier in our lives. In this passage Jesus indicates that the sin of murder begins with anger in the heart gone unchecked. In tandem with the overall theme of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus emphasizes once again how the most important aspect of being His disciple relates to the condition of our hearts.
Proverbs 4:23 (ESV): 23 Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.
Jesus emphasizes that sin is ultimately an expression of the condition of a heart that is not reflecting the will and nature of God. If you have anger in your heart, the kind of anger that leads you to insult people and call them disparaging names, you are already expressing the kind of sinful behavior that leads to things like violence and murder. Jesus is pointing out that even if a person avoids murdering someone for whatever reason, be it they are trying to avoid facing judgment under the law, if they still posses a murderous heart then they remain in sin because they are not loving God in their heart. This way of looking at the command “though shalt not murder” illustrates that merely keeping the command externally while still harboring resentments internally, fails to exemplify what is mean to love God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength.
Matthew 5:23–24 (ESV): 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
Here we see Jesus providing instruction to the person that has exhibited anger toward a fellow worshiper, or perhaps insulted them or treated them with contempt for one reason or another. Instead of allowing the resentments to fester and continue to damage the people around you, with the ultimate risk of producing violent behavior, Jesus instructs the disciple to act in such a way as to produce reconciliation. There was a custom among the Jews of that time for someone who had stolen from a neighbor to bring a trespass offering to God, but the important thing was for them to make sure they returned the stolen items before bringing the trespass offering to the Temple. In this case Christ expands such a practice to an offering of any kind. That is, what really pleases God is not our offerings in isolation, but righteous behavior all around. Our true and proper worship is not just how we behave in the house of God, but how we behave in every place we go!
Ephesians 4:32 (ESV)- “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
In order to love people the way that God commands we must choose to live with an attitude of forgiveness. When we allow anger to fester in our hearts we are making the opposite choice that God wants. Someone will say “but my anger is a righteous anger.” This may be the case in limited scenarios but if we are honest with ourselves: 1.) We will have to admit that more often than not our anger is out of selfishness, and 2.) Even if we have a righteous anger, the moment we allow it to cause us to act in an unrighteous manner, we have failed to let it function properly in our lives. Righteous anger is meant to move us into righteous action by the power of the Holy Spirit, not resentment and revenge.
James 1:19–20 (ESV): 19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
Here James the brother of Jesus expands on what Jesus is getting at in His Sermon on the Mount. We must understand that human anger produces unrighteous actions. If we truly want to live a righteous life before God we must be willing to go beyond a mere external obedience to the moral commands of God. We must rend our hearts before Him believing that He is able to empower us to live patiently and lovingly with others in our life. We must become more cognizant of what we are allowing our heart to be filled with: human anger or God’s love that surpasses knowledge?
Prayer for today: Lord forgive me and cleanse me of unrighteous anger. Lead me to pursue reconciliation with anyone that I have caused harm to in my life. Teach me to truly worship You beyond the four walls of my local church. Teach me how to live a lifestyle of worship that is ultimately expressed in loving the people in my life, even those that I am tempted to become angry with. Thank you for loving me first! In Jesus’ name, amen.