We serve a God who reconciled with us in Jesus so we should be people of reconciliation and not murderous anger.
Introduction – Like a lot of school aged boys, I had a bunch of friends when I was growing up. And I think my experience was that of a lot of guys: most guys and their friends make fun of each other. They have nicknames for each other, that are not kind. They address each other in ways that would make you think they don’t like each other. But they do. They joke with each other – as far as I can see – because they are friends. This is the way boys are. I don’t know if girls are like this – I suspect not, at least not to the same extent. Maybe I should read the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and find out.
Friends make fun of each other, but enemies also make fun of each other. So what is the difference and does it bother God as much as it bothers us? Jesus has something to say about this.
Transition: we are continuing to look at the Sermon on the Mount and the part we study today is the beginning of Jesus’ teaching on various commandments. They show Jesus authority and also how he wants his followers to live.
Hatred and slander are like murder in the heart
We all acknowledge the seriousness of murder, it is the example of obvious sin. We all know that in most countries if you murder you are subject to judgment from the authorities. No one wants to live in a country where murder is not punished. But Jesus pushes beyond that; if you murder you are answerable to the government. If you are angry with a brother or sister, you are answerable to God. That is what he is saying here. You might avoid murder because incarceration has a way of messing up our plans. But God is concerned with more than our actions. He is concerned with our hearts and he is concerned when we feel anger toward another person.
Now in some of the ancient copies of the bible there is a little phrase here that says “angry without reason.” And it is hard to know if that is what Jesus said or if someone was trying to let us know that is what he meant. But I find myself thinking “we all think we have a reason for being angry. Rarely are we angry for no reason.” I suppose you could just not like someone without even really dealing with them or knowing them well. If you have a situation like that, I would tell you to be careful. If you find that you are angry at someone, or that you hate someone for no reason, just for a vibe that person gives off, my guess would be that you hate that person for something that you fear is in you. That would be the only reason for the intensity of feeling.
Perhaps you see a girl and you don’t know her but you are thinking “I think she is trying too hard to be popular. She just wants the popular people to like her so I don’t like her for that.” Now you could be right. But chances are you do not know this person, how she grew up, what is going on in her family. What it might reveal is that you really, really don’t want people to think you want to be popular. You are scared of that, which is why you see it in her.
So be careful, and repent when you are angry with someone without reason. But we can understand why many people think that the extra note, even if it was added later, reflects what Jesus meant. I mean, think about it: Jesus was himself angry on more than one occasion.
Jesus was angry when he drove the money changers out of the temple. Clearly. We also read where God is angry, that is one of the motives behind his wrath. But what is God angry at? What is Jesus angry at? They are angry at sin. They are angry at the destructive power of sin and injustice in people’s lives and they are angry at stubborn hearts. And here is the thing: the more you become like Christ the more sensitive you will be to sin. The more you understand how it destroys people the more deeply you will feel against it. But I do not think it is an over statement to say that Jesus hated sin but not sinners. I think this is why he was so accepting of prostitutes and tax collectors. They knew they had sinned, they saw their sin. So Jesus could come up along side of them and say, yes this is bad but God still loves you and wants to restore and forgive. But the religious people drove Jesus crazy because they would never admit their sin. He was angry because they were not.
But we are not Jesus. Our anger tends to be because people have offended us – I mean that is understandable. But our anger tends not to be abstract — anger at an idea, or a movement. We hate people. People bother us. In fact often we are the opposite of Jesus; we don’t mind sin, we mind people. And so Jesus says if you murder, yes you are liable to judgment from the civil authorities. But if you are angry, you have to answer to God.
So how would you know if you are angry at a person, not just the sin in a person? How can you diagnose that? One way is to check your language, in particular how you talk about this person with whom you are angry?
Once again Jesus acknowledges one thing and pushes us further. He says that anyone who says Raca, is answerable to the authorities. Raca was a term of derision, something like “empty headed” but it was more slanderous than an insult because it was answerable to the Sanhedrin (which is what that means). Perhaps we should consider this like we would think of slander. If you said someone was corrupt, or made a public accusation that a person cheated their customers, you could be held legally liable for that. So you might think twice about saying something considered sladerous.
But again, Jesus digs further and says that while calling someone something slanderous might be illegal, God sees the things we say in private and even the attitude of our hearts. To call someone a fool is more than saying that something they did was foolish. A fool was someone who is spiritually deficient even as Raca might connote someone was mentally deficient. But in both cases it is a term of derision, of demeaning someone, of making them less than a person. They are an idiot, a fool, a pagan, a thug – fill in the blank. We use these terms to make someone something other than a person created in the image of God, and that, my friends, is the first step to murder.
Sure that might seem like a leap, but it is true. If you take the Rwandan genocide twenty years ago – first the Hutus had to make the Tutsis less than human, before they could advocate slaughter. In the same way, why do you think that pro-choice people want to call it a fetus instead of a baby? You can’t just terminate a baby. Why did the slave traders of the South consider their slaves property? Because you can use property but you have to treat people with certain unalienable rights granted by their creator.
Obviously that is not what you are thinking when you express your hatred or anger against someone. You don’t want them dead, right? But it is easier to be angry, to put yourself above them, if you can think of them as something other than a person made in God’s image, making their way in the world. They must be bad right? That makes your anger justified. Jesus says that such anger is dangerous. It is dangerous for you because it might reveal a heart that has not been touched by God’s grace. You are in danger of the fires of hell, meaning you will have to answer to God for what you are saying about people. Think about that. Are you ready this moment to answer to God for the way you talk about people, for the labels you put on people, for the superiority you feel toward people?
If someone were to follow you around recording everything you say, how long would they record before they capture something you don’t want a friend of your to hear? How long before we could not listen to it in a church gathering for the hurt it might cause? That is what Jesus is saying here. Yes libel might land you in court, but God is looking at your heart.
Transition – so then what is the answer? Never have a disagreement, an opinion, never get into an argument? Are you just never supposed to feel anything and never be angry? And what if you have spoken wrongly or hurt someone. The answer is reconciliation – make it right. We are called to do more than just not murder and not slander and not hate. Jesus calls us to actively seek to reconcile.
Seek to reconcile and make good on areas where you have failed
Jesus tells us that the flip side of anger is reconciliation. It is important and it is not easy. Jesus gives us two examples, one Jewish and one Gentile or you could look at them as one personal and one professional.
In the first one he pictures someone in the midst of worship and he says even then, if you think someone has something against you, go and seek to make it right. In this example he pictures you are the one who has offended someone else. You are worshipping and are convicted that you may have dome something that hurt someone else. Jesus says stop what you are doing and try to make it right. It is interpersonal. It is important. In fact it is as important as worship.
We must be careful not to make religious activities make up for broken relationships and hurting others.
The second example is more likely a Gentile example, or I see it as professional example. The scene is someone being taken you to court for apparently unpaid fees. Jesus says – settle on the way or you may end up in debtors prison. What can this mean? Well, he has been talking about reconciling, and about how reconciling with a brother is as important as worship. Now he is picturing one of his disciples in a legal battle where the disciple is at fault. He seems to be saying, if your anger, and your hard heartedness, and your unwillingness to seek reconciliation ends up landing you in court, don’t expect God to get you off the hook. God loves justice and those who do wrong will face justice, even if they are his children.
It is all the more reason to seek reconciliation.
But why, really, is Jesus so concerned that we love those who anger us and seek reconciliation with those with whom we have conflicts? Well, think for a moment: how were we made right with God? How were we forgiven and given new life? We were forgiven because Jesus came to us and assumed all the penalty and reconciled us to the father. He loved us, even as he hated our sin and literally suffered because of our sin. If you have really experienced the grace of God, it is easier – not easy, but easier – to love those who anger you, to speak respectfully about those who you disagree with, and to reconcile with those who you have offended or who hurt you.
Of course we cannot guarantee any reconciliation but as we close I want you to search your own heart. Who might God bring to your mind and heart when you consider making something right with someone? God wants you to live in freedom, and it is a wonderful thing to know that you are not in conflict with anyone.