by Ian McPherson
The above section of the Sermon on the Mount deals with the relationship that we must have with a brother. All of us recognize that brothers share some things in common. They share a common ancestry , being born from the same womb. They are a family member. The dictionary includes the following definitions. "kinsman, close friend, fellow citizen, countryman, a fellow member of a religious society . . . companion, associate". We can see the closeness that the word conjures in our mind. To fail in loving our brother is to lack natural affection, which was a part of the works of the flesh (Rom. 1: 31). In the religious sense, our brother is one who has been born into the family of God, having been washed in the blood of Christ. He is one for whom the Lord died and reconciled to himself through His death on the cross. This relationship should be even closer than that of the relationship we have with fleshly brethren.
CHRIST INTRODUCES THE SUBJECT BY MENTIONING THE SIXTH COMMANDMENT:
"Thou shalt not kill" (Exod. 20: 13). "Kill" in this verse means murder. It obviously does not mean the accidental killing of a person. Nor is it a prohibition against capital punishment. All recognize the need for justice. A recent survey on the T.V. indicated that even in today's society 98% of the people of Australia were still in favour of the death penalty for murder. The need for justice is inbred in man, and it is unfortunately true that some murders take place, because the Government will not take on its role of being society's avenger of evil (Rom. 12: 19-13: 4). The decree set out by God as Noah went forth from the ark still stands "Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man." (Gen. 9: 6).
The text begins with the expression "Ye have heard that it hath been said" (Notice he did not say "It hath been said"). This expression is mentioned several times in the Sermon On The Mount and refers to the interpretation that the Scribes and Pharisees of the day put on texts of the Old Testament. An interpretation that we "hear" is not always exactly what the Scriptures say. We must all be like the Bereans and compare what we hear along side the only infallible standard, the Scriptures (Acts 17: 11). In this case however the interpretation of the consequences of murder were accurate. Those who committed murder were in danger of the judgment.
This was a local lower court established in the towns of Palestine. It consisted of court of seven men who would listen to the case and weigh up the evidence. As is the case today, the local courts were not as strict on the penalty for murder as the Law of Moses, which invoked the death penalty in all proved cases. However, as in New Testament times, murderers had to be responsibly tried, and the crime proved before punishment took place.
Notice Deuteronomy 17: 6-10: "At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death. The hands of the witnesses shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterward the hands of all the people. So thou shalt put the evil away from among you. If there arise a matter too hard for thee in judgment, between blood and blood, between plea and plea, and between stroke and stroke, being matters of controversy within thy gates: then shalt thou arise, and get thee up into the place which the LORD thy God shall choose; And thou shalt come unto the priests the Levites, and unto the judge that shall be in those days, and inquire; and they shall show thee the sentence of judgment: And thou shalt do according to the sentence, which they of that place which the LORD shall choose shall show thee; and thou shalt observe to do according to all that they inform thee".
Under Palestine's local court, the punishment for murder was still severe. Those found guilty were put to death by the sword. So the words of Christ in this text were certainly embedded deeply on the hearts of the hearers -- those who committed murder were in danger of judgment.
CHRIST NOW GOES DEEPER THAN THE SIXTH COMMANDMENT
This was deeper than the Scribes and Pharisees had gone. They were primarily only concerned with outward, legalistic interpretation of the Law. Christ expressed this in Matthew 15: 8-9: "This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men". The Pharisees could not internalise commandments. They could not get them off the paper and into the heart.
Christ, on the other hand, progresses from the letter of the sixth commandment and gets right to the heart of the matter. He said that murder is a lustful thing that begins in an angry heart . Note the words of Christ in another passage: "For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies:" (Matt. 15:19). If man would get his heart right, then society would be a safer place. Murder generally springs from a hateful and vengeful attitude towards another.
CHRIST SAID THAT THOSE WHO ARE ANGRY WITH THEIR BROTHER ARE ALSO IN DANGER OF JUDGMENT (Verse 22).
When detectives seek to find a murderer, they look first for motive. They look for reasons such as why as person would have felt anger and indignation towards the victim. Self centred sins such as jealousy, greed and lust are generally at its seat. These attributes stir up the type of hatred within a heart that leads to murder. No court on earth however, tries a person when sin is conceived in the heart. It takes some outward manifestation of it to incur the judgment of national courts. Christ point is that if anger stirs within your heart, then that is where the danger is. All those who allow anger to fester are therefore in danger of the judgment
It must be pointed out that all anger is not wrong. The Bible says "Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath:" (Eph. 4: 26). There is a righteous controlled anger which we must feel towards those who seek to flaunt God's law. Notice the text qualifies the prohibition against anger by the expression "without a cause" (i.e. a justifiable reason). Righteous anger however must be directed towards the person's sin and not the person themselves. Also, we must not allow our hearts to dwell on anger for if it grows in our hearts it will destroy us. Christ felt and demonstrated righteous anger when he upturned the money changers' tables and drove them out of the temple (Matt. 21: 12-13). He did not however act in a vengeful or unkind way. His thoughts were honourable and his actions controlled.
This point could be illustrated by an example of parental discipline. A good parent expresses anger when his child does wrong, and calmly disciplines him in a controlled manner. However a bad parent allows his anger to become uncontrolled, and will whip his child in uncontrolled rage. One parent expressed righteous anger, the other unrighteous anger.
CHRIST HOWEVER PRESSES HIS POINT FURTHER.
He progresses from anger (a sin of the heart) to the first outward demonstration of this anger which is expressed in words. When sin is not dealt with in the heart, it progresses to the next stage, the mouth. Christ expressed this in another passage. He said in Matthew 15: 11 "Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man". Our speech betrays our heart. Our words reveal the condition of our heart. If wicked thoughts are controlled and handled before they express themselves outwardly they do little damage, and the danger of the judgment is averted. On the other hand, once our wickedness is expressed in words, a multitude of problems develop.
CHRIST USED TWO WORDS THAT INCUR AN EVEN STRONGER JUDGMENT THAN MURDER.
He said that if we call our brother a "raca" we will be in danger of the Council, and if we say "thou fool" we will be in danger of hell fire. The Council was the higher court of the Sanhedrin (equivalent to our high court). The "judgment" court had the penalty of the sword for death, but the Council passed the judgment of stoning. Christ's point is that once the sin of anger is expressed in words, the penalty becomes more severe. The word "Raca" appears only here in Scripture and means "empty head".
HE THEN GETS TO THE SEAT OF THE PROBLEM
At the end of V.22 He says: "Whosoever shall say Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire". This refers to the fire of Gehenna which burned continually in a valley beside the city. It was where rubbish was tipped to be burned. In severe cases of murder the bodies of the executed were thrown into this fire. It was in this place that King Ahaz introduces the worship of Molech by sacrificing children there (2 Chron. 28: 3). Later, Josiah destroyed that worship, making it illegal to sacrifice their children there (2 Kings 23:10)
The word "fool" in the Greek is moros which means to be silly, or dull of mind. The prohibition against calling a brother a fool is not absolute. Like "anger" it is qualified by the condition of the heart. In the proper environment, and at the right time, it is justifiable to call a brother "a fool". This is provable by the way Christ used this word in his attack on the Pharisees in Matt. 23: 17-19. In this context it is used very strongly and very powerfully from a heart of love. His discourse ended with an expression of deep feeling for the condition of their souls. He said "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!" (Matt. 23: 37).
There are many people who are called "fools" in the Bible For example the atheist is called a fool for saying in his heart that there is no God (Psalm 53: 1). We also see that the slanderer who "hideth hatred with lying lips" is a fool (Prov. 10: 18). Proverbs 18: 2 tells us that "A fool hath no delight in understanding. . .". In fact, the book of Proverbs alone uses the word "fool" 37 times in 36 verses.
We must however be very careful about motives and attitudes when we use this expression. To use it flippantly in an attitude of ridicule can put us in danger of hell fire. No matter who a brother is, and how sinful his actions, we must not resort to flippant ridicule. Often I read great articles opposing sin by conservative brethren. However the articles are filled with ridicule. There have been many such articles that I have received, which I would long to send to liberal brethren because of the good doctrinal arguments raised, but I have decided that such would do more harm than good because in attitude they are no better than their liberal counterparts. We have the extensive English language through which to communicate. Those who continually try to win arguments by ridicule are to be greatly pitied.
THE MEANING OF THE TEXT IS PLAIN.
Christ is not just talking about physical murder stemming from an angry heart and poisonous lips. He is speaking of the hatred which we sometimes see in church which has an even more serious consequence, the slaying of a soul. The exhortation in 1 John 3: 12-15 concerning the attitude of Cain illustrates this point. "Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother's righteous.
We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.". Both Christ and John are clearly telling us that there is no room in the kingdom of God for a hateful and vengeful spirit.
These verses are promoting the need to love our brother. We must oppose
error, and even name false brethren, but we must always be careful about
attitudes and feelings. We must never hate our brother, no matter what he has
done, and we must never lightly ridicule him. John said: "He that saith he is in
the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now" (1 John 2: 9).
Verse 23 begins with the word "therefore" indicating that it is application to what has been spoken above. Christ here gives advice that will stop hatred growing in the heart toward a brother who has wronged us. He used a common example of an Israelite under the law of Moses taking money in addition to his normal sacrifice. According the Zerr's Commentary, these were additional gifts from to the usual sacrifices which were offered voluntarily for specific purposes. His admonition is as follows:
Matthew 5: 23-24 -- "Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift." Notice that it says if "thy brother hath ought against thee". It would seem that Jesus is considering a situation where a brother has accused you of some transgression against him, and you have not reconciled the situation. How in this situation can you worship God acceptably?
In this verse he is saying that we must reconcile ourselves to our brother before we offer this worship. This same passage is expressed in other passages for example Mark 11: 25 has similar application where it says: "And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses". The only difference in this case it is you that has something against your brother. Both passages however deal with conflict in the heart against you brother. Whether the differences are resolved or not, there need to be the seeking of reconciliation and the forgiveness in the heart. We cannot approach the throne of grace while we have bitterness and anger in out heart against a brother.
Brethren, please consider the important admonition here. If either a brother has wronged us, or we have wronged a brother and we turn up to worship with it unresolved, it is important that we first seek reconciliation before our worship is acceptable. In situations like this we should go quietly to our brother (or sister) and take them apart quietly to have it resolved. When you have if fully resolved to the best of your ability and have forgiveness in your heart, then you may return to the assembly and lift your praise to God acceptably.
There is no room for bitterness of heart. Notice the admonition in Hebrews 12: 15 "Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled". A "root of bitterness" in a persons heart can spring up and cause trouble and strife within a church or even among the whole brotherhood. Roots, when they are small can be easily removed: however, when they grow many other root particles spring from it and dig deep and become impossible to root up again without heavy equipment. If they are rooted up, they bring all the tangled mess of roots with them. Even if they are rooted up , root particles are often still left which spring up again later.
Matthew 5: 25: "Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison". This is the conclusion of the admonition to refrain from calling your brother a fool and thus causing unnecessary conflict brought about by a feeling of ill will. Conflicts are hard enough to solve without the harbouring of bitter thoughts, feelings and words.
Here Jesus is teaching that it is better to "settle out of court" than to bring accusations against a brother into the forefront. Often when one "sues" another the judgment goes against him. If it does not go against him, it often causes unresolvable differences between parties. Christ's advice is to have a "thick hide". Don't get involved in petty disputes, or get offended by what some brother may say about you. Although it is not always true, it is none the less often the case, that conflict between brethren should never get to the stage of needing reconciliation. It simply takes some maturity and "swallowing of pride". It may cause a momentary pang, but a short prayer to God for wisdom may cause the bitterness to go immediately, and thus the need for reconciliation is immediately averted.
The passage at hand deals with ridicule and anger. It warns us of the terrible trouble that the harbouring of such wickedness can cause. It also shows us that we must never, under any circumstances allow ourselves to become so uncontrolled in our conflict between brethren that we resort to ridicule coming from angry heart.
Such ridicule will either cause, or worsen conflict in churches and lead to division and loss of souls. Our brother is the most important person in the world. We must always treat him, as we would like to be treated ourselves. May God help us as we seek to overcome.