Sermon on the Mount: Resolving Conflict – Matthew 5:21-22

After Jesus explains his relationship to the Law he begins to expand on some specifics within the Law. I believe this is largely because for many the Law had become a legalistic code that you followed to the letter. Or at least how they chose to understand it. Jesus, however, moves beyond the letter of the Law and into its spirit. Matthew 5:21-26 is frequently grouped under the heading of Murder. But it seems to me to really be three different topics, although all are related to resolving conflict with other people.

Murder

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

Matthew 5:21-22 NIV

One of the Ten Commandments is a prohibition against murder. And this is reinforced throughout the Law with appropriate penalties for killing and injuring another person. And Jesus says nothing to overturn any of that. Rather he goes beyond what the Law says and delves into the heart, warning us against anger and slander.

Anger is a natural emotion that we all have, and is not intrinsically bad. The problem comes with how you deal with anger. In Ephesians 4:26-27 Paul tells us “‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” We need to resolve whatever the conflict is that has caused the anger without delay, and without falling into sin.

Some manuscripts add ‘without cause’ to this prohibition against anger, but most translators do not believe that was a part of what Matthew originally recorded. We should not attempt to excuse anger against someone because they deserve it. Instead, we should just resolve it so that we can live in peace with them. We are to have one heart, mind, and spirit within the body of Christ (Phil. 2:1-4), and anger does not promote that.

Jesus also warns us against putting others down and making light of them. The results of that are similar to being angry with a brother or sister. It destroys the unity of the body. And Jesus warns us that we will have to bear the responsibility if we are the cause for disunity in the body.

Reconciliation

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

Matthew 5:23-24 NIV

In many ways this teaching of Jesus is similar to the preceding one. But there is an important difference. In the earlier verses the issue was in how I felt about another person. Here Jesus is talking about something another person may have against me. Now it is true that oftentimes I am unaware of issues another person may have with me. But if I know about it, I have a responsibility to try and resolve it if possible.

Leaving my gift at the altar until that issue is resolved demonstrates the importance of this action. God wants me to be right with my fellow believers before coming to worship him. Until conflicts between us are resolved, worship for both of us will be hindered. Reconciliation and forgiveness are very important for us as believers.

Resolving Conflict

“Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.

Matthew 5:25-26 NIV

It is not just with fellow believers that we are to have good relationships. We should try, as much as possible to leave at peace with all people (Rom. 12:18). Of course there are times when reconciliation is not possible. Either because my adversary is unwilling, or because reconciliation would require compromise in my faith and relationship with God. But, as a general rule, I should seek to settle conflict as quickly as possible.

There is a price to be paid for failing to settle conflict. It may be an internal cost like grief or sorrow. Or it may be external in the form of a legal judgement, job loss, or other loss. So, if it is possible to resolve the conflict without compromising your faith, do so without delay. Not only to avoid the penalty, but also out of reverence for God.

The views expressed here are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person, group, or organization. While I believe they reflect the teachings of the Bible, I am a fallible human and subject to misunderstanding. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions about this post in the comments section below. I am always interested in your feedback.

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4 thoughts on “Sermon on the Mount: Resolving Conflict – Matthew 5:21-22”

  1. True, but following scripture means to follow what the writers taught. Such as baring the burden of others. The Revolutionary war, and World War two, believe it or not, were examples of this. Soldiers do what Jesus taught, IF they conduct themselves rightly in always remembering that their job is not personal. Fight the war right and a soldier is laying down his life for others. Going into a fight under a rage is the wrong thing to do; two reasons, it will get you killed, but worse is, it will cause others to be killed for the wrong reasons. However, I can go one step farther, John tells us; “Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.” (First John 3:15)

    John here skipped a point or two in his argument, but it is nevertheless evident anyway. His full argument is: where love is not, there is hatred; where hatred is, there is murder; where murder, there can be no eternal life. An argument like this is squarely founded upon the teachings of Jesus who equated the derogatory word, the contemptuous epithet, and anger in the heart against a brother, with murder (Matthew 5:21-22).

    Reply
    • “True, but following scripture means to follow what the writers taught.”
      – I don’t believe anything I said should have implied otherwise.

      “where love is not, there is hatred”
      – I do believe Scripture is clear that there is no middle ground. You either love another person, or you don’t. And failure to love equates to hatred.

      Reply
  2. As it says in Romans 12:18;This instruction to be at peace with all people is conditioned upon the objective possibility of doing so. The subjective impossibility of the Christian’s being unable to restrain himself, or some such thing, is not in view here at all. The impossibility allowed by God in Paul’s teaching, as a negation of the precept of peace would lie only in the kind of a situation where truth and sacred duty would require resistance. Peace with some people under some circumstances is impossible without the sacrifice of our honoring God in our duty to obey Him, and is not here enjoined. As James said: “The wisdom which is from above is first pure, then peaceable (James 3:17).

    However, while allowing theoretical situations where peace could not honorably be maintained, we should strictly heed the principle of avoiding discord. Christ taught that people should give the cloak also, go the second mile, turn the other cheek, and avoid conflict by any honorable means whatsoever. What a shameful contrast is the conduct of some people, claiming they are Christian, who are ever spoiling for strife, and who, far from avoiding it, actually seek and enjoy all kinds of confrontations that lead to bitterness and contention. Sadly, the teaching of accurate descriptions and meanings of scripture fuels such disputes in the Church. People must realize that Christ is against any miss-presentations of the Word of God. This troubled me greatly when I began going to Church, and I still see it in the Church today. nevertheless, it no longer bothers me for I have found a volume of Treasury of Scriptural Knowledge, Which I have in a Bible program installed in my Computer. I have 32 Bibles in that program (grin) which are in the languages of several countries, but I only use the English versions. An example of what the TSK does is as follows;

    JOHN 3:16
    God
    Luke 2:14; Romans 5:8; 2 Corinthians 5:19-21; Titus 3:4; 1 John 4:9,10,19;

    gave
    John 1:14,18 Genesis 22:12; Mark 12:6; Romans 5:10; 8:32;

    that whosoever
    John 15; Matthew 9:13; 1 Timothy 1:15,16

    This breaks down that verse and connects it to every verse of scripture to what explains it’s several parts in the Word of God. Running every verse in the Bible through this method has give me a greater depth of understand what the Bible tries to teach us.

    Reply
    • I think what you have expressed is in line with what I expressed in the article. We should strive for peace, but not at the compromise of our faith.

      The online study tools we can use are wonderful. I use Olive Tree and have a number of versions and dictionaries available. These tools can be very beneficial. But we always need to be sure that their commentary is inline with what Scripture actually teaches. The reason for so much of the division you mentioned is largely because so many people depend on what others say rather than the Word itself.

      Reply

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