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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
Other Posts in the Sermon on the Mount
- An Introduction to the Sermon on the Mount
- Sermon on the Mount: The Beatitudes – Matthew 5:3-12
- Sermon on the Mount: Salt and Light – Matthew 5:13-16
- Sermon on the Mount: Understanding the Law – Matt. 5:17-20
- Sermon on the Mount: Resolving Conflict – Matthew 5:21-22
- Sermon on the Mount: Committing Adultery – Matthew 5:27-30
- Sermon on the Mount: Divorce – Matthew 5:31-32
- Sermon on the Mount: Taking Oaths – Matthew 5:33-37
- Sermon on the Mount: Turn the Other Cheek – Matt. 5:38-42
- Sermon on the Mount: Love Your Enemies – Matthew 5:43-48
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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