Do you enjoy a good mystery novel or TV show? I always have. I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s watching shows like Matlock and Quincy (that’s where the quote in the title came from). Usually, somebody would commit a murder and the detectives would spend the show trying to solve the crime. Honestly, I just enjoyed seeing the crook get caught. I think there is something inside of most people that wants to see justice prevail and crimes like murder punished. We know that it is wrong to unjustly kill another person. However, in these verses we find that Christ teaches us that the prohibition against murder goes much deeper than the physical act of taking another persons life.
As we prepare to study these verses (21-47) over the next several weeks, I suggest that you should keep verse 48 in mind. Jesus tells His audience that they are to be “perfect” even as God is perfect. That is the target these verses are pointing to as we study them. We should remember that the law is not a burdensome list of do’s and don’ts that a Christian tries to keep to earn salvation but rather it reveals to us the character and righteousness of God and it is our joy to live it out. As we have seen in the beatitudes, we see here our complete inability to keep the law apart from the supernatural indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. As Jesus teaches here, He reveal the full, spiritual character of the law and demonstrates the hopeless impossibility of producing a righteousness that is acceptable to God through human effort.
First of all, Jesus states the letter of the law. He states it in the way the religious leaders of the day had taught the truth. “You have heard that the ancients were told ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court’.” Both of these statements are true, biblical, and would be affirmed by most people, much less by most Christians. If this was the standard that God used to judge most people would pass this test with flying colors. I’ve never murdered anyone and I would imagine that most of my blog readers would be able to say the same. If that was the extent of the requirements of that commandment, then I could easily be declared “Not Guilty”.
However, Jesus reveals that God’s standard is much more stringent. God holds us accountable for the evil that we have present in our hearts. Jesus says that “everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court” Jesus was not abolishing the law here but was rather revealing the full, spiritual character that had always been present in the law. A person who harbors hatred in his heart toward his fellow man may not be criminally liable before a human court of law but before the throne of God this person has committed a sin and is guilty. Now, we should stop and point out not all anger is sinful. When I see things in my life and I recognize that they are not godly or fitting for someone who is a Christian and I am angry with myself, that anger is not sinful. When I hear about people aborting a baby and I think about the people who helped make that legal in this country and those who want to keep it legal I feel angry. However, that anger is not sinful. When Christ cleansed the temple during his ministry with a whip because He was angry at their hypocrisy, that anger was not sinful. The anger that Jesus equates with murder is called “orgizo” (3710-the root word of the English word Ogre) which describes a simmering, festering kind of anger. You might describe it as holding or nursing a grudge. I picture this describing the kind of anger that you feel toward someone who you swear to yourself that you’ll get back at if you ever get the chance. You hold onto the anger but keep it beneath the surface just waiting for the chance to pounce on your adversary. It is easy to imagine this is the kind of anger Cain had toward Able when God accepted Able’s sacrifice but rejected Cain’s.. This may not be punishable by any law on the books, but the person is still guilty when they hold this kind of anger in their hearts.
However, Jesus goes on to say that it’s not just the heart attitude that a person holds that can be spiritually equivalent to murder. Jesus says the words a person speaks can make them guilty of murder. He says that “whoever says to his brother ‘You good-for-nothing’ shall be guilty before the supreme court” The phrase “good-for-nothing” translates an Aramaic word “Raca” which really doesn’t have an direct equivalent in English. We might call someone “numbskull”, “dufus”, or to quote Archie Bunker from TV in the 70’s “Meat-head”. Basically, it was a term of derision that was meant to insult someone’s intelligence. When anger that we hold in our hearts comes out of our mouths it is sinful but when that anger is a deep seated, nursed, smoldering anger that has poured forth into a verbal expression, Jesus says that is the equivalent of murder. It is from the abundance of the heart that our mouth speaks (Matt 12:34). Jesus says that people who express their anger verbally can be guilty before the Sanhedrin (the supreme court). People who choose not to control their tongues run the risk of breaking the law but they certainly are in violation of God’s moral law. For instance, Genesis 4:8 records that “Cain told Able his brother”. The Bible doesn’t record the conversation but I have the feeling it wasn’t a warm, friendly brother-to-brother talk. It is not hard at all to imagine Cain venting the anger in his heart with loud, angry words.
However, insulting words are not the only words that Jesus equates with murder. Jesus says “whoever says ‘You fool’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.” The word “moros” (3474) is translated as “fool” and relates to the spiritual character of the person. It’s not just saying that they’re stupid but more like saying they are godless and deserving of hell. Basically, it is like passing a moral judgment on another person. The anger that once simmered in the heart and produced an insult like “dimwit” now pours forth into an expression of utter contempt for a person. Jesus says that those who make this kind of judgment are guilty enough to go into “the fiery hell” or literally “the fire of hell”. This is a picture of the horrible judgment that awaits unrepentant sinners. They will burn forever in a lake of fire.
Jesus gives these examples to reveal that murder happens in the heart long before the actual act takes place if it ever takes place. Have I ever used my words to cut another person or express a simmering anger that lay within my heart. Yes, as ashamed as I am to admit it, I have. Therefore, even though I haven’t physically murdered anyone I am spiritually guilty of the crime because of what went on inside of my heart. Now we see clearly how impossible it is for us to be right with God under our own power. It’s not just what we do. That’s pretty easy to fake or avoid getting caught doing. There are plenty of unsolved murders in real life. But we cannot fake what goes on it our heart—God sees it and knows it. Therefore, when we sin in our hearts, even if no one else knows about it, we should go humbly to our Father in heaven, repent of that sin, and ask His forgiveness. Praise God that He is faithful and will forgive us of even our secret sins.