Matthew 5:21-24

“Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: 22 But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the [Jewish] council [the Sanhedrin]: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire [eternal judgment].  23 Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; 24 Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.

There are many facets to living out the Christian life. One part focuses upon external behavior, and that is important. The question comes, “How should we then live as followers of Jesus? “The answer is given by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, and by Peter in his epistle.

Peter said, “But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; 16 Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15, 16). 

The Word of God teaches the Doctrine of Holiness, without which, no one shall see God.  Holiness consists, in part, of obeying the Lord, and establishing Biblical standards. Being personally convicted, some Christians have turned from practices they once enthusiastically embraced. There is a new sensitivity to harmful behavior.

Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse, the great Presbyterian preacher (1895 – 1960), was once asked whether a Christian should smoke or drink. Dr. Barnhouse replied,

“I do not know. It all depends on who is controlling the life.”


he continued,

“I do not worry about those things.

Whenever anyone offers me a cigarette, I [personally] just open my heart and say,

‘Holy Spirit, how about it?

Do you want a cancer stick to puff on?’

And when someone offers me a drink [of liquor] I ask, ‘Holy Spirit, how about it?

Do you want a shot of booze.’”

Due to personal conviction, many Christians have felt compelled to break away from certain dependencies, and to pray for the ability to change self-destructive behavior patterns.

The result can lead to a difference in clothing, in viewing habits, in finances, and in personal conduct.

While focus of attention on outward behavior is important in living out the ethics of the Christian life, it can also be misleading.

A person can begin to conform to religious conduct, only to have a wrong spirit in their heart.

We have all met people who love rules and regulations, but have no grace, or mercy, and no tolerance for human error. They profess to keep the Moral Law of God, yet become angry when others do not do exactly as they command. Kindness is not present in their speech, nor is there any graciousness in their behavior.

Jesus was aware of this problem in the days of His incarnation. 

There was a group of people called the Pharisees, who were very scrupulous about obeying religious rules. However, the Pharisees were intolerant of others who did not measure up to their standard of perfection, and spoke in comprehensive terms of contempt about them. Taking the Law of Moses that the Pharisees appealed to for their righteousness,

Jesus began to point out that, rather than keep the Law, as they believed themselves to be doing, the Pharisees were guilty of breaking the holy commandments of God. How was that possible? Jesus explained.

In summary, the Lord declared there is an outward performance to the Law of God, but there are also an inward principle to understand and comply with. 

That inward principle is spiritual in nature.

The Pharisees were good at keeping the letter of the Law, resulting in an outward form of godliness, but they neglected the spiritual nature of the commandments.

So it was the spiritual part of the Law that Jesus took time to speak about.

By calling attention to the spiritual dimension of the Law, it must not be thought that Jesus was in some way becoming a New Law Giver, or was in any way opposing the Law of Moses.

John Calvin notes,

“Christ, in fact had not the least intention of making any changes or innovation in the precepts of the [Moral] Law. God there appointed once and for all a rule of life, which He will never repent of.”

The Bible teaches the Law is holy, just, and good (Rom. 7:12).By keeping the Law, there is joy and life. When Moses had given the Law to Israel he declared to the assembly, “I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day that I have set before thee life and death” (Deut. 30:19).

By considering the Law of Moses, Jesus was not contrasting His teaching to the Great Law Giver, but He was arguing against the popular understanding of Moses which was corrupted.

For example, the Law said simply enough

“Thou shalt not kill.”

Not many people kill.

Probably no one here today has ever taken a knife and stabbed someone so that they died, or taken a gun and shot someone to death. You may have been tempted to do that, but it has not happened. Therefore, it would be easy for each of us to feel very holy, and to say we are righteous before God in this matter of murder. We have kept the sixth commandment.

“But what about the reality of killing a person spiritually? Is it not possible to speak against a person in such a way that the truth is distorted, baseless insinuations are made, and a reputation is destroyed, or marred? Is that not soul murder?”

It is a sad truth that people who will not kill physically, will set out to destroy another person through expressions of anger which is magnified with a slandering tongue.

Jesus declared that some expressions of anger constitute murder.

Of course, not all anger is murder. Not all anger is wrong. There is a holy anger. In Mark 3:5 we read that Jesus became very angry with the Pharisees for their lack of love toward a sick man. They did not want him to be cured on the sabbath day.

The Bible says,

“And when he had looked around about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other.”

In Romans 9:22 God’s present anger towards the nation of Israel for national unbelief is presented.

In John 3:36 we read how the wrath of God keeps on abiding on those who disobey the Lord Jesus and His gospel.

The Christian who is angry with injustice, the slaughter of innocent babies, and the mindlessness of criminal acts of violence is not sinning.

Paul said in Ephesians 4:36, “be ye angry and sin not.”

While not all anger is sinful, most is. Jesus spoke of a type of anger which is unholy. There is a form of hatred and hostility that has no ground, or root in righteousness. Such temperament is explosive, self-centered, other directed, and destructive.

Unholy anger is that emotion which is expressed without a factual cause.

Unholy anger lashes out at someone to wound without reason.

Unholy anger is that which takes offense on behalf of someone, but without hearing both sides of the narrative.

Unholy anger has no respect for feelings, and no sensitivity of the soul.

There was an occasion when a wife walked into her own house one day, and her husband snarled out,

“Are you so stupid you cannot even shut a door when you walk in?”

I know this happened.

I was there.

Such words that wound are not simply the language of irritation. They are the words of an irrational soul without a heart.

A surly and ill-natured attitude towards any person is a violation of the Sixth Commandment of the Moral Law, says Jesus, and deserves to be brought before an ecclesiastical legal tribunal, and severely judged.

In Israel, the Jewish Supreme Court was the Sanhedrin before which individuals who transgressed the Law were brought.

In principle, Jesus approved of this practice.

Then, the Lord continued and said that, when using words of contempt in utter disgust, anyone who says to another person, “Raca,” meaning “O empty one,” i.e., “thou worthless one,”

is in danger of hell fire.

Those who heard Jesus speak could visualize the fires of hell for just outside the city of Jerusalem was the Valley of Hinnom.

Historically, in this valley, a generation of Jews, steeped in idolatry, offered their children as a living sacrifice to Molech (Jer. 7:31).

Among those who sacrificed children to Molech was King Solomon.

“And Solomon did evil in the sight of the Lord, and went not fully after the Lord, as did David his father. 7 Then did Solomon build a high place for Chemosh, the abomination of Moab, in the hill that is before Jerusalem, and for Molech, the abomination of the children of Ammon” (1 Kings 11:6,7).

A good king of Judah, named Josiah (reign, 640 – 609 BC)   stopped this abomination. He destroyed the place of idol worship, and made a garbage dump of the area. A fire was always kept burning in the Valley of Hinnom to consume the carrion, and all kinds of filth collected about the city. Jesus pointed to the Valley of Hinnom and said,

“That is exactly what hell will be like.”

To break the Law of God regarding how we talk, and what is said to someone else, is no small matter.

Jesus taught that words are not neutral.

They express the heart.

Negative words have meaning and consequences associated with them.

Many times, people will deliberately hurt someone with their words, but not want to be held accountable.

Perhaps you have had the frustrating experience of dealing with a person who makes every effort discredit another individual, and then, when exposed, either doubles down on their accusations, or they say, 

“Oh, I did not mean it that way.”

“You misunderstood.” 

“I was misquoted.”

Jesus said that any person who speaks evil against someone is worthy of formal judgment, in time, and a fiery death in eternity.

Now, in the day of ultimate accountability before the Great Judgment Seat of Christ, there will be no evasion from the effects of our words.

God is going to call people into strict account for every idle word spoken.

This sobering reality is why the Bible teaches Christians to be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow in wrath (James 1:19).

Our Lord knows the tongue can be a terrible weapon when misused.

“The boneless tongue, so small and weak,

Can crush and kill, declares the Greek.

The tongue destroys a greater horde,

The Turk asserts, Then does the sword.

The Persian proverb wisely saith,

A lengthy tongue–an early death!

Or sometimes takes this form instead,

Do not let your tongue cut off your head!

The tongue can speak a word whose speed,

Say the Chinese, Out strips the steed.

The Arab sages said in part,

The tongue’s great storehouse

is the heart.

From Hebrew was the maxim sprung,

Thy feet should slip,

ne’er let the tongue.

The sacred writer crowns the whole,

Who keeps his tongue

doth keep his soul.”

It is obvious from Matthew’s gospel how strongly Jesus wants the lives and speech of His people to be different.

Jesus taught that unjustified words of anger, and words of contempt, must not be spoken, because if they are, then the spirit of the Sixth Commandment has been broken, “Thou shalt not kill.”

Exodus 20:13

There is a high probability there is not a mature person alive who has always  kept the Sixth Commandment.

Therefore, Jesus calls upon His disciples to repent of every form of the sin of “murder,” and to cease from speaking harshly again.

The disciples of Jesus are also commanded to do something else, and that is to be reconciled to one other. “Therefore, if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; 24 Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift” (Matt. 5:23-24).

Sometimes, it is not possible to be reconciled to someone. You agree to meet with a person, but they decline the invitation.

However, sometimes it is possible to be reconciled to someone. When this happens, the Royal Law of God, (James 2:8), which is patterned after the Holiness Code of Leviticus 19, is fulfilled. 

In the early church there was a beautiful practice. Prior to the taking of communion all the differences among the brothers and sisters in Christ were made up, in the spirit of love, before Holy Communion was served.

It is the will of the Lord, and it must be done when possible.

Perhaps there is someone the Lord wants you to be reconciled with.

It may be a spouse.

It may be a former friend.

It may be someone at work.

The gospel exhortation is to speak evil of no one.

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