“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ?You shall not murder,? and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment. But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ?Raca!? shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ?You fool!? shall be in danger of hell fire” (Matthew 5:21-22).
Imagine if you could be taken to court for calling someone a moron. Imagine if you could be tried and convicted for a smoldering temper. Imagine if you could be imprisoned for wishing for someone?s demise.
In contrast to the traditional doctrine of the scribe and Pharisees, Jesus taught that we are not guiltless simply because we have not shed blood. We break the statutes of heaven when we conceal hateful anger and contempt in our hearts (cf. Galatians 5:20; Ephesians 4:31). In our value system we can be incarcerated for acting upon our anger, but not for being angry. But in God?s value system, we are judged not only for that which we commit, but for that which we consider in the inner man (cf. John 2:24-25; Romans 2:16). Like the religious elite of the first century we condemn the deed, but God condemns the angry disposition because it is from this juncture that evil is devised and ultimately carried out.
We all recognize that physical violence is injurious behavior, but so is mental and verbal antagonism. Angry ruminations and words boil up from a heart of smoldering malice. In New Testament times people sometimes employed the Aramaic term, raca, meaning “empty-headed.” It was a verbal slap similar to using the “n” word today. It expressed contempt for a man?s head and was akin to saying, “You stupid.” The word, fool, is a translation of the Greek word moros, from which we get our English word moron. But its meaning didn?t involve judgment of a man?s intellectual ability but rather his moral character. It was a way of saying, “You dirty scoundrel.”
In Matthew 5:21-22 Jesus tells us that it is a grave sin to harbor animosity and to attack another person?s good name. In a very real sense, it is soul-damning sin. As one author observes:
“…all these graduations of punishment are not to be taken literally. What Jesus is saying here is this: ?In the old days, people condemned murder; and truly murder is forever wrong. But I tell you that not only are your outward actions under judgment; your inmost thought are also under the scrutiny and judgment of God. Long-lasting anger is bad; contemptuous speaking is worse, and the careless or the malicious talk which destroys a person?s good name is worst of all. Those who are the slaves of anger, who speak in the accent of contempt, or who destroy another?s good name, may never have committed a murder in action; but they are murderers at heart” (William Barclay, “Words of Insult,” The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 1, 163).
Brethren, we can be guilty of murder in the church (Proverbs 18:21)! While we may never “pull the trigger,” we can still think and say things which kill our relationships with fellow Christians (Ephesians 4:25-32), and in turn kill our relationship with the holy Father (Psalm 66:18).
Local law forbids killing our fellow man. The Law of Christ tells us to halt the very thought that leads to violence (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:5). “Cease from anger, and forsake wrath” (Psalm 37:8a).
“Angry words are lightly spoken, bitt?rest tho?ts are rashly stirred, brightest links of life are broken by a single angry word. ?Love one another,? thus saith the Savior; children obey the Father?s blest command.?Love one another,? thus saith the Savior, children obey the blest command” (D. K. P., H. R. Palmer).
The Law of Christ tells us to halt the very thought that leads to violence.