Summary: Jesus introduces six great examples of how the righteousness that He describes in verse twenty is the continuation and fulfillment of the Old Testament Law.
“The Application of the Word”
Now Jesus introduces six great examples of how the righteousness that He describes in verse twenty is the continuation and fulfillment of the Old Testament Law. Jesus introduces each of these great examples with some variation of the statement, “You have it heard it said but I say to you….” (vv. 21, 27, 31, 33, 38, 43)
Some commentators hold that in these state-ments Jesus is setting Himself against the Law of Moses, making His statements mean something akin to “You know what the Old Testament taught but I teach something different.” They believe the phrase, “You have heard” refers to the Old Testament teachings and the phrase “But I say” introduces a “new” teaching of the Lord which supersedes the old. Such is not the case. “You have heard” introduces the erroneous or incomplete teaching of Scribes (the Oral traditions), while “But I say” is followed by the teaching of the Lord but is also the true teaching of the Old Testament. So what Jesus is doing is not contradicting the Law or setting in place a new set of laws but correcting the people’s understanding of God’s original intent! The knowledge of God’s word by the people that Jesus spoke to was limited to only what the Scribe and Pharisees told them. They did not and could not read it for them-selves. We certainly do not have that excuse today.
As we examine each of the issues that Jesus raises we have to recognize that each of them could in and of itself be a sermon. But today I have chosen rather to deal with them together. Let me say at the outset that you may feel conviction because of your own failure in one of these areas. You may be guilty as charged. But you also need to understand that God is bigger than your sin. If you are willing to bring your sin to Jesus, He is willing to forgive you.
First, The Issue of Anger (5:21-26)
“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.' (22) 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.”
According to what the Scribes and Pharisees taught one could keep the sixth commandment as long as they did not actually commit Murder. But Jesus warns that holding bitter resentment in your heart towards another is also a sin. We have all heard the statement, “If looks could kill, they would be dead.” We mean that the burning anger is seen in someone’s face. Both long held resentment and explosive anger are sins. It would be ridiculous though to make the jump in logic then, that anger was just as bad as murder. The person who shouts in anger has sinned but not to the degree that someone who allows that anger to move them to kill someone.
To hold bitter resentment toward another is to place ourselves in a dangerous position. The term “Raca” is a reflection on someone’s intelligence and is the equivalent in our day of calling someone an “idiot,” “stupid,” “lamebrain,” ‘blockhead,” well I think you get the point. Even more dangerous Jesus says is to question a man’s moral character which is what is implied in calling someone a “fool.”
Jesus then makes two practical applications:
• In the area of Worship (vv. 23-24)
“Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, (24) leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
If anger is a sin and it certainly can be, and sin affect’s our relationship with God, then we cannot worship and harbor anger in our heart. The principle is simple, if you are harboring anger or a grudge against someone, attendance in a worship service is an exercise in hypocritical futility.
• In the area of Civil Law (vv. 25-26)
“ Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. (26) Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny.”
The point that Jesus is making here is the wisdom of settling issues quickly. Rather than waiting on the law to settle a dispute we should do everything we can to settle the issue out of court. I think you understand that even in our day when an issue goes to court, often both sides lose.