Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 5:21 “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:”
Jesus here begins a series of contrasts to illustrate the righteousness better than that of the scribes and Pharisees. The latter were guilty of a fundamental error. They believed God’s laws prohibited only sinful acts, not sinful thoughts. Righteousness, though, is judged by the inner depth to which it plunges. The scribes and Pharisees had only a surface righteousness. God expects something much deeper.
For His first contrast, Jesus used the sixth commandment (EX 20:13). The scribes and Pharisees said “Thou shalt not kill” only meant that a murderer was to be tried and face judgment in a court of law. Obviously, The sixth commandment demands the prosecution and punishment of murderers, but God did not mean for it to be limited to this application only. Thus, Jesus had to expand the scribes and Pharisees’ narrow interpretation, and release their choke-hold on this blessed truth.
Matt. 5:22a “But I say unto you,. . .”
Throughout His life, Jesus, bold as a lion, claimed a unique, divine authority. Authority arrests attention. “Orchestras which have played under Toscanini, the master conductor, say that as soon as he mounts the rostrum they can feel a wave of authority flowing from him” (Barclay). I have dramaticly experienced a similar phenomenon twice. At about age twelve, I was at a Southern Baptist Convention with my dad. Before the session began, the room was noisy due to thousands of preachers talking with one another. Suddenly a silence fell over the room, though no one had stepped to the microphone. Amazed by the hush, I asked Dad what had happened. He whispered, “Billy Graham just entered and sat down on the platform.” A couple of years ago, again at a Southern Baptist Convention, the congregation ceased singing when Billy Graham entered the hall. The music leader was in essence singing a solo as the rest of us in silent respect watched the mighty servant of God mount the platform. Even Toscanini and Graham, though, pale in comparison to the air of authority which surrounded Jesus, and still clings to His name.
Jesus spoke as Lawgiver and Judge, as God. His “larger than life” presence still causes the world to reel twenty centuries later. As Vincent Taylor said, “Jesus will always remain a challenge to be met rather than a problem to be solved.” He is one figure of history which defies neutrality. One is forced to decide yea or nay, to deem Him God or reject Him totally. At the mention of His name, tears well up and adoration swells in millions, but other millions get fidgety, furrow brows, and change the subject. He demands the focus of all who enter His orb of influence.
Matt. 5:22b “That whosoever is angry with his brother. . .”
In the sixth command, scribes and Pharisees saw only hand-murder, but Jesus saw in it heart-murder and tongue-murder also. “Thou shalt not kill” is one of the most precious tenets of human society, for it makes an overarching statement on the infinite worth of every human being. Something more fundamental than homicide was at stake in the sixth command. God was concerned about our view of others. “Thou shalt not kill” forbids not only homicide, but also anger and alienation.
Each individual is to be treated as if precious to God, for they are. In saying “brother” Jesus was not limiting the scope of His words, but rather using the Jews’ common way of referring to one another. Jesus tells us to love our “neighbor” (MT 22:39), and defines the term in His parable of the Good Samaritan (LK 10:25-37). Our attitude must be reverence for every human being. Human life is so sacred to God that we must not end it, despise it, hurt it with insults, or nurse anger toward it.
Matt. 5:22c “. . .without a cause. . .”
Manuscripts divide over this phrase; some have it, others don’t. Either way Jesus’ meaning is the same. Anger is a natural emotion, given by God to prompt us to right wrongs. Jesus demonstrated the two right reasons for showing anger: the glory of God, as when He cleansed the temple (JN 2:13-17), and the good of others, as when He was angry with the religious leaders due to their hearts being hard toward the man with a withered hand (MK 3:1-5). Self-serving anger is disallowed. Jesus never became angry over matters involving His own ego. When slapped, spat on, mocked, scourged, and crucified, He did not retaliate. “While being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats” (1 P 2:23 NAS).
When we display anger, it is usually not for the glory of God or the good of others, but instead due to an affront to ourselves. Even when we do show proper anger, we often harbor it too long. Good anger, once it helps us begin the process of righting a wrong, must then quickly be dropped. Anger must never be allowed to brood, to contemplate methods of revenge. Wrath must be gone from our hearts by sundown (EP 4:26). Allowed to linger, anger becomes heart-murder, for it carries in itself the seeds of hand-murder. Get it out before it blossoms. “Cease from anger, and forsake wrath; do not fret, it leads only to evildoing” (PS 37:8 NAS).
The message of Jesus to His followers is crystal clear–stamp out murder at the root. No excuses allowed! Some believers actually use anger to excuse their tantrums, as if “the very sinful words (or deeds) are excusable because they proceed from a very sinful feeling” (Broadus). Strange reasoning indeed.
No excuses allowed! Some seek to excuse themselves by saying, “I cannot control my temper. I inherited it. It is part of my make-up.” Not true! We can and we do control our tempers. If a provocation is done to us by our child, spouse, sibling, or parent, we respond differently than if the same provocation is done to us by our teacher, boss, or someone else we deem important. When in the presence of someone we wish to impress, we not only can, but do, control our temper. Temper fits of anger, being learned behavior, can be unlearned. Even the ancients knew this. Plutarch said, “Anger is not incurable if one wants to cure it.”
A life of angry deeds flows from a heart allowed to be full of anger. The Christian must squelch anger within, for out of the heart “flow the springs of life” (PR 4:23 NAS). As one “thinketh in his heart, so is he” (PR 23:7). Anger displayed publicly is the second sin, resulting from a prior sin, anger harbored within.
Man can judge only deeds, but God judges thoughts as well. Many a person’s external goodness crumbles under the all-seeing eye of God. Human courts of law can deal only with the end of an action, but God’s tribunal deals with its beginnings. Policemen capture assassins, but Jesus arrests us long before we reach homicide.