Our question today, of course, is derived from something that Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount.
In Matthew 5:20, you’ll recall that Jesus told his disciples that day,
For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
And so naturally, everyone had to be wondering, “Well, these are our religious leaders, the scribes and Pharisees. We have to do better than them in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. What specifically do we have to do better at?”
And so Jesus launches right into the answer.
What Jesus Said About Anger and Murder
And He says in the next verse,
“You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder.'” And if you have a Bible that puts all of the Old Testament quotations in caps, that phrase, “You shall not commit murder,” is in all caps.
But then Jesus goes on and says, “and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.'” And that’s not in all caps because that’s not found anywhere in the Old Testament. That was something that the people had heard that the ancients were told.
Now, where had they heard that? Well, they had heard that from their teachers, the scribes and the Pharisees.
What the Scribes and Pharisees Taught About Murder and Anger
Nobody in Jesus’ day had a copy, their own copy, of the Bible where they could open it up and read it for themselves. They had to go to the synagogue where the sacred scrolls were kept.
And it was hard to get copies of the sacred scrolls, because they had to be hand-copied. And the rules and regulations that surrounded making sure that you had an accurate copy were very scrupulous.
And so, you could only find copies of the scriptures in the synagogues. And so, when people went to the synagogues, they heard the scrolls read and they heard sermons by the leaders of the synagogues.
So, “You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder.'” That’s a quotation from the Ten Commandments. “And ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.” That’s not from the Ten Commandments. It’s not from anywhere in the Old Testament. That’s what the scribes and pharisees were saying.
Jesus Had a Much Higher Standard
It almost seems kind of like the scribes and Pharisees were even understating the seriousness of murder. Because under the law of Moses, murder was a capital offense. If you take someone else’s life, you have to forfeit your own life. And the Pharisees were saying, “Don’t commit murder. You might wind up in court.”
Well, Jesus had a much higher standard than that. And of course, Jesus is the Author of the law of Moses. Jesus is the one who gave it! And we need to ask ourselves, what was His intention when He gave that commandment, “Do not commit murder”? Did He have only in mind physically killing somebody? And would it therefore be okay to bring someone to the brink of killing them, but not actually snuffing out their life?
A Form of Murder
When the law of Moses said, “Don’t commit murder,” did that mean it was okay to strangle somebody right until they were just about ready to die, and then release your strangle hold on them, letting them breathe, and oh! You’ve kept the commandment! You haven’t murdered somebody.
Or—and again, I’m giving a ridiculous example to lead into what is not so ridiculous—is it okay to stab somebody in their extremities, stab them with your knife in their arms and their legs and maybe their shoulders, but be careful you don’t stab them in their heart because then you might murder them? Is that what God had in mind?
No, God had a lot more in mind than that! He had in mind what goes on in the heart of the murder as the idea comes into that person’s heart, contemplating murdering somebody. And that would, of course, include anger. Because the root of a lot of murder is anger.
And so, when God said in the law of Moses, “Don’t commit murder,” He wasn’t just trying to eliminate strangling a person to the point of actually killing them, (but it’s okay to strangle them almost to the point of murdering them). No, no, He’s got a lot more in mind than that!
He’s trying to eliminate everything that’s associated with killing someone or murdering someone, from the initial thoughts that ultimately can lead to murder. And anger, of course, and hatred, is one of them.
What Jesus Thought of Anger and Hatred
So, Jesus says, here’s what the pharisees were telling you. But here’s what I say.
But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. – Matthew 5:22
And so Jesus is saying that you don’t just have to murder somebody to be guilty before the court. You just get angry at your brother and you’re already sinning. And the court of heaven is taking note of that. “Whoever says, ‘You fool,'” Jesus says, “Shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.” And so that’s obviously something that’s decided in the court of heaven, the judgment of God. Because earthly courts aren’t taking so much notice of this.
So, Jesus is provoking all of us to think about what God was actually implying when He said, “Don’t murder.” He’s talking about every aspect of human relationships, when human relationships break down and people begin to hate each other and spew venomous words against one another. Words of hatred, words of anger. He says, I don’t want that. And His disciples shouldn’t be that way. They should be speaking words of edification and love and peace and working to get along with one another.
What James Had to Say About the Anger of Man
And as James wrote, probably even making commentary on what Jesus said here, “But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.”
And I don’t know if you’ve ever looked at it this way, but when our relationships are broken with other people—because we had an argument and we’re not speaking to them anymore and they’re not speaking to us—when there’s a breach in those relationships, it’s akin to murder. Because we’re treating those people as if they’re dead to us, right? “I don’t have any relationship with you. We’re not speaking any longer. I don’t like you. I’m angry at you. I hate you.”
And so that’s, in a sense, a form of murder.
Now, of course, to answer our initial question, being angry at someone is not as evil as murdering someone. But you’re on the path towards murder, and God wants us to be pure of that.
Okay, well, this is a little lesson. We’re out of time! I want to talk about this a little bit more on our next little lesson. Hope to see you then! God bless you.