Thursday, February 27, 2020

Harsh Attitudes and Harsh Words

It is easy to overlook or think little of our harsh attitudes and harsh words. We might think lightly of them because they stop short of dramatic acts like murder. We might think lightly of them because they are so common and feel so natural to us. But Jesus did not minimize them.
"You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire." (Matthew 5:21-22) 
Jesus teaches that this command goes beyond not killing people. It also forbids anger and insulting and reviling language.

Anger. Some anger is righteous, such as God’s anger. He is slow to anger and justly angry at the right things with right motive. But here Jesus addresses what is most common among us, unrighteous anger. This is anger that reveals in your heart vengefulness rather than patience, hatred rather than love, malice rather than goodwill, bitterness rather than forgiveness and forbearance, envy and resentment rather than a humble spirit that rejoices in the prosperity of another. This anger can lead to physical violence and literal murder, and it is itself a kind of murder. As 1 John 3:15 says, "Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him."

Insults. To insult someone is to belittle him or her. It also leads to violence and murder. Murder usually begins by devaluating a person, lightly esteeming that person, disparaging that person. From abortion to genocide to domestic violence, murderous acts often are rooted in an insulting and belittling attitude to others. It takes away the dignity of a person and it disgraces the image of God. And therefore it is wrong in itself and a kind of murder.

Reviling. Reviling is abusive and harsh language. It includes slander, but can even be true things said in an unkind and unduly harsh manner. These destructive words attack and beat down a person. They engage in tit-for-tat verbal battles. This too is a kind of murder. Do you recognize such language? Have you used it against your family members? Or other people in your life? Or politicians and other public figures?

In drawing out the broader implications of the commandment against murder, Jesus is reaffirming what the Old Testament taught in places like Leviticus 19:17–18,
“You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.”
Like Jesus, this verse forbids hatred of a brother, vengeance, and grudges. And it replaces these attitudes with a positive one: love. Likewise, Jesus turns to consider the positive implications. Rather than being angry and disrespectful, you must seek reconciliation and harmony with others.
"So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift." (Matthew 5:23–24) 
Your worship is polluted unless you have done what you can to be at peace with your brothers and sisters in the church. We no longer go to the temple to offer sacrifices, but we do offer sacrifices of praise (Heb. 13:15, 1 Peter 2:5), and Paul applies a similar principle to the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11 where the Supper was defiled by the division among the church.

Jesus will also teach about going to the person who has wronged you (Matt. 18:15-20). But here he talks of going to the one who feels that you have wronged him - not only should you avoid anger, but you should seek to prevent murderous anger in others by seeking reconciliation. What does reconciliation look like? It looks like patiently listening to the other person, being willing to repent if you have done wrong and to make restitution if applicable, and patiently clearing up any misunderstandings.

So the command against murder not only forbids unjust killing of human life, but its original intention was to forbid murderous words, thoughts, attitudes, and to command love for others and the effort to make peace and reconciliation. So while the Pharisees might be content with a merely external and negative command, the disciples of Jesus who are being transformed by grace will engage in a deeper repentance that strikes at the root, turning from murder in the heart and becoming makers of peace.

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