The Depths of Murder

Matthew 5:21,22

By Lee Jones

Jesus was an outspoken critic of the Pharisees, who constantly promoted outward-facing forms of righteousness but with disobedient hearts. That disorder is nothing new, and Jesus’ teaching zeroes in squarely on that human impulse.

The way he launches into his teaching is by introducing the topic by addressing the common ground: Torah. Every Jewish person in the audience would have been familiar with the sixth commandment: You shall not murder. So Jesus doubles down on it with a rabbinical truism that would have been well-known to the audience. There have always been civil penalties for murder (just not when you murder the unborn, but I’ll save that for another time). These things are obviously good and right, and may have made people think Jesus was with the Pharisees at this point (especially if they had not followed Jesus very long up to this point), but they correlate to the Pharisees’ penchant for outward shows of righteousness.

When the idol factory of the human heart meditates on slights and hurt feelings, it heats up its ovens into revenge-seeking.

So Jesus takes the same law-application and drives it straight into the heart. Jesus says the angry person is as liable to judgment as the murderer. Why is that equivalent? Because every act of premeditated violence begins somewhere, and that is in the heart with feelings of anger. When the idol factory of the human heart meditates on slights and hurt feelings, it heats up its ovens into revenge-seeking, often as a way to hurt the one who hurt us. Those who fear the civil authority act on this in non-lethal ways, but it’s still sin. By making this equivalence, Jesus puts the grounding of the commandment violation in the heart, not the hands (so to speak).

He goes further into the verbal outcome of anger--- namecalling. Not in a jesting way, like friends do harmlessly, but calling out an opponent demeaningly. “Good-for-nothing” and “fool” have a dehumanizing effect, disregarding our neighbor as a fellow bearer of God’s image for the sake of returning harm. This is tantamount to murder according to Jesus for those same reasons. Intentionally abusive language dealt out in anger is grievous sin.

That’s why it’s important Christian teaching to not allow the sun to set on our anger (Ephesians 4:26). Jesus will expand on this later in this section, but for now we need to drill into this premise, that sin is not merely what we do. We sin because we’re sinners, and when we are angry unnecessarily we must confess that sin to God first and, if we hold anger against anyone, at least attempt to reconcile.

Sin festers in the human heart and breaks out terribly if unconfessed to God and unforgiven by people. We mustn’t wait until we act on our unrighteous anger before we confess before God. A gift of sanctification is the ability to recognize amd hate our sin at its first appearing in our hearts. Let’s take those thoughts captive, painful as that may be, in obedience and gratitude to Christ in earnest desire to be more conformed into his image. That is the only way the redeemed progress in our sanctification. The more we realize that the sin we want to commit is in opposition to the Lord who bought us, the closer we grow to our Savior. And in denying ourselves the fleeting gratification of caving to sinful temptation, we increase our praise to God for setting us free of the bondage we used to love.

Glory to God alone.

Lee Jones