Matthew 5:21-22 (ESV)21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 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.
Dear Friends in Christ,
A few years ago at one of our monthly meetings of the Salem Ministerial Alliance, we had as our guest speaker the police chief at that time whose name was Ron Campo. He had been invited to speak to us about security in our churches because of several shootings that had taken place in houses of worship around that time. Now it just so happened that this particular Ministerial Alliance meeting was held at our church, so Ron Campo came early and did a little run-through of our facilities to see how secure they were. And the news was not good, as he said is the case for most churches because most churches were built at a time when we never had to worry about such things. So what were some of his suggestions? Well, he suggested that we put a phone back in the sound technician’s area so the person back there could immediately call 911 if some crazed gunman or disgruntled spouse came into our sanctuary intending to do someone harm. And we did indeed put a phone back there. He also said we should position some pretty big strong guys toward the front of the church who would be willing to jump on such a person without having to think twice about it. He suggested that we spend some time on a Sunday morning practicing evacuating our sanctuary should that need ever arise. But the one suggestion he had that stood out in my mind more than any other had to do with me. He asked if I wore a robe during the service. When I said I did, he said it would be wise to wear a bullet proof vest under that robe and he added that I could get them pretty cheap on EBay.
Now I’ve got to tell you, my friends, when I graduated from the seminary in 1981 I would have never dreamed that we would be talking about things like this in the church 38 years later. But welcome to life in America in the 21st century where violence and murder are common everyday occurrences and where no place is 100% safe anymore – not your school, not your home, not your workplace, and now, not even your church.
Which is one reason why we’re spending a couple of Sundays studying the 5th Commandment as part of my “Fundamentals of Our Faith” sermon series that I started back in June. The last time I preached which was 2 weeks ago, we looked at some of the more obvious applications of this commandment. We said that it forbids homicide, which is the intentional pre-meditated killing of another human being; suicide, the taking of one’s own life; feticide, the killing of the unborn through abortion; infanticide, the killing of an infant shortly after birth; and euthanasia, better known today as physician-assisted suicide. This morning I want to spend my time taking a look at some of the not so obvious applications of this commandment to help us all see that even though we may have never murdered anyone in cold blood or had an abortion or assisted in helping someone end their own life prematurely, we have still violated this commandment multiple times and in multiple ways. In other words, we are going look beyond what is sometimes referred to as the letter of the law today – the literal understanding of it – and we’re going to examine the spirit of the law, something that Jesus was always so good at doing.
In fact we see him doing it in our text for today when he says: “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, `Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, `Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, `You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” What Jesus does here is he lays out for us 3 levels, 3 varying degrees of the first not-so-obvious application of this commandment that we want to look at today, and that is anger: He says, “But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.” Now in the Greek language that this was originally written in, there are a couple different words for anger and the one that Jesus uses here I would describe as a smoldering anger. It’s not the kind of anger that occurs when something happens and you blow up quickly or lose your temper. This is an anger that is rooted in longstanding bitterness and resentment. It’s the kind of anger that holds a grudge against someone and that wants to see this person who hurt you get what’s coming to them. And Jesus says that if you have this kind of ongoing anger smoldering in your heart, then you are what? You are subject to judgment.
Then he bumps it up to a 2nd level of anger. He says: “…anyone who says to his brother, `Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin.” Now the word “Raca” here is a tough word to translate. One commentator says that it carries with it the idea of “despising with arrogant contempt.” The word itself comes from a Hebrew word that means empty. So some translators have rendered it “empty head.” One commentator I looked at suggested the English equivalent of “Raca” might be the word idiot. So the 1st level of anger we looked at occurs in your heart. This 2nd level now moves to your lips. This is where you use your words to criticize people, to cut them down, to make them look bad in order to make you look good. This is what James was talking about in the 3rd chapter of his New Testament epistle where he says: “[The tongue] is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” Elsewhere, Prov. 18:21 tells us that “The tongue has the power of life and death.” In other words, we can use our tongue to build people up or we can use it to tear them down. We can breathe life into them through words of encouragement and praise that we offer them or we can suck the life out of them through words spoken out of anger or bitterness.
Then Jesus moves on to a 3rd level of anger when he says: “But anyone who says, `You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” The Greek word that is used here for fool comes from the root word moros from which we get our English word “moron.” And while we may think of a moron as someone who is not very bright or intelligent, there’s more to this word in the Greek language than that. One commentary I looked at said: “Here the word fool means more than just a dunce. It signifies a moral fool who ought to be dead and it expresses the wish that he were.” So the first level of anger occurs in the heart with that smoldering anger we talked about. The second level moves to the lips. And the third level now moves to the mind where we have the wish, the desire that this person were dead. And Jesus says when you treat someone like that, then you are guilty of murder and you are in danger of the fire of hell. This is strong stuff, isn’t it? It’ll make you think twice before you start using your tongue to cut other people down or call them names or spread malicious lies or false rumors about them. At least I hope it does that because as we find ourselves looking at the spirit of this law today we can’t help but think back over all the times that we have broken this commandment, all the times we have murdered people with our words.
And that takes us to second not-so-obvious application of this commandment that our former police chief Ron Campo pointed out to us pastors when he was telling us how we could make our churches more secure. He asked us, “Where do most acts of violence begin?” Where is the seedbed for many of the murders and other harmful acts that have become all too commonplace in America these days? Sadly, it’s the home. We call it domestic violence. And sometimes what has been going on in the home for far too long spills over into the workplace or the school or the church when some deranged husband whose wife is threatening to leave him just loses it and goes on a killing rampage, or some teenager who has suffered physical, verbal, mental, and maybe even sexual abuse at the hands of his alcoholic father can’t stand it any longer and all that anger that has been building up inside of him finally erupts and innocent people get hurt or die as a result. Ron Campo said that the domestic disputes that he and his officers would get called to are by far the most dangerous and unpredictable.
Then another not-so-obvious application of the 5th Commandment has to do with addictive behaviors and the care that we give to our own bodies. If we were created in the image of God as the Bible says, and if our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit, as the Apostle Paul tells us in I Cor. 6:19, then doesn’t it stand to reason that we would want to do everything we can to properly care for our bodies? This would mean avoiding addictive behaviors such as overindulgence of food, alcohol, drugs, and even work. Speaking of alcohol, I pulled an article out of my files that I’ve been saving for this sermon entitled “Out of Bounds Campus Drinking” and it discusses the popularity and extreme prevalence of drinking on university campuses these days. At one point it says: “According to the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study, 73% of fraternity and 57% of sorority members are binge drinkers. [Binge drinking is the modern definition of drinking alcoholic beverages with the primary intention of becoming intoxicated by heavy consumption of alcohol over a short period of time] 58% of male athletes and 47% of female athletes are binge drinkers. Approximately 1400 college students aged 18 to 24 are killed every year as a result of some alcohol-related incident.”
Then one more not-so-obvious application of this commandment is hatred. I John 3:15 says: “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer.” Have you ever hated anyone? Have you ever in a fit of rage shouted at the top of your lungs “I hate you!” or “I despise you!” or “I loathe you!” If so, then count yourself among the countless other murderers who have done the same. Now I know that some people just have a way of bringing out the worst in us. Some people make themselves very difficult to like. But I’ve often stated that the Bible never says we have to like everyone. It does say, however, that we are to love everyone. And that is something that we can do in the light and in the power of God’s love for us.
So what are we supposed to do according to this commandment? We’ve talked about all the things we’re not supposed to do. So what should we do? Well, I think the Apostle Paul provides us with a great answer to that question in Rom. 12:17-21 where he says: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
And where we have stumbled and fallen in regard to this commandment, as we all have, we need to flee to the waiting and forgiving arms of our Savior Jesus Christ who set the standard of forgiveness for us when he prayed God’s pardon upon the very men who nailed him to the cross. We need to take comfort in the words of 1 John 1:9 which says that if we confess our sins to God, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to purify us from all unrighteousness. We need to understand what God can do with murderers like you and me. In fact, did you know that much of the Bible was written by murderers…literal murderers? Moses who wrote the first 5 books of the Bible murdered an Egyptian who was mistreating a Hebrew slave. David who wrote most of the Psalms murdered Bathsheba’s husband by means of another man’s hand. And the Apostle Paul who wrote more than half of the New Testament murdered untold numbers of Christians before he himself became one.
So may there be no more murder among us. No more murder by violent hands. No more murder by angry hearts. No more murder by lethal lips. Instead, motivated by Christ’s love for you and empowered by the Holy Spirit, may the words of Eph. 4:31-32 be your guiding light as you seek to live up to the tough demands of the 5th Commandment: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Amen.