Matthew 5: 21-24 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.
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.
In Jesus’ day, there were no Bibles on the shelf at home, no Bibles at church, no Bibles to choose from at the Christian bookstore. If I had lived then, I would have gone to the synagogue to hear someone else read from the scrolls that contained God’s Word. I would have heard the Jewish scribes and teachers explaining the Scriptures and the many, many laws… And then one day, I might have heard Jesus.
He didn’t teach like any of the others, and everyone who heard Him was amazed by that. He spoke as if He knew what He was talking about and had the authority to explain what God meant. Jesus cut through all the legal jargon of the day and got right to the heart of the matter.
Everyone knew that Moses’ law said, “You shall not kill.” Jesus honored that law, but He took it further. He was even more interested in the kind of heart that commits murder. Murder does not just happen. It begins with anger, and if we entertain those thoughts and ideas, they grow and grow, and pretty soon we are mad enough to… well, mad enough to get that person back for whatever it is they did. For some of us, that might even mean murder. Actions begin with the thoughts in our minds.
But even when we can fool other people by acting right on the outside, God sees beyond that to the thoughts and intentions of our hearts. That is what He is judging. Yes, He wants us to act right, speak right, and treat others right, but He goes even further than that. He wants our hearts to be right, too.
I’m not saying anger is always bad. Jesus was giving a general principle here. Sometimes there are very good reasons to be angry. In fact, Jesus himself was indignant enough to drive the merchants out of the synagogue, overturning all their tables, and He even called people “fools” when it was appropriate. There are times when the only right response to a situation is anger, but it must be used constructively and not to harm another person. The thing to remember is that God is still looking at our hearts. He knows when our anger is righteous and when it is not, and He does not want anger to damage our relationships in any way.
This is where I would have it backwards. I would think that making an offering to God would be the most important thing, and after doing that, then I could work on my relationships with others. But Jesus turns it around to be the exact opposite. Forget about the gift you are making to God, He says, until you have first made sure that everything is all right between you and your neighbor. Somehow, our relationships with other people and our relationship with God are intertwined. When we do not treat others right, our relationship with God is not right.
Jesus cut through all the jargon and got right down to the heart of the matter – our hearts. It is what is in our hearts that matters most.
Heavenly Father, I want my heart to please You. I want to value what is important to You and have actions to match.