BEFRIEND OR BURN
Matthew 5:21-26 NET
21 “You have heard that it was said to an older generation, ‘Do not murder,’ and ‘whoever murders will be subjected to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that anyone who is angry with a brother will be subjected to judgment. And whoever insults a brother will be brought before the council, and whoever says ‘Fool’ will be sent to fiery hell. 23 So then, if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First, go and be reconciled to your brother and then come and present your gift. 25 Reach agreement quickly with your accuser while on the way to court, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the warden, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 I tell you the truth, you will never get out of there until you have paid the last penny!
We have been looking at our Lord’s sermon on the mount because we have committed ourselves to obey his commands. We find a lot of those commands in this sermon. We need to keep reminding ourselves that he was speaking to the crowd, but he was addressing his apostles. Those twelve men represented those who had already chosen to repent and enter the kingdom. He told them that they were the light of the world. He blessed them and along with that blessing came the expectation that they would bless others whom they came in contact with. They were supposed to produce good deeds.
We also found that there was already a group of religious professionals who were producing good deeds, but Jesus challenged his apostles by telling them that their righteousness would have to exceed that displayed by the religious professionals. Those people were hypocrites — actors who only pretended to have a relationship with God.
It is important that we understand this because if we do not, we might make the same mistake that the Pharisees and teachers of the law did. We cannot bypass repentance and go straight to obedience. That is true of any aspect of kingdom living. Repentance is the entry gate into Christ’s kingdom. If you have not gained citizenship into the kingdom, you can pretend all you want to, but it will not establish your identity.
One of the reasons people struggle with what Jesus said in the sermon on the mount is that they are trying to obey the king’s commands without first entering into his kingdom. In our survey of Jesus’ commands, we found that he gave the command to repent earlier. It is foundational.
Once we have repented, we are set to begin the process of letting Jesus change us into the kind of people who can bless others with our lives.
Today we are going to look at the problem of anger. Anger can destroy your life. It can even make you destroy someone else. It is a spark that can lead to a wildfire. It can lead to murder — even war and genocide.
In today’s text, Jesus tells us… The older generation did not solve the murder puzzle (21)
Each generation has to deal with the harsh realities of life, and one of those realities is that we humans have a habit of killing one another.
Jesus said “You have heard that it was said to an older generation, ‘Do not murder,’ and ‘whoever murders will be subjected to judgment.’
The older generation knew that murder was a problem. But it was a puzzle that they could not solve. All that they could do was set up laws against homicide. But the laws themselves did not seem to deter people from committing murder. No matter how strict the laws were, or how terrible the punishment was, people kept murdering one another.
Jesus revealed here that… Murder is in everyone’s heart (22)
He said “anyone who is angry with a brother will be subjected to judgment. And whoever insults a brother will be brought before the council, and whoever says ‘Fool’ will be sent to fiery hell.”
Not everyone murders, but everyone has murder in his heart, and that murder comes out every time we feel anger toward others. The more we express that anger, the closer we get to the fire of Gehenna.
Fair says that in today’s text, “Jesus goes right to the heart of murder, addressing the anger that grows to insult and finally into open denigration, which often lies at the heart of murder. The strict adherence to the sixth and other commandments was admirable but fell short of the divine intent of the commandments” (p. 33).
Anderson says “that anger, abusive language, and contempt for another deserve as harsh a judgment as murder; they all come from the same evil root within one’s heart”(p. 23).
Now, I want you to stop for a moment and look at the faces of those twelve apostles. They have been called to follow Christ. They accepted that call. They gave up their ordinary lives because they were committed to learning from him. They wanted to obey his commands.
But right now, a lump is developing in each of these men’s throats. Some of them dreamed about killing their hated enemies — the Romans. But even those who did not, would have to admit that they struggle with anger every single day.
When Jesus said “anyone who is angry with a brother,” they thought that he must have been reading their minds. Just minutes ago, they were entertaining angry thoughts about their brothers they left at home, and even their fellow apostles. Those other eleven men really pushed their buttons.
Nothing has changed in the past two thousand years since Jesus spoke these words on that mountain. Murder is still in everyone’s heart, and the only way to deal with it is to learn how to pull the weeds of anger before they choke out the fruit of peace.
This is why what Jesus instructs his followers to do here is vital. He says to his apostles that… Private reconciliation is more important than public religion (23-24).
He told them that “if you bring your gift to 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 and then come and present your gift.”
Reconciliation is the key. It is so important that Jesus tells them that if they did something that caused someone else to be angry with them, even their worship of God is not a priority. They should pause worshipping God long enough for them to fix that human relationship.
This is not how the world tells us to deal with our anger. It tells us to respond to anger with anger. It says that we should not just get mad, we should get even. It says that if they say something you don’t like, you should retaliate by insulting them.
Once with have been reconciled to God by faith in the death of Christ on the cross, our next restoration project should be reconciling with our fellow human beings. We should answer Cain’s question with “yes, I am my brother’s keeper. I am responsible for our relationship.”
Argyle says that Jesus is saying ‘You cannot enter into right relationship with God if you are not in right relationship with your brother’ (p. 50-51). But what Jesus is saying to these men is that once you have entered into a relationship with God, then that relationship with God demands that you reconcile with those whom you hate, or who hate you. That is why true Christianity is not about drawing a line in the sand and declaring who your enemy is. It is about erasing the line by making peace.
Folks, this is a hard saying. It’s not hard because it is hard to understand. It is hard because it is hard to obey. Many Christians are stuck here. They cannot progress in their Christian walk because of their problems with others. Most of the time it is not some enemy far away who is the problem. It is the brother close by — the neighbor — the spouse.
If the world cannot get us to retaliate, they will shift their emphasis, and tell us to ignore the problem. If my friend wants to treat me like that, I’ll just not have anything to do with him. I will unfriend him. If my spouse is going to be that way, I’ll just divorce her — and the next one — and the next.
Anger is a problem that only gets worse if we ignore it. There are solutions to our anger problem. The Bible says a lot about anger, and we need to pay more attention to its teachings.
- “A person who has a quick temper does foolish things” (Proverbs 14:17).
- “A fool lets fly with all his temper, but a wise person keeps it back” (Proverbs 29:11).
- “A person’s wisdom makes him slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense” (Proverbs 19:11).
- “Do not let yourself be quickly provoked, for anger resides in the lap of fools” (Ecclesiastes 7:9).
- “A gentle response turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath (Proverbs 15:1).
- “Let every person be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger. For human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness” (James 1:19-20).
- “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on the cause of your anger. Do not give the devil an opportunity” (Ephesians 4:26-27).
- “You must put away every kind of bitterness, anger, wrath, quarreling, and evil, slanderous talk. Instead, be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31-32).
What happens if we choose to ignore this solid biblical instruction about anger? Jesus says that … Failure to reconcile creates a bondage that can destroy your influence (25-26).
He advises us to “reach agreement quickly with (our) accuser while on the way to court, or he may hand (us) over to the judge, and the judge hand (us) over to the warden, and (we) will be thrown into prison. I tell you the truth, (we) will never get out of there until (we) have paid the last penny!” He is not telling us a parable here. He is warning us that if we do not deal appropriately with our damaged human relationships, it can put us in prison. Unless we learn to forgive others the debts they owe us, we will wind up owing so much that we will be rendered useless for the kingdom we claim to represent.
These are the same people whom Jesus has just called the salt of the earth and the light of the world. But he warns them that if they ignore anger issues, it can put them in a bondage that will effectively put out their light.
All across this land today there are people who want to show their love for their spouses and children and brothers and sisters and parents, but they are incarcerated. They serve as an example for us of what happens if we choose to ignore our anger or feed someone else’s anger. Anger is a serious matter, and one of the reasons it is serious is that it points us in the opposite direction. Anger tells us to make enemies, and hate those enemies. Jesus tells us to “love (our) enemy and pray for those who persecute (us), so that (we) may be like (our) Father in heaven since he causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:44-45).
So, we have a choice. Jesus commands us to befriend everyone. It will not be easy to obey this command. It is one of the hardest things anyone can ever do. It goes against logic. It goes against our human nature. Satan will throw every possible temptation in our way to keep us from doing it. But this is what our king wants us to do.
The other alternative is to let anger control us. What happens if we go that route? Jesus told his apostles that if they made that choice, it would send them to the local magistrate. If the anger led to insults, it would send them to the Sanhedrin. If the anger led to name-calling, it would send them to Gehenna hell. Uncontrolled anger is not something Jesus is going to allow into his kingdom.
We need to decide. Are we the reconciled of God, or are we reprobates who are doomed to be destroyed by his wrath? Are we people who befriend the world around us, or are we people who will burn when Jesus comes to destroy it?
LORD GOD, our King has challenged us with a very difficult command to follow. Empower us by your Holy Spirit to live the way he has called us to live, to love the world around us, especially those whom we don’t feel like loving.
Anderson, William A. Gospel of Matthew. Place of publication not identified: Liguori Pubns, 1999.
Argyle, A W. The Gospel According to Matthew: Commentary. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979.
Fair, Ian A, Stephen Leston, and Mark L. Strauss. Matthew & Mark: Good News for Everyone. Uhrichsville, Ohio: Barbour Pub, 2008.