Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Angry Enough to Kill

Part 12 of Kingdom Life

Text: Matthew 5:21-26

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“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” (Matt. 5:21-22).

A Deeper Righteousness

In Matthew 5:21-48, Jesus describes what he means by a righteousness that “exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees” (v. 20). He desires that his followers have a righteousness that goes deeper than merely obeying the rules. He repeatedly says, “You have heard that it was said” (vv. 21, 27, 33, 38, 43), and then he declares, “But I say to you” (vv. 22, 28, 32, 34, 39, 44). [1] Jesus is not contradicting the OT law; he is correcting a misunderstanding of it.

Is Anger Really That Bad?

Why did Jesus teach that anger was such a serious sin? He compares anger with murder [2] and says that if we are filled with anger against another person, we are “liable to the hell of fire” (v. 22).

If we are filled with anger against another person, we have a murderous heart. 

There are degrees of anger. There’s a difference between the anger of a murderer and the anger of a father who yells at his son. Jesus is talking about an intense kind of anger. If we have this type of anger, we are like a murderer [3] in two ways.

First, if we are filled with anger against someone, we desire harm to come to that person. An angry person longs for revenge. He would commit murder if he could get away with it.

Second, if we are filled with anger against someone, we don’t value the life of that person. Genesis 9:6 says, “Who-ever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” Premeditated murder was punishable by death because human life is precious to God. But the person with a murderous attitude sees his enemy as worthless. He “insults” him [4] and calls him a “fool” (v. 22).

Is Anger Always Wrong?

It’s possible to be angry without sinning: “Be angry and do not sin” (Eph. 4:26). Sometimes anger is the appropriate response (e.g., when a child is harmed). Jesus was sometimes angry (e.g., the cleansing of the temple). He even said to the scribes and Pharisees, “You blind fools!” (Matt. 23:17). Unlike our anger, Jesus’ anger was always righteous.

When Jesus was angry, he was angry at sin, not because offended him: “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return” (1 Peter 2:23). How did Jesus respond? “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Jesus’ anger wasn’t a self-centered anger. Many times we think our anger is appropriate, but it’s actually sinful. We get angry not because someone has sinned, but because someone has sinned against us.

The Heart of the Matter

We often blame external conditions for our anger (e.g., other people, “I had a bad day!”). “While external conditions can be very influential in our lives and should not be ignored, the Bible says that they are only the occasion for sin, not the cause.” [5] The cause of sin is within us: our hearts. Jesus declared, “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matt. 15:19). James writes, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” (James 4:1). Murder is generated in the heart.

If I have a murderous heart, I have forgotten about God's grace. 

I can’t calculate how much I’ve offended God by my sinfulness, yet Christ died for me. “If God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11). If God so loved me, I also ought to love people who have wronged me.

The Urgency of Reconciliation

Jesus says that we are not to delay in seeking reconciliation with others (“First be reconciled to your brother,” v. 24; “Come to terms quickly with your accuser,” v. 25). “Interestingly, it is not the anger of the person Jesus is addressing of which he speaks, but anger provoked by that person. It is not enough to control one’s temper (though that is important); one must not arouse other people’s anger.” [6]
Reconciliation is so important that it takes priority over worship. 

The illustration that Jesus uses in verses 23-24 would have been shocking to Jesus’ original hearers.
Most of Jesus’ hearers were from Galilee, and their disputes with others would be centered there as well. Jesus’ teaching would require them to bind the legs of the sacrificial animal and leave it at the base of the altar in the Jerusalem temple, travel the approximately 80 miles back to Galilee to seek reconciliation and offer restitution to an offended brother, then travel the same 80 miles back to Jerusalem to complete the sacrificial ritual! [7] 
Even if reconciliation is not possible, we are to make an attempt. We should strive to be “peacemakers” (Matt. 5:9). “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Rom. 12:18).

[1] When Jesus said, “But I say unto you,” he was emphasizing his own authority to interpret the OT law. “The crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes” (Matt. 7:28-29).
[2] The apostle John writes, “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (1 John 3:15).
[3] Of course, the consequences of anger are less severe than the consequences of murder (i.e., the death of someone). If I had a choice between someone hating me and someone murdering me, I’d take hatred every time.
[4] A more literal translation of the original Greek is “says Raca to his brother.” “Raca” is an Aramaic word that means “worthless.”
[5] Timothy S. Lane, Paul David Tripp, How People Change, 151.
[6] Leon Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew, 115–116.
[7] Charles L. Quarles, Sermon on the Mount: Restoring Christ’s Message to the Modern Church, Kindle locations 2600-2603.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Righteousness Redefined

Part 11 of Kingdom Life

Text: Matthew 5:17-20

“For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20). 


Over time, words often change their meaning. Referring to someone as a “bully” in the sixteenth century was like calling them “darling” or sweetheart.” In the fourteenth century, “awful” meant “inspiring wonder” and was a short version of “full of awe.” The original meaning of a “nice” person was a “foolish” or “silly” person. In the fifteenth century, a “nervous” person was actually “sinewy and vigorous.” [1]

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus redefined “righteousness.”

Entrance into the Kingdom

Jesus declares, “I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (v. 20). “Righteousness” is obedience to God’s commands. Does entrance into God’s kingdom depend on our obedience to God’s law? No, we enter God’s kingdom through faith in Jesus. [2]

Those who have entered God’s kingdom possess a different kind of righteousness. 

Jesus wasn’t saying that we need to be more righteous in the way that the scribes and Pharisees were righteous. He was saying that our righteousness is to exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees because it’s a better quality of righteousness.

Jesus Didn't Abolish the Law

Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets” (v. 17). “The Law [and] the Prophets” refers to the Old Testament (OT) Scriptures. People were accusing Jesus of setting aside the OT. [3] But Jesus makes four statements in verses 17-20 that show the falseness of this accusation.

(1) He had not come to abolish the OT but to “fulfill” it (v. 17). How did Jesus fulfill the OT? He fulfilled the OT’s messianic prophecies, satisfied the OT’s demands by his death on the cross, perfectly obeyed the OT’s commands, and he taught the full meaning of the OT.

(2) All of the OT—even “the smallest letter” and “the least stroke of a pen” (NIV) [4]—is relevant “until heaven and earth pass away” (v. 18).

(3) Every OT commandment should be taught and obeyed (v. 19). Of course, there are many commands that Christians don’t obey in the same way as God’s people did before the coming of Jesus.

(4) The scribes and Pharisees’ obedience to the OT was deficient (v. 20). “Jesus was so far from being the one intent on annulling the Law that he believed that those who had the reputation of being especially punctilious about the details of the Law were totally failing to take it seriously enough.” [5]

Some Christians like to say, “Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship.” But Christianity is a relationship with God and a religion. We obey God’s commands because we love him. But didn’t the apostle Paul write that “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom. 10:4)? Yes, but this “does not mean that we are free to disobey [the law], for the opposite is the case. It means rather that acceptance with God is not through obedience to the law but through faith in Christ….” [6]

A Different Kind of Righteousness

“Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of God” was a shocking statement in Jesus’ day. The Pharisees were admired for their obedient to the OT, but their righteousness was merely outward conformity to rules. Jesus desires a different kind of righteousness.

1. It is a righteousness that comes from a transformed heart. 

The scribes and Pharisees impressed others by their outward appearance, but their hearts were full of sinfulness. Jesus said to them,
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside may be clean.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to other, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matt. 23:25-28). 
The kind of righteousness that Jesus desires is an inside-out righteousness. It’s righteousness that comes from a heart that loves God because of what he has done for us (i.e., because of the cross).

2. It is a righteousness that produces acts of love. 

Jesus was once asked, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” (Matt. 22:36). His answer:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (vv. 37-40). 
Jesus rebuked the scribes and Pharisees for their lack of love:
Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:  
“‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me
teaching as doctrine the commandments of men’” (Matt. 15:1-9). 
In Romans 13:8-10, Paul wrote,
Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law

What About Your Righteousness? 

Here’s a question we should all ask: “Does my righteousness exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees?”

What is your motivation for obeying God’s commands?

Are you more concerned with the letter of the law or the spirit of the law (i.e., love for God and others)?

[1] http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/words-literally-changed-meaning-through-2173079
[2] Matthew 4:17 says, “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” To “repent” means to turn from one’s sin, which also implies turning to Jesus.
[3] In Matthew 12, Jesus’ disciples picked grain on the Sabbath, and the Pharisees accused Jesus and his disciples of breaking the OT law (see vv. 1-8). Actually, they broke the Pharisees’ rules, not the OT law.
[4] An “iota” refers to “the Hebrew letter yod, the smallest of the alphabet,” and a “dot” (kepaia) refers to “the small stroke that is used to distinguish letters or an ornamental stroke added to a letter” (Grant R. Osborne, Matthew, 182).
[5] John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew: A Commentary on the Greek Text, 225.
[6] John R. W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, 73.