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2. If Looks Could Kill (Matthew 5:21-26)

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Matthew 5:21-26
March 14, 2004


Title: If Looks Could Kill

Watching Perry Mason with Nana :”I’m going to kill him!” Don’t ever say that! That’s good advice. I try to take it to heart. Whenever I feel like killing someone, I try to remember not to say so.

Law and Order fan. “He was a horrible man. I’m glad he’s dead. I’d like to congratulate the guy who killed him. But I didn’t do it!”

They willingly tell the police because it’s not against the law to hate someone—it’s just against the law to kill them.

That’s the way it works in America.

But you know what? In God’s Kingdom that’s not the way it works.

In God’s Kingdom, it’s not only against the law to murder. It’s also against the law just to stay angry with someone. That’s the kind of radical idea that Jesus gave his followers.

The Jesus Curriculum

Today we’re continuing our study of the Sermon on the Mount, one of the lessons Jesus taught his followers. It’s a kind of handbook for the kingdom of God. .

The Kingdom Code

Last week we began a new section called: The Kingdom Code.

In it, Jesus tells his followers that being forgiven doesn’t mean we can live a life of lawlessness. In fact, as the King of the Kingdom, Jesus heightens the requirements of the law. He tells us what the law really means: not just the letter of the law, but the spirit of the law, the law’s intent.

We finished last week with Jesus’ statement that “your righteousness must surpass that of the Pharisees”, the most carefully righteous people of his day. I’m sure his followers then wondered how that could be possible that they could be even more righteous than the Pharisees.

But what Jesus meant was that although the Pharisees were very concerned with obeying the external requirements of the code, they followed it in a very legalistic, wooden, joyless way. Jesus called them “actors”. They cared very little about whether they were doing what God wanted. They only cared that they did exactly what God told them to do. In fact, they had even added a few extra rules (and some of them were actually the opposite of what God wanted).

And so, Jesus tells his disciples that the true meaning of the law, the Kingdom Code, is to honor God not just with your actions, but also with your thoughts, your motives and your attitudes. The Kingdom Code is deeper and more personal than the law of any country. It delves into the innermost parts of a man that no other man can judge and only God can know.

What follows are six comparisons between external performance of the law and internal obedience to the law. Jesus deals with anger, lust, divorce, lying, revenge, and hatred. In each case, he calls us, his followers, to commit ourselves not just to obeying the external requirements of the law, but also to allowing the Kingdom Code to govern our thoughts, our motives and our attitudes.

Today we begin with the first of these six contrasts as Jesus teaches us about anger.

Unresolved Anger is Sin

You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, "Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment."

The first part is OT (long ago), the second part was what the rabbis taught. Judgment here is the death penalty.

[22] But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.

Anger (internal heart!) is also sin. It also brings God’s judgment.

Cf. difficulty of prosecuting a “hate” crime. God knows heart.

There are a couple of misunderstandings about this verse:

It is NOT saying that anger is the same as murder or just as bad as murder.

(Just for the record, I would much rather you were angry with me than…)

It is NOT saying that anger itself is sin. From other passages, we know that Jesus himself was sometimes angry and that we can be angry without sinning. (We’ll see that in a minute.)

Anger is initially a response, not a choice. We probably respond with anger so often because we’re fallen—so in that sense even that initial anger is sinful. But it’s not a sin in the sense of a choice I make to disobey God. When it first strikes, I think anger is more of a temptation than a sin. It’s what we choose to do with anger and what we choose to do because of anger that makes it sinful. As we’ll see from later verses, it’s unresolved anger that is sinful.

One of the main reasons is because it leads to sinful action. Jesus continues:

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.

Raca and fool are insults. (Raca sounds like spitting and means “empty head”.) Fool is Greek “moron”. When we’re angry, we really want to say something nasty to the people who make us angry. Jesus says, that’s sin.

Gehenna. Trash heap where they dumped the bodies of criminals. Always burning. Came to symbolize hell. He doesn’t mean that if you call someone a fool that you’re going to hell. He means that is a sin and sin deserves hell. If Jesus hadn’t paid for your sin, that’s what you would deserve—not just for murder, but even for speaking insults.

God takes it seriously. Why? In our anger, we lose sight of the person that God loves.

Notice the structure in this verse:

You have heard…

anyone who murders

But I tell you…

anyone who is angry.


anyone who says, “Raca”


anyone who says, “Fool”

Two sets: You heard x, but I say y. He extends the culpability from action to emotion. He extends the judgment from human to divine.

Before we move on, let’s examine what else the NT says about anger:

2 Corinthians 12:20 For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be.

I fear that there may be quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder.

Ephesians 4:26-27 In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.

Ephesians 4:31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.

Colossians 3:8 But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.

1 Timothy 2:8 I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing.

James 1:19-20 My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.

Reconciliation is Important

[23] Therefore, if you are offering your gift at 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; then come and offer your gift.

Reconciliation: “change thoroughly”

This verse shows the importance of reconciliation. It’s important enough to interrupt worshipping God (maybe because unresolved conflict does interfere with our ability to worship God.)

Notice here the initiative is on the one who has sinned against someone else. The guilty party should take initiative to resolve the conflict with his brother. (This is interesting because it’s the other person who is probably angry.) Don’t even stop to worship when you know that your sin has caused a brother or sister to be angry. Seek them out. Apologize. Ask for their forgiveness. Seek to reconcile your relationship.

The responsibility to seek reconciliation does not rest with only the offending party. Later in Matthew, Jesus gives instructions to the party that has been offended (and is probably angry).

Matthew 18:15-17 "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.

[16] But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, … [17] If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church…

Really, both parties are responsible to come together and patch things up. As far as possible, to be able to agree on what was done, what was wrong and for each side to take responsibility for whatever they contributed to the conflict.

This is usually the last thing we want to do. And it’s hard work. But it is very important. More important, says Jesus, than getting to the worship service on time. Not only is reconciliation important, it’s also urgent.

Reconciliation is Urgent

In this last section, Jesus gives us a mini-parable to teach us that the business of reconciliation is urgent.

[25] Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way,

or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison.

[26] I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.

Surely this extends beyond just the situation of two men going to court.

He’s using this example to illustrate a broader principle.

If you continue to hold anger in your heart or if you have sinned against a brother and not ever tried to patch things up, then you are asking for it. There are consequences for leaving these things unresolved. Reconciliation is urgent so that you can avoid those consequences.

If you are in sin against a brother, God will not send you to hell for it (that’s not what this means), but he will lovingly discipline you to capture your attention and bring you to repentance (Godward) and reconciliation (manward).

If you don’t “get it” the first time, then he brings a bigger stick. (Which of you wouldn’t push your kid with a stick to move them out of the path of on oncoming car?) So…be reconciled now before God goes and gets the big stick.

Some Practical Advice about Anger…

I’d like to close today with some practical advice about anger. These are not explicitly from the Bible. And I’m not a psychologist. (here comes the email) But here are some practical things I have learned about trying not to sin when I’m angry.

Anger is an alarm.

A warning light. Treat it as such. Find out what’s setting off the alarm.

Something is wrong—maybe in someone else’s actions

Injustice, a personal attack

Like all warning systems, you can have false alarms. You can be angry even if you haven’t been wronged. (Something amiss in me.)

assumptions, inconvenience,

Don’t let anger act.

Commit yourself to not allow anger to either act or speak.

Story about the burglar trap, shotgun at the front door.

You want an alarm with less dire consequences. Church alarm.

In anger we say things and do things that we wouldn’t say or do if we were sober. Don’t let anger control you. Exercise self control.

(fruit of God’s Spirit)

Wait. Breath deeply.

Most of the time, that means waiting. When I’m hot, that’s a bad time to try to deal with the problem. Anger passes away. So why not wait a little. Let your emotions calm down. Take a few deep breaths. Get some perspective. Let the emotional part of your anger dissipate so that you can think about both the situation and your response more objectively and rationally.

Story about the staff member. Turns out they acted appropriately.

Can you put it away?

I think that sometimes, things bother me that are best left ignored.

If you bring up every little thing that bothers you or makes you angry, then you will constantly have some conflict to resolve. And life is more than conflict resolution.

If you’re married, you have either discovered this principle, or you are constantly living in conflict. Opposites attract and that means that usually your husband or your wife is basically designed by God to drive you crazy. So rather than bring up every little thing that bothers you, I think that sometimes you can apply “automatic forgiveness” and just ignore it.

I put it in a big box called “grace” and then put it away in the closet where it won’t get in the way of our relationship.

I do this with Julie. I figure, “that’s the woman I married. That’s the way she is. I don’t like that, but I love her, just like that.” The reason I can say this and still live in my house is because I’m also going to tell you that Julie has to do that same thing with me. And just between us, I’m sure that she has to overlook my faults a lot more often than I have to overlook hers.

So when you find yourself angry, ask yourself, “Can I just overlook this?” If you can, put it in the grace box and put it away. Don’t let it tear down your relationship.

Still bothers you? Talk to them! Now.

Sometimes anger is too big to fit in the grace box. And sometimes, even though we fit it inside and put the box away, the lid keeps popping off and there’s our anger again, right in the middle of the living room floor.

What I’m talking about is that sometimes our efforts to overlook an offense and “let go” of anger—sometimes that doesn’t work well. If you find you’re still angry or angry again, then it probably means that it’s time to take action. No, I don’t mean kill the other person. I mean talk to them. Take the initiative and speak with them. And do it now. If the anger is popping back out, then you need to act now.

Be as calm as you can be. Don’t attack, just explain. Take responsibility for your own actions—anything that you did to contribute to the conflict. Take responsibility for your own beliefs and feelings. (Not, “You made me angry.”) Try saying something like “I believe that what you did was wrong.” Or, “I felt angry when you did that.”

Be willing to listen. You may have missed something. This may be just a huge misunderstanding. It’s good to be as open as possible to hearing the other person’s perspective.

Hopefully, as you approach this person with prayer and with a loving attitude, they will respond.

Forgiveness is for you.

There’s always a chance that they will not listen to you or will not respond in a good way. But whether they respond in repentance or whether they respond in stubbornly doing the same thing again, there is only one healthy thing you can do: forgive them.

A lot of times we think of forgiveness as what we are supposed to do when someone apologizes. But the truth is that forgiveness is a one-party transaction. Even if someone is blatantly and stubbornly sinning against you, the very best thing you can do about it is to forgive them.

Somehow we get it in our heads that if we withhold our forgiveness, then we’re really going to let them have it. We’re going to show them what real pain feels like! We won’t forgive them. That’ll teach them.

But in reality, when we do that, it doesn’t hurt the other person at all. We only hurt ourselves. The more we indulge our anger, the more it consumes us, distorts our perspective on all of life, ruins our other relationships, eats away at our health, and turns us into bitter old men and women.

Unresolved anger is a sin. And like all sins, it destroys us. The reason God tells us to stay away from sin is because he doesn’t want us to get hurt.

Sometimes you might feel so angry you could kill. Very often you can’t help that. But it’s what you do next that really matters. Because whenever you harbor anger in your heart, whenever you refuse to forgive or refuse to reconcile, the life that’s really in danger is yours.

1 Copyright 2004 by Lewis B. Bell III. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 2 in the The Kingdom Code series delivered by Chip Bell at Fellowship Bible Church Arapaho in Dallas, TX on March 14, 2004. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with credit.

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