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. 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. 26 Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.
A few thoughts for meditation:
In this next part of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus moved on to practical application of what true obedience looks like. Just what does it look like for your righteousness to exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees? He began with how to properly understand the sixth commandment, “you shall not murder”. Jesus confronted the popular misunderstanding of the law with “you have heard it was said”, often quoting the teaching of the Pharisees. But then he corrected that misunderstanding by teaching the true intent of the law. At the same time whenever he said “but I say”, he emphasized his divine authority as the true lawgiver and interpreter. This is why many were amazed at his authority. The other teachers did not teach this way but relied upon the support of other rabbis and scholars.
Here, Jesus quoted the popular misunderstanding of the sixth commandment, that physical murder will lead to judgment. It was a minimal interpretation of the law which allowed for other damaging behavior short of murder. But Jesus applied the law to the motives of the heart. Whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, not just the one who murders. In God’s sight, murderous attitudes will condemn you, not just murderous actions. Jesus then expanded that condemnation to include spoken insults (including what you post on social media…). True obedience means you preserve and protect your neighbors life not only with your hands but with your words and thoughts. The law condemns not only physical murder, but any behavior springing from that desire to harm another person; including malice, revenge, rage, gossip, slander, backbiting. insults, assaults on his possessions or body, and finally murder.
Further, the law condemns not only actions that would kill the body but actions that will kill a good and healthy relationship. Jesus applied the commandment to some practical situations of relational conflict, first with a “brother” and second with an “accuser”. In the first situation, a man is worshiping in church and remembers his brother “has something against” him. The issue is that he has offended or hurt his brother in some way and so he needs to immediately go and make it right, even if it’s in the middle of a worship service. In the second situation, an accuser is in the process of taking you to court for a wrong you have done, and so you must do whatever you can to reconcile and make it right before that happens. In both cases Jesus shifted the emphasis from your “anger” at what others have done to you, to what you have done to others. We should not only be concerned when harmed by others, but concerned when others are harmed by us. It is a common tendency in our pride to under-emphasize the harm we have done to others and over-emphasize the harm they have done to us, which then leads us to dig in and refuse to reconcile until the other person repents first. Jesus here flipped that around. You take ownership for your offenses first whether your brother does or not, and work to make it right. When confronted with your offences, you immediately repent. The sixth commandment not only requires us to give up vengeance and murderous thoughts and desires but to promote life and healthy relationships and attitudes toward others, and to pursue reconciliation both with those we have wronged or who have wronged us. Here again we see the elements of true discipleship and blessing mentioned at the beginning; meekness, hungering for righteousness, merciful, peace-making, blessing those who revile you, etc.
I don’t think I need to expand much more on practical application. You know if you have been harboring hateful thoughts toward others. You know if you have been avoiding reconciliation. You know how you should respond when people confront you. Jesus exposes our sin here so that we will come to him for salvation. Wherever you are falling short, it’s time to confess that to Christ, seek his forgiveness and grace to repent, and then get to work at repairing those wrongs and relationships.