“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. (Matthew 5:21-22)
Pastor John’s Notes:
Here Jesus begins the first major segment of this message, which is a commentary on Scripture. He uses a pattern that would have been familiar to his hearers. First, he quotes a particular verse of Scripture, then he gives a fuller explanation than what was commonly assumed. In English, the pattern is translated, “You have heard that it was said…but I say to you…” The English word “but” is somewhat misleading because it appears that Jesus is speaking in opposition to the law. However, the Greek work used here is “de” which can is a conjunction of opposition, but also a conjunction of amplification. This pattern can then be more correctly interpreted, “You have heard that it was said…moreover, I say to you…” Jesus is not negating the law of God, he is amplifying it. This is an important point. Throughout the following section, Jesus offers numerous examples that show the common interpretation of the law was insufficient. God is not merely concerned with external obedience but internal holiness.
In the passage above, Jesus gives two quotations. One is Scriptural law, “You shall not murder,” and the other is a Jewish custom, “Whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council,” The first he amplifies with “whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment,” and the second he amplifies with “whoever says ‘you fool’ will be liable to the fire of hell. Both of these point to attitudes of the heart.
The implication of this teaching is simple: Jesus wants us to pay attention to the attitudes of our heart. The heart is the seedbed of action. If the seed of hatred is removed, we will never commit murder. If words of bitterness are never spoken, neither will we speak words of hatred. Jesus wants our hearts to be clean.
Lord, let my heart be cleansed of all bitterness. Help me to root out any seeds of anger or hatred so that I will never act with cruelty nor speak unkindly. Teach me how to check my heart routinely, so that no evil can ever take root.