ANGER AND MURDER Matthew 5:21-26

A Bible Study discussion with Queen's Christian Fellowship (InterVarsity), Kingston, Ontario, Thursday November 8, 2001 by Robert Brow (

You have asked me to speak on Jesus' words about murder and anger in the Sermon on the Mount. Let me begin with a strange experience. Actually it shouldn't be strange at all. Eight weeks ago when those terrorists flew their planes into the towers in Manhattan, I was very angry. I wanted Osama Bin Laden and all his network destroyed by every means in our power. I hated the way the Taliban were treating Afghan women, and I was pleased when the first bombs began raining down on the Al Quaeda training facilities.

But a few days ago I was at a mission prayer group where Darla Milne spoke about her time in Kabul before our mission, Interserve, was thrown out from Afghanistan. She was a personal friend of each of the eight workers who are in prison there. But she also said that Osama Bin Laden is a sick man. He has kidney failure, and he can only survive by having dialysis three times a week. Suddenly I felt for him as a human being, and I found myself praying for him.

I still think he needs to be dealt with as a very dangerous enemy, but I thought of the verse a bit later in the Sermon on the Mount. "Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:44). Notice that enemies are still enemies. If others seek to harm your family you have to protect yourself, and in any society criminals need to be brought to justice. But as Christians we are to love them.

What does love for enemies mean? I first thought about this, long before I became a Christian, in the army during the war. We were trained to obey the Geneva Convention. The moment opposing soldiers raise a white flag and hold their hands up above their heads, you stop shooting, care for their wounded, and make sure they are properly treated in a prison camp. All civilized people accept the fact that you don't shoot or harm prisoners in any way. That is a good start as we try to grasp God's kind of love. But Jesus took us a long way deeper.

The sixth of the ten commandments says "You shall not murder" (Exodus 20:13). That is a universal moral principle, but the prohibition of murder is also part of a nation's criminal law. No society can permit murderers to go free. So the assigning of consequences for murder is the duty of judges in a law court. But judges cannot deal with the human heart. So here in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is contrasting a nation's legal system with God's concern for the human heart. "You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, 'You shall not murder' and 'whoever murders shall be liable to judgment' but I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment" (Matthew 5:21-22).

He then pointed out that there are three ways to murder people without actually killing their body.

"If you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, 'you fool,' you will be liable to the hell of fire" (Matthew 5:22). It seems Jesus is giving a gradation in the seriousness of different kinds of murder in the heart. Murderous anger makes you liable metaphorically to judgment before a magistrate. Writing somebody off deserves much greater punishment by the Sanhedrin. But treating somebody as a complete idiot deserves being thrown into gehenna, the burning rubbish heap over the wall of Jerusalem (Matthew 5:21-22)..

Now you can see that these three heart attitudes are the exact opposite of love for others. There is nothing wrong with ordinary anger. In fact there are some things we should be angry about. If my children had rushed out into our street, tipped a handicapped person out of her wheelchair, and then rode up and down in it, shouting obscenities at her, I would be angry. Very angry! And there would be very severe consequences. Guess what! But anger should not turn into murderous anger. "Be angry, but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger" (Ephesians 4:26). That means righteous anger should assign the proper consequences, but it should not be allowed to take root in the heart as murderous anger.

Murderous anger wishes the other person was dead. It would murder if it was not afraid of being punished. The word "insult" is a wrong translation of the word "Raca" (in the margin) which means "You are a non-person; I will treat you as if you don't exist. I will ignore you. You are just vermin. I will never talk to you again"  This is a form of murder because the hated person knows and can feel the vibes. When my wife and I lived in Millbrook there were two women who had quarreled 25 years before, and every day when they passed on the street they never spoke to each other. The other person might as well have been dead. In marriage the silent treatment is another form of raca and it is very hard to live with.

But the most serious form of heart assassination is treating someone as a complete idiot. "I won't listen to you, I don't care about your opinions, your ideas are worth about as much as those of a lunatic in a psychiatric ward"  When a man treats a woman with that kind of contempt, she feels she might as well be dead.

You can of course see all three of these attitudes as children play between classes. "I hate you. I wish I could kill you." Or "I never want to talk to you again. You are just a pile of dirt." And the worst is when a child is picked on with "Mary is retarded, Mary is retarded." What Jesus is talking about is that kind of heart murder continuing and getting more vicious in an adult.

What is wonderful about the love of God is that he never adopts an attitude of murderous hatred towards us. He does indeed assign consequences for certain kinds of unacceptable behavior. The consequences might include the death of criminals, or even the destruction of a city (as in the fall of Jerusalem, Matthew 21:41, 23:35, 24:50-51). But we should note that the death of one's body is never a final end - it is only the door that invites us into the life and love of heaven. God loves us even when we choose to be his enemies. And there is no limit to his forgiveness.

Nor does God say "Raca" to us. He never writes us off, never treats us as vermin, never adopts the silent treatment. He is always ready to welcome us and teach us his love language. However simple-minded or retarded or ignorant we may be, he treats us seriously as one of his children. What we think and say is important, and he intervenes when we pray. So we can be sure nobody is too stupid to be perfected for the love of heaven.

Having experienced what God's love is like, we can ask the Holy Spirit to change our anger into love before the sun goes down that night! Instead of rejecting and pushing people away as dirt, we are ready for Paul's words, "Welcome one another, therefore, just as the Messiah has welcomed you" (Romans 15:7). And we never view others as ignorant. In a church congregation each person is equally important, and his or her opinions are to be heard and taken seriously.

Four days ago, Sunday November the 4th. 2001, in a great gathering in Delhi the representatives of 300 million Dalits (previously called outcaste untouchables) were told by their leader that they were free to share in an immediate Exodus out of caste oppression into any religion of their choice. Millions of them will become Christians in the next few months. Our Indian brothers and sisters will now have the huge challenge of loving them and teaching them to love. Being a Christian here in Queen's University, and in your family, may not sound as difficult, but love is never easy and very costly. It begins with recognizing and dealing with my heart murder by the power of the Holy Spirit.

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