By Pastor Glenn Pease
Alexander the Great conquered the world, but anger conquered him, and turned him into a murderer. Like so many of the murders of history, it was not intended or designed. It happened because men do not understand that anger is the beginning of murder. Clitus, his best friend, was teasing Alexander at a banquet. Both of them were filling up with wine, and they began to lose control. Clitus became quite nasty in his remarks, and Alexander lost his temper, and he hit him with his fist. His officers restrained him, and led him out of the banquet hall. Clitus, in anger, followed and continued to taunt Alexander. Quick as a flash, Alexander snatched a spear from one of his guards and hurled it at his friend, and killed him.
Remorse followed his fury, and he drew out the spear, and would have fallen on it in grief had his officers not prevented it. Clitus had been his friend from childhood. He did not want him dead. All that night and for several days Alexander lay in remorse piteously calling for Clitus. It was an awful price to pay to indulge in anger.
Anger is no tame pet you can let roam free. It is a wild beast, and it is a killer. Most murders happen within families because this is where anger is permitted to roam freely. People kill their friends and relatives, not because they want to, but because they underestimate the danger of anger. People think that because their anger is over in a minute or so, they are in control, but that is all it takes to throw a spear, or pull a trigger.
This is why Jesus tells us that thou shalt not murder is not enough. It is a good law, for it is a law of God, but He came to refine the law and improve it, and make it more effective. Therefore, He says that the way to prevent murder is to recognize where it begins, and to deal with the seed which is anger. The rest of this Sermon on the Mount is an elaboration of how Christian righteousness is to exceed the legalistic righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees. From the emphasis of Jesus on bad human relations we can assume that Jesus is saying to us, God considers man's inhumanity to man as one of the world's greatest problems.
We like to think, like the Pharisee, that if we get right with God, and worship Him properly with all the right rituals, it doesn't much matter how we relate to people. It is at this very point that religion can be the greatest enemy of Christ and true godliness. Christians are not immune to this perversion anymore than were the Pharisees. They actually got so caught up in their legalistic religion that they developed a contempt for man. Man in his sinful nature was forever violating the law of God, and so they hated and despised man, and they lost the whole purpose of God in trying to save man. Anger, hostility, and contempt dominated their feelings, in contrast to the love for man that Jesus brought into the world to fulfill the law.
I had an experience as a teenager that came back to me as I studied these verses. It revealed to me how we can be tempted to follow the same path as the Pharisees. I was working at a theater, and was outside putting up plastic letters announcing the next attraction. The theater was right next to the sports bowl which was a hang out for youth. The police stopped and grabbed a couple of guys and put them up against the store front and frisked them. One got smart and got a slap across the head. I was an innocent bystander, but I got angry at what I saw. I made some smart remark. One of the cops came over and grabbed me by the arm, twisted it behind me, and marched me to his car. All I remember is that I started shouting, "I am a Christian!" It must have made quite an impression because he let me go. As I look back on it I can see that my thinking was that because I was a Christian he had no right to touch me for my bad attitude. I was right with God, and, therefore, my anger at men was not to be an issue. All that mattered is that I loved God.
This kind of thinking is what makes religion so hateful to people with a humanitarian heart. Religious people often try to combine love of God with hate of man, and are really convinced it can be a workable plan. Love God with all your heart, and hate your neighbor. This kind of religion has been the curse of human history, and will be until the end of time. Jesus in this Sermon attacks this kind of religion, and declares it unfit for the kingdom of God. It sounds good because it magnifies God and obedience to His law, but it is really evil because it forsakes the purpose of God, which is to save man, and not condemn him. God is not content with you for not killing men. He is not satisfied until you love men as He does, and want to see them saved.
Jesus deals with human relationships as the key to being truly righteous. According to this Sermon on the Mount man's biggest problem is not, how can I worship God properly, but how can I love my neighbor properly? The first issue that we are focusing on is really basic to our developing a Christian value system in our thinking about man. The overall issue here goes far beyond the law, and whether or not we ever murder anyone. The issue is respect versus contempt. One or the other of these attitudes will dominate our life, and which one it is will determine whether or not we are capable of being salt and light.
The point is, you do not have to be Christlike to obey rules. The Pharisees proved this. They did not murder, commit adultery, and all kinds of negative things. They kept the law, but they did not love and respect people. The goal of God is not to get people to conform to rules like a scientist training mice in a lab. The goal is to get people to relate to others in love, and be channels of His Spirit in the world. This means that not murdering people is just not enough to fulfill the law and the purpose of God. His purpose can only be fulfilled when you develop an attitude of respect and love for persons. If you kept everyone of God's laws, but did not love people, you would not have a righteousness fit for the kingdom of God.
In order to achieve this noble goal you have to identify and destroy three enemies that will block your path, and they are anger, hatred, and contempt. All three of these negatives seem so much alike that they are obviously in the same family, but Jesus implies that each brother is meaner than the other, and so they are dealt with as representing different degrees of evil and judgment. We have heard of the James brothers and the Dolton brothers, but here are the hostility brothers who, once they take over the town of your life, make you a murderer. Even if you don't kill anyone, Jesus says you violate the whole purpose of God in giving the law, and so for all practical purposes, as far as the kingdom of God goes, you are in the same category with the murderer. Like a sheriff out to protect the town from this trio of cut throats, we need to examine their profile and learn to identify them so we can run them out of town before they can set up shop in our territory. We can imagine three wanted posters in the post office with three ugly pictures of these enemies of the soul, and descriptions of their dastardly deeds.
The first ugly mug is-
I. AWFUL ANGER.
He is just as deadly as his two brothers, Hideous Hatred and Callous Contempt, but he has some redeeming values. We can't deal with the values here because Jesus is looking only at the negative of anger in this context. It is hostility toward another, not because they are terrible and worthy of wrath, but because you are in a rotten mood, and evil thoughts control your emotions. The best we can say for anger here is that it is the mildest form of murder in the heart, and, therefore, receives the least judgment. It is mild murder in the sense that it leaves the other person alive, but it still makes you a murderer at heart.
Anger toward another is a beginning sign that you are on the borderline of homicide. When you spot anger creeping into your town you know trouble is brewing, and its time to take action before things come to a boil. Anger is an enemy of the kingdom of God because as long as anger controls the heart the heart cannot fulfill the purpose of God, which is to be a channel of love. When you are angry with a person you are not open to the spirit of God, and so the chances of you being a channel of love and respect are very slim. More than likely you will subtract from others self-esteem, and degrade their dignity, and reduce the respect they have a right to receive as persons made in the image of God.
Anger blinds us to values, and that is why it is a killer. Alexander killed is best friend because anger covered over all the good he knew of his friend, and it made the present evil of his nature so blown out of proportion that was all he could see. Anger makes murder so easy because by the time it is boiling all that is visible to the angry man or woman is a picture of evil that ought to be mashed. It is the elder brother wishing that little louse of a brother of his would have been killed in the far country, and gotten what he deserved. This was the attitude of the Pharisees toward the sinners Jesus was saving. The people who broke the laws that they were so laboriously keeping were being saved, and being invited to banquets where they were happy, and they were being set free from their bondage by Christ's forgiveness.
The Pharisees were angry at the love and mercy of Christ, for it seemed so wrong to them, and so they murdered Jesus, convinced that they were doing what was right. Anger can so distort one's perspective that they can do the greatest evils and feel they serve God in doing so. Paul was convinced his anger was good and righteous as he went from town to town killing and imprisoning Christians. Jonah was even convinced he had a right to be angry at God, for God promised to destroy the Ninevites, and then, just because they repented, God showed mercy and ruined the whole thing. Had he the power he would have murdered the whole city and felt more righteous than God.
James and John, the sons of thunder, would have murdered the people of Samaria by calling down fire from heaven, but Jesus rebuked them and prevented such folly. Peter almost murdered Malchus with the sword, but Jesus prevented that and healed the ear that was cut off. The point is, anger is so close to being a force for good that it is hard to recognize when it is being a force for evil. The result is, it is a very subtle enemy of the soul, and can have us serving the kingdom of darkness before we even realize we have been deceived.
This means that when dealing with anger you can't afford to shoot first and ask questions later. It might turn out to be justifiable homicide, but Jesus warns that the chances are more likely it will be murder. Anger has its place, and can be a valid virtue, but Jesus says, look at the company it keeps. If it hangs around with hatred and contempt, you can be sure your anger is an outlaw, and it will lead you out of the will of God.
So what do I do if I put my anger in the lineup and discover it really is the criminal type? Jesus says, if that is the case, you make choices that rid you of the varmint. You run him out of town. In verses 23-24 Jesus gives an example of the choice you make. If you have a bad relationship with a brother, you don't let it burn and boil while you devote yourself to the higher values of life, like worship of God, and offering of gifts. This sounds very spiritual, but it is escapism. You are trying to use God to run from God. The most pleasing thing you can do for God is to forget your worship for a while, and go and deal with your anger on the human level. Be reconciled with your brother. Get the anger out of your system whatever it takes, be it apology, restitution, crying, or whatever helps you get rid of it before it does damage.
Jesus is saying, awful anger can only ruin your life to the degree that you let him. He is a tough hombre, to be sure, but Jesus says every man has in the city of his soul a sheriff that can control this outlaw, and that is the will. We like to pretend that we are at the mercy of our anger because that lets us off the hook. I just blew up, and I can't help it. How can we blame anybody for what they can't help? It 's like blaming them for having blue eyes or brown hair. It sounds like a good defense, but the judge don't buy it.
Jesus says if you let anger take over, you are subject to the same judgment as the murderer. If you come to the point that you are at the mercy of anger and cannot control it, it is because you chose to invite it into your life. You let this outlaw set up his saloon and gambling casino. You permit him to grow and become a major influence in the community of your soul, and then when a showdown comes you blame awful anger for the bloodshed. Jesus says, not so.
You will be held accountable for letting this criminal element take over.
It is the choices we make all along that determine whether we follow the kingdom of light or the kingdom of darkness, and not just what we do in a crisis. You are not a good guy right up to the point when you pull the trigger. That is the folly of legalism, for it says, as long as you haven't murdered anyone you are still on God's side. In reality, you have permitted awful anger to gain such power that you are like a sheriff who protects an outlaw element rather than the citizens. You are already on the side of darkness whether you ever pull the trigger or not. It is not just murder that is evil. It is all that leads up to murder that is evil, and so even if you never get there, you are still on the road that leads there, and so you are traveling in the kingdom of darkness.
Legalism only looks at the destination, but love looks at the journey, and recognizes all sin goes through a process. Love spots the process at the beginning so it can prevent the process from ever developing to the point of sin. Jesus does not say it is easy, but He says, when anger is in your life you are a potential murderer, and you have an obligation to make choices that rid your life of that risk. Dad can be angry at mom and really be chewing her out, but when the phone rings he does not pick it up and continue in his anger by saying "hello you knucklehead." He very politely says "hello" and deals with the caller on a level of respect. It is matter of choice.
When we cease to respect another life we no longer choose to control anger, and we become potential killers, and we cease to be channels of love. A mother can be blowing her stack at her children when the doorbell rings, and its the friendly Avon lady. Mt. Vesuvius immediately ceases to erupt. She smiles, and invites her in. They have a lovely visit. By her will she chooses to stop being angry. She chooses instead to be kind and friendly. She didn't need a psychiatrist or therapist. All she needed was a strong enough motivation to chose a different emotion to express. We need to be motivated to chase awful anger out of the town of our life. The next ugly mug is-
II. HIDIOUS HATRED.
The second brother in the terrible trinity of hostility is just a little worse than awful anger. Anger is an inner attitude, and it may remain quiet and unseen, but hatred comes out into the open and expresses hostility in name calling. Here is one sin most of us can't feel comfortable about, for it is not likely any of us have ever called another Raca. As a matter of fact, with all of the swearing so common in our culture, I have never heard anyone call anyone else Raca. It sounds like we have found a sin that has become extinct. Not so! A number of English words convey its meaning. If you have ever referred to another as an empty headed brainless idiot, or a stupid numskull of a blockhead, you have committed this sin.
Now, of course, these terms are used in fun also, and not as serious expressions of how you feel. Jesus is dealing here with the spirit of murder, and this is referring to those who call others this name in bitter hatred. They mean by this that they judge the person to be worthless, and of no value. Insults are a part of our culture. Most of the humor in sit coms would be gone without insults. They seem so funny as we watch and hear. One woman asked another woman whose husband was being so loud at a party, "What does your husband want to be when he grows up?" That can be innocent fun, but if you really call a man a brainless idiot before his friends, that can kill his spirit and injure his soul, and you are guilty of the spirit of murder. Pharisees can rip a man to ribbons, and destroy his reputation, and break his heart with lies and slander, but they feel okay because they do not kill him. This is the kind of respectable sinner Jesus came to judge by this sermon.
Such a spirit eliminates love, for you cannot respect and love what you despise as worthless. This attitude toward a man who is made in the image of God is a spirit equal to murder. The law forbids you to kill a man, but Jesus goes beyond that, and He forbids you to hate a man, for if you never hate him, you will never kill him. Prevent hatred and you prevent murder, and thereby you fulfill the law as God intended.
Hideous hatred, even if he does not murder anyone, is still a product of darkness, for he despises the goal of God to love and redeem man. Hatred says he is not worth redeeming, and so as far as the kingdom of God goes he must be brought to judgment. Anger goes before the local court, but hatred has to go before the Sanhedrin, the supreme court, for he is a more serious offender of the spirit of the law.
Hatred can feel very self-righteous because it keeps the letter of the law, and it does not murder anyone. The Pharisees hated the Romans, and they hated the sinners, and the hated Jesus, and yet they felt they were God's representatives on earth because they kept the letter of the law. Jesus is saying if you keep the letter but forsake the spirit, you do not represent God, or the kingdom of God. Only those who have respect for the dignity and worth of all men, even though they disagree with you, represent the kingdom of God. This is the righteousness that exceeds the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees.
The legalistic Pharisees said, it is only if you kill that you are liable to judgment. Jesus says, if you hate you are already in the same category with the murderer. Even if you don't murder, you are guilty of forsaking the purpose of God. Hideous hatred is all the more hideous because he pretends to represent God, when in fact, he represents the enemy of God. There is no salt and no light in hatred.
Look at the great hatred of the Jews and Arabs. Both are convinced they represent God, but it is a great deception. Hatred is their king, and they murder each other every chance they get. The whole world is kept under tension by their hatred. Both reject the love of Christ, and they are condemned to dwell under the reign of hideous hatred. Either you run this bad dude out of your town, or your town will no longer be included on God's map. The third mug we want to look at is-
III. CALLOUS CONTEMPT.
Here is the blackest villain of them all, and Jesus says he is in danger of hell fire. This sounds a little radical to us, for fool does not seem to be that terrible a term to us. Fool is a frequent term in the book of Proverbs and we hear it all the time in our culture. It makes us wonder if Jesus is being fair, and making the punishment fit the crime. It is not nice to insult people, but hell fire for this seems out of line with justice. It is like capital punishment for putting a mustache on a public picture of a movie star, or life imprisonment for suggesting that some politician made a stupid decision.
This whole context is a mystery if we do not get below the surface. On the face of it, it makes Jesus look like a hanging judge who has no concept of the value of life. It seems the opposite of loving which is the very thing that Jesus is most anxious to convey. If everyone who calls someone else a fool is in danger of hell fire than hell is going to be fuller than most ever dreamed, and the plan of God will be pretty much of a dud program. Obviously we need to get an understanding of this that makes good sense, and that fits the whole value system of Jesus.
First of all, we need to understand the word hell. It is a term that refers to the valley of Hinnom, which was the garbage dump and incinerator for the city of Jerusalem. The fire burned there perpetually, and this is where the corpse of a criminal who died by capital punishment was thrown. This became the picture of the ultimate destiny of the lost sinner. It was the worse possible destiny for the Jew. Nothing could be more degrading then to be thrown like a worthless rag into the fire of Hinnom. What this means is that Jesus is giving us an example of reaping what is sown. If you treat people like garbage, you will be treated likewise. If you degrade people, and talk to them with contempt, as if they were refuse, that will be how you are treated. You will be like refuse thrown into the garbage dump. If you push others into the sewer, you will be flushed down the sewer yourself. You will sink to the level on which you treat others. You see, the punishment does fit the crime, just like a glove.
Jesus is implying that the man with this callous contempt will more than likely follow through with his value system and murder someone. If their life is as worthless as garbage, why not get rid of it? Hitler was no mere murderer. A murderer is often motivated by rage, but Hitler set about very methodically to exterminate the Jews. It was a cold and callous contempt for human life that treated man as less than an animal. Hitler treated man like garbage, and that is the way history treats him.
Jesus is saying that the man who thinks and acts on this level will be judged on this level, and will be tossed like a bag of garbage into the fires of Hinnom. This is not the judgment for saying someone is a fool. This is where the saying that someone is fool leads to because it makes you a potential murderer if you really feel that level of contempt for another human being. The lower your feelings fall toward another, the more likely becomes the act of murder. When you reach the level of contempt, you are, for all practical purposes, a murderer. The only things that saves you at this level is lack of opportunity or means. If you had these, you would become a killer.
The level of your love, or lack of it, determines the level of mercy you receive, or lack of it. If I hold my finger on a hot stove for one tenth of a second, I just get a burn I can live with. If I hold it there for a second I will suffer deep pain. If I hold it there longer, I will have severe consequences, even to the point of losing the finger. The degree of my folly will determine the degree of the consequences. That is why Jesus portrays this descending scale where the lowest level, the level of contempt, leads to the worst possible punishment. The eternal hell enters the picture too, for anyone so devoid of love that they have only contempt for human life cannot be saved. They can repent and be changed, but if they die in that state of contempt, they are lost. That is what Jesus is trying to convey here: The terrible danger and destiny of those who do not become channels of love.
The legalist deceives himself. He thinks he can keep the letter of the law and please God. Not so! If you do not fulfill the spirit of the law and love people as God does you do not please God at all. I John 4:20 puts it clearly, "If anyone says I love God, yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen." There is no separation of loving God and loving man. They are one, and if you do not love both, you love neither. Legalistic righteousness tries to get around this, but loving righteousness accepts this reality, and that is why it alone represents the kingdom of God.
All that is hateful and unloving is to some degree evil. Jesus says we need to be aware of this, and deal with it in its early stages, and so prevent all the serious consequences of thinking that negative attitudes are alright as long as you don't murder anyone. It is not alright. It is awful, hideous, and callous. The wise and loving Christian deals with the roots and not just the branches; the motives and not just the actions; the causes and not just the effects. This is Jesus' head start program. You catch sin in its early stages and prevent it from becoming active. Why do you do this? Because, if you love Jesus, and His Spirit dwells in you, you live a life where respect for others has won out over contempt for others in this heavy weight fight of respect versus contempt.