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Friday, April 27, 2012

A Treatise on Matt. 5:22-24--Part 2--The Sin of Contempt (Verbal Abuse)

"But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever shall say to his brother, 'Raca,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever shall say, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. If therefore you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering." (Matt. 5:22-24 NAS)

I want to deal in this article specifically with the second clause in this statement of Jesus where he says "Whoever shall say to his brother, 'Raca,' shall be guilty before the supreme court." My main interest is not how this passage may have applied to the Jewish audience living under the Law of Moses to whom Jesus spoke but rather how does it apply to you and me today. The Greek word translated "supreme court" is literally "the Sanhedrin" (see the side margin note in the NAS). This was the Jewish high court then in existence and I am sure neither you nor I are concerned about a court that has long since passed from the face of the earth. Besides we are not Jewish nor do we live under the Law of Moses. Nevertheless, there is a warning in this teaching that transcends the ages.

A good place to begin is with the word "Raca" which is meaningless to the average reader of the Bible. Consequently, many translations translate the Greek differently using terms or phrases such as "insults his brother" (ESV), "insults a brother" (NET, NRSV is similar), "You good-for-nothing" (NAS update—I used the original NAS in my quote at the top of the page, GNB), and "Empty fellow" (YLT). Vine's An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words says, "It was a word of utter contempt, signifying empty, intellectually rather than morally, empty-headed." Strong's Dictionary described it as "a term of utter vilification." I believe from my study that the YLT (Young's Literal Translation) comes the closest of any of the translations in giving the best translation of the Greek.

When one takes a look at the various translations given above for the Greek and learns the meaning of the Greek word used behind those translations it becomes obvious that we have a sin that can be committed today even though we might use slightly different terms or words. The man that would say this kind of thing to a brother not only insults that brother but displays a lack of love and compassion, a lack of kindness for his fellowman. It tells you more about the man speaking than it does about the man he is insulting in such speech. It manifests a feeling of superiority in the speaker's mind.

If you are an American have you ever wondered why the desperately poor southern white who never owned a slave or had hopes of doing so fought to uphold the slave holding rights of rich southern plantation owners during our Civil War in the 1860's? I am told by those who have studied the subject that the slave gave them a sense of self worth in that there was at least one man below themselves in terms of how society judged its own. They were at least better than the black slave (as they saw it). As long as there were slaves they were not in society's lowest caste. Take the slave away and then it is a different matter.

One wonders how much of this belittling of one's brother or sister is similar in kind. I insult and make naught of you so I can feel better about myself. If one could get to the bottom of it I suspect there is a good bit of it. One of the sadder things about it is that there are so many people who are readily willing to side with the insulter and join in perhaps for the same reason of personal low self esteem. Nevertheless, there is no doubt a great amount of this kind of behavior comes from not so much low self esteem but downright arrogance residing within the one who does it.

There is a price to be paid for such behavior. In school we call such conduct bullying. School shootings and suicides of young people oftentimes are directly related to some child being continually subjected to such torment by those who would verbally abuse others. When I was a student in high school I saw a young girl tormented (bullied) mercilessly daily (this was back in the early 60's). This was long before schools ever gave a thought of disciplining such conduct. I have always sort of blamed those tormentors of hers for the way her life turned out. I saw what she went through daily. She was going to have a tough go of it at best and needed all the love, friendship, and kindness she could get but what she got instead was tormentors and bullies who verbally abused her daily and made her life miserable.

In an earlier article on this passage I talked about anger. We ought to be angry against sin and that would include the sin those engage in who would belittle others, insult them, and call them names. I hate this sin. My dad was an honest man and a hard worker. People thought well of him for that but Dad had a speech impediment of sorts and had some difficulty in pronouncing certain letters or sounds. I could understand him perfectly and everyone did who was around him but still he did not quite pronounce some of his words correctly.

Dad never told me this but I learned it later and I never said a word to him, never brought it up to him, but I learned as they were eating lunch one day at work one or more of his co-workers was making fun of him, evidently mercilessly, and he slapped the man. No doubt he was too ashamed to ever tell it. He had to have been tremendously provoked to do that for it was totally out of character for him and hard to believe he had done such a thing. Certainly, Dad was in the wrong but these who speak hurtful words to others tearing them down to the point of the loss of all dignity what kind of love do they have in their hearts toward those to whom they address? Is there any love, compassion, any mercy, any humanity in such speech? If I incite a person to the point it becomes intolerable for them and they just cannot take it anymore am I guilt free of sin? Dad knew he could not pronounce his words correctly and never liked to be out in public. No man wants to be embarrassed.

I think one can begin to see that this sin involves more than just words, it involves the heart. The man who would call his brother names and insult him has not only sinned with the words of his mouth but with his heart as well.

The Bible tells us, "Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others." (Phil. 2:4 NAS) Does the kind of speech of which we are speaking violate this scripture? This speaking humiliating things to others, putting them down, is a sin on so many levels—a sin of the heart, of the tongue, a violation of all the passages that speak of love, compassion, kindness, and mercy.

"And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell." (James 3:6 NAS)

In closing it is readily seen that whatever this passage meant in the first century it is still applicable today in that there will be a judgment for such speech. We need not worry about the Sanhedrin for a greater than the Sanhedrin is here—Jesus Christ himself, the judge of all, in that special day that has been appointed for that. "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad." (2 Cor. 5:10 NAS)

Monday, April 23, 2012

A Treatise on Matt. 5:22-24--Part 1--Anger


"But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brothershall be guilty before the court; and whoever shall say to his brother, 'Raca,'shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever shall say, 'You fool,'shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.  If therefore you are presenting your offeringat the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you,leave your offering there before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciledto your brother, and then come and present your offering."(Matt. 5:22-24 NAS)

When Jesus spoke these words he was speaking to a Jewishaudience that was then living under the Law of Moses.  Living approximately 2,000 years after thefact we today read this passage and it brings questions to our minds wonderingexactly what he meant in some of the things he said here and what if anyapplication the passage might have to us today. I suspect most of us have at one point in time or another just read overthe passage and gone on.  That is what weoften do with passages we really do not understand.  Yet, if there is a lesson for us in thepassage as there was for those who first heard it we need to learn it.  I begin with the subject of anger, the firstclause of this paragraph.

Does Jesus completely forbid anger?  Are we never to be angry?  Some translations add, after the word angry,the words "without a cause." Most scholars and most translations omit the phrase believing theevidence is against its inclusion.  Bethat as it may the question remains—does God forbid all anger?  Is that what the first clause of this passageteaches?

Jesus was angry in Mark 3:5 with the Pharisees in thesynagogue, "And after looking aroundat them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, He said to the man,'Stretch out your hand.' And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored."(NAS)  We are all familiar with thepassage in Ephesians 4:26, "BEANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger."(NAS)  [I am not sure why the NAS has thecapitalization it does but I copied it as it had it.]  Unless one wants to talk about babies dyingin infancy there is no one who has ever lived a life without experiencingpersonal anger.  I admit that is anassumption on my part but I think you would readily agree from your ownpersonal life experience. 

Does God want us to be angry?  Of course not but he made a provision foranger so that it would not become sin to us—Eph. 4:26 just quoted.  Do not let anger linger.  Rid yourself of it quickly.  While it is impossible to keep from becomingangry at times one does have the ability to cast it aside and not dwell on it, onehas the ability to let go of the anger. 

Does God mean we must literally cease being angry bysunset?  What if you become angry at themidnight hour?  What if someone has justbeaten or murdered your son or daughter? Not all anger can be rid of so easily or quickly so I don't think God istelling us there is a time limit on anger like if it is two minutes beforesunset when something happens to anger you then you only have two minutes toget over it but I think he is saying rid yourself of it, don't nurture it, anddo so quickly.

In fact, the very next verse, Eph. 4:27 reads, "and donot give the devil an opportunity." (NAS) Eph. 4:26 and 27 are all one sentence and the idea is if you stay angryit is going to likely lead to other things because staying angry is giving thedevil an opportunity.  After anger comeshatred, malice, vengeance, and many other evils.  We know this is true and thus we know wecannot remain angry long without worse things to come.  Anger ends up destroying the one who has itfor it becomes a cancer within growing into things that destroy the soul andthat make life miserable in the here and now. 

Paul closes the 4th chapter of Ephesians fromwhich I have been quoting by saying, "Letall bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you,along with all malice.  And be kind toone another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ alsohas forgiven you." (Eph. 4:31-32 NAS) In Col. 3:8 he says to put aside anger. James says to be "slow toanger" (James 1:19 NAS) and that "the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God." (James1:20 NAS)  So we come back to ourquestion—is it a sin to be or become angry and the scriptural answer seems tobe it depends on how you handle it.  Youcannot retain anger and please God even if you had just cause for indignation. 

Anger held onto becomes sin. Paul says to put it away and thus if we disobey that Holy Spiritinspired command it becomes sin to us. And then there is the question of why we are angry and over what?  Often there is no real cause for anger andthe problem is not that which comes from without a man to arouse justindignation but a problem from within the man, a problem of personal characterflaws and of the heart.  God certainly does not condone unjustifiedanger even for a short while.  If wehave a short fuse and are ready to fight at a moment's notice over the littlestthing, if we are ready to perceive a slight when most men see nothing, then theproblem is within us and the anger totally unjustified. 

The KKK in this country in the days of segregation wouldlynch a black man occasionally for what reason? Because he was black.  Are youangry at a man over the color of his skin? Surely this is not the type of anger that God would allow a man to holdeven till sunset and declare it sinless so thematter of the cause of the anger also must enter into the equation.

One could argue that this type of thing is not anger buthatred.  I would not debate that for Ithink you would be right but anger can turn into hatred and thus is be gottenrid of immediately before it is allowed to grow and develop.  Usually, although not always, when the KKKlynched a black man it was because he did some little thing that amounted tonothing and the deed would have been declared to have been nothing had a whiteman done it but it aroused their anger revealing the underlying hatred they haddeveloped over the years.  Anger caneventually lead to hatred but the hatred may also come before the anger.

"Everyone whohates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal lifeabiding in him." (1 John 3:15 NAS) We ought to run from anger lest it turn into something far worse.  Remember one can become and be angry up to apoint without sinning (Eph. 4:26) but there is a fine line we dare not cross.

We all know we are not happy when angry, when we are mad.  There is no joy in anger.  The wise man will forgive and forget even ifthe original anger was somewhat justified in that he was truly wronged.  By forgiving and letting go of the anger oneis allowing himself to be happy again and is thus doing himself a favor as wellas doing God's will.

It is good to also remind ourselves of what we alreadyknow.  No one likes to be around an angryman.  If we say we can hide our anger Iwould say I know we may try but it is easier said than done.  When you are mad inwardly, even though youare hiding it, you are generally not much fun to be around, a person of sourdisposition.

We must learn to control our tempers so we do not becomeangry easily.  As James said, quotedearlier, be "slow to anger."(James 1:19 NAS)  The NKJV uses the word"wrath" where the NAS uses the word "anger."  The Old Testament has several passages thatteach and warn us about anger:

"Do not be eagerin your heart to be angry, For anger resides in the bosom of fools."(Eccl. 7:9 NAS)

"Do not associatewith a man given to anger; Or go with a hot-tempered man." (Prov.22:24 NAS)

"A hot-temperedman stirs up strife, But the slow to anger pacifies contention."(Prov. 15:18 NAS)

"A man of greatanger shall bear the penalty, For if you rescue him, you will only have to doit again." (Prov. 19:19 NAS)

"Like a city thatis broken into and without walls Is a man who has no control over his spirit."(Prov. 25:28 NAS)

Man can and must learn to control his temper and thus hisanger if he is to be happy, if he is to please God, if he is not going to bringhimself to ruin.  Anger destroys love,family, and relationships and endangers salvation and so it must be mastered.

In closing we ought to deal with this question of how theangry man in our text shall be guilty before the court.  We have to remember, if this clause is to betaken as pertains to this life, what was previously stated—Jesus is talking toa Jewish audience living under the Law of Moses which was not only a spirituallaw but a law of governance over everyday affairs.  Since anger is a passion within and cannot beseen or known by others unless revealed by outward speech or conduct the man inthe text has obviously done some act out of anger to make him guilty of lawbreaking before the court.  The text says"everyone who is angry with hisbrother" which means to me, as I understand it, everyone who has donethe same sort of thing out of anger—that is struck out unlawfully against theone with whom he was angry.  All suchwill be found guilty before the court.

But some Bible commentators will arguethat this passage is all an allusion to God's judgment of these things in theend of time.  I would not say that isimpossible.  It may well be.  John Gill (1697-1771) says, and I quote,"in danger of judgment; not of any of the courts of judicature among the Jews, as thesanhedrim of three, or of twenty three, or of seventy one, which took no noticeof anger, as a passion in the mind, only of facts committed; but of thejudgment of God."

I cannot saywhich of these two opposing positions is the correct one but I do know theapplication for today.  Do not allowanger to abide in you for if you do surely it will turn to sin in due time andyou will be judged for it.  Anger againstanother will, if held onto, eventually turn on you and destroy you.  So the Bible teaches.  So it is.