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Friday, April 27, 2012

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 how this applies to you and me today.  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 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 1860s?  I am told through their writings 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 them 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 belittle you so I can feel better about myself.  My low self-esteem leads me to drag you down to raise myself up.  And, 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.  Full of pride and puffed up, better than another in their own mind, the other guy is merely dust under their feet.  But the motive makes little difference.  It is the result that matters.  One can be a jerk for this reason or that reason but he is still a jerk if that is his character. 

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 60s).  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 another 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 pronouncing certain letters or sounds.  I could understand him perfectly and everyone did who was around him all of the time 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 of his co-workers was making fun of him, evidently mercilessly, and he slapped the man.  No doubt Dad 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 those 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 others?  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 in 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, the Jewish Supreme Court in the first century, for a greater than the Sanhedrin is here—Jesus Christ himself, the judge of all, on 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)

[To download this article or print it out click here.]

Monday, April 23, 2012

On Matt. 5:22-24--Part 1--Anger

"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)

When Jesus spoke these words he was speaking to a Jewish audience that was then living under the Law of Moses.  Living today 2,000 years after the fact we read this passage and it brings questions to our minds wondering exactly what he meant in some of the things said here and what if any application the passage might have to us today.  I suspect most of us have at one point in time or another just read over the passage and gone on.  That is what we often do with passages we really do not understand.  Yet, if there is a lesson for us in the passage as there was for those who first heard it we need to learn it.  I begin with the subject of anger, the first clause 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 the evidence is against its inclusion.  Be that as it may, the question remains—does God forbid all anger?  Is that what the first clause of this passage teaches?

Jesus was angry in Mark 3:5 with the Pharisees in the synagogue, "And after looking around at 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 the passage in Ephesians 4:26, "BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger." (NAS)  The first part of that verse is a quotation taken from Psalm 4:4.  We all experience anger at one point in time or another.  Of course, some grow angry much easier than others and certainly there are degrees of anger.

Does God want us to be angry?  Of course not but he made a provision for anger 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 becoming angry at times one does have the ability to cast it aside and not dwell on it, one has the ability to let go of the anger. 

Does God mean we must literally cease being angry by sunset?  What if you become angry at the midnight hour?  What if someone has just beaten or murdered your son or daughter?  What if your spouse just walked out on you and took the children to go off with another?  Not all anger can be rid of so easily or quickly so I don't think God is telling us there is a time limit on anger like if it is two minutes before sunset when something happens to anger you then you only have two minutes to get over it but I think he is saying rid yourself of it and do so quickly, don't nurture it.  That is my take on the verse as an uninspired man, one man’s thoughts.

The very next verse, Eph. 4:27, reads, "and do not give the devil an opportunity." (NAS)  Eph. 4:26 and 27 are all one sentence and the idea is if you stay angry it is likely going to lead to other things because staying angry is giving the devil an opportunity.  After anger comes hatred, malice, vengeance, and many other evils.  We know this is true and thus we know we cannot remain angry long without worse things to come.  Anger ends up destroying the one who has it for it becomes a cancer within growing into things that destroy the soul and that make life miserable in the here and now. 

Paul closes the 4th chapter of Ephesians from which I have been quoting by saying, "Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.  And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you." (Eph. 4:31-32 NAS)  In Col. 3:8 he says to put aside anger.  James says to be "slow to anger" (James 1:19 NAS) and that "the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God." (James 1:20 NAS)  So we come back to our question—is it a sin to be or become angry?  The scriptural answer seems to be it depends on how you handle it.  You cannot 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 Spirit inspired 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 and the problem is not that which comes from without a person to arouse just indignation but a problem from within the person, a problem of personal character flaws and of the heart.  God certainly does not condone unjustified anger even for a short while.  If we have a short fuse and are ready to fight at a moment's notice over the littlest thing, if we are ready to perceive a slight when most men see nothing, then the problem is within us and the anger is totally unjustified. 

The KKK in this country in the days of segregation would lynch a black man occasionally because he was black.  A white man who had done what the black man was alleged to have done would never have been lynched.  Are you angry at a man over the color of his skin?  Surely this is not the type of anger that God would allow a man to hold even till sunset and declare it sinless, so the cause of the anger must also enter into the equation.  Of course, one could argue that this type of thing is not anger but hatred.  I would not debate that for I think you would be right but anger can turn into hatred and thus is be gotten rid of immediately before it is allowed to grow and develop.  Anger can lead to hatred but the hatred may also come before the specific anger (racism being a prime example).

"Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him." (1 John 3:15 NAS)  We ought to run from anger lest it turns into something far worse.  Remember one can become and be angry up to a point 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 person will forgive and forget even if the original anger was somewhat justified in that he/she was truly wronged.  By forgiving and letting go of the anger one is allowing themselves to be happy again and is thus doing self a favor as well as doing God's will.

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

We must learn to control our tempers so we do not become angry easily.  As James said, quoted earlier, be "slow to anger." (James 1:19 NAS)  The NKJV uses the word "wrath" whereas the NAS uses the word "anger."  The Old Testament has several passages that teach and warn us about anger:

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

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

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

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

"Like a city that is 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 his anger if he is to be happy, if he is to please God, and if he is not going to bring himself 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 the angry man in our text shall be guilty before the court.  I used the New American Standard Bible in preparing this article.  Most translations use the word “judgment” whereas the NASB uses the word “court” in Matt. 5:22.  I will just quote it here beginning with Matt. 5:21 going through Matt. 5:22, the verse in question, and do so from the Christian Standard Bible so you can see what I am talking about.

“You have heard it was said to our ancestors, Do not murder, and whoever murders will be subject to judgment.  But I tell you, everyone who is angry with his brother or sister will be subject to judgment. …”  I think that clarifies the matter quite a bit.  Anger is no little thing.  It is a very serious issue in a person’s life if it resides within them.

John Gill (1697-1771) says on this passage, and I quote, "in danger of judgment; not of any of the courts of judicature among the Jews, as the Sanhedrim of three, or of twenty three, or of seventy one, which took no notice of anger, as a passion in the mind, only of facts committed; but of the judgment of God." 

Do not allow anger to abide in you for if you do surely it will become sin to you and you will be judged for it.  Anger against another will, if held onto, eventually turn on you and destroy you.  So the Bible teaches.  So it is. 

This article was written in view of personal anger against another individual or individuals.  We ought to be angry against sin and evil everyday but love the sinner.  God wants us to hate sin.  You will find no verses in the Bible teaching you to love sin, not one.  We ought always to hate the evil we see being done in the world but have sympathy for the souls of lost sinners and desire their repentance and salvation.  We have all been guilty and it is by God’s grace that anyone can be saved.

[To download this article or print it out click here.]