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Friday, May 4, 2012

On Matt. 5:22-24—Part 3—Calling Another a Fool

"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)

In this article, I will be dealing with the last of the three declarations or warnings Jesus gave as found in Matt. 5:22 regarding man's attitude and speech toward his fellowman.  Jesus says that to say to one's fellowman "you fool" puts him in danger of going to hell itself.  That is a frightful thought that the words out of one's mouth are enough to condemn a man for eternity and yet the Bible teaches that.

"You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.  The good man out of his good treasure brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of his evil treasure brings forth what is evil.  And I say to you, that every careless word that men shall speak, they shall render account for it in the day of judgment.  For by your words you shall be justified, and by your words you shall be condemned." (Matt. 12:34-37 NAS)

It is important that we remember what was just quoted.  If we did so we would be slow to speak thinking about what we are about to say before we say it.  We would not just blather out thoughtlessly the very first words that come to mind.  James tells us, "Let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger." (James 1:19 NAS)

Words not spoken ordinarily cause no trouble nor lead to condemnation.  However, certainly, there are times and places where it is appropriate to speak up and sinful not to.  But, words spoken that would have been best left unspoken have resulted in murders, hatred, anger, strife, bitterness, and condemnation before God.

For the moment I want to put emphasis on what Jesus said in Matt. 12 quoted above when he said, "For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart." (Matt. 12:34 NAS)  Elsewhere Jesus said, "Out of the heart come evil thoughts." (Matt. 15:19 NAS)  It is the pure in heart that shall see God (Matt. 5:8).  It is the heart that loves God and loves man that is blessed with eternal life and happiness.  "He who does not love abides in death." (James 3:14 NAS)

The words we direct to our fellowman are a reflection of how our heart feels towards the one to whom we speak.  Do we love him/her?  Are we kind to the person, compassionate, caring?  The words that roll off our tongue are a reflection of the inner attitude we have toward that individual.

To call a man a fool reflects the speaker's heart and lack of love.  Even if he was right about the man to whom he was speaking and that man was indeed a fool it would not get the speaker off the hook for violating the law of love toward one's fellowman.

The Greek word translated "fool" in Matt. 5:22 has been and is highly debated as to its exact meaning.  You and I know what the English meaning of the English word fool is without being told but is that what the Greek meant that lies behind the English translation in our Bibles.  That is the debated question.

Most of the old commentators I consulted (Barnes, Clarke, and Gill) believe it means a wicked reprobate man.  Gill says, "The word 'fool' does not signify a man of weak parts, one that is very ignorant in things natural; this the word Raca imports; but a wicked reprobate man; in which sense Solomon often uses the word. The Persic version renders it here 'wicked'." (Gill's Commentary)  The translation notes from the NET Bible say, "The meaning of the term…is somewhat disputed. Most take it to mean, following the Syriac versions, 'you fool,' although some have argued that it represents a transliteration into Greek of the Hebrew term…'rebel.'"  Young's Literal Translation uses the word "rebel" rather than the word "fool."

Be all that as it may Matt. 5:22 makes it clear that God has not relinquished his right to be God and handed that right over to me to make me the judge and make proclamation over others.  When I call someone a fool I have proclaimed that I myself am not a fool and I am able to judge others for I am superior.  I know these things and you don't is the idea and I know because I am superior.  It is pride and it is arrogance and it is the placing of oneself on God's judgment seat.

Is it true there are no fools on the earth?  No, it is not.  The book of Proverbs speaks of fools time after time (the word “fool” is mentioned in 40 verses in that book in the NAS and the word “fools” in 21 verses) and enough is said about them so that we can learn quite a bit about who is and who is not a fool.  There are many who do not believe in God’s existence.  David by inspiration of the Holy Spirit said, "The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God.'" (Psalms 14:1, 53:1 NAS) 

God has not asked us to be naïve and go around acting like we cannot discern foolish things from things that are rational and he has certainly not asked us to give up discerning righteousness from unrighteousness.  We are not asked to be dummies and see no evil and refuse to recognize evil or foolishness.  We know there are evil men in the world; we know there are foolish men in the world.  Jesus in the New Testament addressed a certain class of men as "fools and blind men." (Matt. 23:17 NAS)  Paul did the same thing in Rom. 1:22.  We are told by Solomon, "Do not be a fool." (Eccl. 7:17 NAS)  Surely we can know what foolishness is.

That does not mean, however, that we are to take God's place and declare a man a fool implying we are not.  Have we not all played the role of the fool at one or more points in time in our life?  I doubt I could find a man who would deny it if he has any honesty about himself at all.  If we are and always have been so perfect what need do we have for Jesus?  Paul said, "For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another." (Titus 3:3 NAS)  We have no room to speak of others as being fools.

While the New Testament only uses the words fool and fools 3 times each in the New American Standard Version (1977) it uses the word foolish in 25 different verses.  The first instance is found in Matt. 7:26, "And everyone who hears these words of Mine, and does not act upon them, will be like a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand." (NAS)  It is not hard to be foolish, not obeying the commands (one or more) of Jesus will do it.  Jesus and Paul both spoke of foolish men and foolish acts.  One of the problems of the man who is inclined to call his brother, his fellowman, a fool is his failure to see that he too falls into the same category.  His disregard for Jesus' words spoken in Matt. 5:22 clearly places him in the classification of being "a foolish man" according to Matt. 7:26.

What is needed is mercy and grace, kindness and love, and taking the speck out of our own eye.  "And why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' and behold, the log is in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye." (Matt. 7:3-5 NAS)      

There is a "fiery hell."  Jesus said so in the passage before us and he told us of one personality headed there.  It is our choice as to whether or not we make the decision to heed the teachings of Matt. 5:22 or disregard them.  There is a path that leads away from the fiery hell.  Jesus described it when he said, "Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine, and acts upon them, may be compared to a wise man, who built his house upon the rock.  And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and burst against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded upon the rock." (Matt. 7:24-25 NAS)  That is the rock that is higher than I.

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