Righteousness Redefined… Example 1 of 5

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ [Aramaic term for ‘you idiot!’] is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

“Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.”
(Matthew 5:21-26 NIV, bracketed text mine)

In verses 17 – 20, Jesus reveals His role, that of fulfilling God’s Law and God’s proclamations through the prophets of old.  Jesus now goes on to re-define a new righteousness, even more stringent than what the religious rulers of His day were proclaiming.

Jesus uses a series of five contrasting examples to illustrate this new righteousness.  Each starts with some form of “You have heard it said…”, and “but I say to you…”.  Jesus takes on the common sense and popular belief of the day, which had some original grounding in God’s Law, but had become a rule, rather than heart-felt way of living.  In each example, Jesus shows that sin is not just an action, but a condition of the heart, showing its very intention.

Jesus uses murder as His first example.  Murder, by God’s Law, is clearly a sin (Exodus 20:13).  This is one of the Ten Commandments – the first one that speaks to living in community.  But Jesus expands the definition of murder to more than just the physical act of ending someone else’s life – it’s also our words, and the very intentions of our heart.

So what else does Jesus cover in this new definition of “murder”?

  • Unrighteous (selfish) anger
  • Name calling
  • Hurtful / harmful words
  • Unresolved conflict
  • Unresolved conflict that has escalated to adversarial relationships and even legal action

Everyone is covered in Jesus’ expanded definition of “murder”… even the person who runs away from every conflict and confrontation is covered in His new righteousness.  I have never taken another person’s life, in the formal definition of murder.  But yet, I am guilty of every one of the expanded definitions of murder that Jesus lays out in this passage.  And for those sins, I ask forgiveness and mercy and reconciliation from those I have wronged.

So what is Jesus’ point?  Why this expanded, all-reaching definition of murder, that leaves no one innocent?  Simply, to show that we can’t earn God’s favor and salvation on our own terms and under our own power.  Everyone is guilty of sin.

Father, thank You for Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, for His life being the payment for our sins.  Only through our faith in Him, Your Word says, do we have eternal life.  Help us to make wise choices as we go about our daily lives, choosing our thoughts, words, and actions carefully.  Our goal is not to live boastfully in our self-righteousness, but to allow You to shine through us, that others may see You working in us, as only You can do.

How about you?  Where have you been guilty of murder, per Jesus’ expanded definition?  Have you asked for forgiveness?  Have you forgiven yourself?  Have you sought reconciliation?