“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,’ 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.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.
“It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one. (New International Version)
Relationships are important to God (and us!); we need one another because we are created in the image of a relational God. So, God wants us to have good relations with each other.
Murder, adultery, divorce, and oaths all have to do with interpersonal relations. These are topics from the Ten Commandments (6, 7, 9, and 10) that Jesus wanted to uphold.
Just because no blood is spilled doesn’t mean a killing hasn’t taken place. At the heart of the killing is angry contempt – which makes us all mass-murderers. The sort of anger Jesus refers to is nursing a grudge that morphs into hatred. It’s the deliberate decision to let anger sit in the pit of the gut and slow cook into deep resentment. Once that resentment is well done, murder becomes the meal.
Name-calling is the outward expression of resentful grudge bearing. “Raca” is an “airhead.” It means to be empty or stupid. The word “fool” is literally a “moron” – one who lacks both brains and morality. Both names hurt deeply, which is the expressed aim of the name caller. To have our intelligence and character questioned, cuts to the heart.
Jesus insists that harboring internal resentment comes out in external name-calling, verbally lynching people without a trial. Whenever we string a person up, divine judgment is coming to town.
No one has a right to nurse a grudge. Repaying hatred with hatred is a highway to the grave. If you have ever wished someone dead, hated anyone, or belittled another; then, you have assassinated that person in your heart and are under the judgment of a holy God.
So, what to do in overcoming the resentment? Seek reconciliation immediately. Jesus used two illustrations to illumine the need for reconciliation with others when there are sour relations: an example of worship and an example with the court.
If you are worshiping, and remember that someone else is nursing a grudge against you, it is your responsibility to go and make things right. The Lord does not want to talk to anyone who won’t talk to their sister or brother.
Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors… For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Matthew 6:12, 14-15, NIV)
None of this is meant to minimize the hurt or trauma that has taken place. Many people have faced hell in the shape of a human. Yet, because Jesus takes your hurt seriously, he calls for forgiveness and reconciliation. Without it, the pain unnecessarily continues and there is no healing.
In the illustration of court, we are to settle matters quickly and make things right so that judgment won’t happen. Let’s avoid living with the regret of vengeance because of destroying someone’s life. Forgiveness and reconciliation are always options on the table.
Adultery has its origins in mental sexual activity with another person. Jesus is not against normal gender attraction, nor sex itself (which is a gift of God). Rather, Jesus condemns the leering upon another with sexual fantasy. All adulterous relationships and inappropriate sexual relations start with the “look.”
“Lust” is to intensely desire something, to seek mastery over another. The reason people stare, and lust, is not because of the other person’s manner or dress; it’s because they already have an adulterous heart.
Managing adultery with a band aid is like trying to contain a nuclear meltdown with some duct tape; it’s an amputation we need. Jesus leaves no room to think it’s okay to lust in the heart because “I’m not hurting anybody.” Mental adultery demeans and degrades women.
Our lustful desires are powerful; yet God’s grace is more powerful. There’s no need to be burdened with shame and guilt when the cross of Christ has already taken care of it. There is a multi-billion dollar industry of pornography because our hearts are black. Now is the time for forgiveness, grace, and healing in Jesus Christ.
Today in America, more than one-third of all adults have experienced divorce. Jesus condemns the cavalier divorce, the thought of having a better spouse, even though there is no marital unfaithfulness. This is yet another form of mental adultery which believes someone else can better meet my needs.
Jesus makes provision for divorce to occur in certain circumstances. Yet, he doesn’t bend to liquidating a marriage over unhappiness with what God has joined together. The intent of Old Testament legislation on divorce is to avoid a casual stance toward marriage (Deuteronomy 24:1-4). Over the centuries, people found creative ways of getting around the law. Although a divorce may be legal, it might not be ethical. Jesus wanted divorce practiced with concern for the woman, so that her rights and needs were considered.
For most of human history, if a husband did not like his wife (e.g. for continually burning his supper) he could divorce her. Jesus, however, insisted divorce must not happen because of a hard time getting along; or don’t love your spouse anymore; or that your spouse keeps irritating you.
Being frustrated or unhappy are not biblical grounds for divorce. The answer to most marital problems does not lie in a new spouse, but in the hard work of identifying the idols of our hearts, overthrowing them, and re-connecting.
Christ sought to defend women who are victims. In biblical times, if a wife was given a certificate of divorce, she had four options: 1) return to her family of origin; 2) become a beggar; 3) become a prostitute to make ends meet; or, 4) marry again, which was extremely difficult to do.
In reality, divorce is a legal testimony verifying that a separation has already occurred. It’s a recognition that disunity and division is already present, that a terrible break already happened, damaging the people involved.
If God found it necessary to divorce his own covenant people, then it’s inevitable that divorce will happen among couples (Jeremiah 3:1-8). So, let’s be discerning in how we handle each individual situation of marital difficulty.
“I swear on a stack of Bibles I won’t…” “I will, if I get around to it….” These are a few of the caveats we give when making a promise or oath. Oaths communicate our level or ability of getting something done, or not.
That’s fine. What isn’t fine is making excuses or false promises with no intention of doing what you say you will do. Jesus takes all that extraneous language out. Say “yes” or “no” and then follow through; if you don’t, you’re a liar.
We often lie because we don’t want to do something to begin with. “Yes” and “no” are clear boundary words. Boundaries define where I end and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership. Knowing what I am to take and not take responsibility for gives me freedom.
Jesus wants us to clarify our values; make wise decisions; identify what we will accept and reject; and follow through on what we say we will do, period.
Murder, adultery, divorce, and oaths are all related. They have to do with how we relate to others, especially those closest to us and to God. We are to live responsibly by keeping our hearts large and soft.