Message: The Radical Nature of Our Emotions | Scripture: Matthew 5:21-26 | Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy
- Take some time to reflect on and summarize the sermon in your own words. What were your main takeaways? What, in further reflection, have you thought about regarding the sermon or the passage? Be gracious, supportive and receptive to one another and to your group facilitators in this because they/you may not have all the answers!
- Discuss one way God’s used this past sermon (or one of the previous few sermons) to grow you and/or challenge you.
- Perhaps in your anger towards others?
- Perhaps in your overall patience in situations that don’t agree with you/what you want?
- Perhaps in how you judge others based on what you perceive of them (rather than getting to know them and their heart)?
- Perhaps in not only how quick you are to judge others, but how slow you are to consider your own shortcomings?
- Why is it so important that we understand what Christ meant by “not to abolish, but to fulfill the Law and the Prophets” for Matthew 5:21-26 (and, really, for the rest of Matthew 5)?
- Why does Jesus start with this command about murder? Would his conclusion about this commandment be surprising to those whom he’s speaking to? Why/why not?
- Is all anger bad? Why/why not? Can you make this argument from Scripture?
- Do you think that Jesus might have applied this brief exposition of the sixth commandment to the the full spectrum of anger (if there are good types of anger) [e.g. even in those times where anger is “justified” could Jesus’ words still apply to those situations]? Why/why not?
- Why does Jesus “equate” calling someone a fool to murdering someone? What is Jesus doing by using an example like name calling in regards to his overall point in the text?
- MAKE SURE TO CONSIDER THIS QUESTION: Read James 4:1-2 and Proverbs 15:1-4 – How does anger manifest in your life/What does anger look like in your own life? How often is your anger based on what is at conflict in your heart vs. anger based on a zeal and pursuit for the things of God? How might those two “types” of anger look different in how we portray it to others/in the world?
- Does the “therefore” in Matthew 5:23 make sense? Why/why not?
- What does anger tend to do to us? How is a true follower/disciple of Christ meant to look radically different from that?
- What does this passage teach about those who are ruled by their sinful passions/emotions/desires more than ruled by their desire for a greater, purer righteousness? Why should this sober us?
- Why should we go out of our way to seek mercy from those who we’ve wronged (and not only seek to forgive our wrongdoers)?
- Rule keeping is good, but why is it not enough? Can it bring salvation? Why? What does it mean to have a greater righteousness, and in what ways do we lose sight of that in our own lives? Do we always pursue a greater righteousness, or do we often revert back to the kind of righteousness of the Pharisees and scribes?
- How can we keep you accountable to pursuing a greater righteousness? In what ways do you feel your righteousness belongs to the world more than to the kingdom of heaven right now?
- Discuss one way that we can pray for you as a group.
- Provide/encourage us with an update of something that God is doing to apply his gospel in your life/how the beauty and preciousness of Jesus is being freshly applied to your current situation.
Follow along with me as I read Matt 5:21-26 to you. TWoL: 21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. 26 Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.
I might have told you about some of these before, but when I was a kid, my mom and I used to get in really long arguments not because she was being unreasonable but because I was almost always too stubborn to admit my fault. I remember one particular time, I went to watch a movie with my friends that my mother had asked me not to watch without her, and when she found out that I had watched it, we ended up arguing for well over three hours.
And you may be asking why in the world did that conversation take such a long time? The reason is because near the end of the argument—the substance of which was only a couple minutes, she asked me to apologize. So, I said, “sorry.” But then came the question that has been the tail end of so many of our arguments throughout my childhood, “do you know what you’re sorry for?” So, I responded, “for watching the movie that you asked me not to watch without you.”
And she said, “that’s not why I’m hurt, try again.” “For making you and daddy wait for me because the movie ended a lot later than you expected.” “That’s not it. Try again.” “For prioritizing my friends over you.” “Nope.” On and on and on we went—excuse after excuse—attempt after attempt. And finally, after standing there because I was too tired of making up reasons and because she didn’t want to let me off the hook too easily, she spoke, “Stephen, the reason why I’m hurt, and the reason why I need you to apologize, is because you lied to your dad and me. You lied to us, and it you didn’t even flinch in doing it, and that terrifies me. It’s not just that what you did was bad, it’s that you don’t care how deceiving us to do what we explicitly asked you not to do would affect our relationship—our ability to trust you.”
Now, you may be saying to yourself that this is a fine illustration for lying, but what does this have to do with our text this morning? And my answer to you is that it has everything to do with it because at its core, the problem both in this scenario and in most situations involving our human anger is that it’s never just about anger, is it? It’s never just about the behaviour. It’s always about something more than that, and just like my mother was trying to do for me in that situation with my lie, Jesus is trying to do for us here not only with anger, but with the whole spectrum of who we are—in that he comes to correct not just our behaviour as leaders in that day tended to do, but to make us holy.
He means, as we discussed two weeks ago, to fulfill the whole law not only in his own teaching but in such a way that transforms our lives—that helps us see that any behaviour we exhibit is a product and reflection of our posture—of our worship—of a greater, truer righteousness, and it’s a radical righteousness that Christ seeks to describe and give to us today—a posture that begins with mercy. He calls us to be merciful and to seek mercy in others because we, ourselves, have received great mercy. This is our proposition this morning: as those who have received great mercy, make sure to sow and seek it in others, and that makes up our two outline points. Sow mercy and seek mercy. Let’s look to that first point, now: having received great mercy, make sure to sow mercy in others.
1) Sow Mercy
Most of you probably don’t remember from my sermon two weeks ago, but in that sermon on Matt 5:17-20, I said that there are two fundamentally important words for us to remember and they are that Christ has not come to abolish but to fulfill the Law and the Prophets—abolish and fulfill.
And it’s important to remember what Christ meant by this when he said it. He wasn’t trying to provide us with opposite verbs since the opposite of abolish is “to keep,” rather what he does is maintain the authority of the Law and the Prophets while telling us that all their authority points to a greater one who has come—one who transforms not only our understanding of the law but also our ability to live it out in a way that supersedes our mere, external obedience of it. What was once hidden in shadow in terms of the will of God in the language of the law has now been inscribed and revealed upon the hearts of believers in the revelation of Jesus and his dawning salvation of sinners.
So, our grasp of these two words is utterly significant because it’s this “not abolishing, but fulfilling,” that characterizes the rest of chapter 5 when Christ starts off each section quoting the Old Testament, “you have heard that it was said, …,” coupled with, “But I say to you …” It is the same as saying, “I have not come to abolish, but to fulfill.” That was true, then, but now, let me show you the extent of its truth—let me show you how these laws point you towards possessing a greater righteousness than what you already practice.
This is what he means when he says in Matthew 5:20—unless your righteousness exceeds the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven. So, your righteousness—the kind that belongs in heaven depends on this new, proper, and deeper interpretation of the law, and in order to reveal to us how we might possess this greater righteousness, he gives us six examples.
The first example that he gives us is our text today. It’s about murder: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.” And the first question, we have to ask is, “who is Jesus talking about when he says that his audience has heard this saying—who have they heard it from?” Because the sixth commandment in Exodus 20 is simply, “you shall not murder.” The portion about being liable to judgment has been added.
And it is likely the case that Jesus is speaking about Pharisees—teachers to the Jews, who had made this commandment in the law about the external act of murder. They’ve said that in order to escape eternal judgment, all you need to do is not commit murder. It’s as simple and superficial as that—no murder, no judgment. The problem of course was that this was only an example—the Pharisees were doing this to all the laws—they were all being shallowed out so that one’s righteousness was predicated wholly upon what could be observed externally about a person.
But then Jesus comes, and he picks on their watering-down of this particular law regarding murder because, on its face, it’s extremely easy to fulfill, and he tells them that perhaps it’s not as easy as it seems. While the law might talk about murder, Jesus says, murder itself isn’t what makes you liable to judgment—it’s not the only thing that prevents you from God’s favour or from being counted as a part of his covenant community.
Don’t get me wrong, murder is bad—that truth will not be abolished—unrepentant murderers are going to hell. However, murder is only the expression of something going on deeper within. It’s the manifestation of one’s desire—that emotion that takes over a person, which drives them to such a terrible action.
I once gave an illustration about a pastor who was caught plagiarizing sermons, and throughout the process of his discipline, the church constantly asked him, “what forced you to do this?” Is it because you’re too busy? Is it because you’re exhausted never having taken a sabbatical? Is it because you have writer’s block and can’t get the sermons out on time?
And perhaps all of these things were true. Perhaps, he was too busy, too exhausted, and struggled with writer’s block. But after some time away, and after his church had restored him, he spoke to a few of his church leaders and told them that while he was away, he realized that he did what he did not because of busyness—although that helped, not because of exhaustion—although that provided an excuse, and not because of writer’s block—which he did actually struggle with, but because he wanted people to praise him for his ability. He wanted to sound like those great preachers that he listened to so regularly, and his desire to sound like them had become so overwhelming that he began actually taking their works and calling them his own.
This is what Jesus is getting at in these antitheses of the law, and in particular, when he says, that everyone who is angry with his brother is liable to judgment—it’s not the murder, alone, that makes one guilty, it’s more foundationally the anger in the heart that leads a person to do that which he shouldn’t do. Just like the pastor had taken a good thing—like the desire to do well in his preaching—he made that his ultimate thing. He made it the thing that if he could obtain it—if he could be seen as one of those great preachers, he believed he would be happy.
And anger is a lot like this because it is often derived from a desire for something good—for justice—that wrong be made right. But we lose sight of what’s good when we begin to trick ourselves into thinking that we’re the only ones who can see what’s wrong, who assume that our perspective is the only right perspective, and who believe that the only way we can be happy again—or at peace again—is if that thing that stands in our way is exposed for what it is and, ultimately, removed as a hindrance. Anger is the overwhelming, emotional feeling of being unjustly slighted from something we think, in our hearts, that we deserve; it’s an unwillingness to let go of that sense of right until the problem’s dealt with in a way that satisfies us.
This is why Jesus goes on to say that insulting a brother or sister or calling them foolish brings about the same liability as a murder—it damns you to hell—not because the expression of that anger is the same, but because the problem doesn’t start with the expression, it begins with the desire—a desire that’s been made unreasonable—a desire that’s become a controlling idol—so much so that we believe we stand in superiority and in judgment over this other person who’s come between us and our desire, and the sin of the heart to have our way at the expense of this other individual, whether that results in us killing them or merely calling them names, is what condemns us.
And I know I run the risk of making this sound all too academic. So, let me ground this for us by saying there’s not a single person in this room who has not struggled with anger in some capacity—perhaps some of you this very morning—maybe even in this very moment. There isn’t a heart in here that does not actively grapple with the situation where we think to ourselves that I deserve better than how this “idiot” is treating me, or I know better than that other person and have the right to hold it over their heads however I want—for however long I want—because they are the fool, and, in my own eyes, I am blameless.
But this is what the law regarding murder is meant to show us, according to Jesus. It’s that all of us have fallen short of it—this law that seems so simple to obey—and not a single one of us has fulfilled it. All of us have come before God and before each other, at one time or another, with the belief that we’re righteous, when, in truth, our hearts are filled with malice, and Christ wants to reorient our perspective—that we cannot have murderous hearts yet consider our hands clean simply because we haven’t carried out the act. This is what the Pharisees taught, but God through his Son teaches us that the law doesn’t, first, condemn the conduct of our hands, but the posture of our hearts, and, in so doing, he shows us that every single one of our hearts is filthy. All of us are liable.
Yet, even in our inability to fulfill this law, Jesus comes not only to teach us of our shortcomings, but he, alone, stands tall exactly in the place where we have fallen. And he grabs us in the midst of our despair and our ruin and puts us on our feet while he, himself, is dragged away in our stead to be pruned, cleansed, and stripped of a stain that was never his in the first place. He shows us mercy when he, alone, could have condemned. He calls us friend when we were the fool. He gives us the kingdom of heaven when we were liable to the hell of fire.
And here’s the thing that’s most surprising about all of this: Christ is providing his hearers with this interpretation of the law so that, as he says it, they might simultaneously search their hearts and see that they’ll never be able to achieve this—that it is an ideal that remains wholly beyond the grasp of the most committed disciple. And yet, it’s as we radically search ourselves, and as we radically search the Old Testament law to see what we’ve missed, in our blindness, God, himself, points us and turns our heads directly at his solution—that he’s always planned to save us and enable us not with our own self-righteousness, but by the blood of his lamb.
He’s always pointed us to Jesus so that as we behold his mercy, we might not only turn away from our foolishness but become changed—wholly devoted to a greater righteousness. A righteousness that reflects the enduring patience of God even if we’re stripped of all of our rights. A righteousness that can show and sow mercy towards others even when we think that they don’t deserve it, remembering always that we, too, did not deserve it.
This, then, is how we are to conduct ourselves if we expect to be counted as citizens of heaven—that as our Saviour has been infinitely merciful with us, we’re to humbly show mercy to others and be reconciled to those who cannot possibly take more from us than we’ve taken from Christ and who cannot demand more from us than we’ve demanded from Christ. We’re meant to display his character, and thereby turn their hearts to him more than we are called to fix the way they treat us. In this, we fulfill the whole law.
2) Seek Mercy
Just when we thought that Christ’s interpretation of the law and call to a greater righteousness couldn’t become more difficult, he brings it up a notch by providing us with a “therefore” statement, in verse 23, translated as “so” in the ESV. Yet, it’s not a therefore statement that you’d expect. You’d expect it to say, “therefore, go out and forgive those who have wronged you.” But instead, we’re given two illustrations that tell us to go out and seek forgiveness from those whom we have wronged, and perhaps we’re tempted to think that both Matthew and Christ do not know how a “therefore” statement works!
Nevertheless, I can assure that they do, and that these “therefore” illustrations in verses 23-26 are very much in line with the logic and message of verses 21-22 because, you see, anger is a wholly selfish endeavour. It’s that thing that builds in us when all we can think about is ourselves—when all we’re trying to unpack is how we feel, how we should be received, how we should be respected, how we should be heard. It makes us blind to how we affect others—how we might bring offence to those who do not see things our way.
But the command that Jesus gives us here isn’t merely to open our eyes to him and to his mercy, but to open our eyes to the world and to see how we, ourselves, are very much a part and a source of its pain. When we remember our anger in our lives, what we’re made aware of very quickly is how immediate we are able to recall when someone has wronged us, but what we often overlook is how easy it is for us to forget when we harm someone else.
So, this “therefore” is here not merely to show us the irrationality of our anger but also to show us our own shortsightedness when we make ourselves our own highest concern. We aren’t merely meant to move our eyes to Christ, but in seeing Christ, we’re meant to display him to others, and if there is something preventing us from doing just that, then it is mandatory for us to get rid of it.
Do you see, now, how it relates? Anger places the focus on ourselves, where we desire to rid our lives of that thing that’s in our way, but the true disciple of Christ who has been transformed by God’s prevailing mercy in our lives through the cross, isn’t now only able to rise above petty anger but is able to place himself or herself aside completely—he or she is able to make a servant of his or her emotions—for the sake of winning souls to Jesus. The servant of Christ is no longer ruled by his or her passions. He or she does not believe that their worldly reputation or pride is anything worthy to grasp.
Rather, like the first man who is in the temple about to provide an offering at the altar, he remembers his fault against his brother, and instead of doing what is expected of him, as others are watching, he is willing to postpone the sacrifice because he knows it is not about the sacrifice itself but what it represents. In fact, R.T. France, a Matthean scholar, astutely points out that Jesus is likely saying this to his Galileans followers, which means that the closest altar is in Jerusalem, roughly 80 miles away on foot. Yet, this disciple is so concerned about both his and his brother’s hearts that he is willing to leave the animal in the temple, make the journey of a week or more back to Galilee, humble himself to reconcile with that brother, then return to make his offering because he is so filled with gratitude that he wants to honour his God for what’s taken place in his life.
And while Christ is using an exceptional example, it’s meant to teach us a profound lesson, namely, that the true disciple isn’t only able to exercise mercy towards their wrongdoers, but he or she is willing to take on the situation where they are at the mercy of others, where they can admit their own wrongdoing, where they can be vulnerable, even if it costs them severely—even if it’s difficult to do. Why? Because the one who never did any wrong humbled himself for us to death, even death upon a cross.
And it’s not merely because we have received mercy that we can do this, but because in receiving mercy, we have more, fundamentally, received God, himself, as our prize. We know his goodness in our lives. He has become our great concern, as well as our great pursuit, and all that we do reflects him in the world.
Thus, when others have a grievance against us, our mercy-transformed instinct should be to take exceptional measures in order to rectify that relationship not just to expose others to the miracle of salvation in our lives, but because when we reflect God to others, our greatest desire now is not to bring any dishonour, shame, or discredit to his character. We want to reveal his glory not hide it. Yet, when we belong to God and become indebted to others, we make God a debtor, and it is treason to make God a debtor to anyone. It is treason to profane his character.
This is why Christ gives us a second illustration. If you’re on the way to court with someone who is angry with you, do everything you can to settle the matter with him, because if you don’t, your treason—your profanity—will be made known, and your debt for such behaviour—for disgracing God’s reputation—will not be canceled. Such a thing has already been accomplished by our Saviour on the cross once-and-for-all, and it is a terrifying fate that awaits him who wishes to crucify him again—who wishes to strip him of his glory.
In my first ever court appearance outside of law school, I had a corporate client who was suing the owner of the company that shared a large plot of land with hers because he was refusing to remove these large, heavy metal crates from the property. These crates weren’t only obstructing the flow of traffic for other business owners and tenants but also damaging the concrete underneath and incurring large sums of money for maintenance and other issues upon her as the principal owner of the land.
And as her lawyer, I knew this would be an easy case to win. Not only would she be able to recoup hundreds of thousands of dollars for property damage, but we would be able to force the other business to pay all of her legal fees if they refused to listen to her demands and take this matter before a judge. And I tried to implore them not to waste time and money when such an easy fix could be provided. All we wanted was for the crates to be moved and the property to be rectified. Yes, it would be burdensome, a little, on the other business owner, but it was his mess to clean up.
Yet, he refused. In fact, he demanded that my client be the one to move the crates, to repair the property and the damage that he had caused, and he ignored our letter after letter. Then, as we went to court, before our proceedings, I told the judge that this would be an easy matter to settle, and she agreed, so I asked if we might be excused for ten minutes in order to settle it, and I remember to this day—the opposing lawyer and client laughing in my face, when I said, you’re going to lose this case. So, we went back into the court, and when the judge struck that gavel upon the sound block, our client was to be reimbursed far more than what we asked in settlement—all because this business owner was too proud to admit his own wrongdoing.
Brothers and sisters, God will not be mocked. He shall not be played the fool or be indebted to anyone, and one day he is coming for his pound of flesh. So, there must be a sense of haste and urgency in us today, as long as that gavel has not struck the sound block to seal our fate, to seek mercy from those whom we’ve wronged. To display not only the character of Christ in our forgiveness of those indebted to us, but to show that in our belief of what Christ has accomplished for us that we will not scorn that sacrifice by ignoring our own debts, by refusing to show contrition for our sin, and by rejecting the opportunity for reconciliation, for Christ has not refused to be reconciled to us. This is the extent to which we are now called to fulfill the law. This is the extent to which Christ came to reveal not only himself to us but the fullness of his righteousness—a righteousness that is exceedingly radical and contrary to the ways of the world. A righteousness that he now says must be emulated by us.
And, dear Christian, we can do it, because our Saviour has made it possible through the gift of his own mercy in our lives. We can sow and seek mercy at any cost because the debt of our own sinfulness—of our pride and anger—of our harmful actions towards others, it has been paid. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus because his Spirit enables us to do what we could not do apart from him. But as those who can boast in having him, go, therefore, and generously sow and seek mercy in others for the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.