And he said, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." - Mark 4: 9 (ESV)
Our key verse is an expression Jesus often used when teaching. The implication is clear. Far too often we hear but we do not hear. We hear as a matter of physiology but not as a matter of acceptance and understanding. We do not internalize it. We fail to understand and grasp the meaning. It is not enough to merely hear something if we are not going to learn from it. If we are not going to grow from it. If we casually toss it aside then of what value was it at all? While this is a bad practice in general it is a dangerous one when it comes to Scripture. As we continue in the fifth chapter of Matthew's Gospel and the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus starts to raise the bar on beliefs we hold.
"You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.' 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. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 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. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. - Matthew 5: 21-26 (ESV)
There is a lot to unpack here but what we see is the start of a trend in the teachings of Jesus. He had just taught that He came to fulfill the law and now He begins to raise the bar of the law. To raise the standard we need to use when examining ourselves in relation to what God says is right and wrong. The religious leaders of His day knew the law and exactly how to fulfill the letter while ignoring the point. We see Jesus make this point over and over to them. They make sure to tithe yet ignore mercy for example. They focus so hard on straining out a gnat while they are swallowing a camel. Jesus here starts to deal with the root issues of sin instead of the actions of sin. Under the law, murder was the crime but Jesus teaches that the root cause of murder is anger. Sin always has a starting point. Cain did not just murder Abel by chance. His anger drove him to it.
Just as the Pharisees were experts at denying the sin that ruled them by avoiding the end game, we too can fall into these traps. We can excuse our anger, resentment, bitterness, unforgiveness, slander, and hatred under the guise of so many excuses. Jesus is expositing the totality of the law. It was not just that one should not commit murder but that one should not allow the devil a foothold in their lives through anger. If we are not careful we too can fall into these destructive habits. Claiming to be Christian yet secretly (or not so secretly) hating our brother. Yet what does the Bible teach us about that?
If anyone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. - 1John 4: 20-21 (ESV)
But Jesus was not done there yet. He also says that he who insults his brother is a perpetrator of the same crime as well. The Bible teaches us that we are not allow any coarse joking or evil talk escape our lips. Yet how many times do we find ourselves gossiping or maligning our brothers or sisters in Christ? Please beloved realize that these devotionals are always God ministering to me first. Of these I am the least. These are things I must remember and work on daily as well. But Jesus was not done here yet either. He also says that he who says "you fool" is guilty as well. This is referring to our propensity to speak down to our brothers and sisters. The word used here is "raca" and it infers a prideful or scornful remark. Let that one sink in and resonate for a second.
I love the next illustration. If we are set to make an offering to the Lord but realize that our brother has something against us, we are to leave that gift at the altar and reconcile. There are two critical teachings here. One is speaking against our proclivity to play church. God is saying do not come on Sundays and raise your hands in worship if you know there is a chasm of anger between you and someone else in the body. In many ways it is almost mocking God. To pretend to be living a surrendered life yet to know there exists this problem. Remember, one cannot claim to love God yet hate his own brother in Christ. The second important teaching here is that it does not matter whom is holding the offense. The way this is worded teaches that if we know someone else has something against us. Not that we are holding something. It might be subtle but the implications are huge. We excuse these differences away many times by pretending it is not our problem but the other person. We can say we have forgiven and moved on but God is saying there is no moving on until the matter is settled. Often times we must be the bigger person. We must go humbly even if we feel that our position is the righteous one. It does not matter to God - only the reconciliation does. I have known people holding anger, bitterness, and rage for decades against people. Then one day we stand over their grave and still blame them. Nonsense says God! Go and make it right; then you can come and raise your hands and offer sacrifice unto the Lord. Come to terms quickly! We know not what tomorrow holds. Jesus now moves into the area of lust: