Ye have heard that it was said of them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment:
22 But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire
The Old Testament law was very clear. If a person killed another intentionally, they were to die themselves. If it was an accident then they would flee to a city of refuge and wait there until the high priest died. Then they were free to return. If the avenger of blood found them before they made it to the city of refuge, they would be taken before the court, and the court would decide sentence. This is what Jesus meant when He said they would be in danger of judgment.
But then He makes it very interesting and much harder to grasp. He says if someone is angry with another for no reason, they will be in danger of judgment. So now the angry person faces the same penalty as the murderer! Wow. How is that fair? Because anger for no reason is the opposite of unconditional love, which we are called to show. How do we get angry for no reason, and how does it hurt us?
Have you ever been in a situation where someone comes to you with a problem. They have been hurt by someone’s words, and they are not sure how to handle the situation. So they confide in you and hope you can help them come to a solution. As you talk it through, this person realizes they misunderstood the intentions of the other person. They realize the other person was only trying to help them, not hurt them. So they go back to that person and ask their forgiveness, and all is cleared up. You, however, remember the original conversation, and you are angry with that person for the words they spoke. You hold onto that anger when you should not.
Or maybe someone cut you off in traffic. No one got hurt. It was really not even a close call. They just cut in to quickly and you thought they should have been more courteous. As you travel down the road, you keep watching that car as it goes merrily on it’s way, angry about the fact that they are driving that way. There was no harm, so there really is no reason for your anger. You just decide to hold onto it.
There are many more examples I can give but I think you catch my drift. Being angry without a cause will bring judgment because it is sin to hold onto that. Holding anger can lead to bitterness and that is a nasty place to be. It festers in our hearts and will cause us to be bitter all the time, even over trivial things. Bitterness will tear us apart if we allow even a root of bitterness inside. Anger held onto, especially when there is no reason for it, is a dangerous thing to harbor. How many times have you been angry with someone for years and you can’t even remember why you are angry? You cannot remember the original source of that anger yet you hold onto it. Most likely, bitterness has set in. It needs to go! Judgement stands at your door.
The next thing He mentions is those that say “Raca” to their brother. This word signifies that we have called our brother empty-headed or stupid. I have always hated the word stupid. It’s a horrid thing to say to someone, and Jesus says we will be in danger of the council if we call our brother that. The council in that day was the Sanhedrin. In our day it would be the court system. Obviously we would not be brought to court for calling someone stupid. What Jesus is trying to get across is that this is not acceptable for any Christian to do. Our job is to build one another up, not put one another down. I use this next verse a lot, but it really has become special to me.
Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.
Calling some empty-headed or stupid is corrupt communication. It deeply hurts the one it is said to and doesn’t bring any fruit whatsoever. It will only fester in their heart and continue to hurt. It might even start to produce bitterness in them. James 3 addresses the corruption of our tongue. He calls the tongue a fire, a world of iniquity, an unruly evil and full of deadly poison. Then James says we bless God with our tongue and then curse man, who is made in the image of God. Our tongue is one of the hardest things for us to tame, but we must do all we can to tame it.
We as Christians must watch our words carefully. We should be ministering grace to those that hear the words we say. Our words should always be edifying and uplifting to those around us, whether they are Christians or not. Our words define who we are to the rest of the world. We may not face the supreme court for saying stupid to someone, but we will face the Supreme Judge, Jesus Christ. He will hold us accountable for every word we speak (Matthew 12:36).
The last thing Jesus tells us not to call our brother is a fool. The word used here is the root word for our word moron. This is like telling someone they have no brain at all. It is hurtful and so untrue, no matter who the person is. God has given each person a mental capacity. We just all used that capacity for different things. I prefer to use the word ignorant when I am talking about myself. When I don’t know something about a subject, I am ignorant of that information. I don’t know it and have ignored taking time to learn it. It’s not that I can’t learn it. I just decide that it is not important enough for me to take time on.
My brother is a history buff. He has read biographies of presidents and other world leaders, has read about US History extensively and stays up on current trends with zeal. He really knows His stuff when discussing how the current political climate compares with times past. I am amazed by this tenacity he has to read, because I don’t like reading at all. It puts me to sleep! If I pick up a book and start to read it, I will usually be asleep in 10 minutes or less. I also have trouble remembering what I read. We are two very different people. When we get into political discussions, which is often, he has a much better footing to stand on. That does not make me a moron, it just makes me ignorant. I go off what I read in the WordPress reader, what I see on my phone, which is where I occasionally check the news, and what my friends are saying. We have some great discussions, don’t get me wrong. But I could definitely be better versed on the things we discussed.
Calling someone a moron, or a fool is worthy of hell fire according to Jesus. Hey, Jesus said that, not me! God has given them ability we can’t even see! God has formed them and molded them the way he wants them to be. Who am I to degrade them and think them a fool? Who am I to underestimate the power of their mind and what they can accomplish? I should have respect for all of God’s creatures.
The whole point of this section of the Sermon on the Mount is that we should guard our tongues. The entire creation was spoken into existence. God knows the power of our words. He knows that we can do irreparable damage to a person just by the words we say to them. He also knows that we can bring tremendous blessing to someone by the words we say. Let’s be the ones who bring blessing, not damage! Let’s be the ones who minister grace to the hearers – every time!