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Murder in the Church

June 28, 2015

It is very sad that literal murder invades churches. In Mt. 5:21 Jesus quotes the law of Moses about not murdering; this command was for the kingdom of Israel. Literal murder in Israel was against their law.

But then Jesus goes on to fulfill this law on a new level; he introduces a new focus and context: the kingdom of heaven. In this new kingdom of disciples that Jesus is initiating, everyone who is angry with his brother is in danger of murder (Mt. 5:22). The word brother signifies the new context: the new family of the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus has described how his disciples are to be light in the world and thus glorify their Father (5:14-16); and he has blessed disciples who make peace since they will be called the children of God (5:9), making them brothers and sisters. Disciples who do the will of the Father are Jesus’ brothers and sisters (Mt. 12:50).

In Mt. 5:22 Jesus illustrates the anger he has in mind by depicting angry words against a brother or sister. An angry disciple who says raka (an Aramaic word) to a brother or sister (disciple) must face the council; an angry disciple who says more (using the Greek word moros) to a brother or sister (disciple) could face the fiery hell.

Both words would be strong repudiations of a fellow disciple; either word could condemn a fellow brother or sister. The Greek word for fool in 5:22 (moros) is also used in 7:26 for the one who hears Jesus’ words but does not do them. Thus, to call a brother or sister a fool is to accuse them of not being a true disciple. Words of anger that condemn a brother or sister are the same as murder. (In Mt. 23:17 Jesus angrily calls the scribes and Pharisees blind fools; this is not “murder” because they are not part of the family of the kingdom of heaven; see 23:13; 5:20).

Since Jesus’ warnings for disciples in 5:22 have to do with the family of the kingdom of heaven, the council mentioned would be a “family council,” not a council of the kingdom of Israel (like those led by chief priests or scribes and Pharisees). Compare the process in 18:15-17 that seeks the repentance of a brother or sister who sins. If the one sinned against fails to convince the sinner, the process leads to larger family circles: first two or three others, then–if that fails–the whole church (as a family council) confronts the brother or sister who sinned.

For an angry disciple to categorically condemn another brother or sister, without processing it through the family, means the angry disciple is himself in danger of judgment from the family council and of condemnation from God. The angry brother who judges/condemns another brother simply because of a small sin or minor issue (a speck in his eye) simply shows that he has a much larger sin: murder (a log in his eye) (Mt. 7:1-5).

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