Sunday, October 23, 2011

Jesus’ Law of Brotherly Conduct

It is time to sit up straight and take notice. Jesus has something to say about how brothers are to conduct themselves with one another and I think we should all make haste to attend to what He has to say. The setting is the “sermon on the mount” recorded in Matthew 5:21-26. The standards set forth by Jesus in this first of five discourses that Matthew records are indeed seemingly unreachable. Morris says, “If we take it seriously, we realize that we cannot attain it and therefore cannot merit salvation. It is the end of the way of law and drives us to seek salvation in Christ.” [Morris, pg. 91-92]

The Basis for the prohibition against murder is the value God places in man. Murder is an act that disregards the express prohibition of the God who has complete right to obedience. Moreover, it disregards the value of God’s creation. God created man in his own image and likeness. The Hebrew word is SLM and carries the meaning resemblance. The second Hebrew word in Gen. 1:26 is dmwt and it means model or shape. To destroy the life of a man is to disregard the sacred resemblance, model, and shape of God in that man not to mention it disregards God’s work as superfluous. All things being equal, Christian theistic ethics requires specific attitudes and behaviors toward fellow humans, and especially toward fellow believers.

Jesus does not, for a minute relax this law. Rather He points out how dreadfully the tradition has missed the point of the law itself. This is part of Jesus’ effort to help the people see the difference between letter and spirit, between loving obedience and hypocritical legalism. The basis of the law is the character of God. As such, there are deeper meanings behind the commands. Jesus drives his point home in his exegesis of the sixth commandment. Clearly, there is more to God’s command to respect human life than meets the eye. Sin proceeds from the heart. Sin does not begin with the murder, or even the intention to murder. Sin begins with the attitude and disposition of the heart toward your brother. This is Jesus’ point.

Jesus’ first warning concerns the sin of anger. Whoever is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court. It is interesting to note that the Greek construction is identical to v. 21 regarding murder: enochus estai te krisei. The expression means liable to the court. Anger itself is not the problem. Anger is the symptom of a much larger problem. The real problem is the sinful beliefs that lead to the anger to begin with. “In other words, sinful anger arises from the sinful beliefs and motives that reign in the unbeliever and remain in the Christian.” [Tripp. Uprooting Anger, 48] Anger comes from sinful desires. Desires can be sinful because they are for something prohibited. The thing desired is forbidden. Desires can be sinful because they are based on selfishness. The thing desired may not be prohibited, but the desire for it is so strong and selfish that it is sinful. Anger is an attempt to reject God’s sovereign control over our lives. If God wanted us to have x, He would give it to us. We must accept that God may not have determined that we should have that which we so desperately want. Anger is the temptation to disregard God’s plan for our lives. This is no less true in our conduct toward one another. Jesus takes anger toward one’s brother as seriously as He does murder.

Jesus’ second warning pertains to speech. He issues an order forbidding the practice of insulting one’s brother. Whoever says to his brother, rhaka, should be liable to the Sanhedrin, or the Jewish high court. The word rhaka only appears here in the Greek NT. This word is likely a derivative of the Aramaic, reqa. It is a Jewish term of abuse. “The word usually carries with it the idea of emptiness or lack of insight, as it does in its interpretation by the Church fathers.” [Balz, H. R., & Schneider, G. (1990-). Vol. 3: Exegetical dictionary of the New Testament (207). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans]. It would be the modern equivalent of calling a brother stupid or idiot. Such a practice is entirely prohibited in Christian practice. When used in antiquity, it was applied to a foolish, thoughtless, or presumptuous person. The idea then is that Jesus forbids this practice as on par with murder. The idea behind the sixth commandment demands a disposition of dignity toward one’s brother. Since there are no qualifiers, we cannot add any. One internet “apologist” would argue that this does not apply to public exchange, but only to private interactions. That individual applies his insult paradigm to public as well as private discussions. I have never encountered anyone as rude and impolite and insulting as he is. Contrary to what he claims, Jesus does not provide an exception clause, and therefore, it is dangerous for us to add something to the text that is clearly not there. This is akin to saying, you have to be nice to be respectful and civil to your brother in private, but in public, you can bash him in any way you please. Such an interpretation is utterly without support in the text. Jesus expressly condemns calling your brother stupid, idiot, or any other pejorative language. Doing so places one in danger of the high court. In other words, running around whimsically calling other brothers and sisters stupid, idiot, etc. is absolute a serious matter and will be subject to God’s judgment.

Finally, Jesus forbids calling your brother a fool. This translates the word moros, pronounced moeros. It is where we get our English word “moron.” The counter argument is that Jesus uses this word himself against his religious opponents and to describe the one who hears His words and does not listen. Jesus indeed used this word to describe those religious hypocrites who were rejecting God in preference for their own power structure. They had managed to come up with numerous ways to invalidate the word of God by their hypocritical traditions. Jesus knew their heart better than they knew their own hearts. When Jesus calls you are moron, he is speaking from a unique position of knowledge we do not possess. He is God. Anyone who hears the word of God and does not listen is in fact a fool, or a moron in God’s eyes. It is one thing for us to say that Scripture calls you a fool because you reject it or refuse to believe or you are indisputably playing the hypocrite. It is another thing for us to employ this language against our own brothers and sisters in Christ. Such behavior is clearly forbidden by our Lord and based on this text Jesus takes this behavior as seriously as He does the sin of murder. Personally, I don’t think this is a text you want to misinterpret, not that you want to do that with any Scripture. But if you place your own devious interpretation on this text and proceed to insult your brother in ways this text forbids, you place yourself in serious peril. You could roll the dice or you could avoid insulting others and play it safe.

In his mamouth word on "The Doctrine of the Christian Life," John Frame says, "Here Jesus teaches that the sixth commandment forbids anger and verbal abuse, as well as acts of killing." [Frame. The Doctrine of the Christian Life, p 689] Proverbs 12:18 says, There is one who speaks rashly like the thrust of the sword, But the tongue of the wise brings healing. For some, their tongue brings nothing but hurt, resentment, and anger. Solomon says these are unwise people making unwise use of the tongue.

Jesus said all men would know that we are His disciples by the new kind of love we have toward one another. (John 13:34-35) Again, Jesus said the perfecting of His community in unity would also serve as a means to inform the world that God had sent His Son. This love is new and unique. To argue for a cultural understanding of love in this context will not do. This is a unique and new love that has not previously existed. The new commandment, Jesus said, I give you, that you love one another just as I have loved you. This had never before been witnessed.

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