“For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: 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.” (Matthew 5:20-22)
The Pharisees wanted to go through the motions of being religious, but Jesus said it's not the external things that are important, it's what's inside that counts.
The Pharisees were masters of creating a good‑looking exterior, but inside they were dead. If you went to church with them, they would attend church every Sunday, arrive on time, carry their Bibles, and probably all tithe. None would ever swear, drink or commit adultery. Yet all would go straight to hell.
In the verses above, Jesus said that your righteousness must be greater than the Pharisees'. It can't be just on the outside; your righteousness must also be on the inside. You have to have a clean heart, not just a clean shirt.
A man is not a sinner because he sins. He sins because he's a sinner. A man isn't a liar because he lies. He lies because he's a liar. Our actions come from our hearts. That's the reason Christ said our righteousness has to exceed that of the Pharisees.
Jesus is shattering the self righteousness of these people and He's going to show them their need of Him and their need of regeneration. He uses the illustration of murder to demonstrate His point.
Malice as Murder
Jesus said, "Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill: and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment" (Matthew 5:21). The Ten Commandments tell us not to kill. The words can actually be translated, "You shall do no murder."
According to God’s Word, there are certainly times when killing things is acceptable. For example, the killing of animals is not forbidden. Although some claim that killing any animal is wrong, the Law itself called for sacrificing animals on an altar.
The Bible also does not forbid capital punishment. Exodus 21:12 reads, "He that smiteth a man, so that he die, he shall surely be put to death." You can see it plainly states if you kill someone, you have committed a crime worthy of death. The Bible also does not forbid killing someone to protect your family. Exodus 22 explicitly states that killing a thief trying to break into your home is not a sin. You have an obligation to protect your loved ones.
What the Bible says is that it is a sin to commit murder ─ to take another life without just cause.
But Jesus went on to speak of the murder of malice, the acid of anger. "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" (Matthew 5:22).
Here the Lord destroys their illusion of righteousness. The Pharisees were sure they were not guilty of murder, but they failed to see that their hearts were filled with malice. The attitude of murder is as destructive as the action. It's what causes people to kill. Hatred is an acid that destroys its container.
He warns against saying, "Raca," an untranslatable Aramaic word of contempt. It was used as a term of racial prejudice and means the other person has no value. Someone who sees no value in others is on a par with a murderer.
Our Lord goes on to say that anyone who calls another a fool is in danger of hell fire. He isn't talking about saying someone is foolish but of having such a superior attitude that everyone else is a fool.
It also says in I John 3:15, “Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer.” Be very wary of allowing hate to creep into your life. It will destroy your life and bring judgment.
Anger as Murder
Jesus relates to the Pharisees that they are in danger merely by being angry with their brother without cause.
You may ask yourself, is all anger wrong? Of course not. Ephesians 4:26 says that we can be angry and sin not. Righteous anger, the sort of anger the Lord had when He drove the money‑changers from the temple, protects the good name of God. But most anger isn't righteous.
We can be angry at sin, but we are never to allow anger to become sin. Paul explains the progression of anger in Ephesians 4:31:
- First, there is bitterness, a feeling of resentment that settles in your heart when you feel someone did you wrong.
- The natural consequence of bitterness is wrath, which comes from the Greek word meaning "to burn." Bitterness leads to a slow burn, the heat that comes from focusing on your bitterness. Those filthy rags of bitterness slowly catch fire, like a spontaneous combustion of your soul.
- The next word Paul uses is anger. When somebody opens the closet door on those smoldering rags, the oxygen creates the right environment for them to burst into flame. That's what anger is like. Something happens which causes your slow burn to burst into an angry fire. When people get angry, it's as though they were on fire. They fly off the handle, throw things, slam doors, and pound fists.
- But the devil isn't finished with that angry person. After anger comes clamor, which literally means loud talking. Once angry, you raise your voice. You start shouting things, getting louder by the minute.
- The next phrase Paul uses in his description is "evil speaking." Once you've started shouting, you'll say wicked, hateful things. You'll tell your spouse you wish you'd never married them, or you tell a child he'll never amount to anything. And the devil watches with glee as you allow your anger to control your life.
- Finally, Paul uses malice to describe this progression, which means to do something evil toward someone. Malice is what leads to murder. After you've said something evil to someone, you have a desire to strike out at them and hurt them. The root of murder can be found in bitterness. And the saddest part is that bitterness doesn't just hurt those you are mad at. Bitterness hurts you. It destroys your life. Jesus warned that anger in your life is tantamount to murder. They have the same root cause and the same effect on the person.
It's What's Inside That Counts
No one can "behave their way" into heaven. You can never be good enough or have enough righteousness in your life to be acceptable to God. You're a sinner. If you weren't, Christ would not have had to come. You see, self‑righteousness in the eyes of God is filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). Real righteousness is that which is imputed to us by God.
When Jesus died on the cross, He paid the debt for your sin. In that act, He imputed His righteousness to you. God credits Christ's righteousness to your account. You don't deserve it. It's not because of anything you did. It's by God's grace. He also implanted righteousness, for at salvation God gives you a new nature. You've been made new and clean. The penalty has been paid.
1. How do you suppose a Pharisee would have defined "righteousness"?
- How would your definition differ from that?
- Why is external righteousness not enough for God?
2. Why is it essential to gain an understanding of sin before you make a commitment to Christ?
- What caused you to come to an understanding of your sinfulness?
- Do you agree or disagree with the thought: “A man isn’t a sinner because he sins; he sins because he is a sinner”? Explain your answer.
- What implications does that have for our perspective of salvation?
3. In your view, what were the Pharisees guilty of?
- How do you suppose they responded to Christ’s words?
- How does Romans 10:3 describe the situation?
4. Does the commandment, “Thou shall no kill,” forbid capital punishment? Why or Why not?
- What does Genesis 9:6 have to say about capital punishment?
- What principles can you derive from Exodus 22:2-4?
- What would you say to a woman who claimed, “You may not like abortion, but it’s legal”?
5. What brings bitterness into someone’s life?
- What has tried to bring bitterness into your life?
- How can bitterness lead to anger?
6. Why does Christ equate anger with murder?
- What principles for anger management do you find in Ephesians 4:26-31?
- How could you put them into practice?
7. What makes you angry? Why?
- Is that righteous anger?
- What can you do to change that anger?
Is there a situation in the world that calls for righteous anger? What can a Christian do about that type of circumstance? How did people in the Bible respond when they faced a similar situation?
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