“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.
Understanding And Applying the Text
Some think here Christ is changing or adding to the Law. God’s Law is not modified. Christ added nothing to the Law that was not already there. Christ places the Law in context with itself. In short, Christ was a systematic theologian. That is, He views God’s word as coherent and consistent. He does not separate one part from another.
What did Chris answer when asked what is the greatest commandment?
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
The Law demands more than external actions. The Law demands we love our neighbor. If you are angry, you are not loving. If you are insulting, you are not loving. If you are calling your brother or neighbor names, you are not loving. Once we place this in the context of the rest of the law there is nothing new. Christ did not create a new commandment. Christ did not change an old commandment. Christ restated what was already there.
A holy life demands a perfect love of God and neighbor. Love fulfills the law. (Romans 13:10) You harm your neighbor when you act as less than a friend to him.
Christ said, “For I tell you unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20) That sentence precedes this passage. Righteousness requires more than external conformity to the Law.
Christ pointed out something shocking. Religious activity displeases God if we are at odds with each other. We pollute our worship with sin when we are angry with our brother.
It is almost inevitable we will have disagreements amongst ourselves. When we do, we are often blinded by self-love. “I am right because I am not wrong,” is the starting position we all take. But these disagreements can and do escalate to the point where we harm each other. Christ tells us how we are to settle them. We are to move our self-interests to the background. Rather than seeking our own interests, we are working to seek the betterment of our brother. Even if that means foregoing our own rights.
Christ said if we do not settle with our neighbor we could end up in prison. Some take this as a metaphor. That is, Jesus was referring to God as the Heavenly Judge. He will act toward us the same way we as towards others. If we do not forgive, He will not forgive.
The answer is more simple than that. This is practical advice. It is to our advantage to come to an agreement with our adversaries. Quarralsomeness has a high price. But the metaphor does apply to God. For those who do not show mercy, do not receive mercy. (James 2:13).