Worship leader Tommy Walker wrote a song titled, Only a God Like You*
In it, he writes,
My allegiance and devotion, My heart’s desire and all emotion,
Go to serve the Man Who died upon that tree
It’s a great worship song. Do you know it?
As I was singing this song on a Sunday morning, I found myself wondering, is it true of me? Is my heart’s desire and my emotion really wrapped up in serving the Lord?
The song continues,
To only my Maker, my Father, my Savior
Redeemer, Restorer, Rebuilder, Rewarder
To only a God like You do I give my praise
He is worthy of all our praise! He is worthy of our allegiance and devotion!
You know, we love to sing and praise Him, but sometimes I wonder whether our actions match up to our words. I wonder whether we follow our desires and emotions when they pull us in the direction of serving the Lord, and then turn right around and follow our emotions in the opposite direction when we are tired, or frustrated, or stressed, or angry.
In one breath, we praise Almighty God who is:
- My Maker – who created me and who intimately knows everything about me
- My Father – who loves me and provides for me and watches out for me
- My Savior – who values me so much He was willing to suffer and die for me
Then, in the next breath we speak sharp, angry words about our brothers who are dear to God’s heart.
- My Redeemer – who paid the price that I could not pay
- My Restorer – who restores what was lost to me because of sin
- My Rebuilder – who takes what is broken and lacking in me and makes it into something new
- My Rewarder – before whom I will stand to give account some day
Jesus is also My Reconciler – who brings healing to the broken relationships in my life. And that’s what I want to talk to you about today.
In the gospel of Matthew, we read the words of Jesus,
You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. (Matt. 5:21-24 NASB)
This is one of those passages in which Jesus takes people’s understanding of what they THINK God’s Word says, and turns it upside down. He takes what we have conveniently pigeon-holed in a certain way so that we could look at ourselves and say, “Well, I am a good person. I have never done THAT!” and He puts a mirror in front of our faces and says, “Take another look!”
Let’s break down the passage.
In the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus brings a familiar commandment to the people’s attention: “Do not commit murder.” Everybody knew that commandment. You might say it was a “feel good” commandment. By that I mean it was a commandment that the average person could feel good about – they could check it off their list as something they were clearly not guilty of: “I’m safe. Check!”
But Jesus re-defined what they thought they knew about the commandment. He said three surprising things about it:
- Everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court;
- Whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court (Sanhedrin); and
- Whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell!
Whoa, what? I thought the commandment was talking about murder, not anger!
What was Jesus talking about?
First He says, “everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court.” Some manuscripts include the phrase, “without cause,” so that it reads, “everyone who is angry with his brother without cause shall be guilty before the court.” What did He mean?
To get some context, let’s look at what the Bible tells us about anger.
- First, God gets angry about sin. In Exodus 32 there is an interesting account about God getting angry over the constant disobedience of the people. This is the kind of anger that we call righteous indignation. There is good cause for this anger. It is godly anger and should alert us to sin and to wrongdoing. It has a purpose: to motivate us to action.
- Second, Exodus 34:6 tells us that God is slow to anger. He never “loses His temper.” James 1:19 exhorts the believers to be like Him, “quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.”
- Third, the apostle Paul tells us, “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity” (Eph. 4:26-27). In other words, when you become angry, you need to be careful that your anger doesn’t lead you into sin. Becoming angry is not a sin. But anger can lead to sin. Anger is not an excuse for wrong actions. You are responsible for what happens when you become angry. Therefore, Paul tells us to take care of anger quickly, because anger that is left to fester or is allowed to dictate our actions typically leads us into sin.
This is what Jesus was talking about. He said, “everyone who is angry without cause shall be guilty before the court,” not because anger is wrong–anger is just an emotion–but because of what uncontrolled anger leads to.
The second point Jesus made was, “Whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court (or Sanhedrin).” The Greek word here is RACA. RACA was a common term of derision used at the time of Christ. It expressed scorn for a man’s mind. In other words, it was like calling someone stupid, or a moron, or an idiot. In other words, Jesus is saying that anyone guilty of name-calling should be called to account before the law.
Does that mean Jesus holds me accountable for shouting names at those people cutting me off in traffic? Does it mean that if I mumble derisive names under my breath at the slow clerk in the store I will be held accountable? Does it mean that if I talk about someone and call them an idiot or a brat or a thousand other names that I will be held accountable?
At this point, you might be comforting yourself with the thought that Jesus denounced speaking demeaning words directly to a person’s face, so, it doesn’t apply to saying those words to yourself or to someone else, right? “If I am not saying it directly to that person, I am okay, right? I can safely check that RACA thing off my list…”
Let me ask you this. What do such words declare about the state of your heart?
Remember, Jesus started this conversation by re-defining murder as more than just a physical act, but as an expression of an anger-filled heart. Not saying hateful words directly to someone’s face may spare them emotional harm, but it doesn’t change the state of my heart.
The third point Jesus makes about the commandment against murder is this, “whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.” How is this different from calling someone an idiot? In the original Greek, where RACA scorns a man’s mind, the word translated “fool” scorns a man’s heart and character. In other words, this is attacking the core of who a person is. This is about getting nasty and seriously tearing people apart with our words. These are the kinds of words that are usually fueled by unbridled anger. Basically, Jesus says we are murdering people with our words. He is holding up a mirror in front of our faces and saying, “Take a good look!”
But the good news is: Jesus is our Redeemer, Restorer, Rebuilder, Rewarder, and Reconciler. He came so that we could be forgiven and restored. Even more, when our pride, selfishness, and uncontrolled anger bring division into our relationships with others, there can be reconciliation through Him.
Look again at Matthew 5:23-24. Jesus says,
THEREFORE –because of this– if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. (emphasis mine)
What exactly does it mean to be reconciled?
The literal sense of the Greek is “to call back into union.” It means to restore to friendship or favor after a period of estrangement or separation.
For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him [Jesus], and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. (Col. 1:19-20, emphasis mine)
Jesus reconciled us to God. He provided the means by which we could receive forgiveness so that our relationship with the Father could be restored.
For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. (Rom. 5:6-10, emphasis mine)
We were God’s enemies. Our relationship with Him was as bad as it could get. But through Jesus, He reconciled us so that we could be restored to a right relationship with Him. We are no longer His enemies, but we are His friends. We were on opposing sides, but now we are on His side, in union with Him.
This is what Jesus has done for us, and now He expects us to do the same for others:
Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word [message] of reconciliation. (2 Cor. 5:18-19)
Not only has He reconciled us to Himself, but He has given us the ministry of reconciliation. Certainly, one way we participate in the ministry of reconciliation is sharing the gospel with others so that they might be reconciled to God. But it also means that we are simply to be in the business of reconciliation. Let’s go back once again to our passage in Matthew:
…if you …remember that your brother has something against you …first be reconciled to your brother… (Matt. 5:23-24)
What can we learn from this passage? Two things stand out to me:
- The first thing is that Jesus said, FIRST be reconciled. It is a priority. Making your relationship right with your brother comes first, even before your service to God. Be reconciled to God. Be reconciled to your brother–not counting his trespasses against him. The word used for brother here refers not only to family members, but to brothers and sisters in Christ, to members of your community or workplace, even to countrymen.
The Apostle John said, “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (1 John 4:20)
God takes reconciliation seriously. He puts a high priority on our relationships with others.
- The second thing it says is, “If your brother has something against you.” It doesn’t say, “If you have done something against your brother.” In other words, you may not think you have done anything wrong. You may believe you are in the right. You may be thinking, “Well, if he has something against me, he should come and talk to me about it.” That is NOT what Jesus said. He said, “If your brother has something against you.” If you are aware that someone has something against you, IT IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO GO TO HIM.Of course, if you know you have done something wrong, it is still your responsibility to go to him. God has given us the ministry of reconciliation. It is always our responsibility to be the one to initiate reconciliation.
How do you go about reconciling with someone? Well, we could probably spend a lot of time on this, but let me share a few thoughts with you.
- You are responsible to do your part. You are not responsible for the other person’s response (or reaction). Approach reconciliation in a spirit of gentleness and humility as Jesus Himself said, “I am gentle and humble of heart” (Matt. 11:29)
- Examine your attitude. This is not about proving you are right. This is not about pride. It is also not about saying you were wrong when you believe you were right. You might have to agree to disagree. It is about the offense that was caused, intentional or otherwise.
- Be willing to forgive and to ask for forgiveness. Sometimes one person may have been offended by something that the other person does not consider to be offensive. One might even think it is silly for the other to be offended. Once again, this is pride speaking. Remember, Jesus said, “If your brother has something against you…” It is not about judging whether or not someone “ought” to feel the way they feel about the situation.
- The goal is to bring healing to the relationship. Not everyone is going to be your best friend. But unforgiveness and broken relationships in any area of your life will continue to hinder your relationship with God as well as your relationships with others.
Is there someone in your life with whom you need to be reconciled? Do you need God’s help to cast out anger that has festered in your heart? Determine that you will be obedient to Him in this – that you will seek reconciliation in order that this brokenness might not draw your heart away from God’s heart.
If it is possible, begin now to take steps to be reconciled, to forgive and ask forgiveness. If that person is not readily available, if you are not sure how to begin, or if you are not sure if you even want to begin, seek God’s grace and power to tear down the walls in your heart. Make the commitment to Jesus that, with His help, you will do your part in bringing about reconciliation.
[adapted from a sermon originally preached 6/13/10]