Matthew 5:21-22: The Problem of Contempt

Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.  Yesterday at church the sermonette speaker gave a very excellent message on Matthew 5:21-22, examining the murderous feelings that result in the use of expressions like ‘raca’ and ‘fool.’  Now, I imagine most people don’t use the word raca to others, but many people (including myself) have often used the word ‘idiot.’  I suspect most people use the word ‘fool’ less than I do, but words like ‘scoundrel’ are not uncommon (and admittedly I have used this intemperate language, hopefully not without reason).

What I would like to muse on today is the way in which these expressions reveal a deeper problem of contempt, and how contempt for other people itself reflects murderous intent and therefore danger of coming into judgment.  In light of the severity of the subject, I wish it to be unmistakably clear that I speak as someone who struggles very seriously with this problem.  Therefore in this discussion I will use a lot more personal examples than I am wont to do.  That said, I am very aware that I am not alone in this particular struggle, and so what I say has a great deal of relevance to others as well.

Murder Begins In The Heart

Matthew 5:21-22a reads:  “You have heard it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’  But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.”  What does it mean to be angry with someone without a cause?  Surely, people are offended or made angry by what they consider to be a cause, even if no offense was meant.

To give a personal example that many of my readers may be familiar with, a person who claimed to be a minister of God once wished me to drop dead “70 x 7” after I had sent him a complementary note to a sermon of his and asked if he had applied it to his own behavior [1].  Nor is this situation unique.  People occasionally die over minor matters like a driver cutting you off due to being in a hurry or being unobservant, leading to road rage.  A lack of control over one’s temper, either in words or actions, is itself the road to murder.  To murder someone requires that one of two conditions be met:  either one must stew over hatreds and wrongs and become poisoned by hatred, or one must have so delicate a sense of honor that any slight can provoke a murderous rage [2].

But it does us no good to examine the heart of others if we do not examine that deceitful heart we know best of all–our own.  One of the reasons I have never kept any weapons in my car is my own knowledge of my temper when it comes to the foolish mistakes of other drivers.  As a person with at least the potential for road rage, and a person who has struggled all of my life to control a very ferocious temper, I am aware that the capacity for murderous rage exists within my own heart if I choose to allow it the room to operate.  I do my best to ensure that is not the case–both by seeking to communicate those wrongs I have suffered so they do not build up to volcanic pressures under silence as well as by communicating face to face (or e-mail to e-mail) promptly with those who have offended so that the resentment does not have a chance to build up.  Prior experience has taught me well that such serious measures are necessary to preserve peace with others as well as some measure of peace of mind within myself.

Therefore, as someone with a prickly attitude towards offenses, and a nasty temper, I have done what I can to prevent myself from having a murderous heart.  This requires a knowledge of one’s weaknesses, one’s temperament, one’s sensitivities, and active effort to counterbalance them.  For myself, this knowledge did not come quickly or easily, and a heavy cost has been paid for this insight.  I hope the price is less for others who might benefit from the same insight about themselves.

On Idiots And Fools

Matthew 5:22b reads:  “And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council.  But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.”  This is a very serious warning.  What is it that makes words like Raca and fool so dangerous both on earth and in the judgment of God?

Throughout history libel and slander have been crimes which cost those with loose pens or tongues the payment of a fine.  The word ‘raca’ means idiot, and calling someone an idiot required one to pay a fine to the person wronged after a trial in the Sanhedrin, unless one could prove the truth of one’s claim.  Without evidence, such an insult required payment.  Those who attack the character of others without evidence do so foolishly and at risk of their livelihoods and reputations.

I should note personally, though, that calling people idiots usually has come about because of my own impatience and disgust at obstacles to my plans.  This would appear to be a common problem.  When we are concerned about ourselves–about our own wishes, plans, and ambitions, and insufficiently aware that others may have different perspectives and different concerns, we will insult others for harm to us when they might feel (with reason) equal offense from us.  For example, the people on the road driving slowly in rush hour are not idiots but rather people like you stuck on a road with too many cars and not enough carrying capacity, all wishing they could drive faster and all looking to get where they are going as fast as possible.  In short, they are much like you (and me).

While calling someone an idiot invited civil fines, calling someone a ‘fool’ invited eternal judgment in gehenna fire.  Why is this so?  The word fool, at least in the sense that it is used here in Matthew, could easily have one of two meanings:  incompetent (useless) or scoundrel (godless).  To call someone useless or without a purpose, is to insult the purpose of God in creating them.  This is a serious error.  To call someone a scoundrel or godless is to impute that they are without the right moral compass.  This may be true, but it is extremely difficult to prove, and it comes very close (if not crossing the line) into stepping from the responsibilities of mankind to judge actions according to the biblical standard and into the responsibilities of God to judge the hearts and intents of mankind, something that human beings do not have access to except with regards to their own heart.

We should note that where Jesus Christ calls people fools, he does so without contradicting himself here, because He could read the hearts and minds of men [3].  Likewise, when David said that “The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.”,” he was not breaking this commandment because to deny the reality of divine judgment is the essence of being ‘godless’ and a ‘scoundrel.’  Rather than attempting to read the heart and mind of others, David was simply defending and providing the biblical definition of a fool as someone who rejected the authority of God over him.  One who rebels against God is a fool.  Sadly, this world has a lot of such fools.  Nonetheless, it is vital to remember that they are fools because God says so–not because we say so.  He has the authority to make the definitions, and the ultimate judgment.

The Problem of Contempt

Where does this problem, whether it is murderous rage in the heart or the dismissive insulting of people (created as part of the plan of God for His purposes and in His image) as being worthless and godless (a particularly harsh insult to God because of the price paid by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ’s sins to wipe away the death penalty for sin under which all unrepentant human beings stand condemned) spring from?  What is the source of the murder in the heart?  The source is the problem of contempt.

Why is this contempt such a serious offense against God, and how is it manifested in this passage, which speaks about insults and unrighteous anger?  Let us examine the source of this contempt to examine how and why it is so serious.  Jesus Christ gives the answer and the relevance in John 8:37-47:  “I know that you are Abraham’s descendants, but you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you.  I speak what I have seen with My Father, and you do what you have seen with your father.”  They answered and said to Him, “Abraham is our father.”  Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham.  But now you seek to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth which I heard from God.  Abraham did not do this.  You do the deeds of your father.”  Then they said to Him, “We were not born of fornication; we have one Father–God.”  Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me; for I proceeded for and came from God; nor have I come of Myself, but He sent Me.  Why are you not able to understand My speech?  Because you are not able to listen to My word.  You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do.  He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him.  When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.  But because I tell you the truth, you do not believe Me.  Which of you convicts Me of sin?  And if I tell the truth, why do you not believe Me?  He who is of God hears God’s words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God.”

This is a very powerful and harsh dialogue, but it is particularly relevant to the tangled problem of hatred, murder, and contempt that Matthew 5:22-23 deals with, and its relevance to our own motivations, thoughts, and actions.  This passage draws together lies, the inability to accept truth, murderous intentions, and insults altogether as being signs that someone is a child of Satan, meaning that someone is not of God.  Let us examine how one recognizes a child of Satan:

1.  They believe and practice a lie, and attack whoever speaks the truth, even to the point of wishing them dead (maybe even up to 70 x 7).
2.  They specialize in passing gossip, lies, and false rumors about others, attacking the character of the godly, and excel in malicious and anonymous slanders.
3.  They pretend to be godly, like their father the Devil, but in reality cannot accept the truth when it is presented to them, nor concede the error of their ways and repent in humility.

If you see these qualities–you are dealing with a child of the devil, not of God.  If you see them in yourself–repent and be forgiven so that the image and likeness and character of God may be found in you.  So long as you live and breathe, it is not too late to repent.  We all have sin and corruption inside of us–the difference between the godly and the ungodly, between those who are children of God and children of Satan, is that the children of God repent of their errors, see the darkness inside of them, and ask God to turn it into light, to cleanse them of their sins and create in them a clean heart while the children of Satan wish to preserve the illusion (lie) that they are righteous and godly and therefore attack those who bring the truth to light.

Therefore, seeing as this problem of contempt is inside of all of us (I know for certain it is inside of me), it is not our place to condemn, but rather to call all to repentance as those who are unworthy recipients of the mercy of God.  No human being is worthless, for to be created in the image and likeness of God is of infinite value, such that all the suffering in this world cannot compare to the blessings of eternal life in God’s family.  Anything that considers a (potential) child of God to be worthless–be it abuses, sexism, racism, or any other such insult, is a damnable lie because it calls worthless that which was created in God’s image.   To call mankind worthless is to insult the Creator who made us for His purposes and His plan and to do so is to put ourselves in grave judgment.

To behave in such a fashion is to consider ourselves as being the dividing line and the judge who separates good from evil, acceptable from unacceptable.  It is to place ourselves in the robes of God, to usurp His prerogative of judgment, to consider ourselves above God’s law rather than as the servants of God who are under that standard ourselves and recipients of the mercy of God (when we deserve judgment ourselves).  No mercy will be shown to those who show no mercy.  Therefore, as someone who struggles not to show arrogance and contempt for others who are merely in the wrong place at the wrong time, or whose plans and perspectives are different from my own, I plead for all of us who engage in such behavior to repent, so that we may avoid judgment.  For we are to be bringers of life, not murderers like Cain, and we are to be children of God, and not children of Satan.  Let us not show contempt for that which God has made in His image, for by doing so we show contempt for the same God who made us and will hold us accountable for the hatred in our hearts.

[1] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/01/12/be-careful-what-you-wish-for/

[2] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/02/03/too-delicate-a-sense-of-honor/

[3] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/03/06/bartholmew-called-nathanael-an-israelite-in-whom-there-is-no-guile/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Biblical History, Christianity, Church of God, History, Musings and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Matthew 5:21-22: The Problem of Contempt

  1. Pingback: Psalms 14 and 53: The Fool Has Said In His Heart | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Book Review: Studies In The Sermon On The Mount | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Pingback: A Prism Of Divided Light | Edge Induced Cohesion

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