A Righteousness of the Heart - Putting off Anger and Pursuing Reconciliation - Matthew 5:21-26

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It’s natural, we all like know where the lines are. We like to know how far we can go without crossing the line. And this is the way many people think about the law of God and being in right standing before God. They believe that there are certain lines that shouldn’t be crossed and as long as we don’t cross those lines we will be in good standing with God.

This a simplified version of the false teaching of the scribes and Pharisees during the time of Jesus. They had taken the law of God and created lines and parameters. They had a system by which they believed they could determine who was right with God and who wasn’t.

 A Righteousness of the Heart

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is teaching what it looks like to live as the people of God. What becomes abundantly clear is that God’s standard is much different than the standard of the scribes and Pharisees. In fact, Jesus says that the true people of God will have a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees.

In Matthew 5:21-48 Jesus offers six examples contrasting the teaching of the scribes and Pharisees and the true law of God. What’s clear is that the righteousness of God is a righteousness of the heart and it goes far beyond the lines and parameters of the religious leaders. Further, we can never live up to God’s standard – but instead He gives those who are His new hearts – hearts that hunger and thirst for true righteousness.

The Righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees – Do Not Murder (5:21) 

  • You have heard it said – In verse 21 and in the other 5 places where Jesus uses this phrase He isn’t taking issue with the law of God. Jesus isn’t dismissing God’s law, rather He’s contrasting the teaching of the scribes and Pharisees and the true law of God 
  • A hardline approach to the command – In the system of the scribes and Pharisees the law was simple - to not murder was to keep the law and therefore to be righteous. However, Jesus is going to show that their application of the law was far too simple.

The Marks of True Righteousness (5:22)

  • The authority of Jesus – The scribes and Pharisees were men with authority and they stood on the tradition of generations before them. Now Jesus comes and claims to be a greater authority – one who is able to rightly interpret the law of God. 
  • The standard explained – It’s a matter of the heart – While the religious leaders were concerned with outward behavior (don’t murder), Jesus is making it clear that the real standard is a matter of the heart – have you murdered in your heart? (1 John 3:14-15)
  • The standard illustrated – In order to illustrate His point Jesus offers three examples of sin and the corresponding consequences.
  • The seriousness of an angry heart (James 4:1-2; Matthew 15:19)
  • The seriousness of insulting words (James 3:10-12)
  • The seriousness of harsh slander
  • The consequences of ignoring the heart – With each of the three examples Jesus includes a consequence. These are all synonymous and work together to show that in every case where we’ve violated God’s standard, we are guilty before Him.

Cultivating a Heart of Reconciliation (5:23-26)

  • In verses 23-26 Jesus comes at the issue from a positive angle. Not only should the people of God avoid anger and insult, we should be quick to pursue reconciliation and restoration.
  • The necessity of reconciliation (vv. 23-24) – Using a scenario of a person going to the Temple to offer a sacrifice Jesus shows the importance of reconciliation. Reconciling a broken relationship should be a priority, even over other important aspects of devotion to God (Ephesians 4:26-27). 
  • The urgency of reconciliation (vv. 25-26) – Using a scenario of a person being taken to court over a debt Jesus shows the urgency of reconciliation. There is judgment for those who remain in sin so don’t wait – pursue reconciliation right away (Romans 12:18).

God’s Work of Reconciliation – While we may feel justified in our anger and feel that someone deserves our wrath, we must remember that God was justified in His anger against us and we deserved His wrath, yet He sent Jesus to die for us. It’s only through Jesus that we can be seen as righteous and be accepted by God. Now we are called to show the same mercy to others.