“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." Matthew 5:21-26 ESV
The Cost of Discipleship, a great book by Deitrich Bonhoeffer, gives an interesting take on the concept of grace that is to me so wonderful that I thought I would share it. There is a great principle here for the murderer. "The judgement he passes on others falls on the murderer himself." This is the principle behind "eye for an eye," that was given by the people of Israel corporately as punishment for murder.
This is the principle that we see here applied when he says, "Even anger is enough to overstep the mark, still more the casual angry word (Raca), and most of all the deliberate insult of our brother ("Thou fool")." In God's eyes, we are guilty of murder and must fall under the same sentence of death that we merit for having become angry with someone and expressed it with our words. This becomes abundantly clear in the following quote:
"The disciple must be entirely innocent of anger, because anger is an offence against both God and his neighbour. Every idle word which we think so little of betrays our lack of respect for our neighbour, and shows that we place ourselves on a pinnacle above him and value our lives higher than his. The angry word is a blow struck at our brother, a stab at his heart: it seeks to hit, hurt and to destroy. A deliberate insult is even worse, for we are then openly disgracing our brother in the eyes of the world, and causing others to despise him. With our hearts burning with hatred, we seek to annihilate his moral and material existence. We are passing judgement on him, and that is murder. And the murderer will himself be judged."
When I lash out in anger, I am trying to damage or destroy someone else and I am a murderer. Anger with others destroys our relationship with God. "When a man gets angry with his brother and swears at him, when he publicly insults or slanders him, he is guilty of murder and forfeits his relation to God. He erects a barrier not only between himself and his brother, but also between himself and God." Ever wonder why your prayers aren't answered and God seems to be punishing you? It could be because you have hurt some brother or sister and need to ask them to forgive you!
Later on, we see just how urgent this is. The last reason given for being reconciled to our brothers and sisters in Christ is that, "His only-begotten Son bore the shame and insults for his Father's glory. But the Father would not be seperated from his Son, nor will he now turn his face from those whose likeness the Son took upon him, and for whose sake he bore the shame. The Incarnation is the ultimate reason why the service of God cannot be divorced from the service of man. He who says he love God and hates his brother is a liar."
"There is only one way of following Jesus and of worshipping God, and that is to be reconciled with our brethren." Now all that is very hard. In fact, Bonhoeffer says, "This is a hard way, but it is the way Jesus requires if we are to follow him. It but is indeed the way to him, our crucified Brother, and therefore a way of grace abounding. In Jesus the service of God and the service of the least of the brethren were one. He went his way and became reconciled with his brother and offered himself as the one true sacrifice to his Father."
"We are still living in the age of grace, fore each of us still has a brother, we are still 'with him in the way.' The court of judgement lies ahead, and there is still a chance for us to be reconciled with our brother and pay our debt to him. The hour is coming when we shall meet the judge face to face, and then it will be too late."
Have you ever thought about the commandments of God to you as a demonstration of his grace? I don't think I have ever thought about that until I read that. I have seen God's grace as, "leading us to repentance," as is found in Romans 2, but I haven't seen the very commandments as a demonstration of that grace. But it is very logical to me to think this way. If judgement is coming and I am warned beforehand how to escape it, wouldn't I be abusing that warning by ignoring it? Wouldn't I be a fool to ignore the warning and go on living as if the judgement were not coming? I think so! The fact of the matter is that the judgement is coming and here in his word is found the grace that we need to let us escape it, namely, the absolute, unquestioned obedience to the words of Christ. That is grace people.
This is put beautifully in the next quote: "It is grace that we are allowed to please our brother, and pay our debt to him, it is grace that we are allowed to become reconcilled with him. In our brother we find grace before the seat of judgement." Finally, I would like to say that this impossible task is the every day life of the Christian. It is only to the Christian that this command is given. Every disciple is a Christian and you can't be a Christian without being a disciple as well.
So if you are an unbeliever, you should pay no attention to this. Jesus has only one command for you. Turn from your sins and fall upon the mercy of God and plead that he save you and accept you as his willing slave to buy you off of the slave market so that you can become a slave of Christ and no longer a slave of sin. How do you do that? Check Luke 18:9-14 for the answer.
If you are a believer, our desire should be to please the one who enlisted us. "To serve our brother, to please him, to allow him his due and to let him live, is the way of self-denial, the way of the cross. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. That is the love of the Crucified. Only in the cross of Christ do we find the fulfillment of the law."
All quotes taken from The Cost of Discipleship, by Deitrich Bonhoeffer, published by Simon & Schuster, New York ©1959 (1995 edition). Quotes taken from chapter 9 "The Brother".