'You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, … But I say to you …' (v. 21)

Matthew 5:21-26 Friday 8 February 2019

Psalm: Psalm 70


Today's verses mark the beginning of a very important section in Matthew's Gospel. Six times before the end of the chapter Jesus will use the words "You have heard that it was said … but I tell you" (or a similar phrase) and then go on to apparently challenge the authority of what "was said" in the law. For Matthew's Gospel, committed to affirming Jesus as the promised Messiah, it is important to stress the authority with which it speaks. It is the authority of the Son of God.

In the first of these "But I tell you…" accounts Jesus takes the commandment "You shall not murder" (v. 21) and suggests that it is not only the action that is punishable, but the attitude that might lead to that action (v. 22).

Attitudes lead to actions. And as always, Jesus is concerned about our motives as well as our actions. Murder is the most extreme outworking of a rage within, and so Jesus is concerned that that inner conflict is resolved and that destructive attitude brought under control.

There are two words for anger in common use in the New Testament. One concerns that kind of anger that sparks and explodes in a moment; but the one used in this passage is the long-held grudge; the slow burning antagonism that festers and deepens with time. Perhaps it is this kind of anger that Jesus had in mind when he recognised the reality of broken relationships within the fellowship. Jesus says that this kind of disagreement too must be resolved and harmony restored wherever possible. He illustrates this with the image of someone coming to worship who, recalling the fractured relationship, will leave worship and seek immediate reconciliation (verses 23-24). The precise details might differ for us, but the principle is valid still; we must do all we can to "pursue peace with everyone" (Hebrews 9:14).

And the principles that hold within the fellowship of God's people, should also shape our attitudes when dealing with those relationships beyond the people of God. Verse 25 onwards reminds believers that it is good practice to try to settle disputes as quickly as possible. In this account, the primary reason to seek resolution is to avoid prosecution, but surely even here, we are committed to resolving disagreements for their own sake and the good name of the gospel.

To Ponder

  • How do you seek to resolve conflict in your relationships?
  • How have you recognised others seeking to resolve conflict?
  • To what extent does the encouragement to 'pursue peace with everyone' mean that the avoidance and resolution of conflict should always take precedence in our dealings with others?
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