Monday, October 16, 2023

Guidelines for Civil Discourse - #4: Never Insult a Brother or Sister

                                                                       (New York City)

When Linda and I were campus pastors at Michigan State University, we were teaching Matthew 5:21-24 to our students. In the midst of the discussion, one of our students, Naomi, who was from Malawi, said: "If we followed the words of Jesus here very few of us would be worshiping today. We would all get up and leave, go to the brothers and sisters we were demeaning, and ask for forgiveness."

21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, 
and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 
22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry 
with a brother or sister 
will be subject to judgment. 
Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, 
is answerable to the court. 
And anyone who says, ‘
You fool!’ 
will be in danger of the fire of hell.
23 “Therefore, 
if you are offering your gift at the altar 
and there remember 
that your brother or sister 
has something against you,
24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. 
First go 
and be reconciled to them; 
then come and offer your gift.

"Raca" is an Aramaic term of abuse. It means "idiot." (See R.T. France, The Gospel According to Matthew, p. 120)

Anyone who calls a brother or sister in Christ an idiot is answerable to the Sanhedrin. (Greek synedrion.) France writes: "Jesus here threatens ultimate divine judgment on anger, even as expressed in everyday insults." (Ib.) 

If I call someone an idiot am I really relegated to the garbage heap where Israel's rubbish was burned? No. Jesus is using exaggeration, as he often does, to make a point. (This is called Semitic hyperbole.) But the point is important. This is "an injunction to submit our thoughts about other people, as well as the words they give rise to, to God's penetrating scrutiny... We cannot worship God with grudges unsettled."

Anger is no excuse for insulting people. It is non-redemptive and alienating.

If you are a Jesus-follower, and you ridicule a brother or sister, your worship is inauthentic, and unacceptable to God.


Guidelines for Civil Discourse: #1 - Love Others