The Heart of The Matter
Read Matthew 5:21-26 (ESV)
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.
According to today’s verses, do sins of the heart carry as much weight as sins in action?
When we studied the beatitudes last week, we discussed Matthew 5:8 in which Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” We talked about how over and over again in Scripture, God shows us that He is not just concerned with our outward actions. He is primarily concerned with what is in our hearts.
In today’s verses, Jesus addressed a sin of our hearts—anger. In fact, He said that anger towards another in our hearts carries the same eternal punishment as murder. He said that simply insulting our brother will make us “liable to the hell of fire.” To our sensibilities that seems harsh, doesn’t it? But God knows that all of us sin from the inside out.
Can you think of a sin that doesn’t originate in the heart? I can’t think of one. Jesus said as much in Matthew 15:18-19 when He said, “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.”
In Luke 6:45, Jesus said, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”
His brother, James agreed and wrote in James 1:5: “then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” Sinful desires start in our hearts and when they are nursed and nurtured rather than immediately dealt with they grow into sin which can mature to the point where it completely ruins us.
Most murders aren’t random, they are preceded with anger. Some people allow anger to grow in their hearts towards someone else until they get to the point that they decide to physically act on it. Murder is obviously the most serious offense against our neighbors that we can make.
Sure, none of us are murdering our neighbors, thankfully! But many of us are holding a grudge. Many of us are harboring anger towards a brother or sister in Christ. Some of us are even allowing our anger to grow and develop into a hatred for another image bearer of God. And Jesus says this is just as wrong as murder itself.
So what do we do about our anger? Jesus said to address it right away. Don’t let it fester. In fact, Jesus told the Jews that before they made an offering to God, they were supposed to search their hearts, right any wrongs, and seek to settle any disputes with a brother or sister prior to making the offering. He said to seek reconciliation quickly.
Friends, anger is a sin that has the potential to completely ruin us—and those around us. So don’t treat your anger like a pet. Kick it out of the house of your heart immediately. Confess it to God, confess it to your brother or sister, and seek to make peace. Remember, God has every right to be angry at us and yet, through Jesus Christ, we are at peace with Him. So, “let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31-32).
Lord, I confess that sometimes I let my anger get the best of me. Sometimes I lose my temper, other times, I allow my anger to fester and grow into bitterness and hate. Soften my heart, remind me of how I’ve been forgiven, and help me to forgive those who have wronged me. Help me to live at peace with everyone around me. Amen.