In our message on Sunday, we spent time looking into the portion of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus is talking about the sixth commandment, thou shall not murder. With the 5th anniversary of the church shooting at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston SC last Wednesday, and with the conflict throughout our nation right now, it seemed quite providential that our series on this great sermon would lead us to those passages, Matthew 5:21-26, at that particular time.
There is a tremendous amount of anger in our country right now, even working its way through the churches. In the face of injustice, anger seems like a reasonable response in general, and righteous anger seems appropriate within the churches. Church members are quick to point to Scripture passages such as John 2:13-17 where Jesus makes a whip out of cords to drive the animals out of the temple court, and then overturns the tables of the money changers who had set up shop there. As the thinking goes, if Jesus was justified in his anger, then certainly there are times when the Church body today will be justified in their anger.
As the Church today, we need to tread very carefully when it comes to justifying anger. If we look closely at those instances where Jesus is angry, we will see that he reserves his anger for those who are standing in the way of people being able to worship God properly. He had rather pointed words for those teachers of the Law who focused the people more on outward obedience than internal transformation, calling them hypocrites, blind guides, and likening them to whitewashed tombs (Matthew 23). When he cleared the temple court, he was clearing out the Court of the Gentiles which was the one spot in the temple where non-Jews were able to come and worship the one true God.
Perhaps more instructive to the Church today are the words that Jesus spoke while enduring what is one of the greatest injustices in recorded history – the crucifixion of the only one to have been without sin. In Luke 23:34, Jesus says “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” That day, Jesus confronted hatred and injustice with love for those who were executing him. He had previously exhorted his disciples to love their enemies, and to bless those who persecute them. This remains the clearly established pattern of how Jesus chose to confront the sinful acts of mankind.
The Church must not be silent in the face of injustice or oppression. Those who stand for Christ and His holy righteousness must speak out in the face of evil and walk alongside the persecuted. However, if we are to truly follow Jesus, our motivation for these actions must be love for both those who are being harmed and those who are causing the pain. The wisdom that Jesus revealed when teaching about the 6th commandment was that calling someone a fool or not attempting to be reconciled to someone else displays the same condition of the heart that ultimately leads to murder. Therefore, when seeking peace, justice or reconciliation, anger is the wrong motivation and will ultimately lead us further away from God.
Jesus commands us to walk in love, but never does he command us to walk in anger. He calls us to make disciples of all nations, but never tells us to stand in judgment over them. We are to love God, love fellow believers, and love our neighbors no matter who they may be, or what they may be doing. Certainly, we need to be able to speak the truth, but we must always speak truth with love. If that is something that we struggle with, then we need to examine our own hearts first before trying the claim the mantle of an ambassador of Christ.
Peace and blessings – Pastor Aaron