Video and Updated Sermon Notes: Matthew 5:21-26

Matthew 5:21-26

Murder Begins in the Heart

Remember, Jesus told us his “big idea” for the Sermon on the Mount is Unless our righteousness goes deeper than surface adherence to a law, we are not Christians. 

That kind of righteousness is what keeps us salty, that is producing holiness and being light for the world to see and believe in Jesus. Unsalty salt is not good for anything. So, Jesus wants to keep us salty. 

In Matthew 5:21–26, Jesus is going to give us his first of six illustrations from the Old Testament on how God’s standard has to be deeper than external adherence, a divided person, whose heart and outsides are at odds.

Jesus is going to take us to the heart, where genuine external actions originate, and where a new and transformed heart will produce real and joyful obedience. 

READ IT: Matthew 5:21-26

Let’s state clearly up front what Matthew 5:21-26 does NOT say:

  1. It does not say: Straighten out every problem everyone has with me whether I did anything wrong or not. 
  2. It does not say: When I have some kind of “problem” with someone, go tell that person about it.
    1. NOTE: Some things I handle in my soul with God. I let the Spirit reset my perception of things. I refuse to harm the person against whom I’ve held some perceived slight by telling them about it and thus harm them.
    2. This is emotional maturity. 
      1. The Scriptures address how to deal with a situation in which a person has sinned (Matthew 18). 
        1. Me being offended over some perceived thing is not a sin. 
  3. It does not say: Make sure everyone is good with us all the time. 
    1. If you are going to be in any form of leading anything above just participating, people are going to turn your expressions, words, thoughts, and ideas as imagined slights toward them into a storm of bitterness and rage, and you can never satisfy any of it. 
      1. Nothing you do or say will ever be good enough. Everything you do and say can be critiqued. And that just has to be ok. 
      2. We/you/me can never make sure everyone is good with us all the time. 
  4. It does not say: Respond to every criticism as if wrong was actually done because people’s beliefs and external observations are always 100% accurate. 

What does Jesus mean in Matthew 5:21-27?

  1. Murder begins with unrighteous anger in the heart. Unrighteous anger leads to verbal slander. Verbal slander takes vitality from those slandered, and if unchecked, unrighteous anger can lead to taking physical life. Verse 21-22
    1. Unrighteous anger is sin. Righteous anger is not sin. 
      1. Jesus does not condemn all anger here. 
        1. The reason is that God the Father gets angry, and he does not sin. 
        2. Jesus Got angry, and he did not sin in his anger. 
      2. Psalm 4:4 (CSB) 4 Be angry and do not sin; reflect in your heart while on your bed and be silent.
      3. Ephesians 4:26-27 (CSB) 26 Be angry and do not sin. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and don’t give the devil an opportunity.
    2. So, when Jesus says “angry with his brother” he does not mean anger that is birthed from walking with God in justice and righteousness. 
      1. JI Packer writes in “Knowing God” that the closer we grow to God in our Chrisitan growth, the more we will imitate him and all his emotions and responses. 
      2. There is a place for righteous anger that looks like God’s anger in the correct direction. 
    3. Here, Jesus means unrighteous anger because he’s illustrating where murder begins. It if was righteous, it would not be murder. 
      1. Some manuscripts add “without cause” as a clarifying note just to make the correct interpretation clear. 
        1. Your Bible probably has a footnote letting you know this. 
      2. It is hard to pinpoint where unrighteous anger begins. It helps to evaluate unrighteous anger by understanding that anger is a secondary emotion that comes from a perceived primary offense. 
        1. This is where we have to be super careful. 
          1. Unrighteous anger can come from:
            1. Improper expectations put on others. 
            2. Perceived offenses that are not offenses. 
            3. Being overly sensitive. 
            4. Being blind to multiple circumstances. 
            5. Emotional immaturity. 
              1. We have to know ourselves. Be in fellowship and accountable. Receive feedback. Be willing to grow. 
      3. Notice, that unrighteous anger toward another person can progress to verbal “insult”. 
        1. NOTE: We know this is a progression because Jesus is showing us that murder begins in the heart, and since he’s talking about murder, we must understand he’s working us from murder’s beginning spark of unrighteous anger to verbal insult to the firey fruition of hell. 
        2. The word “insult” is the word “raca”, an Aramaic term of abuse. 
          1. Raca is a term of contempt similar to “empty”, applying to a person’s head. Basically “stupid”. 
        3. The second word “fool” is the word “moros” which is similar in meaning to “raca” but focuses on one’s heart and character, and carries a deeper and harsher accusation. 
          1. There is a progression in the slander from one degree to a more serious degree. 
      4. Notice, that the object of this unrighteous anger is “a brother or sister”.
        1. The person who is being verbally murdered is one who shares a covenantal bond.
      5. Notice, the heart that uses words to hurt one in the family puts itself in the position of being subject to “hellfire”…literally “gehenna fire”. 
        1. Gehenna is a reference to the Hinnom valley south of the city where children were sacrificed to Molech through fire in previous generations and had in recent years become the city’s garbage dump. 
          1. This was how Jesus referenced hell. 
          2. The heart moving toward physical murder by harboring evil in the heart is on the doorstep of hell. 
        2. This is how seriously Jesus takes the heart attitude of unrighteous anger that is the seed of murder. 
          1. Is this person a Christian? 
          2. It depends on if they will hear God’s word and obey and thus prove they are actually Christians. 
            1. He who hears these words and does them, the Lord will say at the end of this sermon as his application. 
            2. The murderous person could evidence their lack of faith by holding onto their slander and taking it to their grave. 
      6. This heart is one that has taken the internal sin and made it public either to one person or a whole group. 
        1. We know this is public because Jesus is addressing it as a progression of murder that has taken place outside of the person’s internal thoughts.
        2. This is not an internal matter a person might be trying to work through in which they are wrongfully angry and need God the Holy Spirit to correct them. 
          1. This would be the correct way to deal with one’s unrighteous anger. 
          2. You don’t wound another person by telling them you’ve been wrongfully angry at them on the inside just so you can cleanse your conscience. 
        3. Jesus is addressing the murderous matter where one has taken unrighteous anger and hurt a person with that anger in public through slander whether in front of 1 or 100.
  2. How is this situation murder?
    1. This is murder in two ways.
      1. It is murder because unrighteous anger leading to slander kills the vitality of the person the unrighteous anger is directed toward. 
        1. Jesus himself tells us this by calling it murder. 
        2. It’s not up for debate unless we reject Jesus. 
      2. It is murder because unrighteous anger, unintercepted, can possibly lead to the taking of physical life. 
    2. Let’s be clear: There is a distinction between unrighteous anger leading to slander that wounds a soul and wounding that takes physical life. 
      1. Jesus is not foolish. 
      2. Jesus’ point is that murder begins in the heart, and the Pharisees were content with the external actions not what produced them. 
        1. We will see this in action as they will hate Jesus in sin, slander him, and this will lead to them murdering him on a Roman cross. 
          1. Talk about what they meant for evil, God meant it for good. Genesis 50:20.
      3. One is not the other, but one leads to the other, and Jesus does not want us to miss this truth so that we can deal with the heart.
      4. Jesus wants us to remain salty and inherit the kingdom, and he’s telling us how. 
  3. Those sowing the seeds of murder should repent and repair what they have ruptured rather than pretending to worship. V. 23-24
    1. The key question of verse 23 is, who is the “you” offering their gift on the alter?
      1. Far too many take verses 23-27 and separate them from verses 21-22 and generalize the second half of Jesus’ teaching and turn the “you” into anyone and the contextual situation anything in which there is a relational strain. 
        1. This is wrong and not even Christian. 
        2. It’s actually harmful. 
      2. The failure to answer who the “you” is leads to people making Jesus say what he didn’t say. 
        1. NOTE: Words and grammar are vital to understanding authorial intent. Meaning lies in the author’s intent not what I think the author meant. 
        2. The “you” of verse 23 is the person who is unrighteously angry and insulting their faith family and thus on the doorstep of gehenna. 
        3. There is no other grammatical or contextual person to place this on. 
          1. Remember, unless our righteousness is deeper than the Scribes and Pharisees, there is no heaven. 
          2. Jesus is taking us down to the heart for our salvation and to show us just how deep sin is embedded so that we can repent of that sin.
        4. What Jesus here calls “reconciliation” in the counseling world, Christian and non-Christian alike, call the “rupture repair cycle”. The reason is that often Christians absolutely butcher what Jesus teaches here about reconciliation.
          1. What Jesus teaches is recognized as the healthy and proper way for relationships broken by murderous slander to be healed.
            1. For Jesus’ brand of reconciliation to happen, the rupturer is responsible for initiating by repentance and then seeking the restoration of broken relationships without casting blame on their victims. 
          2. It is NOT the victim’s responsibility to incur further hurt by seeking to fix a wound they did not cause. 
            1. The observing world knows this. 
              1. Why have many Christians been so slow to actually let the Bible speak and then do what it says?
                1. Often it’s because what has been called “Christian” and accepted as “Christian” conflicts with what the Bible actually says. 
                2. This is why cultural Christianity is deadly. 
            2. Jesus’ words makes sense.
              1. To insist on another way will heap grief upon grief on the wrong party. 
              2. For the murderer in the heart, there is good grief they should feel. 
              3. This is grief that leads to life.
                1. 2 Corinthians 7:9-10
    2. If you are a victim of unrighteous anger and slander, you are not responsible before God or man to fix what you did not break. Be free!
      1. This is called a “boundary” (emotional structure), and you can defend it Biblically. 
        1. Some folks don’t like it when healthy boundaries are set, but you can just let them not like it, and tune them out, and you are not wrong for doing that. 
        2. Just because the Bible warns us that we will be treated the way Jesus was treated does not mean we have to receive that treatment into our souls nor allow the people who treat us that way continual access to our lives.
    3. If you are guilty of unrighteous anger and speaking slanderously about someone, begin reconciliation or the rupture/repair cycle by repenting before God, repenting before the one you sinned against without any qualification (no casting blame), and thus begin repairing the damage you caused. 
      1. Application Note: If you are in the wrong, don’t reach out for a meeting without telling the one you wronged you intend to repent for your wrong and make amends with no blame cast on them so that you don’t cause that person unnecessary anxiety and further harm as they tense up in preparation for another verbal assault. The victim does not owe a response to a general inquiry by the sinner and further damage to their own soul. 
        1. Here is what beginning repentance leading to Jesus’ brand of reconciliation looks like:
          1. I was wrong. 
          2. I’m sorry for what I did and said. 
          3. I hurt you and others. 
          4. Please forgive me. 
          5. I want to do what is necessary to make amends and restore what I broke. 
        2. If the guilty won’t do that, the innocent don’t have a responsibility to make it happen.  
      2. If you have not slandered someone publicly (about someone to someone or a group), but have been unrighteously angry and slanderous in your heart toward an innocent person, don’t go wound the innocent person further by telling them how you mistreated them in your heart. 
        1. Just confess to God, repent, and move forward. 
        2. Don’t hurt the innocent person by telling them how you have held in your unrighteous anger and slander privately. 
          1. This is selfishness disguised as Christian obedience and it’s sin because it then wounds an innocent person and makes them begin to question everything about themselves to the detriment of their fellowship with other people because they now wonder who else is doing this same thing toward them. 
            1. Confess and repent before God and move forward. 
    4. If we have murdered in the heart, we should not worship until we have started the repair of the rupture we caused. V. 24
      1. Worship is hindered when we murder one another in the heart. 
      2. Ministry is hindered when we murder one another in the heart. 
      3. Small groups are destroyed by murder in the heart. 
      4. Great Commission work is destroyed by murder in the heart. 
  4. Repair quickly what has been ruptured. V. 25-27
    1. Jesus’ final instruction is in the illustration he gives of going to court.
    2. Jesus says to be sure we settled with our innocent adversary before we get in front of the judge who will not let us get away with our violation. 
      1. Again, Jesus makes clear that the guilty party should initiate making things right by making all proper amends and they should do so quickly. 
      2. If this is not done, the judge, God, will see that the innocent are vindicated and the guilty are dealt with. 


  1. Exercise Holy Spirit self-control over your thinking and refuse to let Cain’s perceptions lead to Cain’s thoughts and actions. 
    1. Cain let the sin crouching at his door look with disdain at his brother who did nothing wrong, and his murderous heart of internal slander led him to kill his brother. 
    2. Sin is always crouching at the door, and by the Holy Spirit, we will master it and kill it not the people around us. 
  2. Exercise self-control over your thoughts and words. Refuse to let your mind go to certain places, and let your tongue speak anything but life. 
  3. Don’t let unrepentant sin keep you from freedom. Begin repenting now. 
  4. If you’ve been slandered by murderous hearts and words, rest in knowing that Jesus was treated that way, and he’s near to heal and release you from any self-imposed guilt. 

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