Killing, Hostility, and Degradation

“Ye have heard that it was said to them of old time, ‘Thou shalt not kill’; and ‘whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment’:
but I say unto you, that every one who is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment; and whosoever shall say to his brother, ‘Raca,’ shall be in danger of the council; and whosoever shall say, ‘Thou fool’, shall be in danger of the hell of fire” (Matthew 5:21-22).

This was quite an astonishing way of saying things.

For generations teachers of the Law of Moses would not presume the authority to make their own naked declarations: whatever they would say would involve references to the Law and/or to noted rabbis. Yet here Jesus makes a break with tradition and begins a series of statements comparing and contrasting “what was said” with what “I say unto you” (Matthew 5:21-48). The multitudes proved suitably astonished: they marveled at how He taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes (Matthew 7:28-29).

He begins this extraordinary series of declarations with a well-known commandment: thou shalt not kill (Exodus 20:13, Matthew 5:21). “Whosoever shall kill will be in danger of the judgment” is not explicitly found in that word-for-word form in the Law but its sentiment is a proper conclusion of passages like Exodus 21:12-14, Leviticus 24:21, Numbers 35:16-21, 30-34, and Deuteronomy 16:18. What the Law teaches is rooted in Genesis 9:5-6: murdering another human being is wrong and sinful. Since God created all humans, and is no respecter of persons, all humans have value in God’s sight (cf. Genesis 1:26-27, Romans 2:11): therefore, a man taking the life of another man can never be a trivial matter. Such cases had to be adjudicated and done with the greatest care: justice needed to be done for the one who died, but the severity of the consequence, the death of the one who killed the man, was so serious that it merited a thorough trial. Furthermore, the Law made provision for intention: one who was guilty of what we would call involuntary manslaughter was not to be treated the same way as one who was guilty of first-degree murder (cf. Numbers 35:9-34). While mercy was called for in cases of involuntary manslaughter, there was to be no mercy in cases of first-degree murder: life for a life, blood for blood, was demanded, otherwise the integrity of life would be besmirched.

Jesus has no quarrel with the law regarding murder, the trial process for murder, or the consequences for murder. He in no way is attempting to minimize the need for justice to be done in cases of murder; while murderers, as the rest of us, can receive forgiveness for their sins, they still will have to suffer the civic consequences for their behavior. Jesus is in no way attempting to abrogate or minimize this law; He instead goes further with His warning.

Jesus focuses in directly on the “first-degree” part of “first-degree murder”: murder as an intentional, premeditated act. What motivates anyone to attempt to kill another human made in the image of God? Such an act is never motivated by love or based upon an application of the “Golden Rule.” Every first-degree murder is first committed in the mind, and it can only first be committed in the mind when there is some sort of hostility or enmity which is fostered and cultivated within the mind. This is Jesus’ focus in His “but I say unto you” declaration.

Jesus speaks in absolute terms: everyone who is angry with his brother is in danger of the judgment just as if he had murdered him; the one who says, “Raca,” meaning “empty” or perhaps colloquially “airhead,” is in danger of being brought before the council, or Sanhedrin, and the one who calls his brother a fool is in danger of Gehenna, God’s trash pit. These are very serious warnings and demand the listener’s attention!

There is an understandable desire to temper what Jesus says: He Himself will call the Pharisees and scribes fools in Matthew 23:17, and Paul will tell Christians to be angry and sin not in Ephesians 4:26. Yet we do well to also consider how John considers one who hates his brother as a murderer in 1 John 3:14-15.

The core message of Jesus’ instruction is clear enough: murder is the result of a process, and the process therefore is as dangerous, sinful, and wrong as its result. Murder is the result of everything from anger to insult and, as John will show as perhaps worst of all, indifference, having no concern about the fate of others (hate being understood as lack of active love, or loving less, as is often in the New Testament; so Luke 14:26). Yes, one can be angry with another person without killing them, but one cannot kill another person without having some sort of anger at them. Yes, it is possible to despise or be indifferent to the existence of another human being without murdering them, but murder is often motivated by a careless disregard and contempt for the life of the one killed. These attitudes and thought patterns can lead to the deed, and even when they do not lead to the deed, are still unprofitable, unproductive, and quite toxic to God’s real intent. God is not merely interested in having us not kill each other: He wants us to affirm the value of each person as another made in the image of God and therefore of inestimable value. If we are angry with another human, or show disregard, contempt, or indifference toward another human, we are not honoring him or her as fellow children of God, and thus find ourselves in danger of judgment and condemnation. The works of the flesh are indifferent to, callous of, or even abusive of other people; the fruit of the Spirit cannot help but dignify and honor others as fellow children of God (Galatians 5:17-24).

Jesus therefore uses the ultimate negative in order to point His followers to the ultimate positive: murder is such a big deal because of the surpassing value of human life, and therefore God’s people must think, feel, and do all things in order to maintain the honor, value, and dignity of human life. Such honor, value, and dignity goes well beyond just avoiding ending the lives of others; by necessity it must continue to affirm their value and dignity, and thus our thoughts, feelings, and actions should always express that value and dignity. Anger and its subsequent hostility as well as insult and its subsequent degradation are incompatible with the honor and dignity inherent in the value of life. Jesus makes it clear that it is not enough to just not kill; we must also show love, and to show love demands that we honor and dignify our fellow humans and do all things toward that end. Therefore, let us seek the best interest of others, not only not killing them but also not allowing anger to fester into hostility and resentment, or to act presumptuously and insult and degrade them, and thus honor and glorify God who dignified them with life as He has us!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Value of the Kingdom

“The kingdom of heaven is like unto a treasure hidden in the field; which a man found, and hid; and in his joy he goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is a merchant seeking goodly pearls: and having found one pearl of great price, he went and sold all that he had, and bought it” (Matthew 13:44-46).

Everyone is taught to be wary of the deal that is too good to be true, because more often than not, it is. A free car is never really “free.” That e-mail from Nigeria promising you hundreds of thousands of dollars is a scam; do not send them any money! While that “hot stock pick” sometimes might make you money, more often than not, it probably will not. Most everyone has a story about having high expectations for some great and wonderful thing that proved to be too good to be true.

But what happens if we actually do come across something that is wonderful and good– and it is true? What if we could discover something that, in reality, is worth far more than anything we could ever own or dream to own? What if you were promised security in the midst of every situation? Peace no matter the circumstances in which you find yourself? Unwavering hope for the present and future? The prospect of unimaginable glory for eternity? How much would that be worth to you?

These things are what Jesus offers people in His Kingdom (Romans 8:18-25, 31-39, Philippians 4:7). He describes this Kingdom for us in many parables, and two of them really show us just how valuable we are to consider His Kingdom to be: the parable of the treasure in the field and the parable of the pearl of great price (Matthew 13:44-46).

In the parable of the treasure of the field, a man, for whatever reason, is digging in a field, and he finds treasure in it. He buries the treasure, joyfully goes and sells all that he has, buys that field, and thus obtains the treasure (Matthew 13:44). In the parable of the pearl of great price, a merchant is seeking pearls to buy, and happens to come across one magnificent pearl, and he goes and sells all that he has in order to buy that pearl (Matthew 13:45-46).

There are some distinctions in these parables that are profitable to consider. In the parable of the treasure in the field, the Kingdom is likened to the treasure itself; in the parable of the pearl of great price, the Kingdom is likened to the merchant seeking pearls. The merchant is more of a “specialist”– he has seen many pearls, he knows what he is seeking, and he finds the ultimate pearl. The man in the field, on the other hand, does not seem to be a “specialist”; it would seem that he discovered the treasure by chance.

Some people, therefore, come upon the Kingdom of God by chance. Others are seeking the Kingdom and then find it. Some may not be very knowledgeable about God; others might be quite knowledgeable about spiritual things, seeking divine truth. Nevertheless, however one ends up finding the Kingdom, the result is to be the same: it is to be held in such high esteem that it is worth getting rid of any hindrance, any possessed object, so as to obtain that Kingdom.

Thus we return to the question: what is the Kingdom worth to us? How much is confidence, hope, peace, and ultimate glory worth to us? We know what the answer to the question should be– it should be worth giving up everything else in our lives so that we obtain it. This is what Paul emphasizes in Philippians 3:8-15: counting everything as rubbish so as to gain Christ, to strain forward toward the upward call of God in Christ.

But do we really think the Kingdom is that worthwhile? Are we really willing to suffer the loss of everything else in life so as to gain the Kingdom? Are we willing to be entirely transformed so as to conform to the image of Jesus, and no longer walk in the ways of the world (Romans 8:29, 12:1-2, 9; 1 John 2:15-17)? Are we willing to be entirely expended for Jesus’ cause and suffer in order to obtain that glory (Romans 8:17-18, Galatians 2:20)?

The Kingdom costs everything because it is worth more than anything else we can have or imagine. Perhaps we may not have been looking for it; nevertheless, the treasure is before us. Perhaps we have been searching; the pearl is there for us to find. But once we have found it, what then? Will we understand that the Kingdom is good and it is true, and be willing to suffer the loss of everything in order to obtain it? Or will we find the cost too high and walk away? Let us recognize the exceeding value of the Kingdom of God, and be willing to be entirely expended for Christ’s cause today!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Work and Effort

For what hath a man of all his labor, and of the striving of his heart, wherein he laboreth under the sun? For all his days are but sorrows, and his travail is grief; yea, even in the night his heart taketh no rest. This also is vanity. There is nothing better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and make his soul enjoy good in his labor. This also I saw, that it is from the hand of God (Ecclesiastes 2:22-24).

For better or worse, man was made to work (Genesis 2:15). The world is full of the evidence of the “business” of mankind, and the work cycle will continue until the Lord returns.

It is within the heart of man to work. Not working– and not wanting to work– is an aberration (1 Timothy 5:8, 2 Thessalonians 3:10). Work provides people with a level of purpose and meaning along with the paycheck to pay for life’s necessities.

Unfortunately, too many labor under many false pretenses about human effort. From a young age we are told that we can make something of ourselves and that we should find work that empowers us or helps us find meaning. We should try to find some job with lasting value. Every employer tries to find some way to make the effort of their employees fit these bills.

The difficulty is, as the Preacher indicates, that human effort is ultimately vain. Things that people make break or perish. Accumulated wealth goes to children or others. You can work at a job for years, retire, and eventually be forgotten. In the end, it will all burn up (2 Peter 3:9-10).

Meanwhile, how many find themselves at 25 or 35 in the job of their dreams as a young child? Not many. Instead, cold, hard reality has set in, and how many suffer great distress and discouragement because of broken promises or failed dreams?

This is why the Preacher’s message, while disconcerting, needs to be heard. We are not promised that our work will be ultimately meaningful. Instead, we must find value in our work. We must find some way to enjoy what we do. We spend far too much of our time and effort in our short lives at work to do otherwise!

We must also realize that work is the means to an end, and is not the end all and be all of existence. Serving God serves that purpose (Galatians 2:20, Ephesians 2:1-10, Titus 3:3-8). We must find enjoyment in work and enjoyment in the rest of life. Does this mean that we might have to change jobs? Perhaps. But most times it has less to do with the job and more to do with our perspective on the job. Let us lay aside our pretensions about our effort, find value in our effort, and do all things to the glory of God!

Ethan R. Longhenry