The Sermon on the Mount: Day 5

Murder Begins in the Heart

by

Today's Text: Matthew 5:21-26, Genesis 4:1-16, Exodus 20:13, Psalm 14:1-3, Mark 11:23-25, James 2:8-13, 3:3-6

Scripture Reading: Matthew 5:21-26, Genesis 4:1-16, Exodus 20:13, Psalm 14:1-3, Mark 11:23-25, James 2:8-13, 3:3-6

Growing up with two brothers meant a constant war of the wills. I wanted to watch Harriet the Spy and they wanted to watch Star Wars. I wanted to do crafts, and they wanted to play video games. It was the usual sibling conflict, but it provided our parents with many teachable moments.

I still remember the awkwardness of learning to apologize. We would mutter “sorry” under our breath, but that didn’t cut it. Our parents would prompt us to say why we were sorry and then ask us to hug one another, no matter how forced it seemed.

You’d think all that practice at reconciliation would make it easier, but the truth is my first instinct is still to avoid conflict. I would much rather ignore the tension in my relationships and hope it disappears. So when I read Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Matthew, clearly stating we need to address and heal the grievances in our relationships if we are going to be in right relationship with God, I start to sweat a little.

In Matthew 5:21-26, we read the first of six discourses found in the Sermon on the Mount. Each begins with Jesus saying, “You have heard that it was said… But I tell you…” These six discourses are heavy hitters. Jesus greatly raised the bar of expectation on how His followers are meant to behave in regard to anger, purity, divorce, honesty, generosity, and love. Christ was showing that God requires righteousness that surpassed even that of the scribes and Pharisees. Who can possibly live up to this standard? No person other than Jesus Christ, of course. And so Jesus calls us to aim higher, but also to realize our need for His mercy and grace.

The new teaching Christ gave on murder said that even anger in the heart would be subject to judgment. While most of us can’t imagine committing murder, who hasn’t been angry or unkind toward another? In realizing that any hate in our heart is worthy of punishment, we can’t stand above the law and pretend we don’t need saving.

What seems especially important in this passage is Christ’s command to get right with our brothers and sisters before we make our offering to the Lord. So often we want to ask God for forgiveness and leave it at that. But the Lord cares deeply about our broken relationships here on earth. Just as parents teach their children to apologize to siblings, our heavenly Father teaches us, His children, to reconcile with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

We are meant to be the family of God to one another, and being a healthy family means lovingly facing the pain, tension, and hurt encountered in true relationship.

It is the work of the Holy Spirit to reveal to us if “[our] brother or sister has something against [us].” (Perhaps you are thinking of someone now?) We are called to listen to this prompting and “go and be reconciled” as much as we are able. Some relationships may seem impossible to repair, but the Lord calls us to do our best to reconcile. Whether or not our attempts are accepted is not in our control.

However difficult or broken our earthly relationships may be, we have the peace and presence of Jesus, just as He promised (John 14:26-27). He pursued us at our worst and gave His life so that we might experience the ultimate reconciliation—peace with God.

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Kaitie Stoddard is a professional counselor who recently relocated from Chicago to Colorado with her husband. She has her Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology and is passionate about helping couples and families find healing in their relationships. On any given weekend you’re likely to find Katie snowboarding in the Rocky Mountains, checking out new restaurants with friends, or catching up on her favorite Netflix and podcast series.

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  • Andrea, my pastor taught a series on this. Forgiveness and wanting an active relationship with someone are two very different things. I am in the same situation as you. My heart can forgive this other person without my feeling the need to spend any time with them, and that is totally ok! We can shrug off this burden and lay the guilt down at the feet of Jesus, along with all the others we carry needlessly. Forgiveness is an act that God channels through you by His grace. Relationship is an earthly act and we need not pursue it if it harms us in any way. We can be at peace.

  • The question I find my self asking as I grow older is true forgiveness and not having a relationship with that person okay. I have a family member who I feel in my heart I have truly forgiven. I wish no ill-will towards him and I pray for him. I pray God guides him and works in him. I, however, do not want to have a day to day relationship with him. I don’t want to text him to “see how things are going.” I don’t want to have dinners. I don’t want to take my children to visit him. Is it possible for me to have forgiven him but not want to have a relationship with him? Is it possible for me to have forgiven him but live as if he is stranger?

  • My father died several years ago after a long illness. We had an almost nonexistent relationship stemming from his infidelity to my mother. It lasted many years and he basically turned his back on his family. Even though I was bitter and hurt from the treatment I received growing up deep down there was still love for him. The last time I saw him was at my uncles funeral. He was sitting in a wheelchair and looked so broken and lost. As difficult as it was for me to do, I walked over to him and wrapped my arms around him and told him that I loved him and then just walked away. There were never any more words said between us. I pray he made peace with Jesus and that one day we can meet again.

  • God ended up teaching me about anger yesterday in a way I didn’t even expect. I’m a teacher and my class is pretty well behaved. However, a little girl (six years old) got extremely angry during the last few minutes of the school day and threw a tantrum.

    As I watched her while she was trying to calm down, I realized that anger is something that has always been a part of our sinful nature. Although I was frustrated at first by the behavior, I was able to be firm yet compassionate as I spoke with this little girl after her classmates left.

    I realize that even as an adult, I’m not so different from her. I get angry over things too and though my tantrums are mostly internal these days, that doesn’t make my anger any less sinful than hers.

    It led me to dig deeper into the story of Cain (and also Jonah), which reminds me that it’s a heart issue. I think it’s interesting question that God asked both Cain and Jonah, “Why are you angry?” Our omniscient God already knew the answer, but He chose to reach out and communicate with both of these men before teaching them a lesson (especially in Jonah’s case.) That speaks volumes to me about the character of God. I think the next time this happens in my classroom or in my heart, I will be asking my students or myself that same question: “Why are you angry?”

    • Shelly Mallon

      ❤️

      • Deborah

        Kristi- Thank you so much for this. I didn’t realize anger was a problem for me until I became a mother. My sudden outbursts and tantrums seemed fine to display to my children when we were alone at home, until…I saw them acting the same way. I realized how wrong my outbursts were, even if they were so tiny, and began to see my need for their forgiveness. Oh that I would have the compassion of our Father when my children display the anger they already have in ways that I showed them was permissible. I learned more about my anger and twice as much about forgiveness upon becoming a mother.

  • As I have read through the comments for today; it appears a lot of us have difficulty with relationships with our biological sisters. I for one, have a little to no relationship. The early aspect of 7 years ago, she stated she hated me and wanted nothing to do with me.. nowadays just no contact from either her or me. Grant it I haven’t attempted because I don’t want to be hurt.. does that mean I sin because I don’t want to try and get hurt again.

    • IAB

      Shelby – i think perhaps not focusing on if you are in sin rather what does your heart feel towards your sister is of more importance. Reconciliation on your side – surrendering her and your relationship with her to the Lord – and knowing you have peace is what Lord asks of you. In my familial relationship s that has often looked like reaching out – asking for forgiveness for my failings in the relationship and opening the door- your sisters response is not your responsibility- but BIg things can happen when one person bends towards peace. Pray through this and I know you will hear from the Lord as to what He would have you to do – I will be praying for you.

  • Annette Briones

    Wow!! Something I truly needed to read tonight. Praying for boldness and strength to work towards healing in a very close relationship.

  • AimeeJoy

    In this part of the Jesus’ sermon, he addresses the pharisees. Back in the day, Pharisees would create ways to “get around” the law. They would say, “certainly you cannot murder. But if you just get really angry at someone, or treat them unfairly because you are angry, then you wouldn’t be murdering them”. They would create loop holes to the law so that people who weren’t as educated in the law could look to the pharisees for answers. The pharisees looked at the actions and not the heart. Here, however, Jesus reframes the law back into a heart issue. When Jesus reframes the law, I see that he is simply telling us to be open to the Spirit’s work/leading in us. If we are resentful and harbor an anger that refuses to be pacified, how can we have room to listen to the Holy Spirit? I think as people, we like to know we are behaving rightly by knowing what behaviors to perform. But this is exactly what Jesus was telling the pharisees not to do. When I am about to come to the Lord’s table, I used to be slightly paranoid, thinking, “what if there is a sin or a wrong that I committed against someone that I don’t know about? Is it wrong then, for me to come to the table?”. Over the years, this fleeting thought has been replaced by simply coming back to a focus on Jesus and a state of being open to the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the lamb of reconciliation. Often there are relationships in our lives that cannot be completely reconciled. But because Jesus spoke on behalf of people, when we could not see what needed to be healed, so too does Jesus intercede for all parts of relationships that we have no control over. We must simply live as members of the Kingdom, not trying to fix and behave, but listening to the heart of our Lord!

    • Gina

      Great insight. I too would worry about some unconfessed sin instead of “resting” in the Spirit.

  • I needed this today. I have a step son who I struggle with at times. I’m selfish, and jealous after just having my first child of my own. There is tension a lot of times and I do not know how to change it. I mean I do know something needs to change within ME. I’m the adult, the mother, the one who harbors bad feelings. It’s just a big struggle. I needed this Devotion today. I lost “my cool” with him this morning over something petty. I’m praying I will have the courage to apologize and seek forgiveness. I truly want a smooth and healthy relationship. But it’s hard at times to look past my emotions.

    • Anneli

      I have two step sons also and three of my own. This summer the big brothers spent the whole summer with us (a first and the biggest chunk of time they have stayed since our oldest was born 4 years ago) I had a lot of the same struggles with my oldest step son. His dad, my husband, had to work so much that I found myself actively competing for his time and attention on the weekends….. often. *cringe* It was really a struggle for me!
      But we somehow were able to get through it and still have a great relationship. It took lots of humbling myself, openness, communication and honesty on my part WITH said step-son (he is 13, so we were able to have more adult communication and understanding between us). Very humbling experience tho and I’m glad for it now. Stay connected. With your first baby it’s very hard to share that experience while also navigating the waters for the first time with your own newborn/baby. Praying for you both, and thanks for sharing! I’m glad I’m not the only one.

  • AmandaEspi

    I agree with the comments here. Sometimes true reconciliation can’t happen. I have no contact with my parents for the well being of my children. My heart is open to reconciliation if they ask for it. I can pray for family and forgive in my heart while maintaining healthy boundaries.

  • Katalina

    Sisters, I was hoping we can all pray for the storm thats about to hit Florida. We’ve been keeping up to date with the news and it’s looking really bad… i have family and friends up there, apparently people are trying to head North and the traffic is so bad, they can’t move, People at the airports are bringing guns to make sure they get on the planes. I don’t know how much of it is true but all I know is that Irma is hitting hard. Please pray with me that God takes this storm and leaves it in the deepest part of the ocean. I’m asking for a chain of prayers for all those people, their families and their lives. Thank you.

    • Mamajonk

      Praying with you!

    • Holly

      Praying for Florida and all the places already hit. The footage shows such complete devestation, heartbreaking. I too have family and friends throughout Florida and pray that Irma takes a turn to the east to miss Florida and the East Coast. Please Father protect all those who are caught up in Irma and help those that are evacuating to do so safely and peacefully. Amen.

      • Sarah Tarkington

        Praying. Have friends down there and they didn’t evacuate. This part of the study was much needed and by digging deeper I’ve clarified some answers I’ve wondered about for a long time. My daughter and her half sister had a huge fight several years ago and haven’t spoken since. While sister brought it on by breaking a trust, daughter has since said she forgives her but she won’t call her or reach out to her, she’s waiting on sister to come to her. Obviously, they are both stubborn but I think this has helped me be able to reach them. I love them and I don’t want them to have to realize one day that one of them is gone and they never reconciled.

    • DebbieinAZ

      Praying. I also have family there and they are not leaving. Praying with you that it turns or dies completely out. Looks like it has lessened this morning (Saturday). But still headed straight at them. Lord protect them all. In Jesus name. Amen

  • churchmouse

    The Great Commission calls us to spread the gospel first near, then far. The Scriptures today remind me to do the same with reconciliation: start with those closest to me and then reach beyond , neglecting neither. In my family of origin, I am estranged from my sister – her choice, not mine. I continue to make contact but receive no response. There are some not so favorite folks I bump in to time and again and I am friendly, but cautious. There have been wounds inflicted by “friendly fire” during two church splits – again I’m friendly but I don’t attend there anymore. I have found that reconciliation is often an attitude, rather than hugging it out and singing kumbaya together. There are people who are not trustworthy and boundaries are necessary but my attitude is one of prayer and my approach is at least a civility. I mourn the loss, pray for true reconciliation and then move on. No vengeance. No grudge – bearing. I do my part to live peaceably but there is free will on the other side. They make their choice just as I make mine. I’m open but they have to reach for the door knob as well.

  • Sometimes people are angry with us when we have done nothing wrong. For me, I see this a lot with controlling people. They become angry when people don’t jump when they say jump.

    When someone stops treating you with love and respect, it’s a gift when they walk away. Also, if this person is a sociopath or run of the mill abuser, going no contact is an essential component of keeping yourself safe. Go no contact and pray for them. That’s the most loving thing you can do both for them and yourself.

    When the prodigal son left his father’s house, the father did not send his other son to chase him down and drag him back. But when the prodigal son returned in his own will, it was important for the other son to welcome him back in the fold with a loving and pure heart.

    In these cases, I believe we should surrender the situation to the Lord and ask for help in making our hearts pure towards our brother again, so that when he does return a changed man, we can welcome him back lovingly and with better boundaries.

    But sweet sisters, please do not try to reconcile with an abuser because he/she is “angry” with you. Surrender it to God and ask the Holy Spirit to help keep you safe. Hope this helps someone out there!

    • churchmouse

      Great wisdom, Lana. We aren’t called to open ourselves to abuse and aggression in the name of reconciliation with some individuals.

    • Holly

      Excellent advice. I have someone that pops into my mind but as you say I have put it in God’s hands as I do not want to return to anything toxic. In this instance I know that God knows my heart.

    • Leenda324

      Amen! Good and wise words.

    • Veronica

      Thank you for this.

    • Brenda

      Beautifully written. And may I add when they stop treating you with love and respect, you have the right to walk away and just pray for them.
      And I love the part about the father not sending his son to chase the prodigal son down.

    • Karen From Virginia

      Beautifully said. My heart’s desire is to be reconciled. But I’ve learned that I can forgive and move forward in life but reconciliation can only happen when both parties walk in humility. God delivered me from a friend who would not take responsibility for her actions but blamed me. There’s a freedom is letting go and not needing to be the one who has to make everything better.

    • Mari

      VERY helpful! I’ve learned and learning to set boundaries and I thank God for close friends that are holding me accountable And so agree not to reconcile because just because they’re angry with us. It’s neither safe or healthy.

    • Lynda

      Lana!! Wow that is the clearest this has been spoken to my heart. Thank you

  • godlovingmum (australia)

    @aprilinsydney Hello April,
    I’ve found prayer and lifting it up to God to be extremely helpful in reconciling with others, of course it takes time and regular prayer but im confident in His ability i hope this helps xx

  • Racial reconciliation has been a deep desire of mine. What healing this would bring to the American church if as white evangelicals we could repent to our African American brothers and sisters for a history of injustice and for ignoring or not listening to their grievances. This passage is so striking to me- it basically says- “stop worshipping, go be reconciled, and then come back to worship.” We need this. Forget “Decision America” we need “repentance and reconciliation America”.

    • Lana

      I agree, Abby. Racism is demonic. And I don’t use that D word lightly. It’s in the top 3 of my least favorite words in the English language. But that’s exactly what racism is. Even subconscious racism. Even the racism that people mask as “a preference.” Pure hearts! We all need to surrender and ask God to help purify our hearts!

    • Emmy

      I think it would also be appropriate to include other groups when we talk about the church as a whole, and reconciliation. Not only do we need to reconcile with people of different races, but also people who are different from us in their sexuality / age / political views / economic standing / religion / education level / country of origin / etc.

    • Megan

      Amen

  • aprilinsydney

    Kaitie writes that we are to reconcile with our brother or sister before we can be right with God, and that whether our attempts at reconciliation are accepted is out of our control. I 100 per cent agree. But where does that leave us — with God and with the other person, if the person (in my case, my actual sister) won’t even engage? I’ve tried talking to her (she’s asked me not to call); writing to her (she returns my letters unopened); and she’s blocked me on social media. I’m heartbroken and at a complete loss.

    • Karen From Virginia

      You’ve honored the Lord by taking the first steps. You can’t control the other person. Trust the Lord and keep praying. God knows. He cares. Don’t let the enemy let you feel guilty over what you can’t control.

    • Brie

      I’m sorry for your loss. Because that is what you are experiencing. However, Biblically, you have done what you can. The rest is in your sister’s hands and God’s hands. Continue to pray for reconciliation, it may come. I have experienced two family estrangements (my husband and his brother and my mother and her sisters from their brother) remarkably, in both cases, healing and reconciliation have happened, glory be to God!

    • candacejo

      April, my heart breaks for your situation. This post immediately came to mind. It talks about forgiveness and also what to do when you are the “unforgiven”. Praying for you and your family today! http://www.hopeinthehealing.com/2013/04/05/if-god-has-forgiven-me-why-cant-i-forgive-myself/

    • Summer

      Hey April, I am in a similar situation with my sister. It’s been a rocky road. I try not to be judgmental or preach, but it’s so difficult especially when she makes bad life choices. It’s helped me to think about things like when God has pursued us in the past, it was through no good deed of our own. He just loved us anyways. Every few days I call and text my sister. Most of the time she doesn’t respond, but one time she has. Love is greater than anything and I’m hoping that one day, she sees the writing on the wall and turns her life around. God is in control though and I have to put the worry I have about her and her future aside.

    • Tania

      God looks at our hearts…He can see that you love her and desire her in your life. That’s what matters. And when she does come back, you just love and forgive her. What ruins our relationship with God is when we are nursing and feeding anger, resentment, etc., inside us, however justified, however unfairly we’ve been treated. I know that starts to take over my inner being and steals all my peace and my prayer life starts to suffer. Letting go of that of and trusting God to handle it is one of the hardest things for me in this life, but when it happens, it’s like the sun comes back out.

    • Debbie L

      I share your in your sense of loss and heartache, April. My younger sister, who is a believer, stopped speaking to me 2 yrs ago. I don’t clearly understand her reasons why, and she will not give me an explanation. She will not respond to my texts, email or letters. And we’re in our 60’s! I’ve done all I can do. Now just praying for a softening of her heart, so reconciliation and forgiveness can begin.

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