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 Works versus Faith (Part 8) — Matthew 5:22

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PostSubject: Works versus Faith (Part 8) — Matthew 5:22   Sun Sep 06, 2015 11:26 pm

Works versus Faith (Part 8 ) — Matthew 5:22

Now I would like to go over the verses that are often misinterpreted and used to prove that a Christian can lose his or her salvation, and that salvation is by works or a combination of faith and works.  The first verse we will look at is the second half of Matthew 5:22.  It reads, “But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”  Without giving it much thought and how this might conflict with other passages of the bible, many people conclude that by uttering the words “you fool” to someone might send them to Hell.  Some believe that the words “you fool” are somehow taboo to utter.  Ironically, Jesus often said “you fool” to folks.   If you want an example of Jesus calling someone a fool, Matthew (the same book) 23:17 is a good one.  God calls a man a fool in Luke 12:20.  If calling a person a fool is a sin, then God and Jesus (who is God incarnate) sinned by breaking their own command.  We know that God cannot sin, which is the only thing God cannot do.  And we know that Jesus is without sin.  This should be a big hint to us that this is not how this passage should be interpreted.

Let’s consider more how this passage, interpreted in the wrong way, would conflict other passages of the bible.  We learned from our study that a Christian cannot lose his or her salvation.  Yet, this verse says that by calling a person a fool, they would be in danger for the fire of hell.  That would conflict with the fact that we are sealed with the Holy Spirit until the Day of Redemption, as Ephesians says.  We also learned that salvation is not given based on things we do.  But according to this verse, it seems to be saying that by speaking a word of contempt to your brother, you are positioning yourself for an eternity in Hell.

This passage could not just be referring to speaking the words “you fool” because the next verse connects with this verse with the word “therefore,” which shows that the next verse is an explanation of this verse.  The next verse says, “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar.  First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.”  Since this passage connects to the previous, it shows that we can make up for saying “you fool” by reconciling with the person we said it to.  It is more important to make up with your brother than it is to worship because without peace horizontally with other Christians, God does not recognize your worship vertically with Him.  In other words, your prayers will not be heard.  This verse shows that any contempt you have with your brother, not just the spoken words “you fool” demands reconciliation before worship.  

So how should Matthew 5:22 be interpreted?  Let’s start by considering the entire passage.  The thought begins in verse 21, which reads, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgement.’”  Here Jesus quotes Exodus 20:13, which is part of the 10 commandments (though He adds a little to it).  Throughout His Sermon on the Mount He says, “You have heard it was said...”  When He says this, He is referring to Old Testament Scripture.  In case we all think we are exempt from this verse because we did not physically murder anyone, Jesus adds in verse 22: “But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.  Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin.  But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”  The word “raca” is an untranslated Greek word for a word of contempt.  The New Living Translation translates raca as “you idiot.”  Raca is calling someone out of their name contemptibly.  Jesus gives 3 scenarios.  Notice that each has progressing consequences.  Looking at it backwards, “the fire of hell” is the greatest consequence.  Being “answerable to the Sanhedrin” is the next greatest consequence.  Just being “subject to judgment” is the lightest.  Looking at it forwards, the first scenario, you will be subject to judgment by the brother you offended.  The second scenario, you will be answerable to the court of man (a public judgment and humiliation).  The third scenario, you will be answerable to God.  Notice also that the anger grows from least to greatest.  In the first scenario, the culprit is just angry with his brother.  In the second scenario, he gets more angry and calls his brother an idiot.  The third scenario, he is super angry with his brother when he calls him a fool, as “you fool” has a connotation of hatred.  He despises his brother in the last scenario.  So as the anger/hatred grows, so too the degree of judgment he incurs grows.

Technically speaking, this passage does not say that the person who says “you fool” will be thrown into Hell.  It says only that the person who says “you fool” will be in danger of experiencing the fire of Hell.  God will use the fire of Hell to discipline his own who need to repent for wronging their brother.  “Fire” refers to God’s judgment.  “Hell” refers to the intensity of God’s judgment will be great in order to get His children to come to repentance and reconciliation.  We looked at the next verse which showed that God will not answer your prayers when you have wronged your brother or have some sort of hatred for him or her.  Not only will He not answer your prayers until you repent and reconcile, but He will also send Hell fire to you or me until we decide to repent.  God, in His patience and justice will let the degree of His judgment match the degree of you wronging your brother.  This should also prove that we are not referring to literal Hell because an eternity in Hell does not match the sin of calling your brother a fool.  And remember, God’s scale for Heaven and Hell is perfect righteousness versus a little blemish.  If you miss perfection, you fall short of His glory.  

I hear some of your objections.  You are saying, “Wait now, if you are saying this says that a person will experience the fire of Hell but not Hell, what about the passage in the same chapter, Matthew 5:29-30 which says that a person’s whole body will be thrown into Hell?”  Good objection!  And I’d like to discuss that passage next.  

Matthew 5:29-30 reads, “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away.  It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.  And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.  It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.”  It is important to understand Jesus’ audience.  Who is He talking to?  Is he speaking to the masses of Jews?  The Scribes?  The Pharisees?  The Romans?  To get who His audience is, we have to go back to verse 27, which reads, “You have heard that it was said...” So Jesus’ audience is “you.”  Who is “you”?  To get who the “you” is that Jesus is referring to, we have to go back to the beginning of the chapter.  Matthew 5:1-2 reads, “Now when he [Jesus] saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down.  His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them, saying...”  So now we who Jesus’ audience was for the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus left the crowds and sat with just His disciples and taught them.  So whenever Jesus says “you” throughout His sermon, He is referring to His disciples, who were all saved except for one, Judas, who doesn’t count because he was just a tag-along disciple.  Judas never accepted Jesus as his Savior.  So the Sermon on the Mount is a sermon to saved Christians.  Why is that important to know?  Because we have already established the premised that a Christian cannot lose his or salvation and it is not based on things we do that a person goes to Heaven or Hell.  And Christians don’t go to Hell.

It is somewhat humorous that it says if your right eye causes you to sin as if the left eye was not involved.  Jesus uses hyperbole in this passage.  As a general rule, passages that use hyperbole should not be treated as doctrinal.  Is Jesus really saying that if what you see causes you to sin, to gouge your eyes out?  It seems we all should have gouged out eyes if this was a literal command.  How would amputating ourselves keep us from sinning anyway?  Sin can be done with the mind.  It is not supposed to be taken literally, but just the point is supposed to be understood.  The point is the same as the earlier passage we looked at: avoid sin at all cost, or you will experience Hell on Earth when God disciplines you.  Another reason why it was important to know the audience is because God disciplines Christians; He does not punish them eternally.  Another way of saying what Jesus is saying is: “If you keep sinning and ignore God’s call to repent then God will discipline you harshly (Hell-fully) and completely (your whole body).”
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Works versus Faith (Part 8) — Matthew 5:22
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