You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, * ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. Matthew 5:21-22
* Also in the Old Testament Hebrew: “req”.
All of us have felt anger toward others, but not all anger leads to sinful actions. Here Jesus points out that anger nourished can lead to deadly practices. Those practices include labeling others and harmful gossip. Among other things, labeling kills initiative and relationships. Gossip leads to the killing of reputations and livelihoods. Both have ruined human potential and dimmed or extinguished stellar reputations.
Although the following passage in the letter of James is primarily aimed at those who teach scripture, it can be applied to any of us who are in a position of influence. I view it as an elaboration of Matthew 5:21-22.
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.
How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and saltwater? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. James 3:1-12 ESV
We live in a cultural environment where it is difficult to find peaceful conversation around certain topics. Words characterized by “restless evil, full of deadly poison” seem to slip out too easily.
None of us can avoid being angry – scripture records God being angry. But we can ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten us when we are tempted to nourish that anger and let it fester and overwhelm us, and even worse, to “take it out” on persons in our realm of influence with careless or malicious speech.
Here is a scriptural antidote to the all too human tendency of getting bent out of shape with poisonous thoughts to the point they spring a toxic leak upon those made in the likeness of God.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:8 ESV
As you pray the Lord’s Prayer once again, recognize those of us who follow Jesus are on the same team. Let the prayer influence your thoughts and words about those in your path today.
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