We covered the fifth commandment this week: you shall not murder. I practically cheered from the pew when I read that, because hey, I figure, at least I’ve got that going for me, right? At least I haven’t murdered anyone.
Most of the Old Testament commandments are straight-forward. You shall not murder. You shall not steal. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his goods. With the exception of the first commandment (which, I admit, is tricky for those of us who have a tiny problem with idolatry), the remaining nine seem fairly manageable.
But then Jesus comes along, takes these perfectly clear rules and muddies up each one of them. Jesus digs into the commandments and ratchets up the expectations, and suddenly they aren’t so simple or straight-forward anymore. He really messes with us, doesn’t he? Suddenly the fifth commandment isn’t just about murder anymore. It’s about anger, too:
“I say, ‘if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment. If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought to court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.’” (Matthew 5:21-22)
Man. I do not love that. Do not murder I can do. I’ve got that one covered. But anger? Bringing anger into the picture changes everything.
I’ve also been reading First John on my own this week, and interestingly, he has quite a bit to say about the commandments, too, like this:
“The proof that we love God comes when we keep his commandments and they are not at all troublesome.” (1 John 4:20-21)
On the one hand, I hear what John is saying. When you have a relationship with God, you want to keep his commandments – obeying him becomes not an obligation but an act of love. The act of keeping the commandments becomes not a “have to” but a “want to.”
On the other hand, I wouldn’t go so far as to call the commandments “not at all troublesome.” Frankly, I’m troubled by what Jesus says when he digs into the commandments. I’m troubled because I know, according to his definition, that I fall far short. And just to be sure I didn’t miss the point, I got two jabs in the ribs, one from Noah and one from Rowan, when Pastor Greg preached about anger on Sunday. Apparently they think I’m sidling up close to the fires of Hell.
I think when Jesus ramps up expectations for the fifth commandment by bringing the sin of anger into the picture, he intends it to trouble us. He intends to give us pause, and for good reason. Jesus’ definition of the fifth commandment moves us from our Pharisaic self-righteous assumption that we have the fifth commandment covered, to the realization that we are, in fact, guilty of anger – the sin that lurks beneath that commandment.
I don’t need a jab in the ribs from my kids when I read Jesus’ words about anger. I’m troubled when I read Jesus’ explanation of the Ten Commandments because I realize I haven’t come close to mastering them. But in falling so far short, I also realize how much I depend on his grace.
What do you think about John’s statement? Do you find the commandments troublesome? Do you think easy-breezy commandment-keeping is proof that you love God?
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