I love a good set of concrete rules. I’d have really enjoyed seeing Moses come down the mountain with the stone tablets. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t necessarily love every rule. Sometimes a rule might seem inconsequential, and it might irk me to follow it. However, if I don’t follow the rule, I understand a consequence will follow…it’s warranted. It brings me a sense of a comfort having expectations set in stone so to speak. Maybe because it gives me a misplaced sense of control. But you’re not here to analyze my behaviors and thoughts! Though I know some of you completely get where I’m coming from! Back to the text at hand, God’s people had lived so long under the rules of the Law and their own additional rules, that the life Jesus was proposing quite possibly seemed preposterous. They had lived in such a way as to think of the Law as something very concrete. Their holiness and success could be measured simply by looking at their actions.
Jesus was teaching that there is more to following after God than simply acting in accordance with the Law. He wasn’t disregarding it or stripping it of importance. He was simply fulfilling it. The Law had new purpose. It still served the purpose of guiding God’s people in the ways that they should go. It provided insight into their relationship with God and others. But it was no longer just about their actions. If people truly chose to follow Christ, they were made into new creations. A heart change would follow. It wasn’t enough to refrain from physically murdering a man. Jesus was saying that angry words or thoughts were the equivalent to ending a life. This was radical thinking for people who for so long had been set in the ways of old. It drives home the importance of continually checking the condition of our hearts.
Jesus went so far as to tell the people that if they were in conflict with another, they needed to prioritize their reconciliation. If they were preparing to worship God with conflict on their hearts, they needed to pause and meet the person first. Settle the dispute as peacefully as possible. This type of behavior change would require the people to do more than go through the motions of worship. It would require them to look beyond their physical actions. It would ultimately require them to deepen their relationship with the one true God, spending time examining their hearts and motives. Instead of participating in rote worship and rule following, the people would begin to grow in the Spirit and live truly for God. So I pose the question, how often do we stop to commune with God and search our hearts? How can we seek to glorify God with not only our actions but also our words and thoughts?