Matthew 5:21 “You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ 22 But 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 before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell” (NLT).
We read these verses often as Jesus expanding on the Old Covenant laws. Jesus is saying that it’s not just our behavior that we need to control, it’s also our attitudes. That’s hard teaching, and something that only happens over time as we cooperate with the Holy Spirit in our sanctification process. But did you know that these verses were never meant to stand by themselves? They’re part of a much larger thought from Jesus:
Matthew 5:23 “So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, 24 leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.
25 “When you are on the way to court with your adversary, settle your differences quickly. Otherwise, your accuser may hand you over to the judge, who will hand you over to an officer, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 And if that happens, you surely won’t be free again until you have paid the last penny” (NLT).
The first word of verse 23, which various translations render as “So” or “Therefore” ties these verses to the two that came before it. When we look at the whole thought, it’s clear that Jesus isn’t just talking about our own self-control, he’s talking about our relationships. Being angry with, or cursing someone, is damaging to our relationship with that person. But Jesus goes on to say that it’s just as important for us to be aware of the times the we have angered others! In fact, reconciling with others is so important that Jesus said we shouldn’t bother trying to worship God until we’ve done what we can to patch things up with others.
I’ve checked commentaries from Greek scholars and read this in multiple translations, and nowhere is there any mention of Jesus saying, “If it was your fault.” Fault isn’t what matters, it’s the relationship that matters. This is an echo of what Jesus taught in Matthew 3:18 when he said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Also James 3:18, “And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness”
Of course there are situations that we can’t fix. The NIV translation of Romans 12:18 says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (emphasis added).
Jesus values relationships above sacrifices. So whenever we have a strained relationship, we have a responsibility to do all we can to repair the relationship–even if we think the other person is wrong.