The Biblical injunctions to avoid foolish and impetuous talk remain consistent over the centuries.
Matthew 5:22 – “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be answerable to the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be answerable to the Council; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be liable to Gehenna fire.”
This saying of Yeshua appears extreme for such a seemingly petty offense. Anger and name-calling can have you dragged into court and ultimately into the judgment of God. What is even stranger is that it is pronounced in the larger context of murder, a crime which seems much more severe. Why the contrast? And is this a new teaching?
Well, to the first point, Yeshua almost always states things in contrast, as this provides the greatest clarity of the topic at hand. When two contrasts are presented, the truth then becomes self-evident.
Matthew 5:13 – “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by people.”
The salt is understood to be of no value if it loses the very thing that makes it unique among all other minerals or spices. This is a perfect analogy revealing the purpose of the believer is to not compromise their uniqueness as a child of God in a world of corruption.
Matthew 5:14-15 – “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.
The absurdity of lighting a lamp only to cover it with a basket illustrates the same principle: a believer is meant to shine, not to be outwardly like everyone else; we must shine with the light God gives us.
And the teaching of Yeshua about calling someone a fool and being in danger of Gehenna fire was not a new teaching, either. For example, the psalmist warned of the dangers of anger and wrath, how it can only lead to further evildoing, and how evildoers would ultimately receive judgment of God.
Psalm 37:7-9: “Rest in Yahweh, and wait patiently for him. Don’t fret because of him who prospers in his way, because of the man who makes wicked plots happen. Cease from anger, and forsake wrath. Don’t fret, it leads only to evildoing. For evildoers shall be cut off, but those who wait for Yahweh shall inherit the land.”
A similar thought is conveyed in the Proverbs, as well.
Proverbs 18:6-7 – “A fool’s lips bring strife, And his mouth invites beatings. A fool’s mouth is his ruin, And his lips are the snare of his soul.”
In contrast to these judgments of ruin or snared souls, Yeshua encourages love and forgiveness. If we have called someone “empty-headed” or a fool, we are already headed on a path that can lead us down a path of potential escalation, ultimately resulting in a greater judgment. But if we forgive, we cut that path off and open the door to the avoidance of further strife and reconciliation.
- Matthew 5:44 – “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…”
- Ephesians 4:26-27 – “‘Be angry, and yet do not sin’; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.”
- Ephesians 4:31-32 – “All bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and slander must be removed from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving each other, just as God in Messiah also has forgiven you.”
- Titus 3:2 – “…to slander no one, not to be contentious, to be gentle, showing every consideration for all people.”
Kindness and forgiveness are much more in line with the attitude that God expects of his children. Being understanding and showing consideration, even amidst disagreement, goes a long way toward representing God in a positive light to those who may not know him. A little salt and a little light provide opportunities for healing and understanding.
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