Controversial Theological Issues
Text: Matthew 5:21-48
As Jesus prepared His disciples for ministry, it was inevitable that He touched upon religious controversies that often caused great divides among believers. Some may have preferred to leave these well alone, but not Jesus! Nothing is gained from studied avoidance of controversies. The person whose heart is pure and who has an immaculate lifestyle to match, is never afraid of controversial issues.
Jesus had to meet these controversial issues head on. He wanted His disciples to learn how they may handle thorny problems that would come their way. The better prepared they are, the more they would be able to handle difficult issues.
CONTROVERSIES THAT ARISE FROM INTERPRETATIONS OF THE LAW
It seems strange that controversies should come from the very source itself. The source of the religious laws and practices came from the Hebrew Scriptures. One would imagine that if all were to go to the same source, then all problems would be resolved forthwith. This view would be over-simplistic. Jesus did not want His disciples to be naïve. He wanted them to learn how to handle controversies. If they observed carefully how He dealt with controversial opinions, then one day they too would be able to tackle tough problems that would come their way.
“You have heard that it was said to those of old,
‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders
will be in danger of the judgment.'”
1. State the context clearly
Jesus took a very direct approach to resolving controversial issues. The first thing He did was to bring the subject in question to the forefront.
a) The first controversy revolved around the 6th commandment.
“You shall not murder”
b) The prohibition was very clear!
The Biblical injunction couldn’t be clearer!
2. Understand the Scriptures fully
a) All who broke the law of God were liable to be judged.
b) Those who were found guilty were in danger of judgment.
i) The local authorities were empowered to take appropriate action against offenders.
ii) Capital punishment may also be considered as appropriate legal measures.
3. State the controversy in straightforward language
Jesus knew about the controversy that did injustice to the proper interpretation of the Scriptures. He went on to address the matter.
The problem did not lie with the 6th commandment itself. The problem lay with the application of this commandment. Jesus knew that the scribes and Pharisees were skilled at twisting the Scriptures cleverly to cover their misdeeds.
“But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother
without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.
And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’
shall be in danger of the council.
But whoever says, ‘You fool!’
shall be in danger of hell fire.”
What was the problem? Wherein was the controversy?
a) The Jews took a wooden-literal approach to the interpretation of the law.
b) They were prepared to obey the letter of the law.
c) If a person were murdered, then the perpetrator would be brought to justice.
d) They limited the meaning of the law only to its wooden-literal meaning!
e) There was much more to the law, to this 6th Commandment than the Jews would like to believe.
f) They believed that God would judge them only on the basis of the keeping of the law.
g) They believed that practices like “name-calling” would not be judged by God!
COURAGE TO CHALLENGE TRADITIONAL PRACTICES
Jesus dared to question the way in which the scribes and Pharisees interpreted the law. It was common practice to curse and swear at a brother who may be slower intellectually. The common understanding was that the Mosaic Law did not cover such matters, and therefore God would not call their actions into question at any time.
The Jews were wrong in their understanding and application of the Commandments of God! The Law was never meant to be interpreted and understood in a wooden-literal manner!
The 6th Commandment prohibited murder! But this Commandment, properly understood and applied, should have taught them deeper spiritual lessons! However, these spiritual lessons were lost to those who approached the Scriptures in a mechanical and wooden-literal manner! As Jesus possessed the courage to deal with controversies head-on, so must the disciples find the strength to emulate their Teacher.