God’s definition of murder

Matthew 5:21–26 “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.’  But I say to you…” (V21-22).


The greater context of this passage tells us that Jesus was presenting (1) what the Pharisees and teachers of the Law were saying to the people and, by contrast, (2) what God’s true intent of the Law was. According to outward conformity, no one kept the law better than the Pharisees. But Christ shows that although outward conformity to the Law’s details were important, it wasn’t enough if it came from an unrighteous heart (see Isa. 29:13-14). Taking a matter to human courts (Deut. 16:18; 2 Chron. 19:5), who judged according to outward conformity to the law was not the same as being judged by God (Matt. 5:22), who judged the heart.


A series of contrasts are drawn between what has been “heard/said” and what Jesus teaches. What has been “heard/said” (Matt. 5:21, 27, 31, 33, 38, 43) is not what is “written” in the Law (4:4, 7, 10). What was “heard/said” were false expositions made by the Pharisees and Scribes that led to sinful practices. This was not the intent of God’s law. When one’s inner purity and outward goodness act in unison with each other, then only will a person’s righteousness exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees.


Regarding the law against murder (Exod. 20:13), we may think we keep the commandment by not killing anyone but if there is hatred in our hearts, we are murderers. This was the fundamental error of the Pharisees that the divine law prohibited only the sinful act, but not the sinful thought. But hatred provokes murder, and anger produces hatred and “Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and…no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (1 John 3:15).


We too can easily justify the unseen sins of our mind and heart when no one can see them, but we cannot justify them before God who sees right through us (Rom. 2:16). Anger for a brother or sister without a cause will bring one into judgment. Let us seek to reconcile ourselves to those with whom we have been angry unjustly so that our hearts and deeds may be purified.