We really don't believe Jesus. Oh yes, we believe IN Jesus (at least that He existed/exists), but we don't believe Him. We really don't think He's serious when we read what He preached. It's as if we've convinced ourselves that the Son of God hoped that we'd take His words with a proverbial grain of salt. "Oh you know Jesus," we tell others as we wink, "you really can't take Him literally." It's true that Jesus did use figures of speech and even hyperbole from time to time. But I'm afraid that when we say one shouldn't take Jesus "literally", I think what we really mean at times is that we shouldn't take every word He uttered seriously. Case in point:
Last night, I found myself confronted with past sins. I left one ministry meeting and since I've grown fond of the young man co-leading another meeting, I stopped by to see how it was going. It was basically a topic-driven prayer session and the topic was depression. I guess to keep with the mood of the conversation, we shifted/drifted into a talk on suicide. The two can be connected, obviously not always, but one can easily lead to the other. That's when an old friend came to mind. But first, think with me here:
What would you say about a grown man who stands by and watches someone pull out a knife and just start stabbing another human? How would you view that man congratulating/encouraging the stabbing to continue? What if, at the end of the liberal lacerations, the grown man and the stabber walked off with howling laughter together? Even if the first man isn't the one with the knife, what is in his heart that enables him to give hearty approval to such violence?
"You have heard that the ancients were told, 'YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER' and 'Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.' But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, 'You good-for-nothing.' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, 'You fool.' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell."
-Matthew 5:21-22 (NASB)
You may have never witnessed a physical murder. You might not ever give aid and comfort to a convicted murderer. But according to Jesus, if you have spoken in anger, intended to harm or otherwise injure another human, "guilty enough to go into the fiery hell".
R.C. Sproul comments in his expositional commentary on Matthew, "So when God says we should not murder, that means, by extension, that we should not do anything that damages our neighbor's life. Murder begins with unjustifiable anger and hatred, and it includes insults, slander, and estrangement from people. That is why Jesus said that no one escapes the weight of the law merely be refraining from actual murder... Jesus does not say it is just as bad to be angry with your brother as to kill him. Jesus never collapsed the difference in degree of heinousness of various sins. His point is that just because you have not gone all the way to murder does not mean that you are free from the full-orbed responsibility of the law." (pp. 108-109)
Of course, all the protests begin at this point... I've heard them all and I've used them all. I'm not even going to engage in an argument here because I'm not the judge of any reader and God is the One to Whom we must all give an account. But I do know this: I have not taken this teaching seriously enough and yet Jesus said that the accounting we face will take into consideration "every careless word" we've said.
All this came flooding over me last night because the only person I know of who, I am told, committed suicide was a young man who was verbally savaged by so many (especially women) for his size, shape, and appearance. The code names for him were clever in the cruelest sense and funny at his expense. I remember when I was told of his suicide, I blamed others. But then again, I didn't do much to deflect the verbal daggers meant to bring derision to him. As shocked as I was to hear he took his life, when I considered the kinds of things people said to him and about him even behind his back, I shouldn't have been too terribly surprised.
What can I say? I'm a fairly sarcastic guy myself. It comes naturally--too naturally-- to me. I can rationalize and say I don't mean harm, it's only in fun, etc. But I know myself and in the kitchen, I'm painstakingly careful with sharp knives as I suspect you are too. However, are we as careful with our words?
"Don't let any anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in SPEECH..."
1st Timothy 4:12 (NIV, emphasis added)