Pay Attention – Matthew 5:21-37
The first time I read this passage, it made me say, “Uh oh.” I kept going back to make sure it really said all this incredibly difficult, depressing, and painful stuff. Jesus seems to be trying to out-legalize the legalists, and that’s scary.
First he says, “You have heard it said, ‘You shall not murder’… But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, if you insult a brother or sister, even if you say ‘You fool,’ to a brother or sister, you will be judged!” [Matthew 5:21-22].
In the second section, talks about adultery and divorce. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” [Matthew 5:27-28].
Those are tough accusations. And they reveal the truth of what Jesus is doing here. He’s purposely pushing us to the place where we’re we’ll throw up our hands and say, “Who can do this? The answer, of course, is NO ONE. It’s impossible to do this, except with God. And Jesus knows it.
As He’s pointing out, all sin starts as an inclination of the heart. We don’t generally get to the point of committing murder or adultery without first experiencing a long and winding road from peace to violence, or from contentment to restlessness. Jesus is telling us, “Pay attention to your heart.”
He’s warning us not to let what might start as understandable anger or disappointment take you to a place where you take an action that might cause harm. It all goes back to the heart.
That’s why Jesus is asking us to check our heart. That’s where it all begins. The only way to fulfill the commandments is to open our hearts fully to a relationship with God so His grace can pour in and saturate our lives. Then He searches us, knows us and heals us. And in that place of healing, we find power to obey God’s Word.
It’s not always easy for us to know what’s going on with our hearts. But we can figure that out by taking some time each day to simply sit in silence in the presence of God and let whatever is going on in our heart rise to the surface and make itself known.
Sometimes that can feel risky. Maybe it’s because we’re not ready to allow ourselves to feel that exposed. But God already knows us better than we know ourselves. There’s nothing we can ‘reveal’ that he doesn’t already know.
The thing is, God has promised to help us and heal us no matter what. All he wants from us is to find the answer to that one important, momentous, life-changing question: “How is your heart?” But to answer that you have pay attention.