Read Matthew 5:21.
In Matthew 5:21, Jesus refers to the sixth commandment given to Moses on Mt. Sinai.  “You shall not murder,” He said.  
This likely isn’t our first time to hear this, and even if it isn’t, I doubt it raises any eyebrows.  Murder isn’t exactly embraced in our culture.  We tend to look down upon those who resort to such violence.  It makes sense to us that anyone who murders another would be subject to God’s judgment.  As the right and faithful Judge, God will seek to make right the wrong that was committed.  We want God to make such wrongs right.  
God gave His people this Law because it is a foundation for the covenant relationship they would enjoy both with Him and with one another.  As Jesus will point out later in His ministry, every Law will either be summed up as loving God or our neighbor.  While some of the laws might seem obscure for us today, they all uphold a love for God and/or neighbor.  We see that with the command against murder.  It goes without saying that not murdering someone is the loving thing to do.  And most of us likely read this command and thought, “Check!”  I haven’t murdered anyone and probably won’t, hopefully.  What’s next, Jesus?  
Before we move on too quickly, we will see that Jesus has plans to take this law a little deeper.  In fact, Jesus will open their eyes, and ours as well, to the true heart of the Law.  There is more to not murdering than meets the eye.  Jesus will bring the point home in the next few verses.  We will discover that we are more guilty that we would like to think.  
The reality is Jesus wants to take us on a journey into the depths of not only the Law, but into our hearts.  He wants us to see what is going on in the deeper parts of us that often goes unseen.  It can be a scary place to go.  I’m writing this an hour before having my blood drawn.  Though I feel healthy, the samples will go to a lab where they will be analyzed.  I’ll get a report that will give me a more accurate reading of how I’m doing.  I might get news that my cholesterol has crept up a bit or that I’m lacking in iron.  My point is there might be more going on than you catch in a passing glance.  
The same is true for our hearts.  There is likely more going on in us than we want to acknowledge.  That’s okay, but as we get ready for Jesus to speak into our lives, let’s be open to what He is going to show us.  Let’s not meet His words with resistance but with a spirit of openness.  We can do this because we trust Jesus’ intent.  He wants to lead us to fullness of life.  He wants us to become the kind of people who bless others and live out of His blessing.  
Are you ready for a journey?  
Praying Together:
“Savior, You love me.  I have tasted Your love.  I know that what You speak and do leads me to a greater life.  I’m ready to hear You speak.  I am open to Your leading.  I want to be faithful to You.  Do a new work in me as I grow toward Your likeness.  Amen.”
Read Matthew 5:22.
Here we see a pattern Jesus uses to open the scriptures to the people.  He says, “You have heard that it was said…but I say to you.”  I’ve heard more than once someone say that Jesus is changing scripture here.  I assure you that is not what Jesus is doing.  He’s taking the people on a deeper dive into the Law itself.  He is moving us beyond the surface meaning to show us the heart of the matter, more accurately the matter with our hearts.  
Jesus digs until He gets to the root of murder–anger.  All murder stems from anger, the emotion or attitude that drives us to harm our neighbors.  Jesus doesn’t want us to kill one another, but He also doesn’t want us to hold anger against our neighbor.  He doesn’t want us to be the kind of person who holds on to anger until it becomes bitterness.  He has a greater vision for us than that.  
By going to the root of the greater sin, Jesus exposes us.  While we may not ever have physically murdered someone, we have murdered them in our heart.  We have wished ill or harm upon them when it was God’s vision that we love and bless even our enemies.  Yet, many of us deal with anger on a regular basis.  We get angry in a given day when something doesn’t go our way.  We remain angry about certain people or circumstances.  Anger festers in us.  Jesus finds this heart condition, where anger persists, as a deep human problem.  It must be recognized and addressed if we want freedom from it, and more importantly, if we want to become the kind of Kingdom people He is shaping.  
And that is the purpose behind the examples Jesus will use in the coming verses.  Jesus reveals the depths of our sin-stricken hearts because He wants us to become something new.  He wants to release us from our anger so that we can live into the fullness of life that is available to those in His Kingdom. 
We must get that from this passage or else the alternative is despair.  If we look at this, and our takeaway is that Jesus is telling us not to be angry, then we are doomed.  We will try to not get angry, but guess what will happen–we’ll get angry again.  We’ll hold onto some of the anger.  We’ll do this because the root of the problem—our heart—hasn’t been healed.  No, Jesus is exposing the problem and offering us a solution.  He is the One who is able to heal.  He wants to give you a new heart.  Will you allow Jesus this week to reveal the deeper parts of your heart that need His healing grace?  Will you invite Him to recreate Your heart and continue to guide you as you become more and more like Him?  
Sending Prayer:
“Jesus, it’s hard to take such an honest look at my heart.  It’s easier to ignore the anger I feel.  It’s so common and easy to justify, yet You have a bigger vision for me than that.  You want to release me from my anger.  You want to make me into the kind of person whose heart is so full that it cannot hold onto anger.  Please heal me of my sin of acting out of and holding onto anger.  I want a new heart like Yours who can pray for those who harm me.  I want a heart that so abounds in love that my life produces only blessings for others, for such a life will bring You glory.  Amen.”  
Read Proverbs 4:23.
If we want to understand what Jesus is doing in the rest of Matthew 5, we must first visit Proverbs 4:23.  The verses tells us, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”   So what is this saying?  It is pointing to the reality that everything we think, say, or do flows out of our hearts.  
There is a tendency today to disassociate who we are from our actions.  We might act unlovingly toward someone, but we still think of ourselves as a loving person.  Sure, we might lie a little here and there, but we would never think of ourselves as a liar.  The Bible doesn’t let us off the hook so easily.  Instead, it says that our actions reveal the person we are.  
That last statement is worthy of a second look, as painful as it may be to face it again.  Our actions reveal the person we are.  I’ve heard it this way: we live from the depths of our hearts.  The things we do are not accidents over which we have no control or responsibility.  Our actions point to the kind of person we are.  
Jesus says it this way:  If you want to understand if a person is good or bad, then look at the actions.  A good tree produces good fruit.  A bad tree produces bad fruit.  The external things (the fruit) reveal the state of the inward life (the heart).  This is why the condition of our heart is so important to Jesus.  It is the key to the kind of person we are and the person we are becoming.  
We have to let this sink in.  So often we take Jesus’ words and we just try to do them.  While it’s good that we are seeking to live out Jesus’ teachings, we must begin with allowing them to change us from the inside.  If we try to circumvent this process–just doing them without changing on the inside–we will grow frustrated and fall into despair when we stall out.  Albert Einstein is credited for this famous quote: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  For some of us, that describes much of our efforts to obey God.  Now, I want to applaud any effort to be faithful, but I also want you to channel that in a way that will lead to the results that both you and God desire.  
What Jesus is inviting us to here is to let Him transform us by allowing Him to do a new work in our hearts.  Once He changes us from the inside, then the outside will naturally change with it.  When the heart–the internal life–is transformed, so too will the external life (our actions).  The beauty of this is that the new actions are a natural byproduct of God’s work in us.  We’re not striving to do the right thing; we just do the right thing because that it who we are.  We are “good trees who produce good fruit,” as Jesus said.  This is what Jesus wants to do in us.  Will you invite Jesus to begin a new work of changing your heart?  He will indeed do such a work, pouring grace upon grace into us.  While there is no instant fix for the human heart, He will take us on a journey toward true transformation, and there will be untold blessings along the way. 
Sending Prayer:
“Lord, thank You for loving me enough to point to the true problem even if it is hard for me to face.  You love me too much to coddle me or deceive me.  You want to open my eyes to the problem of sin in my heart because You want to free me from it.  You want to transform my heart, so that my life produces grace and blessings in the world.  Have every part of my life.  I am Yours.  Do in me the work You want to do, and may the life this change produces honor You.  Amen.”  
Read Matthew 5:23.
In this verse, Jesus leaves the theoretical realm and plants His teaching in the real world.  What does it look like to be the kind of Kingdom people who are not given over to anger?  It looks like reconciling with those we have wronged.  It’s not just about changing our mind toward someone.  Jesus shows us that a change in mind and heart should produce new actions toward them.  
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you…leave your gift…and be reconciled to them,” He said.  I realize some of us feel a little sick at our stomachs as we consider what this means, but let’s set that aside for just a moment for us to see just how amazing Jesus is.  Yes, this is hard, but what a beautiful vision for the world!  
Jesus is revealing a value in His Kingdom–reconciliation.  Jesus’ Kingdom people show a radical commitment to reconciliation.  Our worship isn’t limited to the standard practices of the Law.  We seek a higher standard than even the Law.  We want to see relationships restored and brokenness healed.  
Throughout the scriptures, God is grieved by the way people act toward one another.  God created us to be in perfect relationship with Him and one another, yet sin brought discord to these relationships.  Adam and Eve instantly turned against each other.  We’ve been doing it ever since.  
The vision for God’s Kingdom is that our relationships with one another would be one of restoration and that we would experience harmony rather than discord.  Instead of seeing others as competition or as opposition, we would see their humanity.  We would know them as those created in God’s image and dearly loved by Him.  We would share in that very love for them and act accordingly.  In God’s Kingdom, we would begin to reclaim a complete love for God and all of our neighbors. No exceptions.  
With that vision before us, I wonder if there is someone who has something against you?  Is there a relationship in your life that is broken?  I don’t know who wronged whom, and for the most part, it really doesn’t matter.  Jesus is calling us to move toward them, even making the first move.  Now, I do want to caution you.  For some, it might not be safe to move toward the other.  If you’re concerned about that, feel free to reach out to your pastors or close friends for discernment.  If it is safe, then ask God what it looks like to move toward them with the idea of reconciliation in mind.  I realize this is asking a lot, but Jesus has earned the right to ask a lot of us.  I believe He wants to do something great in the lives and relationship of our church as we seek to live this out.  Remember the outcome of the efforts doesn’t belong to you.  They may not reciprocate and that’s okay.  Jesus asks that we be obedient, not necessarily successful.  Dare to be obedient and leave what comes of it to God. 
Sending Prayer:
“Holy Spirit, show me who has something against me.  I desire obedience.  I want You to do wonders in my heart and relationships.  I truly believe You have a wonderful vision for my life and I want to move toward it.  You know how hard it is to move toward someone when there is discord.  Help me.  Give me strength.  Give me the words.  Supply everything I need to be obedient to Jesus’ call.  Whatever comes of it–whether it is full reconciliation or rejection–belongs to You.  I am Yours; move me to do what You will.  Amen.”  
Read Matthew 5:24.
What does it take to maintain a close relationship with God? The answer is Intentionality.  This means that in all that we do and say, we are purposefully considering how each action or each word impacts our relationship with our Creator.  Jesus is well aware of how easy it is to douse ourselves in sin, especially when it comes to breaking our old habits, reconciling with those we have hurt or have hurt us, or holding a long term-grudge against our neighbors. Dousing ourselves in sin is what Jesus was sent to resolve. Dousing ourselves in sin means we aren’t actively seeking to forgive or to be forgiven, we don’t seek mercy when facing injustices, and we won’t invite God to actively work in our lives.
Our sin separates us from God.  If we do not seek God’s assistance to find grace even in the darkest of places, we push God away. If we do not work to right the wrongs and fix the relationships that are broken in our lives, we push God away. If we can’t turn away from our culture of brokenness and give in to urges to do things we know we shouldn’t do, we push God away. Many would argue that sin is sin and there is no greater or worse degree of sin.  All sins separate us from our God in very real ways. 
Verse 23 reminds us of the need to wash away the sin that separates us from God BEFORE we come to the altar in worship, especially when the sin is against our brother or sister. That distance from God can be reduced if we are intentional about making our way straight. We take the time to seek out ways to pull closer to God.  
For example, is there any tension in our relationships that we have not addressed? Have we done all we could to reconcile with our loved ones, and maybe, more importantly, look at our own behavior or words in those troubled relationships?  What are you willing to do to make your troubled relationships right again?
The reason we reduce as much sin as possible before worshiping God is because we want to get as close to God as possible.  By being intentional, we are able to resolve any concerns before they become bigger problems because we want our full attention to be on the praise and worship of our God.  
I wonder if there are any relationships in your life that are still troubling to you? Have you done all that can be done to resolve them?
Praying together:
“O merciful Lord, I am overwhelmed by Your generosity and Your willingness to pursue me, even in the midst of my brokenness.  Guide me, Lord. Show me how to work through the sins I hold on to in my relationships.  I want to be intentional in seeking grace, loving mercy, and giving and receiving forgiveness.  I want to follow your example and be more like You in all my relationships. Amen.”
Read Matthew 5:25-26.
For all intents and purposes, murder can be defined as intentionally hurting someone so badly that it results in death.  Murder is a sin. Anyone who commits this crime against someone else will be punished. There are other actions that, when intentionally committed, could possibly result in death (the death of a relationship) as well.  When we are very angry with someone, we intentionally say things or do things to hurt them. We can call them names or threaten them in some way.  Each name called or threat made is a sin that tears us apart from God.  In this way, insulting words and threats are similar to murder in God’s sight. In John 3:15, we learn that anyone who is hateful to his brother is a murderer; in fact, anger and insults as described here are ugly symptoms of a desire to get rid of somebody who stands in our way.
As Christians, our responsibility then is to make things right as soon as possible before it is considered by a judge. The relationship cannot heal when continuously bombarded by mean words and threats.  It may even lead to the death of the relationship. We’ve got to take ownership of what we did and pay the price for all that we have said.  
The idea here is if anger and insults are as serious and dangerous as murder, then we must avoid them and take action as quickly as possible.  If we want to avoid committing murder in God’s sight, we must take every possible positive step to live in peace and in love.  I wonder what you have done to make peace in a troubled relationship?
Praying together:
“Almighty God, it is so easy to feel the burn of anger in the midst of an argument. What might have been a heated discussion can turn into a fight when neither party takes the time to consider their next steps carefully. I am responsible for my actions and my reactions. Hold me accountable, Lord.  May all that I say and do be approved by You first. Allow me the room to think so that my next expression of anger is better controlled.  Thank You for moving through me in this. Amen.”
SUNDAY, 9/11
Read Romans 13:8-10.
Paul turns his attention away from the ministry of the state to the duties of individual Christian, especially our responsibility to love.  At least twice, Paul writes about our need to love our neighbor as is first mentioned in Leviticus 19:18: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 
In the first of these verses (13:8a), he says that though we should let no financial debt remain outstanding, love is a form of ongoing debt that we can never repay. Financially, we will go out of our way to pay bills on time.  Before we enter into a mortgage or car payment, we are careful to ensure that we can make payments each month. But there is one debt we can never repay: our duty to love one another.  Because we know who Christ is, we know what love is supposed to be. When each of us is selfless and unassuming in the way we love people, we create an ongoing love among neighbors that cannot be quantified or paid back.
In the second of these verses (13:8b-10b), Paul says that loving your neighbor is the best way to fulfill the law.  Love and law are often thought to be incompatible, but Paul will go on to explain that love cannot manage on its own without an objective moral standard.  Love is what happens when there are guidelines or boundaries in place to protect both sides.  Paul outlines ways not to harm others, including to not commit adultery, murder, steal, bear false witness and covet.  “Summed up in this one rule,” Paul said, “love your neighbor as yourself.”
I wonder if there were ever a time in your life when you realized that, in at least one of your relationships, you were not following the commandments as you were called as a disciple to do (i.e., bear false witness, covet). What was your response when you realized it?
Praying together:
“God of love, thank You for Your specific instructions on how to love my neighbor.  I know that even in the best of relationships, I may harm another person in the things that I say and do. Show me how I may love well when I fail to meet your standards.  I long to represent the sacrificial love of Christ to His people in all of my relationships, whether it is newly formed or long term.  Hold me responsible for all that I say and do to Your people. Thank You for all of my blessings. Amen.”