When most people think of violence, they think of physical violence. But the truth is that our actions are only violent because our hearts and minds are violent first.
For this reason, Jesus emphasizes purging violence from our minds as much as from our physical behavior. In Matt 5:21-26, he reminds us of the OT command not to murder, for “anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.” But he goes on to stress the hostile thoughts and emotions against others are as inconsistent with God’s reign as actual murder: “I tell you the truth that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.”
Violent attitudes are also reflected in violent speech, which is also inappropriate for followers of Jesus. So Jesus adds, “Anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ (which means ‘worthless’) is answerable to the Sanhedrin. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”
Jesus is saying that anyone who harbors anger toward another or makes a slanderous comment stands under the judgment of God as much as if they had actually committed murder. For such thoughts, emotions, and words violate the intrinsic unsurpassable worth of people and are inconsistent with the reign of God.
If we are going to live in the peace-loving way of Jesus, the place for us to start is by “taking every thought captive to Christ” and purging all violence from our minds.
The challenge of this is that there are no exceptions. Nowhere in the NT do we find any out clauses about loving others, including our enemies. In fact, Jesus’ emphasis on the indiscriminate nature of God’s love for all rules out any possible exceptions. Kingdom people are forbidden to decide who will and will not receive love. And once again, this begins in our minds.
It is important to see that when Jesus and others were teaching on peace and nonviolence, they were addressing those who lived under an unjust and oppressive Roman rule. Their “enemies” were not abstract ideas. Many of Jesus’ followers would actually watch their children and spouses being put to death before being executed themselves. The “enemies” Jesus and Paul were talking about, therefore, included unjust, nationalistic, life-threatening enemies.
Followers of Jesus are to “take every thought captive” even about those sorts of enemies. If we don’t we will never be able to love and seek to do good to them.
—Adapted from The Myth of a Christian Religion, pages 95-100
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