For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6 KJV)
There was a group of Jews who were part of the Jewish Freedom movement, who believed that paying taxes to Rome was paramount to idolatry. They were first known as Galileans as they were led by Judas of Galilee (Acts 5:37). They based their charge of idolatry on the First Commandment, as Rome had implemented the cult of emperors throughout the empire in the first century BCE. Taxation was viewed similarly to paying tithe to Caesar, an ancient form of paying tribute to a deity.
Nevertheless, the publicans were viciously hated by the Galileans. Several of the discipes were from Galilee. In fact, in Matthew 26:73 Peter was pinpointed by a group as a Galilean. After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you.” (ESV) The Galileans were insurrectionists and the crowd knew that this charge against Peter could have gotten him crucified along with Jesus and the other insurrectionists. In other words, the Galileans may have hated the Romans and the people who supported them, but Rome had little tolerance for them either.
Enter the scene another figure, Simon the Zealot in Luke 6:14-16. This man was a Galilean on steroids (so to speak). The Zealots were exactly what their name implied. They received their name from the “zealous” actions of Phinehas in Numbers 25. Many of them were ruthless killers who carried little knives under their clothes to assassinate people with. In fact, they were quite possibly the worlds first terrorists. Their actions led to the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD.
Question: how do you suppose a man like Matthew the Publican could have gotten on with Simon the Zealot and all of these Galileans? These people fellowshipped together on a regular basis. They were still under the Old Covenant! These people would rather call fire down from heaven, but yet could get on with a traitorous publican in their midst. Talk about theological differences! They would have had almost nothing in common as to their philosophy of life. They were going in different directions when Christ met them. How could they get along? Daily? In fact, the love of God had not yet been poured out into their hearts by the Holy Spirit, a characteristic that the New Covenant regenerate are supposed to have received. How did they do it?
I’ll tell you. Because the PRINCE OF PEACE was in their midst. If Christ was truly in our midst, we would not have the gall to fight one another. It is our unconsciousness to the presence of Christ that emboldens the disunity. Simon and Matthew? Old Covenant? What a sad commentary on what many purport to have under the New Covenant. If the love of God had truly been poured out into hearts, we would love one another with a pure heart, fervently.
But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. (Romans 14:10)
Our passage in its proper context is dealing with the need for Christians to tolerate one another in their varying views of non-essential matters. Paul reminds the Romans that there are people that do things to express their faith in Christ – while others do the exact opposite thing and do so as an expression of their faith in Christ. One person may keep the sabbath as unto the Lord and another may not keep it as unto the Lord. God accepts these type of things as expressions of our faith. There are many things like this where Christians take different views. The trouble is when one group tries to use their particular expression of faith as a litmus test for other Christians. In other words, if you don’t do things my way then your not really a Christian and you have no use in the kingdom of God.
Notice the language of our passage, “Why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother?” As if God were pointing His finger at us and asking this question, “Why are you rejecting your own brother?” Just because a believer does things different or even in a way we detest does not mean we have the right to reject them as our brother or sister in Christ. This passage makes this point clear.
Notice the language of “brother” used twice. Paul is appealing to our sense of family. Decent brothers don’t treat one another as if the other one were illegitimate. That would be unconscionable. Imagine how horrible it feels to be despised. And yet that very thing can happen in the kingdom of God. A sort of sibling rivalry can develop that severely grieves the heart of God. Understand that there are few things more heartbreaking to a father than to know that his children are bickering, mistreating each other – or even disowning one another. Good father’s long to see their children love one another. I can almost hear our loving Heavenly Father asking, “But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother?” God loves all of His children. He does not ask our permission to love Christians that we don’t agree with or have fallen out with. He loves us and He loves them. And He expects us to love one another.
Obstacle to the Outpouring
Robert Wurtz II
And the next day he shewed himself unto them as they strove, and would have set them at one again, saying, Sirs, ye are brethren; why do ye wrong one to another? But he that did his neighbour wrong thrust him away, saying, Who made thee a ruler and a judge over us? (Acts 7:26-27)
When God got ready to lead His people out of bondage He raised up a leader that demonstrated the characteristics of a true shepherd First we find Moses protecting the people from the abusive Egyptian that was beating his people and secondly he was calling them together in brotherly love and unity. He showed his character traits in two successive days. Stephen drew upon this event as part of his sermon on salvation history found in Acts 7. Keep in mind that the people he was preaching to was like their father’s; they did always resist the Holy Spirit. Key to this passage is understanding that God not only wants to dwell in His people, but He wants His people to dwell in unity and kindly affection. Christ, as Moses, has delivered His people from Pharaoh (a type of Satan) and Egypt (a type of this world) and expects them to leave off of their strivings with one another and dwell together in love from the heart. Nothing has changed since the time of Moses in this regard. While God is dealing death to the people of God’s enemies the people of God have to be reminded not to deal death and destruction (as it were) to one another.
One Mind and One Heart
Worshipping in Vain
And this have ye done again, covering the altar of the LORD with tears, with weeping, and with crying out, insomuch that he regardeth not the offering any more, or receiveth [it] with good will at your hand. (Malachi 2:13)
There is a prevailing theme throughout the scriptures that is frequently overlooked insomuch that God has to come back and remind us in some of the strongest of terms. Our passage is such an occasion as it played out in Israel. The people were bringing as it were their offering to the Lord, but He was not regarding it. That is to say, He was paying it no attention. Some might ask, “Does God not seek such to worship Him? Does He not inhabit the praises of His people?” The answer is ‘yes’, however there are conditions upon which God will receive any offering that is brought to Him. Offerings under the Aaronic Priesthood had to be without spot or blemish. This was figurative in one sense. There are attitudes and behaviors that spoil an offering before we ever offer it. In the case of Malachi the people were treating their spouses treacherously- even divorcing them as if they were mere animals. God has called men to love their wives as Christ loved the Church, but here is displayed some of the coldest and most callous attitude a human being can exhibit. Do believers not realize that not only will God not receive their praise and worship, but He will also not answer their prayers if they don’t rightly relate to each other? (1 Peter 3:7) This is but an example of how God is watching our attitudes and our treatment of one another when we come to attempt to offer Him prayer, worship and praise.
But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. (Matthew 5:22-24)
It is sobering to think that God is more interested with how we treat each other than He is the offerings that we bring Him. Almost as if what we are bringing Him can be unclean- tainted by the foulness of bitterness in relationships between His people. Peradventure some would seek to sing louder or shout higher in an attempt to drown this reality, but God is not hearing it. When His people refuse to make amends, He simply rejects the offering. When the aroma of strife is in the air it is as a noxious fume in the nostrils of God. But what gladness and joy are brought to the very heart of God when men reconcile with one another. Leave there thy gift at the altar and be reconciled with thy brother! Think of how awful men and women have treated each other over the centuries. Even little children were not exempt from the bitterness as people tried to prevent them from coming to Jesus. Such attitudes of heart- such hate and gall, such poison of asps, must never make it’s home in the child of God.
Are you at enmity with your neighbor? God now, quickly down upon your knees and repent before your God. Do you have ought against your brother or sister- don’t delay, be reconciled at once! For why should God be displeased with your voice and reject your tears and prayers? One thing thou lackest if one man has ought against thee. Two things thou lackest if two have ought against thee. what follow to ask God to pour out His Spirit when there is strife and division in the house? How long can we suppose God will overlook the stench of dispisement that exists in the hearts of men? How long will the Lord look on and see discord among His people? And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. (Mark 11:25)