Read Matthew 5:21-26
Jesus talked about radical righteousness and then gave six everyday examples. Today’s is anger.
Anger is everywhere. Think of the far-too-many incidents of domestic violence, or road rage, or people killing, or hiring someone to kill, a person who has offended or hurt them or taken something from them. We have anger management courses because many New Zealanders do not know how to manage anger.
In June 1992, The Times newspaper reported: This week a female passenger on a bus in Fulham, West London, knocked a 62-year old woman to the floor, stamped on her face, simply because her newspaper had brushed her arm. The victim needed surgery for her injuries.
The Pharisees took the sixth commandment “You shall not murder” and said, “OK it is about the act of murder.” And rightly, they taught that anyone who murders is subject to judgement: both in a court of law but also the judgement of God.
But Jesus said it had a far wider meaning: being angry with someone is equally wrong and subject to exactly the same punishment.
Surely not! Surely anger is far different from murder!
He doesn’t say that an angry person is a murderer, although the apostle John does in 1 John 3:15. Jesus simply says that it is equally serious.
Anger and murder both reflect a desire to hurt. Insulting someone, treating him with disdain, being rude, can be hugely hurtful. We have all heard of children who have been crippled by the cutting insults of their parents. We might have been hurt ourselves by words people have spoken.
Proverbs 18:21 The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.
The desire to hurt starts in the heart. It starts with the anger. Then it is a question of how far that anger will take us. Will we insult or belittling with our words? Will we take hurtful actions – hurting someone physically or damaging their reputation or their property? Taken still further that desire to hurt could results in murder. The attitude is the same. It varies only by degree.
John Stott says, “Anger and insults are ugly symptoms of a desire to get rid of somebody who stands in our way. Our thoughts, looks and words all indicate that, as we sometimes dare to say, we ‘wish he were dead’. Such an evil wish is a breach of the sixth commandment. And it renders the guilty person liable to the very penalties to which the murderer exposes himself…” (Stott, p.85)
I suspect Jesus isn’t talking specifically about either anger or murder. He is talking about how we treat people when relationships have turned bad. Anger and murder are two possible, similar responses.
Anger and murder both show contempt. They treat people as being worthless. How do you feel when someone shouts at you? Is Jesus saying, “Just don’t treat people like that. People are precious. People have feelings. What makes you think that you can shout at someone or snub one of God’s children?”
What about righteous anger? If you look at your footnotes, you will see that some biblical manuscripts include the phrase “without cause” in v.22. The oldest manuscripts do not, but this later addition probably accurately reflects Jesus’ intention. He condemns anger that is “without cause” but some anger is good.
Jesus got angry. He overturned the tables in the temple and chased the traders out with a whip. In Mark 3, Jesus looked around the synagogue at the Pharisees who opposed Him healing a man on the Sabbath. He saw stubborn, uncaring hearts and it made Him angry.
God’s wrath is mentioned 580 times in the Old Testament, apparently. Anger is Gods reaction to sin – to wrong. Anger is not the opposite of God’s love; it is an expression of His love. God gets angry when He sees people being hurt. Nicky Gumbel describes God’s love as “a flame that sears and purifies”.
We too should get angry at some things. We should get angry at human trafficking, or when we see innocent people suffering in Syria, or hear of Christians being killed in Kenya, or babies being aborted.
We should get angry but, because we are fallen people, we need to be very careful of our motivation and what we do as a result of our anger. Regarding motivation, the test of our anger is: Am I angry because of my love for others, or for selfish reasons?
When Jesus got angry it was not because of concern for Himself. It was because of love for God and for other people. At the Last Supper, when He could have been preoccupied with His own impending death, He sought to help and prepare the disciples. When He was insulted, he did not retaliate. When He suffered, He made no threats (1 Pet 2:23). On the cross He forgave those who were executing Him.
We tend to be much more self-centred. Our anger often results from a perception that we are being treated badly or we are missing out on what we think we deserve. It tends to be our pride or our vanity or our desire for revenge. So, in terms of handling anger in a righteous way, the first thing to consider is why we are angry. Is it Christ-like, selfless anger or self-centred anger?
Nicky Gumbel gives six keys to dealing with anger. The first is to consider the cause; to test our motives.
The second is to pause. Repeatedly we are told, in the scriptures, to be slow to anger (e.g. Ps 145.8). In fact, we are told that God is slow to anger.
Prov 14:16-17 16 …a fool is hotheaded…17 A quick-tempered person does foolish thing…
Ecclesiastes 7:9 Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools.
We all know the wisdom of counting to ten before speaking, if we are angry and, if we write an email or a letter, of not sending it but simply leaving it and then, at some later time, coming back to it to see if it still looks as reasonable as it did when we wrote it in our anger.
Pausing allows us to reflect and to speak to wise friends and getting a better perspective instead of simply reacting. It is when we react quickly that we do things we later regret and which can cause real damage.
Prov 22:24-25 24 Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person, do not associate with one easily angered, 25 or you may learn their ways and get yourself ensnared.
Nicky Gumbel’s third piece of advice is to watch our words. Jesus said that people who call others “raca” or a fool, will be subject to judgement – before the Sanhedrin and in danger of the fires of hell. “Raca” is an Aramaic term meaning that someone is an idiot; brainless. There is quite a lot of disagreement over what is meant by “fool”. Jesus actually called people fools (Mt 23:17; Lk 24:25), as did the apostles (1 Cor 15:36; Gal 3:1; Jas 2:20). Maybe it picks up the Old Testament meaning where the fool is the person who says there is no God and who therefore lives a life of sin. So, whereas “raca” insults someone’s intelligence (his head), “fool” is more of an insult to his heart or character, maybe to the point of saying the person is godless and will go to hell.
Jesus is illustrating how anger bursts forth in immoderate, cutting, insulting words, and anger expressed like that warrants the same sort of punishment as murder. God takes our words very seriously.
This should not stop us from having difficult conversations, or lovingly confronting someone. Sometimes disagreements have to be talked through openly and honestly. Sometimes criticism enables us to learn and grow. Jesus is not saying we should not have those conversations. In fact, scripture counsels us to do just that. We need to talk more honestly – speaking the truth in love. That is how the body grows. In fact, there is an example here: go and talk to the brother who has something against you. But Jesus has no time for angry outbursts that are designed to hurt and that treat people with contempt.
Fourthly, Nicky Gumbel advises us to master our minds. Remember, Jesus is saying that internal anger is as bad as the external action. It starts in the mind and we have to decide whether we will let that seed remain and grow, or whether we will stop those thoughts at that early stage. [Bill Hybels story].
Fifthly, Nicky Gumbel says, “Count the Cost”. Anger destroys families, marriages, friendships, communities. It can lead to violent crime and stress and poor health. Is it worth it? Count the cost.
Eph 4:26-27 26 “In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold.
Even justifiable anger can lead to sinful actions if we are not careful. We have to consider not only what is behind our anger but also what we will do with our anger. When anger provokes us to sin, that gives the devil a foothold. Think about the damage that is going to be done. Count the cost.
Lastly, Nicky Gumbel says, “Pursue peace; seek reconciliation.”
Jesus said that if we are in church, worshipping, and we remember that we have offended someone, we should go straight away, without even waiting for the service to finish, to seek reconciliation.
We cannot pretend to be close to God when we are divided from others. So act quickly. Go and apologise for the offense. Seek reconciliation as soon as you become aware of it.
Bishop Festo Kivengere from Uganda one day went off to preach after having a row with his wife. The Holy Spirit said to him, ‘Go back and pray with your wife.” He argued that he had to preach in 20 minutes. The Holy Spirit then said, “OK, you go and preach. I’ll stay with your wife.”
Jesus’ second example has to do with, not a brother, but an adversary, and not in church but in the law courts. Again, you are in the wrong and Jesus says, “Settle it. Pay your debt before you even get to the court.” If you don’t, it will probably cost you a whole lot more – maybe every last cent you own. How many people have discovered that to their cost? They have contested it instead of settling it and ended up paying far more than they would have if they had simply settled it.
Jesus sets a high standard. He talks about radical righteousness. Some people see the Sermon on the Mount as an impossible ideal. Others see it as a wonderful goal worth aiming for. In God’s Kingdom people are treated nicely and shown respect. Shouldn’t we hunger for that?
How can we live up to this standard? Remember the Beatitudes? Blessed are those who know they are spiritually bankrupt, who mourn over their sin, who hunger and thirst for righteousness. We need to recognise our brokenness and inability to reform ourselves and seek God’s help. Blessed are the people who do that. When we know we have been forgiven, we can understand the importance of forgiving.
Secondly, it requires an act of the will. We need to be willing to deal with our anger before it escalates. There are things here that we can do if we are willing: go to the person you have hurt and be reconciled; sort it out.
Thirdly, God gives us His Holy Spirit to enable us to do what we cannot do by ourselves. The Holy Spirit will guide us to know the right thing to do and to enable us to do it, if we ask Him.
This is an ideal. It is a really high bar. God knows we will not do it perfectly. Remember, God is forgiving; God is slow to anger. When we mess up and come back to God yet again apologising, He says, “That’s OK. I’m glad you want to do it right. Let’s work on this together.”