Session #037 Anger Danger
Scripture Matthew 5:21-26
Summary Upholding the Law, Jesus moves from a general principle to six specific examples. In Matt 5:21-26, the King exposes a heart that is prone to uncontrolled anger. Left unchecked, who knows what it can lead to, or what it will result in? Should the 6th commandment be changed to “Thou shalt not be angry” then? Should we turn to anger management principles? Listen to this teaching to learn what is expected of kingdom subjects.
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca.’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool.’ shall be in danger of hellfire. Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First, be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary delivers you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny” Matthew 5:21–26.
In the previous teaching, we examined what it meant when Jesus said that He came not to destroy the law but to fulfil it i.e., to interpret it correctly and understand it rightly for the purpose of obedience. Jesus then moved from a general principle to six specific examples; introducing each example with the paired statement: “You have heard that it was said…But I say to you…” The first part of the statement refers to the interpretation of the Pharisees while the latter part refers to the correct interpretation of Jesus the King who goes straight into the motivation for each commandment.
Example One: Dealing with the Dangers of Anger
This teaching examines the first example of the dangers of anger. Can you recall your words or actions on an occasion when you are angry? Is there also a tendency to retaliate and then to justify; blaming everything and everyone? In Matthew 5:21-26, Jesus exposes a heart that is prone to uncontrolled anger if left unchecked, can even lead to murder and be in danger of hellfire. The first such example in the Bible is when Cain killed Abel in his anger (Genesis 4:6-8). God warns Cain that “sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” Today, because of what is appropriated at the cross, sin has no dominion over us (Romans 6:14).
Determining the Principle of the 6th Commandment
Jesus was drawing from the 6th Commandment “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13). This refers to premeditated murder which draws the penalty of death (Exodus 21:12&14). The governing principle is that man is made in the image of God (Genesis 9:5-6).
From a cultural perspective, in a society of honour and shame, if you are angry with someone, you curse that person and call them names. Jesus warns us that contempt against a person’s intellect or character is an attack against one made in the image of God. He is saying that we need to restrain our tongue (also in James 3:8-9). The tongue is also described as being set on fire by hell, and so the consequence of a careless tongue is hellfire (James 3:6). When we violate this principle, we are all liable to judgment and to hell.
Practically, we could ask ourselves when were we angry with our spouse, children, parents, or siblings? Did we murder each other’s esteem with our words? Were there vicious rumours and name-calling in church? How about careless posts and comments over social media? Jesus warns that if we do not deal with these, we will end up killing each other.
Without a Cause: Righteous Anger and Just Causes
Examining the phrase “whoever is angry with his brother without a cause” in Matthew 5:22, we must be careful not to see this as a loophole to permit us to be angry, to call names or curse. If we are looking for a cause, we will always find it. But is it righteous and just? Jesus is also talking about this anger in the context of the family, church, and believers.
Who determines if a cause is right or just? Let’s look at some examples in the Bible where Jesus uses the words: “Hypocrites. Fools and blind guides. …”, Paul also called the people “Fools. Dogs.” and James called the people of the church “Adulterers and Adulteresses.” When did Jesus and the Apostles use these words?
- Jesus directed these at the religious leaders and teachers to expose their sin, hypocrisy and deception.
- For Paul, it was for loving and protecting the flock from false teaching, warning and waking them up and pointing them back to God and His ways. In today’s context, if such a statement is made, we should deliberate on what the person is trying to say instead of immediately writing them off.
- For James, it was for righteousness’ sake, pointing them back to God, and not using these words for control, manipulation, personal rights or gain.
Next, in today’s context in society, Christians should be righteously angered when parties violate the sanctity and dignity of men and women made in the image of God, for example:
- Pro-choice movement e.g., abortion
- LGBT Agenda and the humanistic rights that we are born in the image of God has moved to the extreme that each has the right to decide to do whatever we want e.g., deciding on our own gender.
- Pornography and sexual immorality
- Rape, prostitution, paedophilia, etc
However, we must be careful how we respond. Righteous anger must not result in unrighteous behaviour. This is not easy for the Church and the individual. How do we make a stand without being misunderstood? We really need to have the heart of Jesus to know how to respond.
If you have caused offence through anger or careless words, what should you do? Jesus uses two imageries to teach this lesson:
Worship Context: Leave Your Gift Before the Altar (Matthew 5:23-24)
Does God desire reconciliation more than worship? It is actually more to enable you to be free to worship in spirit and in truth. Therefore, if you have wronged someone and you know it, you need to go and seek forgiveness and reconciliation before you can return freely to worship the Lord. Whether the other party forgives or not is not your problem. “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men” (Romans 12:18).
Legal Context: Agree with Your Adversary (Matthew 5:25-26)
In this case, a complaint has been made against you and you are in the wrong. You have to agree and solve it quickly without delay. This admission requires humility and submission and in doing this, you are valuing relationships above your rights.
Next, you must be determined to resolve and reconcile differences and offences within the group (whether two or more of you) and not let the outside world decide for you according to their system. We are called to judge ourselves, according to God’s principles and system of love and forgiveness. The objective is to expose sin and deal with it, not to cover up e.g., sex abuse, criminal cases, etc. If you want the court to decide, be prepared for the outcome and consequences, for you may pay the full price of the judgment. In the end, whether you win the case or not, there is still no relationship nor reconciliation. All you have is emotional trauma, anxiety, bitterness, hurt, and even more anger.
Finally, if you do not go for reconciliation, the other party could have forgiven you by presenting the matter to God, the Righteous Judge, to deal with you (Romans 12:9). It is better to reconcile; for if you go by the letter of the law, you will see only judgment and death while if you go by the spirit of the law, you will receive reconciliation and life.
So, should we replace “Do not Murder” with “Do not be Angry”?
Anger is a God-given emotion and it would be silly to try to remove that altogether. It is not anger that we must be concerned with but the lack of control of that anger. The Bible describes “outburst of wrath” as a work of the flesh and it is mentioned alongside idolatry and fornication. These will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21; Colossians 3:8; Romans 13:8-10).
Should we turn to Anger Management Principles, such as:
- I do not need to prove myself in this situation, I can stay calm.
- As long as I keep my cool, I am in control of myself.
- What other people say is their opinion. Opinions are not facts. I am the only person who can make myself angry or keep myself calm, etc.
Although they are helpful points, the focus is still on a person’s willpower and strength. The key however is not anger management but spirit management. We are raised and seated with Christ by the Holy Spirit; died with Christ and raised to new life. We can proclaim the truth and put off the old man with all the bitterness, wrath, anger, etc and put on the new man, a new creation (Ephesians 4:31, Colossians 3:8, Romans 6:13-14). We obey the prompting and leading of the Holy Spirit to be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath (James 1:19-20); praying in the Spirit instead of cursing and be transformed by the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-26).
What is expected of kingdom subjects?
Treat everyone with love and dignity as every person is created in the image of God. Careless words can lead to dangerous behaviour and actions. Pray in the Spirit instead of cursing with the wrong spirit of anger. Righteous anger must not result in unrighteous behaviour. Nip it early. do not wait until it is too late. Reconciliation enables worship and service. It is not just between you and God but you and others. Always make restoration, not retaliation, the goal. It is not anger management but spirit management. Finally, even if you are wrongly treated, leave God to be the ultimate Judge of that.