Dealing with Anger
In his famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke about human anger, talking about how God views it, and how we ought to deal with it! First…
I. How God views human anger
Matthew 5:21–22 – “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
Jesus sets the stage for how God views human anger by initially talking about murder, quoting from Exodus 20:13, which says, “Do not murder.” This is one of the Ten Commandments, and it prohibits the taking of human life, not animal life. [Note that God said it is permissible to kill animals for food in general (Genesis 9:3) and sacrifices under the Old Covenant (Exodus 20:24)].
Tragically, however, we live in a country that has turned its back on God’s Word and has legalized the killing of babies in the womb through abortion, and the killing of others through euthanasia. These are wrong because God is the author of all human life, and like it says in Job 1:21 – “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.” It’s not man’s prerogative to take away human life. It’s God’s prerogative to decide when our time is up. Having said this, capital punishment (Genesis, 9:6, Exodus 21:12, Romans 13:4), or bloodshed that my result from protecting yourself from someone who is harming you (Exodus 22:2-3), are not considered murder from a biblical perspective. Suicide, however is. I know that things can seem so desperate and problems so big that the only way out appears to be suicide. But suicide is never an acceptable solution to dealing with problems. Humanly speaking something may seem impossible, but with God, “all things are possible” (Matt.19:26).
Now, the Pharisees and religious leaders who were listening to Jesus could tick it off their list of external righteousness. We have not committed homicide, check. We have not committed suicide, check. We’re good. But, then Jesus goes on to say that it’s not just the outward act of murder that counts, but the inward attitude of the heart: “But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment” (Matthew 5:22a).Murder originates in the heart. It starts with evil thoughts. “Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,‘ is answerable to the Sanhedrin” (Matthew 5:22b).Raca is a term used in that day that has no perfect equivalent today, so that’s why it is left in its original form and not translated in our English Bibles. To say to someone ‘Raca’ was like saying “you’re worthless,” which is really a form of slander. In the first century, committing slander could cause you to end up in court. The supreme court in Israel was the Sanhedrin. Jesus goes on to say, “But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell” (Matthew 5:22c). The word ‘fool’ here translates the Greek word ‘moros’ from which we get the English word moron. To call someone a moron or idiot or stupid, or any other equivalent four letter word, is to give expression to anger in your heart, and that anger is so serious in God’s eyes, that it makes a person in danger of hell, if not repented of. I think what Jesus is saying here is that even if we don’t take someone else’s life, if we have anger and hate toward someone, we’re guilty of murder in God’s eyes.
This of course brings up an obvious question:
II. How should we deal with our anger?
Matthew 5:23–24 – “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.
Jesus presents a familiar scene for his hearers. He pictures a Jewish man going to the temple to offer a gift to God, most likely an animal sacrifice! What the Lord is saying here is that anger and hate are so serious in God’s eyes that he’d rather you interrupt your act of worship (“leave your gift there in front of the altar”) in order to “first go and be reconciled to” the person who you are in conflict with. That should really stop and make us think long and hard about our own lives. Are there people that we have hurt that we haven’t apologized to? Is there hate in our heart toward someone because of what they’ve done. How should we deal with all this?
Romans 12:18 says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
Is there someone you need to go to or call and make peace with? Your relationship with God hinges on it. We tend to categorize things and think, “This is my relationship with God” category and over here is “my relationships with others” category. Yet, Jesus is saying that the worship of God is intricately linked to our relationship and treatment of people who are made in the image of God. Furthermore, if there’s hate in our heart towards someone, it’ll hinder our worship of God. That’s why Jesus goes on to say
Matthew 5:25–26 – “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26 I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.”
The time for reconciliation, just like the time of salvation, is always today. It’s whenever you remember that your brother or sister has something against you. If you can do something to reconcile, you do it today, even if you are the one to blame.
This is where the gospel comes into play. Since we have been forgiven much by a holy God, we can extend forgiveness to others. Just like it says in
Ephesians 4:31–32 – “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
Notice the relationship in these words. The command to get rid of anger and forgive each other is based on and enabled by the reality that the Lord forgave you. Jesus died on the cross for your sins. The mountain of the debt of your sin before God was cancelled and forgiven when you called on Jesus to save you. So, forgive as the Lord forgave you. Forgiveness is not something you feel, it is something you do. It is letting go of the need to get back at the person who hurt us. It is letting go of the anger and bitterness. It is bringing that anger to God and asking for his forgiveness! Then, ask Him to set you free from any anger and bitterness you are holding onto. Remember with God, “all things are possible!” (Matthew 19:26).