Anger that Kills | Matthew 5:21-27
Good morning, Church. Children ages Preschool-2nd grade can be dismissed out the door to your right for Children’s Church. And don’t forget, there are children’s bulletins in the back for children who are staying, and don’t forget, for students, if you fill out the outline on the bulletin, and give it to Stephen after the service, you might just win a lunch wherever you’d like to eat!
Today we are jumping in to what Jesus said about anger in the Sermon on the Mount. Being born and raised a Texan, I wanted to share with you something I saw just this week on Facebook. 6 things that make a Texan angry: Slow drivers, Unsweet tea, losing football games, restaurants that charge for chips and salsa, sunburns, and Oklahoma. I have to say each of those is true for me, and may be true for you too, no matter what state you’re from.
But most of us struggle with anger at least to some degree. Certain things happening or certain people make us mad! Many of us struggle with it, and for many of us it might be the most common thing with which we struggle. I think anger has become one of the most secret sins that people struggle with. It’s something that’s just not talked about very often in the church, most of the time because no one knows about it except for close family and friends. I think it’s also one of the most justified sins in the church. We defend why we’re angry, we blame other people, or our circumstances, there’s always a legitimate reason why we’re angry when we’re angry. Therefore, it’s our right to be angry. But Jesus had some shocking things to say about anger. Let’s look at that in Matthew 5:21-26; Page 3 in the blue New Testaments under the seats in front of you.
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.”
Anger might be a quiet thing in the church, but it is not a quiet thing in the Bible. Not only in this text, but throughout the Scriptures we see how strongly God speaks against anger.
It’s so obvious in the Bible that sinful anger is not part of the life we have in Christ, and yet so many of us struggle with it. I hope today that I can give you some really practical things that can help you with anger, BUT I hope much more that we let Jesus change our THINKING. That’s the whole point of the Sermon on the Mount, is that God changes us from the inside out. I’m not here to help you with stopping a few actions and that’s it; we’re here to let God change our thinking in such a way that our actions change as well. Why? Because Godly thinking produces Godly attitudes and actions. So, from this text as well as a few others that we’ll at, four points that Jesus makes about anger. The first is this:
- Anger is destructive (vv. 21-22).
Jesus speaks very strongly about anger, particularly in these first two verses. He says you know the teaching that was given long ago, “Do not murder, and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.” “But I say to you everyone who is angry will be liable to judgment.”
Murder, of course, is absolutely prohibited in the Bible; it’s the 6th commandment. Murder is such a big deal not just because it ends life, but specifically because it ends life that is made in the image of God. Humans are created in the image of God, and yet there are 26,000 murders that happen every day in the US, that we know of. That’s about 75 murders every single day. It’s so common that the average murder doesn’t make it past the local news, and sometimes in metropolitan areas it doesn’t even really make the news.
The command to not murder is grounded in the fact that we are the pinnacle of God’s creation, made in His image. We were not made to destroy people, both physically, obviously through murder or physical abuse, but we also were not made to be destructive in any way that we interact with people. This is where we get to anger. Anger is destructive much like murder is destructive. It’s destructive in 2 ways.
First, it’s destructive toward others.
After saying what he said about murder, Jesus says, “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.”
That’s the first thing he says: whoever is angry will be liable to judgment. Why? Why does it say the exact same thing for both murder and anger, that we’ll be liable to judgment for both? Because anger is murder of the heart. 1 John 3:15- “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer.”
Now you may say, “Ryan, that said ‘hatred is murder’, not anger. There is a difference between anger and hatred. That’s somewhat true, but let’s look at what Jesus said 2nd: “Whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” Now he’s not telling us the punishment for doing each of these respectively. Some think that there’s an increase in intensity here from the first to the third; I don’t think the context really gives us that. Instead, I think Jesus is just communicating the seriousness of sinful anger.
Anger is murder of the heart. It is destructive toward others. Insulting someone, or calling someone what some of your translations say in the second part, “Raca”, is a big deal. Raca is a word that has no modern translation, which is why some of your translations just transliterate: “Raca.” But it means, “brainless idiot, empty head, things like that. It’s a very arrogant and demeaning attitude toward an individual. The word for “fool” is “moros,” from which we get the word “moron.” A moron is a worthless person.
Calling someone a fool or insulting them is doing what? It’s attacking someone’s character, or their identity. It is absolutely destructive in nature. When we attack someone’s character by insulting them, we are attacking their very worth. We’re trying to say that they are worth less than they really are, as human beings made in the image of God. To say or think that about a creature made in God’s image is to say that about God himself. That’s how heavy this is. “God, you’re an excellent Creator, but you messed up when you made him, or her.” Do you hear the blasphemy in that? I’m not trying to make this more intense than it is; Jesus Himself makes this intense. It’s a big deal.
So here’s the question for us: Do we feel hatred toward any individual; sustained anger or bitterness. You may never call it hate, and you may never want to physically hurt someone (or maybe you want to sometimes, but you’d never do that), but that’s not all that Jesus is talking about here. He’s saying it’s not just external. It’s internal. Do you desire to hurt someone’s reputation; maybe you want to hurt how other people think about them. That is murder of the heart.
Another question for us to think about in talking about how anger is destructive toward others- Are there people on whom you take out your anger, or your frustrations who may not even be involved in whatever’s making you angry? Maybe it’s in some small way that you do this, or maybe it’s gotten to the point where you don’t even care how destructive your words or actions are. Maybe your family or your friends, coworkers, whoever it is, feel like they are walking on eggshells around you, making sure not to set you off, because of how angry of a person you’ve become. Whether it be just occasional anger, or this simmering anger that isn’t even rational at times, it’s time to repent. It’s time to become people who, like our God, are slow to anger.
Now, for clarity, Jesus is not saying in any way that there’s no place for anger in the Christian life. We’ll talk about that in a bit, something called righteous anger. He’s also not saying that we’re not to be critical of each other in the Body of Christ; that’s a major part of the Christian faith, that we are lovingly accountable to each other in a real way. What he’s saying is that there’s no place for slander or for a desire to put someone down out of anger. That is murder of the heart, and he says as strongly as possible, that being a person defined by anger may reveal a heart that has not truly trusted in Christ and therefore is liable to hell. That’s his language word-for-word. Anger is serious. Anger is destructive toward others, but also:
2ndly, it’s destructive toward ourselves.
Again, Jesus said, “Everyone who is angry with his brother.” This word “angry”, “orgizo” is this simmering anger that isn’t allowed to go away. Whether intentionally or not, it’s this anger that’s almost nurtured, like this baby that’s ours and we don’t want anyone else to know about it and we definitely do not want to give it up. We like it; we don’t want reconciliation, we want revenge, or at least we want them to experience our anger. Jesus makes clear: that is murder. But, this is not just destructive toward them; it’s destructive toward ourselves. I must quote this because it’s too good, too well put. From Frederick Buechner:
“Of the Seven Deadly Sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back–in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.”
Giving anger a foothold in your life is giving anger part of who you are. Ultimately, it’s giving the enemy part of who you are. Jesus is making the broad point that you can avoid murder all your life and yet still face the wrath of God if your life is characterized by bitterness, anger, and contempt. Why? Because that’s not a life that’s died to itself and is living for Jesus. It’s a life living for itself and really dead to anything else. Anger is both destructive toward others, and destructive toward ourselves, because eats at you, and it always wants more of you. The second point that Jesus makes, primarily in other parts of the Bible, not necessarily directly from this text:
- Anger comes from not getting what we want (James 4:1-2).
Think about it for a moment: why do we get so angry sometimes? James 4:1-2, listen to this: “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this: that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.” I’m not going to give you the entire context of this passage for time’s sake, but one thing we learn: At the most basic level, anger comes from not getting what we want.
This may surprise you to hear me say: but I struggle with anger. I do. Now I’m not talking about anger toward people, I usually let things slide off me very quickly when someone does something or says something. But the type of anger I do struggle with is, honestly, more embarrassing. And this is why I thought it worked out perfectly that this text was scheduled for Father’s Day, because it does seem that men, in particular, struggle with anger. But even for those of you who may not struggle with being angry at people, maybe you struggle, like me, with becoming angry at inanimate objects. Let me give you an example:
Just a few weeks ago we bought a canopy sort-of thing for our deck to provide some shade (we got it at a garage sale for $10, can you believe that?). But as I was putting this thing together, there was one particular screw that would not fit into the hole. I don’t know what it is about things like that that drive me insane, you know? If you’ve ever bought furniture or anything else you may have to put together, you might know what I’m talking about. Lauryn and I love IKEA. But you’ve probably had experiences like this, where the smallest thing will drive you insane.
It reminds me of Jacob and this little house toy that he has. He’ll try and put the triangle block through the circle hole, and you can see it all over his face. It’s this very quick progression from a little bit of frustration to violence (he starts just slamming it into the toy house), then to screaming. The whole time, I’m looking at him going, “Jacob, calm it down. Turn the house around; there’s another way.” We look at things like that and think, “That’s a childish thing to do, a childish way to act.” And yet we do it all the time. Jacob gets really mad when things aren’t going his way. We too get really mad when things aren’t going our way, we’re not getting what we want, and God’s saying, “Hey hey hey, there’s another way.”
What’s God teaching us in this? It’s like God’s saying, “You’re not in control. Why are you so angry that you don’t have control when I never gave you control, nor did I ever promise you control.” Think about it: What has God promised us instead? He’s promised us that’s HE’S in control. HE is the sovereign God of the universe, who is working out all things for the good of those who love him. Instead of getting so angry that someone isn’t doing things the way you think they should do them, or so angry that life’s circumstances are not what you want, trust God. Believe what He says. Sometimes, as he’s working out all things for the good of US, he doesn’t do exactly what we think he should do. Have you ever noticed that?
Much like I don’t always do exactly what Jacob thinks I should do. Why? Because I know better than Jacob. In the same way, God knows better than we do. In fact, He knows everything. Trust Him. Realize that the ultimate reason we get angry is because we’re not getting what we want, whatever that may be, even a screw not fitting where it’s supposed to. Again, that thinking will change us. Jesus isn’t giving us 10 ways to stop our anger today. He wants to change how we think, from the inside out. THAT will inevitably change our attitudes and actions. Believe that God truly is sovereign, in control, working out all things for the good of those who love Him. Back specifically to our passage in Matthew 5, the third point that Jesus makes about anger:
- Anger Hinders Our Worship (vv. 23-26).
Anger hinders our worship. Look at v. 23-24:
“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
Jesus doesn’t want us to only have our own anger in check, but he also wants us to do what we can to help others not be angry with us. People within the church in particular, we’re to look out for them. If we have wronged someone, and haven’t dealt with it, then we might be helping them remain angry with us. We’re not to do that; we’re to deal with those types of things and not let them fester, especially in the church.
Now, let me clear here, this does not mean that anyone out there who thinks you’ve wronged them or has some problem with you, you’re required to go to them and deal with that. That’s not what this means. If that were what this meant, then Jesus would have done absolutely nothing ever except run around and deal with all the people that didn’t like him. Thousands upon thousands had a problem with Jesus, and yet he did not go to each of them individually at all. This verse does not require you to go to every person who has a problem with you, whether it’s legitimate or not. If it’s someone you know, that might be a good idea, but that’s not what Jesus is getting at here.
This is talking about having legitimately wronged another individual. To come here and worship on a Sunday not having dealt with that– I’m not saying stop gathering with the church, please hear me: I’m saying deal with it. Be reconciled to whomever you have wronged, insofar as it depends on you. We don’t have control over how someone else responds, but we do have control over ourselves. Our job, according to Jesus, is to desire and pursue reconciliation, then no longer remain angry ourselves, and pray that the other person doesn’t either.
But it’s really important, especially for those in this room, to have issues dealt with. Again, if you have wronged someone, deal with it. If you haven’t, but someone else thinks you have, it might still be a good idea, but that’s not required by Jesus. But reconciliation is part of worship. We must realize that sometimes it’s easier to worship with our mouths than with our actions. Seeking reconciliation is difficult sometimes, but we must pursue it when we have wronged someone. That’s part of worship. We’re not only to let go of anger ourselves, we should also try and do nothing to cause anger in others, as much as is possible, because anger hinders worship. Part of hindering worship is also hindering our fellowship with God, which is where vv. 25-26 come in:
Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.
In these verses, Jesus is illustrating the importance of having sin resolved between people so that that sin does not have to face a sentence before God, the divine Judge. The basic point here: We’re to make it a top priority to be reconciled with our brother or sister in Christ, and we will give an account for when we’ve wronged someone, and haven’t dealt with it, that’s what he means by not “getting out until we’ve paid the last penny.” Part of worship is obedience, and part of obedience is being reconciled to those whom we’ve wronged. Anger hinders our worship.
The last point on anger that Jesus makes:
- Righteous Anger is God-Centered, not self-centered (Matt. 21: 12-13).
As I already mentioned, there is such a thing as righteous anger, anger that is not sinful, but in fact is entirely appropriate! We see Jesus himself in Matthew 21, expressing some pretty intense anger. Matthew 21:12-13 say,
“And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.”
Not only is there such a thing as righteous anger, but honestly I think we need a bit more of righteous anger in the church. We want to always be a church marked by grace, but grace is God-centered. Things that God hates, we often tolerate. Sin in the church, as in the covenanted members of the church, sin among pastors, compromise in biblical teaching and living for Christ- it truly does seem that there needs to be a bit more righteous anger. But, the biggest thing I want us to realize with this is that righteous anger is never self-centered, it is always God-centered.
What made Jesus mad in the temple? God’s name being smeared. A place of worship having become a place of swindling. What should make us angry and drive us to action is when God’s name is being smeared by the attitudes and actions of supposed Christ-followers. That should make us angry. Why? Because we’re personally hurt? No, because God is worthy of worship and accurate representation. When anyone in the church is communicating to the world that God is worthy of our superficiality only but not worthy of our hearts and minds, that should make us angry, in the church!
This is absolutely to be a place of love and grace, but there’s a big difference between Godly love and worldly sentimentality. Being sentimental from the world’s perspective is acting like there’s nothing greater than feeling good about each other and never hindering those good and positive feelings. Godly love, though, is a love for each other that desires holiness, not just so that we all experience joy that comes in pursuing holiness, but ultimately because it points to God’s glory. Godly love for each other is more about God than each other.
This is why, in the church, there’s no place for taking things personally. Because it’s not about us! It’s about Him! Even when there are legitimate issues in the church, we shouldn’t be angry because we’re personally offended, but because God’s name and reputation are not being upheld. Part of our journey toward Godliness is realizing that when we get hurt in the church, it shouldn’t just make us mad at the church, it should make us holy. We’ve mixed up in the church what it means to be a biblical community with what it means to be part of a great club of people who like each other.
When we mix up worldly sentimentality and desire for community with the distinctly Christian calling to biblical community and biblical corporate holiness, we will be so frustrated with the results. Why? Because our main motivation is people, not God. And guess what? People are going to fail you. Righteous anger should never be in defense of me or my reputation, ultimately. It should be in defense of the glory of God, even at the expense of what people think of me or you, individually, or at the expense of what I want, or what you want. Truly righteous anger is not about me, it’s not about you. It’s about God and His name and reputation. We’ve gotten to a point where we call a lot of anger “righteous” that’s not about God at all. It’s about us. When it becomes about me, it is not righteous anger, the anger that God approves of and even expects.
What makes you angry? How do respond to that anger? I mentioned it when we began, and I want to mention it again to help make sure we remember: Jesus isn’t just wanting you to try and stop being angry. He wants to change you from the inside out. The way to kick sinful anger is to change the way we think. Foundational to this thinking are these truths, in summary:
- Sinful anger, that’s about me, is destructive. It’s destructive to others, and it’s destructive to myself.
- Sinful anger comes when we don’t get what we want, and when we don’t trust God and His plan even when it’s different from ours.
- Sinful anger hinders our worship of God and our fellowship with one another.
- And, righteous anger, the kind-of anger that God wants us to have, is never self-centered, and always God-centered.
Let’s pray today that we, as individuals, are no longer controlled our emotions and our circumstances and our pride becoming so angry when we’re personally offended, but instead controlled by the desire to be and do everything we can to point to His glory and add to his reputation in the world, which is so much bigger than anything that makes us angry.
More in Sermon on the Mount
October 2, 2016The Scariest Passage in the Bible | Matthew 7:13-23
September 25, 2016The Golden Rule and the Narrow Way | Matthew 7:12-14
September 18, 2016Asking for the Good Things | Matthew 7:7-11