How To Deal With Anger
By Brian Anderson

Man's first crime was that of murder. Gen.4:8 says "And Cain told Abel his brother, and it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him". In our own day, we have seen the arrests of mass murderers whose names have become household words. Over 25,000 murders are committed in the U.S. every year. That's approximately 70 a day! If we were to add suicide (self-murder) and abortions (pre-birth murder), the numbers would be staggering! Violence and killing fill our television and movie screens! Admittedly, most of us will never commit an actual murder. But Jesus is teaching us in this passage that if we manifest unrighteous anger, contempt or slander towards someone else, we have the seeds of murder growing already in our heart. This passage is relevant and applicable to all of us because all of us must deal with unrighteous anger in our hearts at one time or another.

But first, we need to back up and see the big picture! What is the context in Matthew 5?

5:1-12 Christ is describing the marks of the citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven. This is what a true Christian looks like.
5:13-16 Christ describes the purpose of the Church in the world. It is to be salt to preserve a decaying world, and light to illumine a dark world.
5:17-18 Christ describes Himself as the apex and culmination of all Old Testament revelation. He has come to fulfill prophecy.
5:19-20 Christ declares, based on that, that it is the height of folly to disregard His commandments of the Kingdom of Heaven which He is beginning to describe.
5:21-48 Christ begins to give us some of those commandments of the Kingdom.

Christ here is giving new rules of conduct for the church. Under the new covenant there are new and higher demands than the Jews under the old covenant were governed by. That is because the new covenant is rooted in pure grace. Do you remember Ex.19:4-5? "You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings, and brought you to Myself. Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine." The old covenant was conditional: if you obey and keep the covenant you will be blessed. If you disobey, you will be cursed.

The new covenant is unconditional. Jer.31:31-34 "...but this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord, I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it, and I will be their God, and they shall be My people...". I will and you shall! God Himself fulfills in His people the conditions of faith, repentance, obedience, and perseverance. Because it is rooted in pure grace, the demands that rule their lives are much higher and more spiritual. In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ is contrasting the way of living under the Old Testament covenant of law and under the new testament covenant of grace.

Another way to put it is:

  • The old covenant was given to hard-hearted sinners as a ministry of death.
  • The new covenant is given to saints having a new heart as a ministry of life.
  • The Law of Moses was given to a physical nation of unregenerate sinners.
  • The Law of Christ was given to a spiritual nation of regenerate saints.
  • The purpose of the Law of Moses is conviction of sin leading to justification by faith. (II Cor. 3)
  • The purpose of the Law of Christ is to furnish the renewed mind of the saints with truth leading to a more holy life. It is to furnish us with an objective standard, code of conduct, whereby we understand the kind of life that pleases God.

One popular view of this passage sees Jesus correcting the interpretation of the Law given by the Scribes. In other words, He was giving the true spiritual intent of the Law. These expositors believe that the Old Testament law was designed to convict a man of anger in his heart and mind as well as to convict him of physical murder. The problem with that view is that the breaking of these laws was punishable with death. But if the true intent of the law was to condemn man for sins of the heart, how could the magistrates possibly punish them? I believe, rather, that the Old Testament believers did not understand the law according to this deeper, more spiritual meaning that Christ gives it. They couldn't understand it that way. No where in the Old Testament did God give them this deeper understanding. No, Christ raises those Old Testament laws to a higher level. He doesn't contradict the Old Testament law or imply that it is wrong. It was good for Old Testament believers. But with the new covenant, there needs to be a new rule of conduct.

Well, now that we have seen a little of the background to 5:21-48, let's see what Christ has to say about unrighteous anger and having right relationships with others. In this passage He teaches us three things about dealing with anger:

1. Recognize Your Anger As A Serious Sin In The Sight of God

"You have heard that the ancients were told, 'You shall not commit murder' and 'Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.' But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever shall say to his brother, 'Raca', shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever shall say, 'You fool', shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell." Mt. 5:21-22

You Have Heard: Why did He say this? When Israel was taken captive in Babylon, they had lost their ability to understand the Hebrew language. When they came back, they spoke Aramaic. They couldn't read their Hebrew Scriptures. They were dependent on the Scribes to tell them what the Law said. The situation was similar to what occurred in the dark ages when priests and bishops of the Catholic church had the Bible translated into a language the people didn't understand. But to the credit of the Scribes, they had told the people what the Scriptures said. In Ex. 20:13, God gives the command, "You shall not murder"; and in Num.35:30-31, the Law states "If anyone kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death at the evidence of witnesses, but no person shall be put to death on the testimony of one witness. Moreover, you shall not take ransom for the life of a murderer who is guilty of death, but he shall surely be put to death."

But I Say To You (v.22): Mt. 7:28-29 "The result was that when Jesus had finished these words, the multitudes were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes." They were amazed because He didn't parrot the oral traditions of the Elders; His teaching was different! Not only the manner of His teaching but the content was different. He wasn't just rubber stamping the Law of Moses. He is giving us the Law of Christ! It raises their law to the nth degree! The Jews were a physical nation, many of which were unregenerate sinners, obeying an external code. Christ is saying here that His standard for new covenant believers is not just external. It reaches the heart, thoughts, and motives of a man. Anger, contempt, and slander are all liable to judgment - not just the external act of murder.

Anger: Sometimes anger is the only right response in a given situation. Take for example Jesus' response to the religious leaders. In Mt. 23, He denounced their self-serving hypocritical practice calling them hypocrites, blind guides, fools, serpents, and brood of vipers that should not escape the sentence of hell! Pretty strong language from meek and mild-mannered Jesus! Paul was angry with the Judaizers. In Gal 1:6-8 he says "I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you, and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed." Both Jesus and Paul were angry with sin. Our anger is righteous when God's honor is at stake. Too often we are angry because of what someone does to us. But this is selfish anger. Jesus was unjustly arrested, tried, beaten, spat upon, crucified, and mocked. He had every reason to be angry, yet He only prayed for His persecutor's forgiveness. His was a holy anger against sin, but Jesus in this text is speaking about unholy anger against people. In the Old Testament when someone committed murder they were guilty before the Court. The Court was the local village council of elders. Likewise, we are guilty before God when we harbor unrighteous anger towards our brother.

Raca: To say "Raca" was an insult in the tone of voice more than anything else. It literally meant brainless idiot; empty-headed blunderer. Today we would call someone an Airhead! It speaks of contempt and is built on arrogance and pride. To call someone Raca was to be guilty of the Supreme Court - the Sanhedrin. Unrighteous anger naturally leads to showing contempt of others. Both are sins of the heart for which we are accountable.

Fool: The Greek word is moros from which we get our word moron. Christ speaks of a moral fool. The fool was someone who was wicked and ungodly and demonstrated that by foolish, moronic decisions. In the book of Proverbs, the fool is not just an ignorant person; he is an ungodly person. To call someone a fool was to participate in slander and character assassination. It was to become guilty of destroying someone's reputation with slanderous words. Unrighteous anger and contempt lead naturally to verbal abuse of others. This sin is so serious that it makes us guilty enough to go into the fiery hell!

How serious is our anger which leads to contempt and character assassination? It is serious enough to send us to hell for eternity! That's pretty serious! The very first thing we need to do is to recognize the seriousness of unrighteous anger. Jesus says it's so bad that we ought to be thrown into hell for it! In 1 Jn.3:15 the Bible says "Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer." To hate is just as bad as murder, because the person who hates would go ahead and kill if he could get away with it! When we hate someone, we wish that person was dead. What about you? Do you carry around unholy anger, contempt, or slander for family, friends, or perhaps even people in the church? If so, you need to recognize it as a sin worthy of hell! That is the place to start dealing with our anger. God sees it as a very serious offense. Until we do, there can be no hope for our sanctification. If we see it as a serious sin, we will confess and forsake it. Our problem is that we view anger as just a little sin. It's no big deal. Or, we think that our anger is another person's fault. We think that another person's wrong behavior justifies us in our anger! It's so hard for us to come clean before God.

In May of 1931 "Two Gun" Crowley was captured in New York City. He was the kind of man to kill at a drop of a hat. Before he was arrested he was parked at the side of a road. A policeman came up and asked to see his license. Without saying a word, Crowley shot the policeman dead. Then, as the officer lay dying, he jumped out of his car, took the policeman's revolver and fired another bullet into his body. What did "Two Gun" Crowley think of himself? Well, when he was finally captured in his girlfriend's apartment at the end of an hour-long gun battle involving hundreds of police, a blood-stained note was discovered written by Crowley during the battle. It said "Under my coat is a weary heart, but a kind one -- one that would do nobody any harm" Later when he was sentenced to the electric chair he said, "This is what I get for defending myself." He didn't blame himself for anything! How typical Crowley is of all of us! How slow we are to admit and repent of sin. What about you? Are you willing to own your sin?! We have to own our anger as guilt and bring it before God in order to be cleansed from it.

2. Reconcile Yourself to Others Before You Worship In The Presence Of God

"If therefore you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering." Mt. 5:23-24

Let's try to put ourselves in that historical period of Jewish life. The Jews were presenting their animal sacrifices to the priests at the temple to atone for their sins. Suddenly someone remembers that somebody has something against him. Jesus instructs them that in that case they were to leave the place of worship and go and make it right. Perhaps the person you remembered who had something against you was someone you were angry with, had showed contempt for, or slandered. You have sinned against them because of your anger.

Jesus is teaching us here that going through an outward religious ceremony is only a pretense and sham if you have acted so poorly that your brother has something against you. We would love to substitute ceremonial aspects of religion for the demands of a clear conscience. Our worship is unacceptable to God if we are deliberately refusing to make things right with others we have wronged. It is more important to make things right with an alienated brother before we come to worship. Otherwise we are acting the part of a hypocrite, just going through the motions, but our lives condemn us. Isaiah cried out to the people of his own day against this corrupt practice. "What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?" Says the Lord. "I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed cattle. And I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs, or goats." "Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless; defend the orphan, plead for the widow." Is. 1:11, 16-17

What about you? Is there someone you have sinned against, but have refused to reconcile with? Have you become stubborn and unwilling to ask for forgiveness? You can sit here in church and sing and give, but that doesn't cut it with God. He's not impressed. You might as well not even have come. Instead, go home today, call that offended brother and make arrangements to meet him somewhere. Apologize and ask for his forgiveness. Your relationship to Christ will never be completely right while you neglect this!

3. Repair Your Relationship Immediately Before You Experience The Chastisement Of God

"Leave your offering there before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, in order that your opponent may not deliver you to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Truly I say to you, you shall not come out of there, until you have paid up the last cent" Mt. 5:24-26

The first thing we must understand is that this was not meant to be an allegory. Some have interpreted these verses like that. They believe that the opponent is God's law; the judge is God; the officer is the devil; and prison is hell. They say the meaning is that we must find something to satisfy God's broken law before the judgment day when we're thrown into hell. Thus we must immediately trust Christ who satisfies the claims of His law. Though that is true, I don't believe that this is what Jesus is teaching, for the simple reason that it has nothing to do with the context.

I believe Jesus is teaching that sin has consequences. If you want to avoid the consequences, you must make it right immediately. If you let the incident become a big deal by not dealing with it immediately in humility, it's going to become a big deal and you'll never escape it. Avoid that. Be wise. When you are on the road, talking with your adversary, and while you are still communicating, be humble and transparent lest it become so complicated and confusing that there is no way out. If we won't repair our broken relationships, we will experience the chastisement of God. Eph.4:26 says "Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger".

All of this hits very close to home for me. I know some people who are very dear to my heart who are at odds with one another and have refused to humble themselves and seek reconciliation. It happened over an incident several years ago, and to this day they won't talk to one another. They live on the same street, two houses down from one another. They both go to church, but you know it has to have affected their relationship to God. It has gotten so bad, that though these two persons are related, their immediate families won't get together at all. It's very awkward on holidays when one family is always absent. It has become such a tangled, complicated mess, that only a miracle will heal it! Oh, repair your relationships immediately, before the whole thing becomes such a tangled, confused mess that you can't repair it! Romans 12:18 tells us "If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men."

What about you? Are you living with messed up, broken relationships? If you don't want to experience the chastisement of God, act now! The situation may prove to be like a prison of bondage to you! Don't put it off! Seek reconciliation! Humble yourself! Don't let anything come between you and God!











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