Anger is an old foe of mine. I have struggled with anger for most of my life (mostly focused on myself with a few exceptions). The way I have come to describe my anger over the years is that sometimes I feel like a pinball machine with a ball of anger bouncing around my soul. When I was younger, I got into a fight and went into a blind rage and put another young man into the hospital. It terrified me. The upside is that it probably moved me toward Christ because I felt so out of control. The downside is that when Linda and I were first married and would get into a disagreement I feared that I could lose control. I tended to earn inward in those moments instead of engaging in a healthy and biblical way. So, I’m speaking to you as a fellow traveler today – not someone who has it all together…
Here’s what I’ve learned about anger:
- Anger is a good thing. God gets angry and so should we. (This seems contradictory to what the text actually says but we will also consider the larger context.)
- Our passage for today is one of the premier relational passages in the whole Bible.
We will be looking at Matthew 5:21-26 and before we read it, we need to grasp the context of the verses we will be looking at (context is king!).
Last week I pointed out that the keyword for the whole sermon is righteousness. Jesus says that if we want to go to heaven our righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees (v. 20) – a shocking statement to anyone within earshot.
To try and put it succinctly there are two overlapping ways to understand this call (not invitation) to righteousness…The most common way is to see righteousness as the effect of our conversion. At conversion, we receive the complete and total righteousness of Jesus. (The theological term is justification.) Isaiah likens justification to a “robe of righteousness” (61:10). If you have more of an accountant’s mindset you could think of it as a full and total reconciling of the books – all your bills are paid, the mortgage is paid off, and you have enough in reserves to last the rest of your life.
The other overlapping way to understand righteousness is our response to God’s gift of justification, there’s a longing or desire or hunger and thirst for God that wants to honor God, please God, worship God, and pursue God. What Jesus is saying to us in the SOTM is that our spiritual vitality, and what will get us to heaven, will come from spiritual hunger for God. [Are you hungry for God?]
This is the primary focus of Jesus’ statement about our righteousness needing to be greater than the scribes and Pharisees, who focused more on external righteousness, but Jesus is looking for heart longing. And if you were with us last week you might remember that I said if you don’t have this hunger and thirst for God (5:6), you’re probably not a Christian.
Beginning with our passage today Jesus reinterprets six commands from the OT Law and addresses the need for heart change and not just external obedience. So, with all that said, let’s look at Mat 5:21-26…
“You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ 22 But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.
23 “So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, 24 leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.
25 “When you are on the way to court with your adversary, settle your differences quickly. Otherwise, your accuser may hand you over to the judge, who will hand you over to an officer, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 And if that happens, you surely won’t be free again until you have paid the last penny. –Matthew 5:20-26
There are four things we must know about anger in order to redeem it:
- The POWER of Anger
- The POTENTIAL of Anger
- The PROBLEM of Anger
- The PRESCRIPTION for Healing Inappropriate Anger
I will attempt to address what this passage is saying about inappropriate anger as well as looking at the larger context – why anger is a good thing.
Let’s look at them one at a time…
The POWER of Anger — Anger has been referred to as the dynamite of the soul. It can have devastating consequences…
It can wreak havoc on our bodies — A sound mind makes for a robust body, but runaway emotions corrode the bones. –Pro. 14:30 (Medical studies affirm this)
It can wreak havoc on our relationships — See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled. –Hebrews 12:15
It can wreak havoc on our capacity to make wise and intelligent decisions — He who is quick-tempered exalts folly. –Proverbs 14:29b (Anger can actually become addictive – it’s usually masking deeper woundedness.)
The POTENTIAL of Anger — The Bible repeatedly speaks of God’s anger. Another phrase we see in Scripture is, “The Wrath of God.” A lot of people struggle here because there’s a fairly common perspective, especially among cultural critics of the Christian faith, that really wants to assume that, if God is love, God would never get angry. Here’s the problem with that perspective: If you have a God that never gets angry, you can’t have a God of love because if God never gets angry, He can’t really love anything.
If there is someone we love, and that person is threatened you will – and should become angry. Martyn Lloyd-Jones is SO succinct when he says, “our anger must only be against sin.” Sin of all kinds should make us angry. First and foremost, your own sin—and then the sin in the world around us.
This is what the 2nd Beatitude up in 5:4, blessed are those who mourn is addressing. We’d say things like, “I hate slothfulness, I hate abuse, I hate oppression and greed.” We hate expressions of sinfulness. Just a reminder here that Paul reminds us in Eph 4:26, “be angry but do not sin.”
In our passage today in v. 22 it says, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.” (How convicting is THAT!) What Jesus is saying here is that we MUST separate the sin from the sinner.
And finally, anger and wrath also contain longing. Say your spouse or your kid does something really stupid and you get angry…isn’t part of that anger a longing for the person to make good decisions? The same is true for God’s anger and God’s wrath.
The PROBLEM of Anger — Anger is often a secondary emotion, not a primary emotion. So, our anger can mask, or disguise primary emotions such as frustration, grief, fear, or offense. Here’s a crude graphic that illustrates this…
Anger becomes a problem when it gets out of control and when it hurts people emotionally or even physically. An important key to understanding the PROBLEM of anger is for us to see anger as an opportunity to look deeper into the heart of God. Our anger can become a window through which we can discover – and deal with the woundedness we bring into our Christian experience.
Another way to illustrate this is to liken anger to the engine light on a car. If the light starts flashing it tells that something is wrong.
When you feel anger let’s view it as an opportunity to explore what may be below the surface – what the anger may be masking. The purpose of examining our emotions is not merely to better ourselves, but to reveal what separates us from God and others.
The PRESCRIPTION for Healing Our Unrighteous Anger — Three quick thoughts for you to consider:
- If we were to condense vs. 23-26 into a single thought it would be, when reactive or contemptuous anger surfaces deal with it quickly. Again, Paul says in Eph 4:26 we are not to let the sun go down on your anger. (The longer we’re married the less we take that verse literally.)
- And then vs. 25-26 indicates that the proudful failure (or unwillingness) to reconcile could result in a prison sentence. This is true spiritually as well — it may be the prison of resentment, or bitterness (which Heb 12:15 says will eventually defile many people). It may be the prison or fear, or sadness, or guilt, or shame, or envy, or depression. These are all very real prisons that we can end up confined to if we’re not dealing with the emotions that result in anger.
- Finally, go to the blog and take the anger eval questionnaire.
The gospel tells us that Jesus absorbed our vitriol and our anger. He also absorbed the wrath and anger of God toward a proud and stiff-necked people. Because Jesus did it for us – let’s continue to be patient and kind with one another by His strength and by His power.
 Lloyd-Jones: 226.
 Adapted from Allender, Dan & Tremper Longman. The Cry of the Soul, NavPress new ed. 1999: 10.