Acting out of Anger (Matthew 5:21-22)

Photo by Viktor Talashuk on Unsplash

In every country in the world, committing a murder is a crime. That doesn’t mean that   no one does it, or that it is always successfully prosecuted. But it is still a crime. So everyone can relate to Jesus as He begins, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’” That is true everywhere in our modern world. Even in ancient Israel, that was true. The Jew more than anyone knew that God the Father HAD said, “You shall not murder.” In fact, God had written it in stone by His own finger. It was one of the ten commandments – the only things actually committed to writing by God’s physical hand, so it was unavoidably true. And it was in fact true, that those who murdered were subject to judgment. The Law specifically stated, “Anyone who strikes a man and kills him shall surely be put to death.” (Ex 21:12). “But” (Jesus says), “I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.” 

Now if you were listening to Him, you would immediately think – that’s not exactly what the Law had said. It said that if you murder you will be subject to judgment. Not if you were merely angry. Having an emotion is never a crime. One can almost hear the thoughts running through the crowd. “I have not committed a murder, but I have been angry. So that verse cannot possibly apply to me, right?” In fact, most of us reading this passage today probably think the same. Jesus must be mis-speaking, or He is digging a theological hole for himself. If so, He goes on to make it much deeper, “Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin.” And again, that was true – you could be charged with slandering a fellow Jew. “But” Jesus continues, “anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”  

Here in Canada, no one goes to jail for being angry. Emotions are never right or wrong – they are amoral (without prejudice). It is what we do when we are angry that brings us into conflict with the law. But we can all recognize that one gets angry long before one commits murder, and we can all recognize that we only slander another when we are angry with them. Our anger is a mere emotion, but Jesus says when we act out of our anger – even in a callous statement like, “You fool!” we are very thin ice indeed. 

Anger is a God-given emotion. But it is not given to us that we should misuse it. Surely it is a misuse of something God gave us to take up a sword – even a verbal sword – to destroy that which God has made in His own image. 

That principle is clearly imparted to us way back in Genesis 4:6-7; “Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” 

Clearly feeling anger is not the issue. Anger – of itself – is a cue to prayer. It is given to us that we might realize we need to seek God’s face and wrestle with why we feel the way we feel. It is never to be hoarded or misused. Holding onto anger always results in mapping out vengeance, and misusing it by acting in anger is a clear and obvious sin. Amen.

There was never an angry man that thought his anger unjust.

Francis DeSales

APPLICATION: Intentionality 

Are you angry? What are you doing with your anger?

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