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Anger , Rage And Reconciliation
(part of the Sermon On The Mount Series)
by John Edmiston


Introduction

People with angry dispositions destroy their careers, marriages and relationships. They end up in one of three places - the morgue, the jail or the hospital.

(Matthew 5:21-26 NKJV) "You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.' {22} "But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, 'Raca!' shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, 'You fool!' shall be in danger of hell fire. {23} "Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, {24} "leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. {25} "Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. {26} "Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny.

Yet anger is a common part of life and even an emotion that God experiences.

(Psalms 7:11 NIV) God is a righteous judge, a God who expresses his wrath every day.

Jesus displayed anger at the scribes and Pharisees and their merciless attitude to life.

(Mark 3:5 NIV) He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.

Later on Paul says...

(Ephesians 4:26 NKJV) "Be angry, and do not sin": do not let the sun go down on your wrath,thus indicating that sometimes anger may be acceptable for the Christian.

There are two things about acceptable anger. Firstly, it is slow to be aroused, secondly it is short-lived and always willing to be reconciled. On the first of these God is "slow to anger" (Exodus 34:6,7) and James says(James 1:19-20 NKJV) So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; {20} for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.On the second it is clear throughout the New Testament that we are "not to let the sun go down on our anger" and to reconcile speedily any disputes that arise.

The Context

These verses, when taken out of context, seem to flatly contradict the rest of the Bible's teaching on anger. It seems that here anger has moved from being an emotion that needs to be controlled to a perilous sin that brings us under stern and final judgment. Therefore we need to look at these verses very closely and in their context to see what Jesus was saying and what Jesus was not saying.

The context is Jesus affirming the Law and His upholding of it. His gospel of grace and acceptance of sinners was in danger of being interpreted wrongly so He first of all shows that Kingdom standards are not lower than those in the Law. In fact they are stricter! Jesus is saying that unjustified anger "in the Kingdom" is equivalent to the sin of murder "under the Law". We are dealing with two parallel but different standards of holiness. In one code unjustified anger and name calling were not even offences, in the other it places you in danger of jail or of Hell.

Thus Jesus is not adding to the Law but rather using the Law as a "launching pad" for discussing the Kingdom. It is an argument from the lesser (the Law) to the greater (the Kingdom). If x is the standard of holiness under the Mosaic code which is for an national kingdom then y will be the standard of holiness in the Kingdom which is "of Heaven".

Jesus is not saying that the Law should be changed to have severe penalties for unjustified anger or name calling. He is not putting another chapter or verse on the Mosaic code. Neither is He saying that "this is what the Law really means". No-one could get that interpretation from the Law. No-one would buy that explanation. What He is saying is that the standards of holiness under the Law are less than the standards for holiness in the Kingdom but along the same lines. This is the thrust of the preceding verse.(Matthew 5:20 NIV) For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

What Is Jesus Saying About Anger?

With this perspective in mind lets look at what Jesus is telling us about anger:

  1. Unjustified anger brings us into judgment. In the Kingdom unjustified anger is something that removes us from a state of blessedness and places us under scrutiny and possibly under penalty.

  2. Jesus strongly implies that we will have to justify our anger to God. This is shown in two ways. Firstly in the concept of a court trying someone for their anger - in such a court a defense could be offered. The court implies accountability. Secondly in the direct use of the term "without a cause" which is found in most manuscripts but not in some others. However John Stott says that the phrase "correctly interprets what Jesus must have meant". Jesus himself became angry and even once used the term "You fool" (Matt 23:17) which He says puts someone in danger of Hell. Yet He did so without sin. Therefore, there is justifiable and unjustifiable anger. Caution: We do not justify our anger to ourselves however - every hot-headed person does that! We have to justify it to an impartial higher authority.

  3. As a logical corollary from the above: If your life seems not to be functioning as well as it ought then look at your level of hostility towards others and the anger you are expressing in your relationships. You may be constantly bringing yourself into judgment before God!

  4. That even minor expressions of contempt for others can have serious spiritual consequences. The terms "Raca" and "fool" are the sort of things ordinary people would say in traffic jams today. They are terms of annoyance and impatience. "Raca" means "empty-head" probably "blockhead" would be today's equivalent and "fool" is literally "moron". Some insults never change. These are words Jesus could use as illustrations in his sermon without offending anyone or committing impropriety. Yet in the Kingdom they are so inappropriate that calling someone a blockhead would be a capital offence and calling someone a moron could put you in danger of the fires of Hell.

  5. People in heaven will not go around calling each other names. That is not Kingdom behavior. That is not appropriate behavior for a citizen of heaven and we are citizens of heaven! The author of the letter to the Hebrews understood the holiness that is required of Christians because of our heavenly citizenship.(Hebrews 12:22-25 NIV) But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, {23} to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, {24} to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. {25} See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven?

  6. Abusiveness belongs in Hell. There are unfortunately some Christians who rationalize their verbal abusiveness as "speaking the truth" forthrightly. Jesus says that abusiveness belongs in Hell. Stern words may need to be spoken from time to time but abusive intimidating language never needs to come from the lips of a Christian. What is the difference? Stern words have a clean, straight, honest tone to them. They are chosen carefully for that particular occasion. They rebuke particular behaviors as opposed to blanket condemnation of whole individuals, races or denominations. They aim at healing and repentance. Abusive words stream forth with no accuracy or real forethought they are full of blanket judgments and pure destruction.

  7. Reconciliation outranks religion but does not replace it.{23} "Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, {24} "leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. There are a few things here. Firstly that relationships come first. Even over offering a sacrifice to God. Pleasing sacrifices flow from rightly ordered and properly reconciled human relationships. Secondly the sacrifice still has to be made. "Love of man is my religion" is not a biblical concept. Religion and the love of God and devotion to Him are still required.

  8. The initiative for reconciliation rests with the person who knows there is something wrong. I can be totally unaware that people are extremely angry with me, I can be completely surprised to find out that such and such a person has a strong dislike of me. They actually have to explode in anger at me before I realize that anything is wrong. I cannot put right a relationship that I have no idea is wrong. Once I am aware that a brother has a grudge against me I hurry to fix it up as soon as possible. Whether you are in the right or in the wrong as soon as you are aware that the relationship is strained and that the other person has something against you then it is up to you to fix it. If you are the only one who is stewing then perhaps you have to sort yourself out first then approach your brother.

  9. Prompt patching up prevents punishment.{25} "Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison.This seems to be referring to a financial disagreement and an "out of court settlement" is the vastly wiser option. "Sticking to your guns" can land you in jail. Stubborn pride has led many people and firms to go all the way to court where they then lose spectacularly. The adversary here is not Satan though that term is used of him. We are never to strike bargains with the Devil! The adversary is a human disputant. There is the application that God is, in some sense , the adversary of the sinner and that unless the sinner decides to agree/come to terms with God during this life when he arrives at judgment it will be too late.

  10. Remaining angry can lead us into situations of exact and merciless retribution.{26} "Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny.If we are angry, exacting and merciless with others than God will be angry, exacting and merciless with us. Earlier in the Sermon On The Mount we saw Jesus teaching that "blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy". That has a corollary in that the unmerciful are treated unmercifully. This is very clearly shown in the parable of the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18 :21-35 who was punished for his heartlessness by being handed to the torturers. Jesus ends that solemn parable with(Matthew 18:35 NKJV) "So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses."Some see in the phrase "will no means get out of there" a reference to Purgatory. Jesus did not mean this at all. He never taught of a state such as Purgatory or Limbo. For Him there was simply Heaven and Hell and a vast fixed unbridgeable gulf between (see Luke 16). This verse emphasizes the exacting and merciless nature of the judgment not the possibility of escaping it!

Conclusion

We see then that Jesus saw anger as a very serious thing and not as a casual emotion. I cannot see Jesus saying that we need to "let it all hang out". He is no advocate of emotional catharsis. He was fully aware that catharsis of our anger only breeds immaturity in the long term. We cannot live a blessed life if we are constantly getting angry over nothing. That will only bring us into judgment and destroy the works of our hands. We can see this judgment in action in the lives of the habitually angry. They are riddled with psychosomatic as orders such as ulcers, depression and stress reactions. They get angry so they speed, the get booked speeding so they yell at the policeman and get twice the fine. They get indignant about the fine and refuse to pay it and end up in jail. Anger gets people into legal trouble and into fights. Sometimes angry people pick up a gun and kill or are killed. Others are arrested and spend a life in jail. Letting anger grow inside us is a recipe for disaster in life and only leads to the morgue, the jail or the hospital.

 

© Copyright GlobalChristians.Org 1997

This article may be freely reproduced for non-profit ministry purposes but may not be sold in any way. For permission to use articles in your ministry, e-mail the editor, John Edmiston at johned@aibi.ph.