Matthew 5:21ff – A New way of dealing with anger?

“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.

What Caveats if any are there? – Is ALL anger sin?

Jesus does not appear to qualify this – he simply says “anyone who who is angry with a brother or sister”, so do we have any rights to be angry at all under any circumstances?

Is there anything WE are permitted to get angry about?

I have read lots of articles about “righteous anger”, which say that we CAN get angry about things as long as it is “righteous anger”

The argument goes something like this

  1. God is good all the time – He CANNOT do anything “bad” or “wrong”.
  2. God gets angry
  3. Therefore since God cannot sin, and He get’s angry, there is clearly a form of anger which is “Godly” (and therefore not sinful)
  4. If we can identify those things which God gets angry about, then we too have the right to be angry about those things.
  5. When are angry about the things God is angry about, then our anger is not sinful but “righteous”
  6. So, the argument concludes that as long as our anger is “righteous” (i.e. the same anger as God would have), then it is perfectly acceptable. An extreme position would be that if we are truly a righteous people then such anger is not only ok, but it is actually REQUIRED of us.

Biblical precedents for this view includes such verses as …

  1. God daily shows his wrath (Psalm 7:11),
  2. God’s anger is being revealed from heaven (Romans 1:18)
  3. People store up for themselves God’s wrath on the day of judgment (Romans 2:5 and // Ephesians 5:6)
  4. Jesus gets angry in the temple and turns over the money changer’s tables (Matthew 21:12ff. and //’s in Mark 11:15ff. Luke 19:45ff.)
  5. Moses gets angry (for example in the wilderness when he comes down from the mountain and finds the people worshipping other Gods Exodus 32:19)

Some thoughts for us to ponder …

  1. Does God really need our help to judge what to get angry about?
  2. If God is angry about something, is it necessary for us to be? Are we so arrogant as to believe that our anger somehow adds weight or authenticity to God’s?
  3. Doesn’t Jonah 4  bring something to the table about whether WE have the right to be angry about anything. After all, God’s question to Jonah “is it right for you to be angry …?” and the subsequent discourse between God and Jonah shows us that no it isn’t.
  4. In the light of Isaiah 55:8,9
    1. how can we hope to understand, let alone feel God’s anger – or to distinguish it from our own?
    2. What gives us the right to judge whether God will get or has got angry about something and to get angry on His behalf?
  5. Doesn’t the Bible tell us not to judge one another (Romans 14:10)? Who are we to judge whether God would be angry about something anyway?

What does anger DO?

James 1:20 – for Man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. 

This suggests that there is a difference between the anger we as human beings feel and the anger that God has (Isaiah 55:8,9 again).

So what does man’s anger bring? what does anger do?

  1. Ephesians 4:26-27  / In your anger do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil a foothold. – it gives Satan a place in our lives.
  2. Psalm 37:8 Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil. – it inclines us to evil
  3. Psalm 4:4-5 Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord.- it leads to sin
  4. Ecclesiastes 7:9  / Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the bosom of fools. – it shows our foolishness

Proverbs is a “go to” book on the subject of anger (and these are just a few quotes)….

  1. Proverbs 15:18  / A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention. – it fuels conflict
  2. Proverbs 15:1  / A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger– it fuels conflict
  3. Proverbs 14:17 A man of quick temper acts foolishly, and a man of evil devices is hated. – it makes us act without thought
  4. Proverbs 29:11 A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.- it shows our foolishness
  5. Proverbs 22:24 Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man,- it inhibits friendship
  6. Proverbs 29:22 A man of wrath stirs up strife, and one given to anger causes much transgression. – it fuels conflict and sin
  7. Proverbs 27:4 Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy? – it overwhelms us (i.e. we cannot control it)
  8. Proverbs 14:29 Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly. – it shows our foolishness
  9. Proverbs 12:16 The vexation of a fool is known at once, but the prudent ignores an insult. – it shows our foolishness

Questions to ponder:

  1. So do we agree that the anger we feel is different to God’s anger? and if so, how do we know that the anger we feel is “righteous” anger and not our own?
  2. Is it possible for us to even come close to feeling or even understanding God’s anger about something?
  3. Is it worth the risk? – if we fall into the trap of accommodating our own anger even unknowingly, we become what we have just looked at.

Is losing your temper the same as getting angry?

Some seek to justify anger by saying it is a feeling that we cannot control – all we can control is our actions which are grounded or rooted in anger.

Ephesians 4:26“in your anger, do not sin” seems to back this up.

As do

Galatians 5:23 / 2 Peter 1:6 and others which call us to self-control, and 2 Timothy 1:7 which commends self-discipline

So it seems that we are ok – we can allow ourselves to feel anger and to get angry, we just have to control our actions when we are angry! So the SIN if there is any, is not in getting angry, but in losing your rag.

But there is a problem with this approach … even allowing for the fact that there are some who are more prone to getting angry than others, just like some are more prone to lust, or fear or any one of a number of other things (we each have our weak areas), we must all be on our guard in EVERY area because I don’t believe it is actually possible for anyone to fully be in control of their anger, and that anger like all other sins must be crucified with Christ…

  1. The Bible says Moses was more meek than anyone else on earth (Numbers 12:3), yet several times he acted and spoke in great anger. I would like to suggest that this shows that anger is not the sole problem of those with (shall we say) a “short fuse”. If the man who was more meek than anyone else on earth could be pushed to anger – every one of us can be pushed to anger, however much we try not to be! We will always come across people who would as my grandmother used to say “test the patience of a saint” – For those of us who are parents those people are generally known as “our children”!!
  2. Paul writes about the struggle we all face – Romans  7:15-25 / I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God–through Jesus Christ our Lord!

In any event, whether we agree it is possible or not to control our anger, the passage doesn’t record Jesus saying that anyone who doesn’t “control their anger” will be subject to judgement, he says anyone who IS angry …

I believe that anger is not something we should be struggling to control – it is something we should be submitting to the Lordship of Jesus, something that we should be daily trying to nail to the cross

Conclusions – a NEW way?

In this passage, Jesus is saying it is not just the action that God judges, it is the thought life – one of the foundations of the “but I say” sayings of Jesus is rooted in the importance of what happens in the heart and the mind and the Spirit.

for example: look at the next “but I say” “… anyone who LOOKS at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her IN HIS HEART” Jesus expects a new standard of us

this standard is not just about controlling the anger inside – it is about getting rid of it altogether….

How? only by

1.submission to Christ – by repentance where necessary,

2.daily picking up your cross and following Christ

3.allowing the Holy Spirit to work in you and through you

The good news is that even when we have failed and allowed our anger get the better of us, there is freedom in Christ – we can worship, bring our thoughts and feelings to The Lord, ask His forgiveness for times we’ve failed, to ask for a touch of His Spirit for the power to overcome the enemy in this area of our lives.

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