Thoughts from the Sermon on the Mount …
How many times do we deal with anger each day? We yell at other drivers on the road when they cut us off or slow us down. We may put on a casual face when insulted at work or school, but we are boiling inside.
We never know what kind of example we set. I was driving home from school one day when we were cut off by another driver. Before anyone could respond, my elementary-age daughter yelled out, “Jerk!”
But often the results of anger can be much more serious. Our words and our actions can leave a trail of devastation and broken relationships if we do not control our temper.
Anger can blindside us. I was once at a gathering when a friend had had too much to drink, and then proceeded to tell everyone that I was a liar and was always trying to insult them. How can you not get angry when you are accused without a cause?
Sometimes we can cause conflicts, even when we try to do our best. Several years ago, I started such a conflict when I confronted a close friend about a problem. He responded by not speaking to me for several months. His wife even called my family, saying that I was such a terrible person. How can you keep from getting angry when your best intentions get thrown back at you? Especially when people attack those who are close to you?
These are only minor examples of the conflicts that we often encounter through life. What do you say to those who have suffered deep hurt — even tragedy or abuse — at the hands of others?
What does Jesus say about our response? Don’t we have a right to be angry? Or are we supposed to paste on a happy face?
Jesus does talk about anger, but with an answer that is as startling today as when He first taught it!
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught His followers what it means to be His disciple and what is required to enter the kingdom of heaven. It is not about keeping all of the laws but in having the right relationship with God (see here).
“For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
Then He continues, showing examples of how the law starts with our attitudes. The first attitude that He addresses is anger:
“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 says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.
He compares anger with the penalty for murder. If we rephrased Jesus’ words in today’s terms, he would be saying, “You have heard that there is a civil penalty for murder. But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother is guilty before the civil court, whoever despises his brother 8 is guilty before federal court, and everyone who calls his brother a godless one 9 is guilty enough for hell.”
Note the progression. You are guilty of a civil offense simply by being angry with your brother. Your guilt increases as your anger drives you to treat your brother like you despise him, resorting to insults and name-calling. The worst case is when your anger drives you to accuse your brother of being separated from God (i.e. “you fool”). 9 You are as guilty of being separated from God yourself! 10
“To use vile invectives against another is the manifestation of the hatred that causes men to kill, and therefore places one in danger even of hell-fire.” – H.A. Ironside 5
Jesus is showing how much we have failed to keep God’s standard. It is easy to say that we are keeping God’s laws because we have never committed murder. But how many times have we lost our temper?
But does that mean that we need to always swallow our anger when we have been hurt? What do we do when we are angry?
First, know that there is a valid context for anger:
Psalm 139 expresses anger at those who oppose God:
Oh, that You would slay the wicked, O God!
Depart from me, therefore, you bloodthirsty men.
For they speak against You wickedly;
Your enemies take Your name in vain.
Do I not hate them, O Lord, who hate You?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against You?
I hate them with perfect hatred;
I count them my enemies.
Anger is valid, especially when people reject God and speak against Him. However, when your anger is against another disciple of Jesus Christ (i.e. your brother), the damage of broken relationships can be devastating.
What can we learn about anger?
Resolve a broken relationship before worship
Jesus’ first example shows that you need to fix broken relationships before attempting worship — even when you are the innocent party!
Therefore if 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; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.
Note that Jesus says to resolve the conflict if someone has a problem with you. You may be the one wronged, but if someone has an issue with you, you need to first resolve that problem.
Unfortunately, not all broken relationships can be easily mended. However, we need to have a clear conscience before The Lord that we have done all that is in our power to resolve that problem:
1 Corinthians 4:4
For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord.
The example of lawsuits in 1 Corinthians 6 shows that there are more important things than to be concerned if you are wronged:
1 Corinthians 6:7-8
Actually, then, it is already a defeat for you, that you have lawsuits with one another. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded? On the contrary, you yourselves wrong and defraud. You do this even to your brethren.
“To profess to be a worshiper of God while willfully wronging another or cherishing malice in the heart is obnoxious to God.” – H.A. Ironside 5
An escalating conflict can lead to legal consequences
Jesus’ second example is for the guilty party. If you don’t resolve the issue and make amends, you can face much more serious loss:
Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent.
When you go with your adversary to the magistrate, make every effort along the way to settle with him, lest he drag you to the judge, the judge deliver you to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison. I tell you, you shall not depart from there till you have paid the very last mite.
Resolve the issue while it is small. The more it escalates, the more damage you will incur.
Be slow to anger
The epistles of James and Ephesians have some very timely advice about anger. There is a proper time for anger, but we are putting ourselves in danger.
We are not showing God’s righteousness when we are angry, and we give the devil opportunities to tempt us and to damage us. Therefore, our anger needs to be slow in coming and short in duration.
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.
Live by the Holy Spirit
On our own, this is an impossible standard that we could never keep. But when we know Jesus Christ, we are promised the presence of the Holy Spirit. He is the one who changes us from producing our own selfish works to the works (fruit) of the Spirit.
See here for more details about the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer.
We see fits of anger among the works of the flesh (our own actions):
Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the result of the Spirit in our lives changes our anger to patience, gentleness, and self-control:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
In conclusion, I look back at what Jesus says about anger and realize how much I fail. I have been guilty of these same fits of anger, even since I started writing this post. There is no way that I can write this out of my own personal goodness, but I am compelled to share what Jesus taught. He alone is perfect.
May we be quick to make peace and resolve conflicts but be slow to anger. May we walk each day in the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit!
2 Timothy 2:24-26
And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.
“The one thing we have to avoid above everything else in our Christian lives is this fatal tendency to live the Christian life apart from a direct, living, and true relationship to God.” – D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones 6
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 Stanley D. Toussaint, Behold The King, Kregel Publications, 1980, Matthew 5:17-48, pages 99-106
 John MacArthur, The Attitude Behind the Act, Matthew 5:21, 4/22/1979
 John MacArthur, Who Is a Murderer?, Matthew 5:21-26, 4/29/1979
 Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: New Testament, David C. Cook, 2007, Matthew 5:17-48, Pages 19-21
 H.A. Ironside, Ironside Expository Commentaries, Matthew 5, The Principles of the Kingdom, Part 1
 D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1959-60, Chapter 20, The Letter and the Spirit, Matthew 5:21-22, pages 184-193
 D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1959-60, Chapter 21, Thou Shalt Not Kill, Matthew 5:21-26, pages 194-203
 The literal word is “Raca”, which translates to “empty-headed”, and was a term of derision in Jesus’ day. The word is difficult to translate and different Bible translations have attempted to show the meaning of the word, such as maintaining the actual word, “Raca” (KJV, NKJV, NIV), “good-for-nothing” (NASB), or generally saying that he “insults his brother” (ESV). We have terms today that express similar attitudes that the person is despised.
 Bible Scholars consider the accusation of “You fool!” here to be much deeper than simply expressing their foolishness. The word is moros (μωρός, the root word of ‘moron’), and in this context is implying that the person is godless. For reference, see Psalm 14:1, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God’”. 3
 The word used for anger is related more to malice than simply a rash reaction. The word Jesus used in Matthew 5:22 means “a settled anger, malice that is nursed inwardly.” 4