READ Matthew 5:21-26
In his most well-known sermon, Jesus begins with an invitation to the paradoxical flourishing life (5:1-12), a call to be people who live for the common good (“salt and light,” 5:13-16) and a disclaimer that He came not to abolish or relax the Bible’s commands but to bring them to their fulfillment for us and in us. Now Jesus moves into six examples of what all this looks like in practical everyday life. He begins by addressing our anger. According to Jesus, one of the greatest threats to our own flourishing and the flourishing of our neighbors is anger. We should take it as seriously as murder. It can be just as destructive to ourselves and others.
KNOWING THE SYMPTOMS
Though anger is something that everyone experiences, few people would say it’s a major problem in their life. What are the symptoms that we have anger that need to be addressed?
1. Minimizing – “I might have a bad temper, but at least I’m not a murderer. I’m angry sometimes but I would never hurt anyone.” Jesus says these kinds of thoughts are symptoms of evading the true intention behind God’s command not to take life. It was never just about taking someone’s physical life but about protecting and guarding the emotional, relational, spiritual and psychological lives of our neighbors - especially the people closest to us.
2. Defending – Anger is not always wrong or sinful in the Bible. Jesus turned over tables and called Pharisees, “Fools!” God is angry and wrathful in his passionate desire to remove anything that stands in the way of his loving purposes for us and the world. When Jesus says “everyone who is angry,” it could be translated “everyone who holds onto anger, carries it around or nurses a grudge.”
There are two types of anger in the Bible – constructive anger & destructive anger. Constructive anger leads to constructive action in light of God’s desires and for God’s reputation. It says, “This is not what God wants! ...in me, in others, in a relationship, in my community, in the world.” It moves us to act for justice and reconciliation. Destructive anger leads to destructive action/inaction in light of our desires and our reputation. Destructive anger happens when something or someone stands in the way of what we desire or think we deserve. Destructive anger only sees obstacles to be removed.
The challenge here is that we are all too quick to defend holding onto our anger. We are eager to come up with reasons why it is justified. But if God is “slow to anger” shouldn’t we be even slower (James 1:19)? Our defensiveness is a symptom we have destructive anger that needs to be addressed.
3. Our Words - In v22, Jesus says whoever insults someone is guilty of destructive anger and is liable to judgment. These insults include those that we say out loud and those that we say even louder in our heads. Insults destroy and kill a person’s spirit and soul. They damage what is even more valuable and precious than our bodies.
FEELING THE URGENCY
In addition to showing us the symptoms, Jesus wants us to feel the urgency of addressing our anger. First, he tells us unaddressed anger always carries a cost. Jesus makes a point in emphasizing the judgement/liability of anger as being the same as murder! Jesus also tells us that unaddressed anger always takes precedence in our lives. In verses 23-24, he shares a hypothetical situation to show us that we should deal with it as soon as possible even if we are about to start the most important thing in the world – even our worship of God. Jesus concludes with a story about settling a case before it gets to court as a way of illustrating the truth that unaddressed anger always escalates conflict. His point - address your anger now before it makes things worse for you.
DEALING WITH OUR ANGER
Instead of venting our anger or letting it seethe within us (both of which harm us and others), Jesus gives us a third option. When we are angry we should ask ourselves 3 questions.
1. Ask The Why Question – Many scholars see echoes of the first murder in this text. Cain’s murder of his brother Abel began with his intense anger. In Genesis 4:6, God came to Cain and asked him, “Why are you so angry?” God knew why. It was an invitation to Cain to see that Cain’s anger at Abel was a cover for his disappointment, envy and anger at God. To get beneath our anger, we need to ask ourselves first, “Why am I so angry?”
2. Ask the Gospel Question – How did God deal with his perfectly righteous and justified anger against me? However I have been wronged, it is nothing compared to how I have wronged God. Whatever it is I believe I deserve, it is nothing compared to the glory/obedience God deserves and I have denied Him. However I am being called to forgive, love, it is nothing compared to the infinite love + forgiveness I have in Jesus.
3. Ask the Reconciliation Question – When we become aware of our anger (or someone’s anger at us), we ask ourselves, “What’s the first step I can take toward reconciliation?” Instead of focusing on the other person, we focus first on ourselves searching for ways we have contributed to the problem.
1. What about the sermon most impacted you or left you with questions? Do you see any of the symptoms of anger at work in your life now? Where/When are you most struggling with anger? How do you minimize or defend your anger?
2. Are you attaching words to people (either verbally or mentally) that could be destructive? What would it look like to attach words to this person that honor them as made in the image of God and loved by Him?
3. In the sermon, anger was compared to a “light on our emotional dashboard.” When your light comes on, how do you deal with it?
4. New Testament scholar Matthew Elliot, in his book Feel, writes: “When we get angry at personal offenses against us, we lose a chance for others to be amazed at the forgiveness Christ offers, and we lose the chance to suffer graciously, as our beloved Jesus did for us. We lose a chance to demonstrate to others the power of God’s grace. That is ‘salt’ and ‘light’ to the world around us.”
This means that - our most angry moments can be some of our best Beatitude + Salt and Light Moments! Read the Beatitudes in 5:1-12 and talk about how our anger can actually be a signal for us live the Beatitudes and be salt and light.
5. CS Lewis said, “anger is the anesthetic of the mind… [it] gives us someone to blame, fumes away our grief.” How might your anger be a covering for you to avoid/suppress other difficult emotions?
6. How does asking the “gospel question” put our anger in perspective? How has this worked for you?
7. Is there someone in your life that you need to take a first step toward reconciliation with? If appropriate, share with the group and pray for wisdom as to what this first step might look like.