By Allen White
You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. Matthew 5:21-22
The path seems very long between anger and murder. While I doubt that a murder has ever been committed without anger or rage, anger seems to only be the trailhead on that journey. After all, murder is a terrible thing. We would never do that. But, we might get angry.
Carol Tavris, in her book, Anger: The Misunderstood Emotion, teaches that anger is only a present emotion. Some people think that we have this vast reservoir of anger. In order to feel better we have to open the flood gates and get our anger out. But, according to Tavris, anger is only a present emotion. To stay anger, we have to keep ourselves angry.
Much like a campfire that will soon die out when it has consumed all of its fuel, anger will also dissipate if we starve its fuel source. Staying angry is much like stoking a fire. Even when the person who angered us says something clever, we might find ourselves tempted to give them a smile. Then, we pull the smile back and remind ourselves of the detestable thing that they did and make ourselves angry once again.
The tricky part is that anger, in its root form, is an emotion. Whether it provokes a violent explosion or a quiet smoldering, anger is a reaction to our circumstances. Even, Jesus became angry at the practices of the money changers at the temple. He erupted into a rant about making His Father’s house a den of thieves and proceeded to knock over their tables (Matthew 21:12-13). Yet, Jesus was without sin (1 Peter 2:22).
The Bible says, ““In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:26-27). The implication is that we can be angry and not sin as well. Anger happens. The question is what we intend on doing with it.
In today’s passage from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was pointing out that the same sinfulness that leads to murder also involves perpetuated anger, insults, and even name calling. While angry words don’t lead to incarceration or capital punishment like murder often does, all of the sins Jesus named cause a disconnect in our relationship with God and allow an entry point for the devil’s work.
Whether our sins are unacceptable criminal acts or “acceptable” sins, it’s still sin. Sin always takes a toll on us. Sin always gets in the way of our relationship with God. Sin is always an unnatural act for a human being. It’s not who we were designed to be.
Often we excuse our “minor” sins by saying, “Well, you know, we’re just sinners saved by grace.” In his book, The Good and Beautiful God, James Bryan Smith equates that statement with a butterfly saying, “I’m just a worm with wings.”
There are plenty of things to be angry about in the world. Injustice and inhumanity are intolerable. Mistreatment can easily provoke our wrath. But, if we continue to feed our anger, then we’ve become one of them.
What are you angry about? The antidote to anger is forgiveness. It’s not letting the offender off the hook. Forgiveness is costly. Just consider the price that Jesus paid for your sin. Forgiveness is not easy, but it is necessary. Unresolved anger leads to dark, dangerous places. Forgiveness will free you. Don’t you want to be free?
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