The Danger of Anger (Matthew 5:21-26)
A man has a checking account with the Bank of Marion in Marion County, California. On his personalized checks is a picture of him kissing his new bride. He uses these checks to send alimony payments to his ex-wife.
Far too often, we look for any way to get back at those who have wronged us. When we see the person in Walmart, we go the other direction. When we hear of some misfortune that has befallen that individual, we secretly rejoice. We lie awake at night thinking of something we can say next time we see them. We tell others just how horrible this person is, and we may even fabricate to make our point.
We must put aside malice and hatred. “But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth” (Col 3:8). We are to lay aside “all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking” (1 Pet 2:1).
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus directly discussed this type of malice, wrath, and anger. There’s much here that we need to learn and incorporate into our lives. Let’s examine this teaching of Jesus to see exactly what we can learn.
The Danger of Anger, vv 21-22
Those to whom Jesus spoke had heart it said, “You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.” The scribes and Pharisees were evidently seeking to restrict the application of the Sixth Commandment to the deed of murder alone. One could hate, despise, and so forth—he just couldn’t kill. The judgment here seems to be the Sanhedrin. The Pharisees viewed one’s judgment as only being in this life—they lost sight of eternal judgment.
Jesus enlarged what was taught in the Ten Commandments. Jesus said, “But I say to you. . . .” Jesus was basically taking the Law of Moses and setting it aside and superseding it with his own law. Jesus had the right to do this: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matt 28:18).
Whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.
The phrase “without cause” was added by later translators; it is not original. But this is clearly what Jesus meant. All anger is not sinful. God becomes angry. Jesus became angry when he cleansed the temple.
However, we can easily become angry without a cause when something doesn’t go our way or someone hurts our pride or we’re just not happy with the way someone acts.
This one will be in danger of the judgment; this must be the judgment of God, for how can a court of man determine the motives for one’s anger?
Whoever says to his brother “Raca!” shall be in danger of the council. “Raca” is an obscure term of abuse and is difficult to translate. The term is apparently derived from an Aramaic word meaning “empty one.” It appears that this term was used to insult someone’s intelligence, calling him “empty-headed.” This likely could be translated today as “You’re so stupid!”
The person who uses this epithet would be in danger of the Sanhedrin; he would likely have to answer to the Jewish Supreme Court.
Whoever says, “You fool!” shall be in danger of hell fire. Since the term “fool” was often used in the Old Testament for one who was sinful, “fool” here probably refers to one’s being godless, without any hope of salvation. This term is expressing contempt for a person’s heart and character. The one who says this will be in danger of hell fire, eternal damnation itself.
Jesus shows here that murder is not just an overt act, it begins as anger in the heart. Jesus teaches us that sin, in general, begins in the heart. Jesus said that if we look at a woman for the purpose of lusting after her, we have already committed adultery with her in our heart (Matt 5:28). Matthew 15:18-20.
Anger is so very dangerous. If we allow anger to fester and grow, it could very well turn into terrible acts, including anger. Are you allowing anger to fester and grow?
The Disposing of Anger, vv 23-26
If we come to the altar and remember that our brother has something against us, we are to leave our gift and first be reconciled with our brother, and then come offer our gift.
Jesus here shows us the urgency of reconciliation—reconciliation is always to precede worship. Reconciliation must precede worship, for if we have hatred and strife in our hearts, we will be separated from God. Hatred, contentions, outbursts of wrath will keep one from heaven (Gal 5:19-21). “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has seen?” (1 Jn 4:20). Reconciliation must precede worship, for true worship involves the fellowship of believers—The Corinthian church was not able to take the Lord’s Supper properly because of all the division which existed in that congregation (1 Cor 11:17-22). Reconciliation must precede worship, for we worship the great Creator and if we have hate toward those made in God’s image, how can we properly worship God?
God expects us to worship without strife: “I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting” (1 Tim 2:8). Does someone have something against you? Do you need to go to someone and say, “I’m sorry?”
We are to agree with our adversary quickly, lest we are thrown in prison and must pay the last penny.
Jesus again shows the urgency of reconciliation. We need to reconcile while some openness still exists between us and the other party.
Elsewhere we’re told to reconcile quickly. “Do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil” (Eph 4:26-27). If we allow the sun to go down on our wrath, we give a place to the devil, because our brooding and anger lead to other sins. “Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (Js 1:19-20). We are to be slow to anger—Not become angry quickly, and we’re to get rid of anger quickly. We’re to do so, you see, for when we’re angry, we act in ungodly ways.
If we do not agree with our adversary quickly, he may deliver us over to the judge, the judge hand us over to the officer, and we might be thrown into prison. We will not get out until we pay the last penny. This goes back to the practice of a “debtors’ prison” where one could have one thrown into prison for not repaying a debt. The idea is prevalent in the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matt 18:21-35).
This shows an earthly danger in holding a grudge against a brother—we can be taken to court and even imprisoned. This would ruin our reputation and make it much more difficult to set a good example for others to follow. Legal action could leave a black mark on our record and make it difficult to find employment or obtain a loan.
Are there people with whom you need to make amends quickly?
We need to be reconciled to those we have wronged. Have you been reconciled to those you’ve wronged?
God has reconciled us to himself through Christ. “Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 5:18). Do you need to come tonight and receive that reconciliation?
This sermon was originally preached by Dr. Justin Imel, Sr., at the Alum Creek church of Christ in Alum Creek, West Virginia.