I get angry. I say things I shouldn’t and clearly regret later on. I say them though. It isn’t pretty. I have insulted others. I have called others names.
Jesus knows this. Jesus challenges me “to deal with” my anger. Jesus is clear there will consequences (judgement) for my anger. Jesus knows it is a matter of my heart. It starts in my heart, then moves to my lips, then gets manifested in my actions.
Jesus shows me the way to reconciliation. Now that is good news. I can give up the way of anger. I need to “get right” with people and not just pray it goes away. I need to ask people for forgiveness not God. The big thing is to get reconciled and do whatever it takes.
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. ~Jesus | Matthew 5:21-26 (The Jesus Manifesto)
Many murders are “crimes of passion” caused by anger among friends or relatives. Jesus did not say that anger leads to murder; He said that anger is murder.
There is a holy anger against sin, but Jesus talked about an unholy anger against people. The word He used in Matthew 5:22 can mean a settled anger, malice that is nursed inwardly. It can also mean exasperation. We may not think we “get angry” but I am guessing we all get exasperated with others.
Jesus described a sinful experience that involved several stages. First there was causeless anger. This anger then exploded into words: “Raca — empty-headed person!” These words added fuel to the fire so that the person said, “You fool—rebel!”
Anger is such a foolish thing. It makes us destroyers instead of builders. It robs us of freedom and makes us prisoners. To hate someone is to commit murder (1 John 3:15). John says: “Everyone who hates his brother or sister is a murderer”. And here is the kicker from the Apostle John: “and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him” Where did John get this? From his Master Jesus.
This does not mean that we should go ahead and murder someone we hate, since we have already sinned inwardly. Obviously, sinful feelings are not excuses for sinful deeds. Sinful anger robs us of fellowship with God as well as with our brothers, but it does not put us into jail as murderers. However, more than one person has become a murderer because he failed to control sinful anger.
Sinful anger must be faced honestly and must be confessed to God as missing God’s goal (aka sin). We must go to our brother and get the matter settled, and we must do it quickly. The longer we wait, the worse the bondage becomes! We put ourselves into a terrible prison when we refuse to be reconciled. It has well been said that the person who refuses to forgive his brother destroys the very bridge over which he himself must walk.
Now these things — angry thoughts and insulting words — may never lead to the ultimate act of murder. Yet they are tantamount to murder in God’s sight. As John was later to write: ‘Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer.’
Anger and insult are ugly symptoms of a desire to get rid of somebody who stands in our way. Our thoughts, looks and words all indicate that, as we sometimes dare to say, we ‘wish he were dead’. Such an evil wish is a breach of the sixth commandment. And it renders the guilty person liable to the very penalties to which the murderer exposes himself, not in each case literally in a human law court (for no court can charge a man with anger) but before the bar of God.
The exact meaning of the different judgments has been much discussed, but at least it is clear that Jesus was issuing a solemn warning of divine judgment. The rabbis may have been teaching not just that the only breach of the sixth commandment was murder, but also that the only penalty for murder was a human sentence: Whoever kills shall be liable to judgment (21).
So, Jesus added that anyone who is angry without cause will equally be liable to judgment. Although the same Greek words are used for ‘the judgment’ in verse 22 as in verse 21, now the reference must be to the judgment of God, since no human court is competent to try a case of inward anger. Similarly, Jesus continued, insult will expose us not only to the council but even to the hell of fire (23). In both cases Jesus was extending the nature of the penalty as well as of the crime. Not only are anger and insult equivalent to murder, he said, but the punishment to which they render us liable is nothing less than the divine judgment of hell.
‘So if …’, Jesus continued (23), and proceeded to give a practical application of the principles he had just enunciated. His theme was that if anger and insult are so serious and so dangerous, then we must avoid them like the plague and take action as speedily as possible. He offered two illustrations, the first taken from going to the temple to offer sacrifice to God (23, 24), and the second from going to court to answer the charges of an accuser (25, 26). Jesus expressed them in the cultural terms of his own day, in which the temple still stood, and its sacrifices were still being offered. Perhaps it would be legitimate to translate his illustrations into slightly more modern dress.
‘If you are in church, in the middle of a service of worship, and you suddenly remember that your brother has a grievance against you, leave church at once and put it right. Do not wait till the service has ended. Seek out your brother and ask his forgiveness. First go, then come. First go and be reconciled to your brother, then come and offer your worship to God.’
Again, ‘If you have an unpaid debt, and your creditor takes you to court to get his money back, come to terms with him quickly. Make a settlement out of court. Even while you are on your way to court, pay your debt. Otherwise, once you reach the court, it will be too late. Your accuser will sue you before the judge and the judge will hand you over to the police, and you will find yourself in gaol. You will never get out till you’ve paid the last penny. So payment before prison would be much more sensible.’
The pictures are different: one is taken from church, the other from the law court. One concerns a ‘brother’ (23) and the other an enemy (25). But in both cases the basic situation is the same (somebody has a grievance against us) and the basic lesson is the same (the necessity of immediate, urgent action). In the very act of worship, if we remember the grievance, we are to break off our worship and go and put it right. In the very act of going to court, on our way there, we are to settle our debt.
Yet how seldom do we heed the Messiah’s call for immediacy of action! If murder is a horrible crime, malicious anger and insult are horrible too. And so is every deed, word, look or thought by which we hurt or offend a fellow human being. We need to be more sensitive about these evils. We must never allow an estrangement to remain, still less to grow.
We must not delay to put it right. We must not even allow the sun to set on our anger. But immediately, as soon as we are conscious of a broken relationship, we must take the initiative to mend it, to apologize for the grievance we have caused, to pay the debt we have left unpaid, to make amends.
And these extremely practical instructions Jesus drew out from the sixth commandment as its logical implications! If we want to avoid committing murder in God’s sight, we must take every possible positive step to live in peace and love with all men.