(Image retrieved from http://sp.meucantinho.org/pictures-of/faces/angry/angry-faces-avatars.htm on 8/21/17. Happy Eclipse Day, everyone! Here’s a little gal who didn’t get to see the eclipse!)
Please read Matthew 5:21-26 in your Bible. I mostly used the NIV for my research. After paroxysms of hate that convulsed in Virginia and its aftermath throughout the world, I don’t think any explanation of WHY we need to study anger management would be required.
Jesus taught that anger can be murder on relationships.
Context (What’s going on in Matthew?)
This is the first of a series of six teachings Jesus introduces with the words “YOU HAVE HEARD IT SAID” or some variation on that. His purpose was to contrast the Old Covenant or agreement between God and humanity with the New Covenant He brought into being. The New is, in each of these six cases, better than the old. In this case, the New Covenant went beyond a mere legalism about murder to address the root cause: anger. Jesus definitely raised the ethical standard.
Comment (What’s going on in these verses?)
- Anger is a dangerous emotion (vs. 21-22).
Our ethics of anger begins with affirming the sacredness of human life. Jesus began this section by reminding them what the Old Covenant demanded – “YOU HAVE HEARD THAT IT WAS SAID…‘YOU SHALL NOT MURDER’” (v. 21).
The word MURDER does not refer to all killing, but only to the taking of a life that is not first commanded by God. Remember we’re talking about the Old Testament (OT) here. In the OT, God occasionally called for wicked people to be killed. Since God is perfect in His knowledge and judgment, we can trust that He only called for the death of those who were actually guilty and deserving. No exceptions.
Remember also that human life is sacred to us because God said so. We are under His commands in all things, including the taking and preserving of human life. Because we have only lived under the New Covenant, we can be uncomfortable about Bible passages where God commands killing. We have to remind ourselves that God commanded different things to His people under different covenants and get over it.
The phrase SUBJECT TO JUDGMENT refers to the penalty for murder as required by the Law: death by stoning. For example:
– Genesis 9:6 ESV = Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.
– Exodus 20:13 ESV = You shall not murder.
– Numbers 35:30-31 ESV = If anyone kills a person, the murder-er shall be put to death on the evidence of witnesses. But no person shall be put to death on the testimony of 1 witness. You shall accept no ransom for the life of a murderer, who is guilty of death, but he shall be put to death.
Jesus then contrasted the old standard with the new: “BUT I TELL YOU THAT ANYONE WHO IS ANGRY…WILL BE SUBJECT TO JUDGMENT.” MURDER is still a sin under the New Covenant, but the change is that anger is now understood to be just as much a sin. We find it easy to condemn murder because we’re so rarely guilty of it. But we are routinely guilty of getting angry and so that hits closer to home.
Because human life is sacred, anger is as serious a sin as murder (v. 22). The sacredness of human life is a principle fundamental to all civilization. Every nation and religion must begin here. Building on that, Christians are guided by a secondary principle called “the preciousness of others.”
– God says all life as precious because it is His.
– All life should be taken only with the most serious and righteous reasons.
– But human life is especially precious for these reasons: of all the created beings, only humans were created in the image and likeness of God. Only human beings were given dominion over creation.
When we observe these two principles, it is easy to see that hatred is as violent and as ungodly an act as murder. In fact, MURDER is most often motivated by anger, isn’t it?
Jesus explained that God’s new ethic was of a higher standard by reminding His listeners of current ethical practices (v. 22).
Firstly, when someone called someone else RACA, they risked the penalty of the court. This word meant “empty” and was considered an expression of contempt. (This may be a similar usage to our referring to an unemotional or inhumane person representing a corporation or bureaucracy as an “empty suit.”) It was considered an example of a slip of the tongue, something said in the heat of the moment, but not really meant to harm the person’s feelings or reputation. The worst discipline they might experience is the embarrassment of a rebuke from the Sanhedrin, their religious court.
Secondly but worse, to call someone a FOOL put one in danger of hell-fire. The Jews considered this a more serious offense, a deliberate attempt to hurt the other person’s feelings and/or reputation. Instead of the court, this kind of angry act put the person directly under God’s condemnation with the much more serious consequence of being destroyed in hell-fire. Giving vent to anger in this way assumes the offender is an unbeliever and still under the wrath of God. That was the way Jewish theology trended.
Rather than split hairs in this way, Jesus simply condemned all angry acts, teaching they are just as ethically serious as murderous acts. As reluctant as we are to commit murder, we ought to be equally reluctant to do anything motivated by anger.
- Conflicts need to be resolved as peaceably and as quickly as possible (vs. 23-26).
To impart a sense of urgency, Jesus gave two examples: worship and litigation.
Relationships are so important to God that He would rather have you interrupt your worship than leave it unresolved! THINK ABOUT IT! In this one instance, even your most important relationship – your relation-ship with God – will take a back seat to getting that angry conflict resolved.
There are two reasons for this. One, no one can legitimately worship God while hating their brother. (See 1 John 3:11-15.) Two, nursed grudges and/or a bevy of burned bridges betrays a lack of true faith.
The practicality of Jesus’ advice to SETTLE MATTERS QUICKLY ought to be obvious enough for all of us. Jesus offered a sensible reason if an ethical reason hadn’t been good enough: it’s cheaper and easier to settle out of court than it is to battle it out in court and potentially LOSE. Would you rather put your trust in man’s law or God’s grace? If you are a believer, grace is always better. In choosing grace over law, all parties may have to give up their “rights” and forgive the “slights” they’ve suffered in order to compromise, exchange forgiveness, and move forward. The way of Jesus is the way of grace triumphing over the law. This is just as true in relational matters, in conflict resolution, as it is in any other area of life.
This is not found in the text, but please indulge me in a personal theory. Here is another practical reason for resolution: unresolved conflicts are the leading cause of emotional dysfunction. If we want victory over depression, to manage our anger, or overcome a host of challenging mental and/or emotional conditions; resolving longstanding conflicts is a good place to begin.
How to attempt quick and peaceable resolution? Here’s one method.
1) FIRST, stop what you’re doing and make reconciliation a priority. Approach it with a loving heart and a gracious spirit, aimed at reconciliation. (Motives that have anything to do with “getting even” or “teaching them a lesson” are doomed to fail.)
2) SECOND, plan the context of the reconciliation attempt. Choose a date, time and place that is agreeable to both parties and will be free of distractions. That includes allowing for plenty of time. A personal, face-to-face is the standard unless that’s plainly impossible or majorly inconvenient.
3) THIRD, declare in plain language your intention to reconcile. Saying out loud and meaning it are necessary.
4) FOURTH, state the other person’s position and feelings. Correct each other gently and compromise until you arrive at a mutually understood and accepted definition of the problem.
5) FIFTH, give and receive forgiveness for the wrongs mutually recognized in the previous step.
6) SIXTH, compromise on a way to avoid this kind of misunderstanding in the future and provide ways to avoid giving this offense(s) again. This should include ways to respectfully approach one another to voice future concerns.
7) SEVENTH, extend and receive forbearance, which is “forgiving in advance.” Realize that as much as you are working to avoid it, future offenses are going to be made. Everyone should stop taking themselves so seriously and forgive in advance. Commit yourself to forget the past offense in a way that will not require you to suffer it again in the future.
There are as many ways to resolve conflicts as there are “experts” who write about conflict resolution. What I’ve shared with you is a summary of what I’ve seen and learned and used in my life and ministry.
The method is not important. What is important is that we move to resolve our differences in a way that relieves us of anger. We talk about being as “mad as hell.” Jesus taught that being mad IS hell; it is a sin that finds its origin in Satan and, if unresolved, may find its conclusion in him as well.
We show we take the sin of anger seriously when we act to resolve conflict situations. We show we are followers of Jesus when we choose love and grace over anger and law.