The Jesus Revolution

Being free from anger

Matthew 5:21-26

How was your week? How many of you did not murder anybody this week? Well good for you! That’s one of the Ten Commandments you know—you kept one! Score one for you!

Then again, maybe not. In His famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus raised the bar on righteousness. He took some of God’s commandments and raised the bar higher. For example, He took the commandment, “do not murder,” and said we shouldn’t even harbor anger in our hearts or say insulting things to others. How many of you were angry with someone this week? Said something insulting or demeaning? Bummer!

In the Jesus Revolution, the change Jesus makes in us is so deep that it roots out our selfish anger. How would you like to be free from anger? Let’s pray.

 

Introduction: Jesus changes us so that love replaces anger; we seek to benefit others rather than harm them.

Offering: We just worshipped God by singing; now we’re going to worship God by giving. Your offering is an act of worship. In the Old Testament, worship almost always involved a sacrifice, giving something to God. Giving isn’t a duty, or just a financial transaction; it’s worship. It’s a very practical way that we show God that we love and trust Him. Our offerings are gifts of love to a God who has given everything for us. Let’s worship with our offering.

This is the Jesus Revolution. We are working our way through Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount, a collection of Jesus’ teaching that show us what life is like in God’s Kingdom, and what happens to us when we follow Jesus. Here’s the Big Idea: this is not just a new ethic, a higher moral standard; it is a description of what Jesus will do in us as we follow Him. Jesus said, “Follow me and I will make you…”. As we follow, as we live with Jesus, He changes us. Being with Jesus changes us.

ILL: Do you know someone who makes you better just by being around them? When I met Noel, I had a quick temper. Noel doesn’t even have a temper! I watched with amazement as he loved his kids when I wanted to smack ‘em! The first time I was angry with Noel, he just smiled at me; I went away thinking, “I don’t want to be angry; I want to be like Noel.”

Noel is like Jesus. Being with Noel changes you. Being with Jesus changes you even more!

So if following Jesus changes us, we want to follow Jesus; hang out with Jesus; stay close to Jesus. It’s not a new and higher ethic; it’s a new relationship that transforms us from the inside out.

Last week, David helped us see that Jesus set a new standard for righteousness. Jesus took the most righteous people of his day and told his followers that their righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. Impossible! That would be like me telling you that you have to be more righteous than Billy Graham, Mother Teresa and Pastor Noel. Impossible! What did Jesus mean?

He goes on to give six examples. Each time he quotes God’s law, and then says, “But I say to you.” Each time, he doesn’t abolish the law; he fulfills it. He takes it deeper. Here’s the first example:

Matthew 5:21-26 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.

25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26 I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.”

 

1. It was said: do not murder.

God’s law said, “Do not murder”. Jesus didn’t abolish that law, He fulfilled it. That is, He explained its full meaning. The Pharisees thought that they fulfilled it when they refrained from physically murdering someone. They congratulated themselves that they hadn’t iced anyone recently. But Jesus said, “There is more to that command than just abstaining from bloodshed.” And he takes it to a whole new level.

 

2. But I tell you: do not stay angry!

22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.

The first thing to notice is that Jesus speaks with a startling authority. He takes the word of God, and dares to say, “But I tell you.” Think about that. If I were to take a Scripture and say, “The Bible says…but I tell you,” what would you think? “Who are you? Who do you think you are?”

This is what Jesus did! He implicitly claims to have the authority to explain God’s word in a fuller way (“I have come not to abolish, but fulfill”). Jesus’ Jewish contemporaries would never have made such a claim. They would say, “God’s word says,” or “Rabbi so-and-so says”; they would cite other authorities. But they would never claim any authority on their own (“But I say to you”).

Jesus did. He spoke with His own authority. He dared to take the word of God and supercede it with His own. He was either a madman or the Son of God.

“You have heard it said, ‘Do not murder’, but I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.” Jesus raises the bar from murder to anger, from the physical act to the attitudes of our hearts. It is not enough to not murder; we must never wish to murder, never wish someone was dead, never say things in anger that kill a person’s spirit. In his work Stride Toward Freedom, Martin Luther King admonished people “to avoid not only violence of deed but violence of spirit.” That’s what Jesus addresses here. Jesus wants to change us inside, take the anger out of our hearts.

There are two places murder happens first, before it ever happens physically.

 

  1. Murder in the heart.

Why do people commit murder? Because they are angry and hateful toward someone. Jesus says that we will never solve the world’s problems by dealing only with behaviors; you must deal with the heart. You’ll never stop murder unless you can take the anger and hatred out of human hearts. It is the heart that has to be changed. Murder starts with anger; if you are angry and hateful, you have murdered someone in your heart.

1 John 3:15 “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer.”

God looks at the heart, not just the act; and if you hate someone, it is murder in the heart.

Have you ever been so angry with someone that you said, “I’d like to get my hands on them! I’ll kill them!” Or “I wish they were dead.”

Have you ever been so angry with someone that you fantasized about beating the snot out of them? You imagined yourself as a martial arts expert, smiling as you knocked them senseless. I’ve felt that way, so it is not hard for me to understand what Jesus means when he says that murder starts as anger in the heart.

ILL: Many years ago, a young man broke into our church offices and stole some checks, which he cashed for $1100. The police caught him, and so I asked the police for his address and paid him a visit. I think that sometimes the justice system insulates criminals from their victims, and I wanted this kid to look me in the eye and hear from me how his crime affected us. I was angry, and I had some of those fantasies I was just talking about, so when, in the middle of our conversation, he stood up and told to get out before he beat the bleep out of me, I stood up, stuck my face in his, and said, “Let’s go; you want to beat the bleep out of me (I said a nasty word)—let’s go, I’m ready.” He froze in place for a moment, and then I pushed him backwards into his chair and said, “You’re going to sit down and shut up and listen to me. I’ll leave when I’m done.” Pastor Rick was with me, and he was praying that I wouldn’t beat this kid up; he said he could see the headlines already: “Pastor beats up teenager—in Jesus’ name!” I know what it feels like to be angry with someone and want to do them bodily harm! By the way, the end of the story is that we talked and prayed together, and that kid did his community service at our church and came regularly for almost a year before he moved out of town.

It’s our hearts that need to be changed, not just our behavior! My heart needs to be changed!

Obviously, anger doesn’t always result in murder; in the vast majority of cases, it doesn’t. But even if you don’t kill someone, even if you don’t call someone names, anger is harmful. Anger has a corrosive effect on everyone it touches; it wounds others and warps the spirit of the angry person.

ILL: In a staff meeting one day several years ago, I got angry. I didn’t shout, or throw a fit, or call names, but I was angry and you could tell—everyone knew it. It got very quiet. We had been having a discussion, but my anger ended the discussion. I’ve seen the same thing happen with my kids or my wife—I get angry and they clam up.

After that staff meeting, Rick, my associate pastor and long time friend—the one who was praying I didn’t beat up that kid—pulled me aside and said, “Joe, you can’t do that. You can’t let yourself get angry in a meeting. It not only ruins and ends the meeting, but you are wounding people. They will not trust you; you aren’t safe to be around.”

He was right. I have made this a matter of prayer, and with Jesus’ help, I am doing much better. (Not perfect yet, so just don’t tick me off…)

Some of you are wondering, “Is it always wrong to be angry?” No. Some anger is right; we know that because the Bible says that God is angry sometimes, and there is certainly nothing wrong with God’s anger. Jesus was angry when people had turned the temple, the place where seekers could come and find God, into a marketplace for profit. Jesus was angry at the hardness of heart in the religious leaders who would rather keep people sick than let them be healed on the Sabbath. Jesus’ anger was not wrong.

Ephesians 4:26 “In your anger do not sin.”

It is possible to be angry and not sin; there are times when anger is righteous, when it is the right response. Most scholars would say that Jesus is probably not forbidding all anger here. Dallas Willard, in his book, The Divine Conspiracy, disagrees. He believes Jesus wants us to be free from all anger. He says, “There is nothing can be done in anger that cannot be done better without it.” There are certainly other verses in the New Testament that seem to encourage us to get rid of all anger.

Ephesians 4:31–32 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger. All of it.

Colossians 3:8 But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.

Rid yourselves of all such things: anger, rage and so one. All of it. Why this profoundly negative view of anger?

James 1:19-20 Be slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.

Man’s anger doesn’t bring about the righteous life that God desires. So is it ever right to get angry—something to discuss in Life Groups this week!

The problem is that our anger is rarely righteous. Most of the time, our anger is selfish. We get angry because we don’t get our way, or someone neglects or mistreats us.

ILL: True story: one morning, Ralph woke up at 5 AM to a noise that sounded like someone repairing boilers on his roof. Still in his pajamas, he went into the back yard to investigate. He found a woodpecker on the TV antenna, pounding its little brains out on the metal pole. Angry at the little creature that ruined his sleep, Ralph picked up a rock and threw it. The rock sailed over the house, and he heard a crash as it hit his car. In utter disgust, Ralph took a vicious kick at a clod of dirt, only to remember–too late–that he was still in his bare feet.

Can anyone relate to Ralph? Think about the last time you got angry. Was it righteous anger or selfish anger? We think it’s righteous because someone violated our rights.

  • Ralph had a right to be angry because that woodpecker interrupted his sleep.

  • I had a right to be angry because that guy cut me off in traffic—cost me two seconds!

  • She had a right to be angry because he forgot her birthday again.

Most of the time, we feel angry because someone violated our rights: our right to sleep, to control our own time, to be remembered on our birthday. If we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit that most of our anger is not righteous, but selfish.

There are two Greek words for anger: thumos refers to the anger that quickly blazes up and just as quickly fades away; orge refers to anger that broods, that is nurtured, that is long-lived. It is the second word that is used here. Jesus forbids us to nurse a grudge, to let bitterness fester, to let anger linger in our hearts. It is wrong to stay angry with someone. It is impossible to never feel anger. Most of us feel it every day. It is not necessarily wrong to feel anger; it is what you do with your anger that is really important. Do you deal with it, or do you just stay angry? Do you face it, admit it, and work it out; or do you just ignore it and hope it will go away (it won’t); or do you hold it tight and nurse it and keep it alive?

Are you angry with someone? Is there a grudge you are nursing? Are you bitter towards anyone? Jesus wants to change your heart and help you forgive them and make things right.

You can murder someone in your heart by staying angry. And you can murder someone with your tongue.

 

  1. Murder with the tongue.

Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

Jesus takes murder beyond the physical act to the anger of our hearts; and then beyond that to the words of our mouths. When you insult someone, you can kill their self-esteem or assassinate their character.

Proverbs 18:21 The tongue has the power of life and death.

Words are powerful things. They have the power of life and death, and we toss them around carelessly, like children playing with hand grenades. When we speak out of anger, we have pulled the pin on the grenade! Someone is going to get hurt! When we speak in anger, someone is going to get hurt.

Jesus uses two illustrations of angry words.

First, “Raca”. “Raca” was an Aramaic term of contempt that meant “empty”. It was an insult to someone’s intelligence, equivalent to calling someone an empty-headed nitwit, a numbskull, a stupid blockhead, or a brainless idiot. One scholar said that it described a tone of voice full of contempt. “Raca!” Try it. “Raca!” Another scholar says that it meant, “I spit on you.” You get the idea: it’s a term of utter contempt.

Such terms of contempt murder self-esteem. Some of you grew up in homes where such terms were carelessly tossed around by your irritated parents—idiot, stupid, lazy, good-for-nothing, dumkopf—you know how they hurt. Please, don’t ever use them on your children or your spouse! Please, don’t ever use them on anybody, including yourself!

ILL: How many of you call yourself these kinds of names when you get angry with yourself? “You idiot! You jerk!” Many years ago, I felt like the Lord really nailed me about the way I talked to myself. I called myself a jerk a lot, and the Lord said that He wanted me to drop that word out of my vocabulary. It was an insult to me or anyone else, and He didn’t want me talking that way.

Beware of contempt. Dr. John Gottman at the University of Washington has spent years studying marriages, and do you know what is the most sure indicator that a marriage is in trouble? Contempt. When couples speak to each other with contempt—whether it is the tone of voice, or the words themselves—that marriage is in trouble. We should never feel contempt for a person made in God’s image, a person for whom Christ died.

When you get angry, it is best to keep your mouth shut until you cool down. We’re all prone to say things that we regret when we’re angry. A simple rule of thumb: when you get angry, shut up. Take a time out and cool down before you talk. James advice is fitting here: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” When you feel your temper rising, be slow to speak. Someone said, “When you’re angry, always count to ten before you say anything. It’ll give you more time to come up with the right insult.” A little humor there…

Second, a fool. To call someone a fool was not an insult to their mental ability; it was an insult to their moral character. It was to brand someone as a rebel against God, and an immoral person. To call someone names murders their self-esteem; to attack someone’s character murders their reputation. We are so quick to jump to the wrong conclusion. It is so easy for us to assume the worst about others, to assign evil motives to behaviors that we don’t understand or agree with.

ILL: One day when my kids were little, Andy asked me to play with him after dinner and we agreed on a game. Dinner ended, we cleaned up, and Andy went off to play with the other kids. In the meantime, Amy asked me to play a game with her, and since Andy was busy, Amy and I started. Andy came in as we were playing and got upset with me. I invited him to join us, and told him that I would play his game with him in a few minutes. But he was angry with me and said, “Dad, you lied to me.” I patiently pointed out that I didn’t lie, and that I planned on playing his game too, which we did a few minutes later. In his anger, he assumed the worst about my motives, and attacked my character. Have you ever done that–gotten angry and assumed the worst and said things that attack and insult another person’s character and reputation?

Please be very careful about attacking another person’s character.

Jesus changes us, freeing us from anger in our hearts, and from saying angry things that wound others. But it is not just that he takes away anger; he replaces it with active love that seeks to benefit others.

 

3. “Therefore”: What to do with a broken relationship.

Verse 23 begins with “therefore”. What is the “therefore” there for? “Therefore” is a connecting word; it connects what follows with what preceded. “In light of what I just said, here is what you ought to do.” Jesus tells us not to harbor anger, and then tells us what do when anger has broken a relationship.

 

  1. First go and be reconciled.

23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.

Remember a few minutes ago I said that worship involved offering a gift to God. That is the picture here. Imagine a Jewish pilgrim who had traveled miles to Jerusalem to worship. Once there, he buys a lamb for sacrifice, and takes it to the priest. Then as he is praying, he remembers a friend back home who has something against him. He tells the priest, “Could you hang on to this lamb for me? I’ll be back in a couple weeks.” The Jews actually believed that God would not accept your sacrifice if you harbored hatred and refused to be reconciled to your brother.

The Jewish prophets repeated this theme: God wasn’t interested in your sacrifices, your ceremonies, your worship if there was blood on your hands or hatred in your heart. Jesus quoted one of these prophets when he told the Pharisees to go and learn what this means: “I desire mercy not sacrifice.”

Here’s the big idea: You can’t have an authentic relationship with God if you have broken, unrepaired relationships with others around you, if you are nursing a grudge, hurt feelings, hatred or bitterness. You cannot be right with God if you are unwilling to be right with people. Jesus says later in the Sermon on the Mount, “If you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” There is a direct correlation between our relationships with people and our relationship with God. If you are bitter and unforgiving, you won’t be forgiven; you won’t be close to God. The apostle John says in

1 John 4:20 If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. for anyone who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.

There is a direct correlation between our relationships with people and our relationship with God. So Jesus says, “leave your worship and first go and be reconciled; then come back and worship God.”

ILL: I have done this on many occasions, because I have discovered that when you spend time worshipping God and talking with Him, He reminds you about those broken relationships. During my daily time with God, I do PBJ: I pray, I read the Bible and I journal. In my journal, I write down, among other things, my evaluation of the previous day. Often, during prayer or the journaling time, I will realize how poorly I treated someone. I’ll grab the phone, and give them a call and apologize right then, if it is possible. My wife will vouch for me on this; she has been the most common recipient of those phone calls. It might have been some harsh words that I said as I left in an irritated hurry; it might have been something that I didn’t do, but should have. And she is always gracious enough to forgive me. She’s never once said, “Suffer you sucker!” Spend time with God, and you’ll remember who you need to get right with!

So the first thing Jesus says is to go and be reconciled, and to do that no matter what you’re doing, even if it is something as important as worshipping God. Repairing broken relationships is at the top of God’s priorities and should be for you too. This is job one! Top priority!

 

B. Settle matters quickly.

25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26 I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.”

Second, Jesus says to settle matters quickly. He uses the illustration of two people going to court. Better to settle ahead of time. The key word is “quickly”. Do it now. I know some people say to let sleeping dogs lie. But anger and bitterness and hurt don’t get better with age; they get worse.

ILL: If you get a cut, what do you do? You clean it out as soon as you can, put some Neosporin or Bactine on it and cover it with a Band-Aid. Then it will heal. What happens if you don’t bother cleaning or tending it for a while? It is likely to get infected.

That is what happens when we get hurt and angry. If we don’t clean it up right away, it tends to get infected, and anger slowly simmers into bitterness and hatred. So Jesus gives us very simple and practical advice here about our relationships. Are you on the outs with someone? Settle matters quickly. Take care of it now. It won’t get better until you clean it up. Do it now.

This sounds so simple, but it is just not done by most of us. We get hurt, we get angry, and we just let it fester.

ILL: One day, a wonderful Christian woman came to me about something I had done 9 years before. I couldn’t even remember the incident, but to her, it was as fresh as today’s coffee! She had been packing that around and nursing that hurt and anger for 9 long years; when she spoke of it, you could hear and feel her passion; I felt so bad for her! We got it cleaned up, but 9 years too late!

Settle matters quickly! Don’t let things fester. My hunch is that the huge majority in this room have someone that they need to go see this week, and clear the air, and clean out the wound. Please do it! Don’t let that festering wound go untended and infected any longer.

And please, the next time someone hurts you, offends you, angers you, deal with it quickly. Paul said “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.” Deal with today’s feelings today. If you don’t, a small thing today can become a big thing tomorrow, and you’ll murder someone in your heart.

One thing I must add: some of you have tried to settle matters quickly and it didn’t work. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes the other person doesn’t want to settle things. The Bible says,

Romans 12:18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

Your responsibility is to make the effort. Sometimes it takes time to heal; sometimes, lots of time. But nine times out of ten, immediate action will mend broken relationships. So don’t wait; do it now!