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.’ 22But I tell you that anyone who is angry [“orgizomai”] 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.
23Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.
25Settle 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. 26I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.” (NIV)
Freedom: From inappropriate anger, broken relationships and ruinous lawsuits
Why did Jesus compare the law of Moses with His own teaching?
Jesus is worthy of more honor than Moses (Hebrews 3:2-3).
Jesus fulfilled, for us, the Law and the Prophets (Matt. 5:17). Much debate concerns the authority of the Old Testament law in relation to Christians. Some say that Jesus fulfilled the OT ceremonial, dietary and sacrificial laws, but that the civil law is still binding (theonomists). Others teach that Jesus fulfilled the ceremonial and sacrificial law, but that the moral law is still binding upon Christians. Yet others teach that the OT law is obsolete, and that such distinctions and current applicability among various kinds of law may have some logic, but are not made in scripture and certainly aren’t binding.
The writer’s position is that Christians are under a New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34), which is identified as that made by the shedding of the blood of Christ (Luke 22:20). Jesus is the High Priest of that New Covenant, which is superior to the Old (Hebrews 8:6-7). That Jesus’ is the New Covenant predicted in Jer. 31 is clear by the writer of Hebrews quoting Jer. 31 in Heb. 8:8-12. Furthermore, “By calling this covenant ‘new,’ he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.”
That we aren’t under the OT is seen by prohibitions against reverting to obeying the OT. This is not “antinomian,” or lawlessness, as some charge. Christians are under the law of Christ and the many commands given by the Spirit in the New Testament. In fact, the NT law is stricter than the OT law, as the current passage clearly illustrates.
Paul wrote, referring to the OT law, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1). Not a single Israelite ever kept the Law perfectly, which is why Jesus had to complete it for us. Those who try but do not perfectly keep the Law are under a curse (Gal. 3:10). If we break just one law, we’re guilty of breaking it all (James 2:10). When Christians who were also Pharisees wanted new Christians to be circumcised and obey the Mosaic Law, the apostles refused. Christians are saved by faith alone, and no other burden should be added—a burden they acknowledged no Jew had been able to carry in over 1000 years (Acts 15:10 -11).
Seventh Day Adventist theology is careful to state that we are saved by faith in Christ alone. But they still teach that Christians should keep certain OT laws.
What does God say about our anger?
First it is generally unrighteous and inappropriate. By God’s standards, it is usually more self-serving, than godly (James 1:20 ). So we should be slow to get angry (James 1:19 ). ”A hot-tempered man stirs up dissension, but a patient man calms a quarrel” (15:14).
An angry person lacks self-control (Prov. 16:32).
Frequent anger is a badge of fools (Ecclesiastes 7:9). According to Proverbs, “a quick-tempered man displays folly” ( 14:29).
Notice the serious sins associated with anger: “bitterness, rage [“sudden outburst of anger”—NIDNTT 1:110] and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice” (Eph. 4:31 ). In Colossians they are “anger, rage, malice, slander and filthy language” (3:8). It seems as though anger increases through the scales to a crescendo of evil. Notice that slander [evil lying] follows anger in both lists.
“A hot-tempered one commits many sins” (Prov. 29:22).
Jesus described a progression from inner anger to expressed anger (“Raca!” = “Dummy!” to the stronger “Fool!”). Some manuscripts add to “angry with his brother,” the condition “without cause.” Calling someone a fool expresses utter contempt and is the overflow of a hostile heart (Luke 6:45 ). A hostile heart can incite to murder and is it’s root (Wm. Hendriksen, New Test. Commentary, Gospel of Matthew, p. 299).
Jesus said that anger leads to “judgment” (Matt. 5:22 ). This would not be in a civil court, but would be God’s ”day of judgment” —Matt. 12:36. This is precisely the same exposure that a murderer will have at the same judgment (v. 21)! We expose ourselves to God’s unfavorable judgment when we display inappropriate anger. Unrepentant murderers do not make it to heaven (Rev. 21:8) and those contemptuous of a brother are in danger of committing that crime, thus in danger of the “fire of hell” (Matt. 5:22 ). Further, from God’s perspective, they are equivalent, whether or not anger leads to physical murder. As the seriousness of anger escalates, the danger of going to hell is more plain (v. 22).
Is there righteous anger?
Jesus displayed it when Jews refused to sanction healing on the Sabbath (Mark 3:5). God the Father was frequently angry with Israel and with her leaders (for example, Numbers 25:3; Hosea 12:14).
Paul commands Christians to be (appropriately) angry (Eph. 4:26), but not to go to bed angry (the sense of “still angry” = resentful [parorgismos—NICNTT 1:107]). Ps. 4:4 “In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent.” Searching our own heart will likely expose sin similar in nature, if not in expression. Sleeping on anger gives Satan a chance to magnify and distort the offense, possibly even working it into our subconscious. It gives time to tell others of the offense. However, if people are simply too tied or exasperated to resolve a dispute, there are times when waiting until both parties are alert is wiser.
Paul was angry with Elymas (Acts 13:8-11) for trying to turn the Roman proconsul of Cyprus away from Christ. We are to hate evil (Prov. 8:13). But generally our anger is unholy and at times provoked by our pride, rather than provoked by our love of God and by righteousness. “For man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires” (James 1:20).
How can we deal with our anger? Christian virtues flourish when we’re filled by the Spirit and walk in the Spirit. The virtues opposing fits of anger are love, patience, gentleness and self-control (Gal. 5:22 -23). Human effort alone will not bring perfection (Gal. 3:3), but our will is required. “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger…” (Eph. 4:31).
Stop anger early. Reply to harshness with a soft answer (Prov. 15:1). “Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam; so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out.” (Prov. 17:14). We may need to get alone or leave, to keep peace.
Remember that vengeance belongs to God (Rom. 12:19). We do not need to make a person (including our spouse) confess wrong doing or sin. God sees everything and is just. The Day of Judgment means that no one gets away with anything. On the contrary, overcome evil with good (Rom. 12:21).
With some people it will not be possible to live in peace, but try to keep peace, “as far as it depends on you.” (Rom. 12:18). We can’t control the other person.
If we’re given to anger—if this is a sin we cannot seem to shake, ask God to put inappropriate anger to death in us (Rom. 8:13).
How do we try to resolve anger?
First try to distinguish between someone who may not like us for some reason, perhaps due to a personality conflict or because we remind the other of someone they don’t like, and someone who has a grievance against us. We can trouble people unnecessarily by going to them when there is nothing wrong. I’ve made this mistake many times.
Jesus tells us that our human relationships impact our relationship with God. Harshness with the wife affects the husband’s prayers (1 Pet. 3:7). God can’t be distracted by our gifts. He wants us to be holy, so forbids us the formal act of giving until we go and be reconciled with the one who has a grievance against us (Matt. 5:23 [founded or unfounded]). Then give the gift. Similarly, we can’t say that we love God if we hate our neighbor (1 John 4:20 -21).
If we’re angry, we are to take the initiative. “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.” (Matt. 18:15). The first move is always ours. As Paul indicated, we are to make peace “as far as it depends on you” (Rom. 12:18). We’re not responsible for the response to a properly made appeal to peace.
For more serious situations in which another is taking us to court, again we try to “settle matters quickly” (Matt. 5:25). Christians must not take other Christians to court (1 Cor. 6:4-7), but to take the dispute before church elders. Wise Christians can help resolve otherwise irreconcilable differences. Our opponent may not be a Christian, but we should still try to settle the matter out-of-court. Failure to heed Christ’s words may result in utter financial ruin. If it goes to a jury today, sometimes outrageous damages are allowed. God is able to make even our enemies to be at peace with us (Prov. 16:7).
In summary, avoid anger even in the heart, and if that isn’t possible, resolve it quickly, as far as it’s possible. If someone is angry with us, or we’re angry, the first move is ours.