This seventh in the series ‘Living The Life God Intended’ looks at the first way in which Jesus and his followers fulfill The Law & The Prophets. To listen to the audio teaching click…
Murder & Anger, Forgiveness & Reconciliation (Matt 5:21-26)
Jesus chooses to address the 6th commandment of The Law. Moses said, “do not murder” (Ex 20:13), but Jesus said it’s really about anger and what we do with it (v22).
Outward acts of violence and murder start in the heart, the anger that can govern our thoughts, words and deeds. The root of anger, hurt and offense – with a person, or group, even God, for whatever reason – must be dealt with quickly before it leads to the fruit of ‘acting out’ in unhealthy thoughts, bad attitude, abusive words and violent behavior.
To feel anger is one thing, but to entertain anger toward a person or group means we intend them harm (pay back): they must suffer the hurt they’ve caused us! That, in effect, Jesus says, is murder. Why? Because, given the right opportunity we would harm them in some way if we could. That intention is as good as the deed. Unresolved anger kills human dignity, destroying God’s image. As Jesus says, anger ‘leaks out’ in abusive emotions and words, as in name-calling and cursing.
The Aramaic “raca” meant “empty-head” (like “you fool”, Matt 5:23), pronounced with a “gggg” in the throat as if getting ready to spit. It could lead to judgement in the Sanhedrin (Jewish court), and danger of punishment in God’s court (heavenly Sanhedrin, the supreme court). Jesus says it could even lead to the fires of hell – “Gehenna of fire” – the standard Jewish concept of Gehinnom that came from the ever-burning rubbish dump outside Jerusalem’s southern wall in the Valley of Hinnom. Jews believed the wicked will be tortured or eternally burned in Gehinnom; the opposite of paradise. I.e. Jesus strongly warns of the dangers of harboring anger: it leads to contempt, and then resentment and bitterness, burning hatred and rage, eventual violence and murder.
Why is the first ethical issue Jesus addresses about anger? Anger is probably THE most pervasive issue in human relationships! Can you identify any unresolved anger in you? Where does it come from? How does it ‘leak out’? Do you hurt others in attitude, words and deeds? What racist, sexist and other name-calling is common in South Africa? Why is it so VERY destructive? What can we (YOU) do about it?
Anger is a God-given emotion that tells us something has gone wrong. What we do with it is the issue: it ‘becomes moral’ depending on our response.
If we a) suppress anger, we implode, damaging ourselves and others around us. It ‘leaks’ via passive-aggressive behavior.
If we b) vent anger, we explode, damaging ourselves and those around us.
But if we c) express our anger in an adult manner we reconcile and grow ourselves and those around us.
Anger can motivate us to address what causes it, with words and deeds of reconciliation (Matt 5:22-26). Followers of Jesus, who receive the renewed heart of the new covenant, are convicted and enabled by God’s Spirit to quickly resolve anger before it takes hold. How do we resolve anger? By reconciling any and every negative tension and offense in relationships, to honor human dignity.
Jesus uses ‘hyperbole’ (deliberate exaggeration) to show how important and urgent it is to reconcile any unresolved issue of anger, hurt or offense (22-24), before it becomes a source of contention, judgement and suffering (25-26). Jews went to the Temple in Jerusalem to offer their gift at the altar of sacrifice. Jesus says, if, while you’re offering your gift, you remember that someone has something against you (i.e. you hurt or angered them), then leave immediately and make the 2 or 3 day journey back to Galilee (where Jesus was teaching)! Be reconciled to the person – make peace by asking for forgiveness, put right what went wrong, resolve anger – then travel back to Jerusalem to offer your worship.
Imagine that? I.e. do everything to reconcile and settle matters quickly, before it becomes a contentious or legal issue in the courts (earthly, spiritual, heavenly), where judgement may go against you. Then you will suffer psycho-emotional and other forms of payment in the prison of unresolved anger, unforgiveness, burning bitterness, and a tortured conscience.
In Matt 18:15-35 Jesus reverses it: if someone hurts or angers you, then YOU must go immediately to them, without telling anyone, and be reconciled. Here you must be quick and generous to forgive as God has forgiven you – from the heart – or you too will suffer in the prison of suppressed or unresolved anger… and unforgiveness!