In his commentary on Matthew 5, verses 21-26, D. A. Carson notes,
“We are more likely to remember when we have something against others than when we have done something to offend others. And if we are truly concerned about our anger and hate, we shall be no less concerned when we engender them in others” (p. 150).
In other words, we easily remember when someone offends us and makes us mad, but we should be just as concerned when we offend someone else and make that person mad.
Anger is Murderous in Principle
21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’22 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. 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 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.26 Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. Mathew 5:21-25
According to Dr. Carson, in this passage, Jesus teaches that “the root of murder is anger, and anger is murderous in principle (v. 22).”
Anger – Two Illustrations:
- Jesus’ first illustration is in a temple worship setting and deals with offending a Christian brother (vv. 23-24).
- Jesus’ second illustration is in a judicial setting and deals with offending an adversary (vv. 25-26).
- Both illustrations refer to “your” wrong offense that has incited anger in someone else and teach that immediate action on “your” part is necessary. The alternative to immediate action on “your” part is the certainty of God’s judgment.
So what kinds of things wrongly offend and stir up anger in others?
- My harsh words (Proverbs 15:1).
- My hot temper (Proverbs 15:18).
- Giving myself over to anger (Proverbs 29:22).
- Mocking or making fun of others (Proverbs 29:8).
- Strongly pressing people to do what I want (Proverbs 30:33).
And lest I think that my anger may be what is best for someone else – to make them do what is right, James 1:19-20 reminds me:
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
And least I think it’s okay to speak harsh hot tempered words to my children or to shame them into acting rightly by mocking them, Paul in Ephesians 6:4 reminds us:
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Stirring Up Anger, The Gospel, and God’s Glory
Looking back at the “how I make other people angry” list above it’s pretty clear that I stir up anger in others when I am angry myself, most likely because I have been offended in some way (the first 3 points), or when I’m not getting my way (the last 2 points) – this part, I think, has to do with trusting that God knows what is best for me – another blog.
So, I have to deal with my own (sometimes even justified) anger, stirred up by personal offenses, and the gospel of God helps me:
- First it comforts me by reminding me that ultimately I will be judged by Jesus’ right actions not mine.
- Next it gives me a different perspective on the anger that I feel when I’m offended by reminding me that God’s righteous and just wrath toward me, because of my offenses toward him, was averted toward and fully absorbed by Christ – God was merciful to me.
- Then when I understand that Jesus did this for me, it makes it much more difficult for me to be offended by others and driven to anger, and, if I’m filled with mercy and not anger, it will be much more difficult for me to make someone else angry.
- So, if I’m not angry and not stirring up anger in others by unnecessarily offending them, I will look more like Christ.
- Finally, when I look more Christ-like, I point others to him – I reflect who he really is more clearly to others.
Praying that If possible, so far as it depends on you, you will live peaceably with all (Romans 12:18).
Carson, D.A., “The Expositor’s bible Commentary with the New International Version: Matthew Chapters 1 through 12”, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995, pp. 148-150.
Carson explains that Jesus’ anger is never a response to a personal affront (insult) but rather is directed at “injustice, sin, unbelief, and exploitation of others,” p. 149.
Like Jesus, I think that injustice (towards those weaker than us), sin that is an affront to God, and exploitation of others, should also stir our anger and move us to the point of positive action that flows from love of God and of others.
I don’t think that believers can avoid offending people – you will offend people if you follow Christ. The cross is offensive. People were offended at Jesus’ teaching. In this blog, I am NOT talking about this necessary offense that flows from a desire for righteousness that is rooted in a heart of love for God and for people. I’m talking about unnecessarily offending people out of anger – usually because I have been offended or because I am not getting my way.
God’s holy righteousness necessarily requires that he be angry with sin and his holy justice requires a penalty for sin. So God’s anger that was directed at Christ in our place was necessary in order for God to remain righteous (Romans 3:25). In contrast, we are not righteousness in the sense that we always act rightly (act according to God’s standard) and have no perfect grounds for requiring atonement from others for sins they have committed against us. However; people do act unjustly against us (and ultimately against God) and we can be sure that either those sins will be judged and punished by God perfectly or that Jesus absorbed these sins (just as he did mine) on the cross and that they have already been paid for.