I HATE ANGER
The Sermon on the Mount–Tradition vs. Truth on Anger
When I say murder, most of you will say to yourself, “I have never done that.” Yet murder is more common than you think. Over 25,000 murders are committed in the US every year–that’s nearly 70 per day. There are mass murderers, unknown murders, and gangland murders. Murder is now so commonplace that unless it is a famous person, the murder doesn’t even make the evening news. But as a Christian, have you considered all the additional murders? If you add suicides (self-murder), and abortions (prebirth-murder), the number of murders around us is staggering. As bad as that is, it is even worse than you think, because anger or hatred is murder of the heart. It makes everyone in this room a murderer at some level and at some point in your life.
Anger comes in a lot of forms. Some of you are angrier than others. Take the husband who said to his wife, “When I get mad at you, you never fight back. How do you control your anger?” His bride said, “Well, I clean the toilet.” The husband asked, “How does that help?” and she said, “I use your toothbrush.”
There are a few of you who have bitterness smoldering within and some hate in your heart. Today, Christ will expose the anger lodged in your hearts and cut it out like a cancer. A lot of believers don’t view anger as a sin. Most Christians do not see anger as something that is dangerous to your soul–as a result, many faithful saints try to make peace with anger instead of slaying anger. Sadly, a lot of you may not repent of anger or put away anger until anger works itself out of you in a more serious way, resulting in harsh consequences.
This is what was happening in first century Judaism. Instead of having to deal with seething anger, hostility, argumentativeness, hot speech, outbursts and a hostile heart, the Pharisees reworked God’s Law so that anger of heart was no longer sin. They redefined the Law so that now, only the worst expression of anger, murder, was considered a sin. So as Jesus continues preaching the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:21 to 26, He cuts through the cosmetic belief that as long as you avoid external murder, you were righteous, and exposes the serious sin of anger of the heart, as well as attacking the internal volcano of hostility and hate some have.
Open your Bibles to Matthew 5:21 and see how the Lord describes this destructive sin. As you read this passage aloud with me from your outline, notice how Christ destroys the external beliefs of His day and turns everyone’s focus to the heart. In this passage, Christ speaks about anger, then gives two anger illustrations–one using a believer and the next an unbeliever. Christ wants you to deal with internal anger so that it does not damage your family in Christ, and so that your anger will not damage your witness in this world. Read it aloud with me beginning in Matthew 5:21 through verse 26.
“You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ 22But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. 23Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. 25Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. 26Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent.”
This is not the only passage on anger in the Bible. Look at what God’s Word has to say about anger, temper, hate and conflict. Review these key passages with me.
Proverbs 14:17, “A quick-tempered man acts foolishly, and a man of evil devices is hated.”
Proverbs 15:1, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
Proverbs 15:18, “A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but the slow to anger calms a dispute.”
Proverbs 22:24 to 25, “Do not associate with a man given to anger; or go with a hot-tempered man, or you will learn his ways and find a snare for yourself.”
Proverbs 25:28, “Like a city that is broken into and without walls, is a man who has no control over his spirit.”
Proverbs 29:11, “A fool always loses his temper, but a wise man holds it back.”
Proverbs 29:22, “An angry man stirs up strife, and a hot-tempered man abounds in transgression.”
James 1:19 to 21, “But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.”
What do these verses tell you about your anger? An angry person is a fool. An angry person abounds in transgression. An angry person gets ensnared. An angry person stirs up strife. An angry person is unwise. An angry person is guilty of breaking the Law of God. Anger does not achieve the righteousness of God. John MacArthur says, “Anger is a deep, smoldering, resentful bitterness.” Anger is a powerful emotion designed to destroy. When anger is expressed in speech, it is prone to wound. When anger expressed in action, it damages or destroys.
The Greek word for anger here is more than a passing surge of irritation or displeasure. This anger, the Greek orge (upsurging/impulsive) denotes a strong and persistent feeling of indignation. God’s Word has a lot to say about anger. But is all anger wrong? Isn’t there a difference between righteous anger and sinful anger? Yes, there is. Righteous anger is motivated by a desire to defend God, His honor, or His Word. But it is never about defending yourself.
Christ was angry at the Pharisees for their hypocrisy (Matthew 23:13 to 33). Christ was angry at the moneychangers in the Temple (Matthew 21:12 to 13). Very few have ever experienced righteous anger and we need to be very careful when we think we are righteously angry, because we can deceive ourselves. Jay Adams says, “Acceptable anger centers around those things that offend God rather than one’s self.” There is a godly anger against sin–and if we love the Lord, we will hate sin too.
But anger is always sin when it is aroused by the wrong things. Anger is wrong when the reason for anger is pride, jealousy, impatience or some self-focused matter. When you’re angry because you were overlooked, not mentioned, or ignored, that’s sinful anger. When your anger burns because your job is hard, your finances are stretched, your relationships are strained, or you cause an accident–that’s sinful anger. Any time anger is expressed by blowing up or clamming up, that’s illegitimate anger.
In fact, sinful anger is rooted in pride, driven by the belief that you deserve better. Sinful anger is aroused by the unchangeable things in our life such as our physical features, our social or economic standing, the loss of a loved one, sins committed against us by others, God not changing the people around us, God not changing our circumstances, events not working out the way we want, and our ambitions and goals being thwarted.
Ultimately, sinful anger is always directed at our sovereign God because we are not happy with the direction He is taking us. What should we do? We need to seek God’s forgiveness through confession of the sin of anger, then turn from anger in repentance and seek help from the body to deal with anger.
As Christ continues to preach he states, “You’ve heard it said . . . but I say to you,” destroying the external Pharisee religion based on oral tradition and contrasting it with internal Scripture-based truth which exposes the sins of the heart. The Pharisees wanted to simplify their external faith by saying only murder is sin, but Christ will expose the internal heart by saying anger, hate and bitterness are sin. All of this calls each listener to see themselves as a sinner in need of a Savior. How will Christ do it?
#1 The SERIOUSNESS of the Sin of Anger Verses 21 to 22
Matthew 5:21 20 22, “You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ 22But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.”
Jesus begins with the biblical prohibition against murder, the sixth of the Ten Commandments–then adds, those who murder were to stand trial and if found guilty, will also be sentenced to death. “You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’”
But our Lord has more in mind than just condemning the evil act of premeditated murder. Christ is concerned about hate, bitterness, resentment and a murderous heart. Christ is concerned about hateful actions and hateful attitudes. Verse 22, “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court.” Christ knows the expressions of hurt and murder are first found in the heart.
Anger is an internal battle–the Lord pointedly reminds you in Mark 7:20 to 23, “And He was saying, ‘That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. 21For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, 22deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness [and we can add anger] 23All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.’”
Christ is telling you and me we must deal with hate in our hearts–do not allow the seed of anger to take root in the soil of your heart. Do not allow hate to get a foot in the door of your inner man. Anger is such a foolish thing–it makes us destroyers instead of builders. It robs us of freedom and makes us prisoners. To hate someone is to commit murder in our hearts. First John 3:15, “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.”
This does not mean you should go ahead and murder someone you hate, since you’ve already sinned inwardly. Obviously, sinful feelings are not an excuse for sinful deeds. Sinful anger robs you of fellowship with God as well as with your brothers, but it does not put you into jail as a murderer. However, more than one person has become a murderer because he failed to control his sinful anger. Again, the Bible repeatedly warns you of the sin of anger.
Psalm 37:8, “Cease from anger and forsake wrath; do not fret; it leads only to evildoing.”
Proverbs 14:29, “He who is slow to anger has great understanding, But he who is quick-tempered exalts folly.”
Ephesians 4:26 and 27, “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27and do not give the devil an opportunity.”
Colossians 3:8, “But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth.”
And here in Matthew 5:22, notice how Jesus stairsteps his statements about internal anger in a descending and intensifying manner. Each expression of hate or anger has a descending and intensifying consequence–look carefully. “But I say to you [first] that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, [second] ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, [third] ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.”
Jesus begins by saying first that anger with a brother or sister makes you liable to local judgment–this may result in fines, loss of income, court complications, or public shame. Second, Jesus says that insulting your brother or sister by calling them Raca, meaning empty-head or good for nothing, makes you liable to the supreme court or the official council. This is a reference to the Sanhedrin, the 70 religious leaders who oversee the religious life in Israel. Facing them could result in fines, shame, physical punishment, even physical death. Third and finally, Jesus says calling your brother or sister a fool, the Greek word moros, giving us the English word moron, makes you liable to God’s judgment and to Hell itself.
The use of moros is far more severe than calling someone an idiot. The word is used in Matthew’s gospel at least five times to describe those who don’t belong to God’s Kingdom. Calling a brother a moron was essentially calling him unregenerate, clearly unsaved, while consigning him to Hell–awake, burning, suffering, punishing, torment, forever. In Hell, you’re not hanging out with your bros having a beer. You’re not even surrounded by bad people. You are alone, alive, in darkness, in a burning, gnashing torment forever.
Anger is serious–Jesus links anger to Hell. Jesus talks about Hell more than any New Testament writer. The only time Hell is mentioned apart from Christ is James 3:6. Hell is the New Testament word for eschatological punishment. Hell is the Greek word Gehenna–it comes from the Hebrew Gey Hinnom, or the Valley of Hinnom–a valley south of Jerusalem where King Ahaz and King Manasseh offered child sacrifices to the pagan god Moloch. Because of what they did, later, good King Josiah declared that valley unclean and it became the place to burn trash, refuse and dispose of the corpses of criminals. The fire which burnt the refuse never went out, so the Hinnom Valley later became the symbol of final judgment with its unquenchable fire, constant smoke, and burning all that which is vile. Only Christ Himself has the authority to cast both body and soul into Hell.
As the crowd is listening, Christ’s words seem extreme, but that is only because of our low view of the sins of the heart–our excuses of and minimizing of anger. Christ is teaching the crowd and you the seriousness of sin and the depths of your internal sin nature. Far more sinful than your external actions of sin is your internal attitudes toward sin. Christ’s holiness, righteousness and sinlessness are far more pure than you can imagine. And our sinful nature, evil thoughts and anger are far more impure than you can imagine.
The Jews were content with not murdering, but Christ is disgusted by our inner attitudes of anger and hate. The Jews were content with keeping their external tradition, but Christ wants you to deal with your internal heart corruption of sin. And don’t miss this–did you catch it from verse 22? One of the ways you deal with anger is not to verbalize it. The illustrations Jesus gives are speaking—verbal . . . calling someone race and fool. They are verbally expressing their anger. One of the keys to dealing with anger is not to say it–don’t express it. Proverbs 29:11, “A fool always loses his temper, but a wise man holds it back.”
Don’t hold it in and explode, but talk to the Lord honestly in prayer, “I’m angry.” Talk to a different brother or sister in Christ, but do not express your anger, then regret what you say or grieve over what you may do. Christ is concerned with the condition of your heart. That’s why Proverbs 4:23 says, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.” Guard your heart against anger and hate–Jesus follows this up with two illustrations.
#2 The SPIRITUAL Requirement of Dealing with Anger against a Brother Verses 23 to 24
Verses 23 to 24, ”Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.” Read your Bible carefully, and you will notice the connections. Verse 23 begins with a “therefore” or a “so” connecting it to verses 21 and 22.
Verses 23 to 24 give an illustration of conflict from anger between two brothers in Christ. And verses 25 to 26 give an illustration of conflict from anger between a believer and non-believer. In the Church, point #2 verses 23 to 24, and outside the Church in point #3 in verses 25 to 26. So whether you are at home with the saints or at school or work with the ain’ts, anger is an issue. Though our worship and our giving may be different from the first century, the principles Christ is giving in verses 23 to 24 still remain true for each one of you.
Verse 23, “Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar”–this is an illustration of financial giving to the Lord. In this scenario, you come to the Temple for worship–one aspect of Temple worship is giving. You place your offering on the altar before the Lord, but then as you open your heart to God in worship, as you seek to maintain a right heart before the Lord, your conscience brings something to mind.
Verse 23b, “and there remember that your brother has something against you.” This is not some unreasonable, irrational grudge or disagreement, but a legitimate grievance or conflict. You’ve genuinely wronged your brother or sister in the faith. A real problem, a genuine hurt needs attention. This would involve sin, a violation of God’s Word–not necessarily a preference. This would involve intentional sin, not unintentional sin. And this would involve sin between believers which must be dealt with. What does the Lord expect you to do?
Verse 24, “Leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.” Get this–you cannot worship God with integrity without having a clear conscience and right relationships with your brothers and sisters in Christ. It is foolish and hypocritical to continue to worship the Lord when you have a sin issue with another Christian. One commentator says, “Jesus recognizes that our relationship with God is primary, but we always appear before God as those related, rightly or wrongly, to our fellow men. What we are before God involves how we are related to others.”
DA Carson adds, “Forget the worship service and be reconciled to your brother and only then worship God. Men love to substitute ceremony for integrity, purity and love; but Jesus will have none of it.” Go ask forgiveness. Confess your sin to them. Make things right. Seek to reconcile. The Bible is direct–God is more concerned with reconciliation between you and another Christian than He is about You giving to Him. God is concerned with the heart of the giver. God wants a cheerful giver who gives with a clear conscience.
Jesus already taught us in the beatitudes, that His children are peacemakers–we must be a peacemaker before we worship, otherwise our worship is unacceptable. FBC family, this is why we have longed to move back to communion every week. Communion demands we examine our hearts and communion demands we are right with each other. Otherwise we might get sick or even die if we don’t remember Christ properly.
#3 The SOBER Importance of Dealing with Anger against the Unsaved Verses 25 to 26
Verses 25 to 26, “Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. 26Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent.” The Lord’s second illustration dealing with anger, hate and conflict has to do with those outside the Church. From verse 23, the term “brother” is replaced in verse 25 with “opponent”, or accuser or adversary. “Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way.”
The situation being described is similar and was common in the first century. You find yourself at odds with another person. The nature of the disagreement is of such severity that the courts get involved. This has all the components of a civil case–something Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians 6. One of the key principles underlying the Lord’s words here is found in Romans 12:18, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”
Here, John Piper makes some helpful observations. He says, “1 We are only responsible for what others hold against us when it is owing to real sin or blundering on our part. 2 We are responsible to pursue reconciliation, but live with the pain if it does not succeed. In other words, we are not responsible to make reconciliation happen.” And I would add, 3 forgiveness is not an option–you must forgive and you are to pursue reconciliation–but God alone is responsible for reconciliation to occur.
So a problem arises that is about to go to court. Jesus says in verse 25, “Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. 26Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent.” If it is possible, take the initiative to prevent the court case from happening. Work quickly and seek to make the issue right before there is a court battle expanding the conflict. Do this as fast as you can, lest it gets to court and before you lose and wind up in prison, so now your spouse, children, relatives and friends become responsible to pay back the debt until you are released.
You see, if it goes to court, you might have to pay a hefty fine. If you couldn’t, in the first century, you might go to debtors prison–while there, family and friends might have to pay the fine, or you and they might lose your house and land, putting your family in a dire situation. The longer you wait to seek reconciliation, the more severe the consequences will be. To keep things from escalating, act now–do not wait. Settle out of court.
Charles Spurgeon put it this way, “A lean settlement is better than a fat lawsuit. Make peace with the utmost promptitude.” Now the Lord’s teaching should move you to ask ourselves some important questions. Are you responsible for any grudges someone has against you? Anger, bitterness, hostility, hatred? If the answer is yes, then you must do something about it–right now. It is gross hypocrisy to say you are good with the Lord, but not good with others.
Even if you are not the angry or offended party, if you know there is a problem, the Lord says seek to resolve it. God, who is the ultimate reconciler, has called you and me to demonstrate the new heart given at salvation. And when you have a new heart, you will forgive and you will seek reconciliation–and never allow an issue of anger or hate to come between you and any other person.
Sinclair Ferguson summarizes verses 21 to 26, “Jesus is not telling us to hang out our dirty linen in public, but rather to deal urgently and fully with all breakdowns in fellowship, before they lead to spiritual assassination.” God has called those who have experienced the peace of God to be peacemakers in so far as they can, with others. God has called those who have experienced reconciliation to be reconcilers, in so far as they can, with others. If you hate anger, it will require humility. You’ll have to get out of your comfort zone and talk to others about difficult issues. But you’ll discover that it’s worth it. Our God, in reconciling us to Himself through Christ, thought it was well worth it too.
A, Don’t buy into today’s “PSYCHO BABBLE” concerning anger
You can’t control anger, you can’t manage anger, and you can’t ignore anger. Listen, well-beloved, especially those who battle with anger, and struggle with hate–you can’t co-live with anger in your heart. Don’t try to make peace with anger. God’s Word commands you to “put off” or “lay aside” anger.
Colossians 3:8, “But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth.” God commands you here to put them aside. This verse pictures a man taking off dirty, filthy clothes at the end of a day. Just as a man lays stinky garments aside, so you should discard the remnants of your old life. As unbelievers, you were all beggars, clothed only in rags. When Christ saved you, He threw your old rags away and gave you a robe of pure white righteousness.
Imagine what it would be like to go out, find those tattered, infested rags, and put them back on again–ridiculous? Unfortunately, that’s precisely what we do. Paul is calling you to remove–and verse 8 says now, literally at this very moment. Rip off the remnants of your old life, like anger. Take anger, wrath, malice, slander and abusive speech seriously. Don’t manage it, repent of it.
B. God calls you to REPENT of anger
What does that look like? Admit you do get angry–while you fully embrace that anger is a serious sin before the Lord. Not merely the expressions of anger, but the anger/hate in your heart—verses 21 to 22. Personal sins are dealt with personally, private sins are dealt with privately, and public sins are dealt with publicly. Confess to the Lord personally, confess to individuals privately, and publicly confess any expressions of public anger.
Deal with your offences immediately, seek to be reconciled each and every time (verses 23 to 24). Do not allow anger, offenses, or conflict to remain undealt with or unresolved (verses 25 to 26). Ask God to change your heart, and remove anger from your heart, because only He can do it. While repenting of anger, what steps can I take to prevent anger in the future?
C. Take steps to PREVENT anger in your heart and all expressions of anger
1 Do not express the anger/hate in your heart–first talk to God about it in honest prayer
Do not speak words you will regret–wait, walk away, call a time out. Never speak in the flesh.
Proverbs 29:11, “A fool always loses his temper, but a wise man holds it back.”
James 1:19 and 20, “Let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak and [what?] slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.”
Seek God’s forgiveness, but also ask Him for His wisdom.
Seek to uncover the motives of your heart that foster anger–ask the Lord why you are angry?
2 Memorize all the verses on anger in this outline
Psalm 119:11, “Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You.”
3 Share with mature believers (those you are not angry with) your battles with anger. Let them hold you accountable with your struggle and encourage you.
4 Focus on putting on the new clothes we have in Christ.
Colossians 3:8 teaches a Christian to put off anger, but in verse 10 believers are to put on the new clothes we have in Jesus Christ. Clothe yourself, verses 12 to 14 say, “with a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience 13forgiveness” and most importantly verse 14, “put on love.” Instead of merely not doing, dependently do what is right. Instead of continually trying to stop anger–start giving, serving and loving others.
D. Consider Christ’s purpose for ADDRESSING anger
In this sermon, our Lord is exposing the easy externalism of the Pharisees, who prided themselves for not murdering. And Jesus is exposing the internal heart issues of anger, which drive us to Him for forgiveness and salvation, which brings the power to overcome these sins of the heart. Today, will the Lord use your uncontrolled anger to drive you to submit to God? Believe that Christ is God who took the punishment you deserve for your sin on the cross and rose from the dead. Cry out to Him to open your heart and make you alive to Him.
There was a little boy with a bad temper. His father gave him a bag of nails and told him that every time he lost his temper, he was to hammer a nail in the back fence. The first day, the boy had driven 37 nails into the fence. Then it gradually dwindled down. He discovered it was easier to hold his temper than to drive those nails into the fence. Finally, the day came when the boy didn’t lose his temper at all. He told his father about it and the father suggested the boy now pull out one nail for each day that he was able to hold his temper.
The days passed and the young boy was finally able to tell his father that all the nails were gone. The father took his son by the hand and led him to the fence. He said, “You have done well, my son–but look at the holes in the fence. The fence will never be the same. When you say things in anger, they leave a scar just like this one. You can put a knife in a man and draw it out. It won’t matter how many times you say I’m sorry, the wound is still there. My Lord–keep us from sinful anger.