Monday, April 24, 2017

The Problem With Anger Matthew 5: 21-28

In our study of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, we have entered the section which is called the “Six antitheses.”  This is the part where Jesus says, “You have heard it said, but I say.” These six statements are meant to shock his listeners into seeing the huge difference between the way the rest of the world lives and people who live within His kingdom. What He is giving us here are six straight shots of pure Kingdom, without any watering down or compromise. They aren’t laws, but examples of what a society looks like where people are living fully under the leadership of God. 

Let’s get something straight—kingdom living isn’t the way you’ve seen church done in the past, nor is it what people call “moral” living. It isn’t being polite or civil. It’s not being a good person the way you learned it on your mother’s knee. It isn’t being a good American, Southerner, or Presbyterian. It’s being the way God wants us to be. Jesus’ community of birth was soaked in teaching about “good” morality, and Jesus makes it clear that all human morality is a compromise with immorality. Its sugar-coated godliness, designed to be livable and palatable to people who really don’t want to live in the kingdom of God. But here, Jesus gives it to them straight. 

God’s kingdom is wherever God rules. The Kingdom of God is the community of people who put God first in all things, who’s ultimate concern is God and only God. When we get together and all seek to imitate Jesus, we are living in the Kingdom of God.

Jesus uses six examples of what’s different between the way the world does things and the way the Kingdom of God does things. The first example is how we handle anger. 

We make two mistakes regarding anger. The first is that we try to deny it exists. 

We’ve all seen the results of uncontrolled anger—protests, name-calling, war, riots, physical and emotional abuse. Anger has often been called contagious, and so it is. Anger can become like lust or anxiety—it can grow to be a problem in itself. But thinking anger is the cause of all our problems is like thinking that rising steam is why a pressure cooker explodes. Without the heat, there would be no steam. Without a cause, there would be no anger. If you don’t vent the steam, then the pot can blow. If you deny your anger exists, and you think there is something wrong with venting it, then you can explode, too. When public expressions of anger are never allowed, we just create more and deadlier forms of frustration. We create impossible situations where victims are condemned for not being “Christian” enough to take abuse. The Jesus who chased the moneychangers out of the temple is the same Jesus who people quote when they say we shouldn’t be angry.  

Anger isn’t necessarily bad. We know this because God gets angry. Look at Nahum 1: 2,”The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord is avenging and wrathful; the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies.” Look at Romans 1: 18 “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.”

I once did a Bible study on the anger of Jesus.  He sounds angry on every page of the Gospel. In fact, even in this passage where Jesus is condemning anger, He sounds angry! How can we say that Jesus does not want us to be anger, if He Himself was angry? To condemn all anger is to make Jesus a sinner.

But even so, Jesus condemns abusive anger.  This is anger that makes things worse, not better.
Jesus points out three kinds of anger in verse.

1.  The first is misplaced anger. “Whoever is angry with his brother is liable to judgment.”  Misplaced anger is being angry about something at the wrong person or about the wrong things. Some versions read, “Angry without cause,” but this is not what the best manuscripts say. The word here means “to get worked up over something.” It isn’t just feeling anger, but it’s letting that anger become divorced from the behavior or object you are angry about. Good anger is always directed at some behavior or condition that needs fixing. Misdirected anger is directed to a whole person. Good anger, like good fear, causes us to take some action that will be of ultimate and mutual benefit to ourselves and others. Bad anger, or wrath, is destructive to ourselves and to others.

Suppose I get angry at something in my work. I can’t say anything about it at work for fear of losing my job, so it stays inside, like a ball of fire in my gut.  I come home, yell at the kids, snarl at my wife, and kick the dog. This isn’t anger now, its wrath. Innocent people get caught in the explosion. 

Wrath is misplaced anger. But we can have wrath even towards people with whom we are justifiably angry. If someone accidently steps on my foot, I might flare up and say, “Why don’t you watch where you’re going?” That might be justified. If I lost control and hit them in the mouth or shot them, then that would be a disproportionate response.

Wrath is what happens when we treat anger as something divorced from the situation. We seek to destroy the person, not rectify the wrong. True Christian anger seeks peace, not war; it wants change in behavior not elimination of enemies. Christians want to save their enemies not kill them.  Wrath makes permanent enemies, who must be eliminated. Anger seeks real reconciliation.

2.  Second, there is abusive anger. “Whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council.”  Abuse is a major problem in our world, especially towards women and children. Some estimates estimate that the rate of abuse of women and children sexually and physically may be one in three. Most of us were bullied in elementary school and high school, and many employees are bullied on the job.

Abuse is a failure to recognize that the people we are hurting are actually good people. It is what happens when innocent people are treated as inanimate objects of wrath, because they provide an outlet for our anger. People are just outlets for anger.

Abuse takes many forms. There is physical abuse, mental abuse, and spiritual abuse. Physical abuse is beating, threatening, and pushing. Mental abuse are mind games, insulting. Spiritual abuse is where we confuse other people with the Devil, and act as if it is our duty before God to make them miserable, or to control them. 

Abuse is done by all sides. People in the kingdom don’t agree on every issue, but we must be united in the way we treat violence, name-calling, bullying, and all forms of abuse.

3. Third, there is distain. As bad as anger is, there is something worse, and that is distain. Jesus says, “Whoever calls his brother ‘moron’ is in danger of the fires or hell.” Distain isn’t an emotion. It’s a way of looking at others as unimportant and unnecessary. A moron is a mental person who doesn’t deserve to be heard—a subhuman. It’s regarding the feelings opinions and actions of others as unworthy of our attention. 

Disdainful people are not usually angry. They don’t think badly of others—they just don’t think of them at all. People who get angry at you are at least showing you some attention. Disdainful people regard others as beneath their attention. 

Distain often happens by accident. We are so busy following our own plans that we fail to see those who are left out. 
Several years ago my sister was in a traffic accident--almost killed. A man in an SUV ran a stop sign and smashed into her car. He was probably not a bad person. He was in a hurry and was talking on his cell phone at the time. He never wanted to harm my sister. In his self-absorbed state, he disregarded all other cars that were on the road. He wasn’t paying attention to others.

We all do it, and we do it constantly. We need to ask God for the presence of mind to see other people.
Disdain causes anger in those we ignore. The only cure for this is to recognize the thoughts, feelings and humanity of those with whom we may disagree.

In the second part of this passage, Jesus shows us how to deal with anger. 

“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and then remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

First, be reconciled. Jesus doesn’t tell us to wait until our brother comes to us. If you think you have done something that has offended someone, go to them. Don’t wait for them to come to you. Don’t even ask the question whether they were justified in being offended. Just go and be reconciled. Don’t say, “I have done nothing to apologize for.” Jesus said nothing about apology here. He says be reconciled.  Agree to disagree. Our love for one another is more important than the differences that hold us apart. 

Some things are more important than being right and wrong. There are more important issues than money, more important than pride, more important than theological differences, and that is love in the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Kingdom of God is not made up of people who are in perfect harmony or agreement. It’s made up of people with strong opinions who sometimes get angry. But they are people who regard the Love of Christ to be more important than our differences.  We love Jesus, so we love each other, and we can’t stand to be out of each other’s fellowship.
What is it like to be in a family? Families are places where we sometime argue, get on each other’s nerves, have differences of opinion and sometimes even yell at each other!  But families come back together, because the thought of being apart hurts worse than the thought of separation. 

The body of Christ is the same. We don’t always agree, we aren’t always perfect, we do have all kinds of personality quirks and irritating habits. But in the end we would rather be together than to be separate. We love each other, because we love Jesus more. In the end, Jesus is what matters.  

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