4. "Beyond Anger Management"

Matthew 5:21–26

Please don't get mad at me! Don't kill the messenger! I'm afraid that today's message will definitely challenge you, making you feel uncomfortable, possibly angry. You'll be shown your true anger, how murderous it can become, and how it will be judged by God.
But I have good news; comforting news. In today's lesson, taught by Pastor Scott Scruggs, you'll find out exactly what's needed, according to Jesus, to change your heart, set you free, and make you whole.

Beyond Anger Management

Matthew 5:21–26 [Click to open, re-click to close, this and all other links.]
21"You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire. 23So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and here remember that your brother has something against you, 24leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come offer your gift. 25Make friends quickly with your accuser, while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the guard, and you be put in prison; 26truly, I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny."

Handling Our Anger Righteously

Today's study presents the first real-life issue that Jesus addresses: the way we deal with anger. In this and the next several passages, Jesus challenges us as to what were the traditional, “current” ideas of righteousness. He asks questions plainly: Is righteousness merely a legal reality? Is it all about either following or not following certain rules? Or about keeping the score between merits and demerits even?

Our answer to these three questions had better be a resounding, "No!" Jesus pushes his listeners to realize that righteousness goes far deeper than certain behaviors. The problem with the legal view is that it tempts one to think of his/her relationship with God as if it were a contract, e.g., I do my part of the bargain and God should then do his. Such thinking tempts you to see your life only in terms of the minimum effort you need to make to keep things right, or even to see what you can get away with and still not violate your contract with God that obliges him to keep to his part.

It Boils Down to Judgment

In this passage, Jesus deals with the commandment “Do not kill,” which is one of the Ten Commandments given to Moses. Jesus reminds his listeners that “whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.” Listeners are familiar with the law; they already know that this is the law. But now Jesus begins to reveal more of his special relationship to the law as the One who fulfils it.

“But I say to you...”  Jesus is telling them the deeper meaning of God's Torah. God wasn't merely telling people, "Don't murder each other." He qualified his intent by making three roughly parallel expressions of murder: (1) to be angry with another person, (2) to demean her/him with insults, and (3) to call someone a fool. Doing any of these makes you liable to the same judgment: murdering that person.

Jesus is leading his listeners to see that true righteousness is far more than legal or external obedience. Righteousness is right relationships, those that spring out of a right heart, mind, and soul that always bring blessing and life.

We're Commanded to Reconcile Our Differences

Following Jesus’ three expressions of anger (v. 22), he gives two commands (vv. 23 and 25). He encourages making efforts to reconcile and heal relationships quickly in two different settings. In the first instance, Jesus is speaking of when you are offering a gift at the altar of worship. You want to worship God but there's a relationship in your life that's not right. Notice that here and in both commands, you're in the position of having wronged someone else, not in being wronged.

Jesus tells us not to proceed in worship until we've sought reconciliation. We're to see a connection between the state of our relationships with others and our worship of their heavenly Father. God's will is for reconciliation. To honor and glorify God is to seek reconciliation for ourselves. As "doers" of the Word, the making right relationships with others is an act of worship. However, our worship is stunted when we attempt to worship God without making all our personal relationships right.

The second command (v. 25) is set in a legal context. This time, Jesus has us compare ourselves to someone being taken to court by an accuser. Jesus encourages us to “make friends quickly” with our accuser before we ever even enter the courtroom. We're to settle this personally rather than legally. I think that Jesus’ point is that it's always best to seek right relationships with others in ways that legal means can never accomplish.

Guilty of Murder

As I see it, God wants all persons and relationships to be healed and reconciled. His aim is for everything to be made fully right: perfect. He won't be satisfied with less; he'll make us complete. But the legal route can never and should never get us there.

Today's passage, as with the other Sermon on the Mount passages we've studied, offers wonderful hope. Jesus is right. There's no point in us priding ourselves on the fact that we've never actually killed someone. For each of us, our angry, thoughtless words bring about their own small deaths in our personal relationships.

God is at work in our lives. We must be ready and willing to respond to his Spirit. Consider telling this to your Heavenly Father in today's prayer: "I want a new nature, a new life. I want to be made right, not just given more rules to try even harder at obeying. I need your help."

Thank God! This is exactly his intention in Jesus Christ. He has it all and he offers to us His gifts of love, reconciliation, and a personal relationship with the Father. What we need is not our own righteousness, but Christ's righteousness in us.

Practical Application

Hearty brothers: In today's video message, Pastor Scott shows us the "new way of life" that Jesus gives us to deal with our anger. I give you Scott's three, quick, practical observations from today's passages. How well do you see implementing them in your Christian life?

  1. Jesus confronts the way that we try to dismiss our anger by making anger management "priority No. 1."
  2. Jesus confronts our tendency to delay confrontation with others by telling us to "deal with it now!"
  3. Jesus confronts our tendency to discuss our anger with other people before or instead of going to the actual person.

Thankfully, the following of Jesus' "anger management commands" will change our hearts, will set us free, and will make us whole. Try obeying these three commands of his. See what miracles of reconciliation start to happen.

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