Anger. It’s an emotion we all experience. Sometimes we just get mad; we start feeling hostile and upset towards people or things. This is just a part of life, or at least that is how it too often seems. People just get angry. No big deal, right?
Unfortunately for all of us, Jesus was pretty harsh on anger. Here’s what He said:
You have heard that it was said to our ancestors, “Do not murder,” and whoever murders will be subject to judgment. But I tell you, everyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. And whoever says to his brother, “Fool!” will be subject to the Sanhedrin. But whoever says, “You moron!” will be subject to hellfire. So if you are offering your gift on the altar, and there you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Reach a settlement quickly with your adversary while you’re on the way with him, or your adversary will hand you over to the judge, the judge to the officer, and you will be thrown into prison. I assure you: You will never get out of there until you have paid the last penny!
Here’s some pretty serious stuff. Jesus basically makes anger akin to murder. If you are angry with someone (some Bibles add “without a cause,” but the best texts do not include that phrase), you will be judged. If you callously insult someone, you will be judged even more severely. And if you furiously slander someone, you will be truly condemned.
Obviously, not all anger is sinful. There is a holy anger against sin, which God possesses and Jesus Himself exercised when He cleansed the Temple. This anger is not spiteful or hateful to individuals, but is in reality the reaction of authentic love to assaults on its beloved. We can sometimes share this kind of righteous indignation. But that’s beside the point.
The truth is that we spend too much time getting angry in a very unrighteous way. This is clearly and truly sin. When I get a sorry tip (which, just in case anyone would like to know, is anything under $3) on a delivery, and I get angry at the person, I have sinned and so must confess and repent. When you get cut off in traffic and want to curse at the person, you have sinned. The truth is that from many things, even really small ones, we feel a surge of anger that we don’t mind entertaining. Rarely do we resist or refuse to indulge in this hostile feeling. Most of the time we, if nothing else, at least fantasize about acting on it. This is evil of the purest (or most impure?) kind.
If you need further proof that Jesus is so serious about maintaining healthy and right relationships with other people, check out what He says about the sacrifice. He said that if you are offering a sacrifice to God (which took place only in Jerusalem), and you realize that you have a problem with someone, you must leave your gift sitting at the altar, exit the Temple, find the other person, and go make things right. Considering the audience lived days away from Jerusalem, as well, that’s a pretty big deal. We see here that Jesus would rather see you settle your disputes with others than go to church to worship.
He also mentions that if someone is taking action against you because you have wronged them, you had better reconcile with them as quickly as possible. Otherwise you will suffer the consequences, and that doesn’t just mean whatever punishment you are given by the judge. Remember, Jesus mentioned hellfire a few verses ago.
So we have to make a choice. When we are wronged and feel anger coming up, we must resist it. When we wrong someone and make them angry, we must be humble and seek reconciliation instead of getting angry in return. And under no circumstances ought we get angry for stupid reasons, even though probably the majority of the reasons that we get angry are stupid in the grand scheme of things. Finally, whenever we do get angry, we must not lash out in sin, or else things will be all the worse for us.
Basically, “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”