How Serious Was Jesus About Anger?

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!

Matthew 5:21-26

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.”

How Serious Was Jesus About Anger?

How Serious Was Jesus About Turning the Other Cheek?

“Turn the other cheek.” Such a nice little cliché these days. Of course, these words come from the very mouth of God in Jesus Christ, so we should take them as having the utmost importance. Do we take them that way?

In modern American culture, we really act as though “turning the other cheek” were a joke. We would never laugh at or degrade the command, but our attitudes and advice betray us. What do I mean? For an example, let’s take a trip to Nickelodeon.

On Nickelodeon shows (think iCarly or Victorious), there is a recurring theme. The “good guys” (i.e. some of the main characters) are often wronged by the “bad guys” (random other characters, usually slightly less likable). So what do the main characters, who serve more or less as examples to the kids watching the shows, do in response? They get payback. Often with silly and elaborate plans, they avenge themselves and make fools of their enemies. And are they punished, reprimanded, or in any way shown as wrong for doing so? Never. Instead they are displayed as gloriously vindicated. Sweet revenge, on Nickelodeon, is a perfectly acceptable response to being wronged.

This is, of course, not limited to Nick. The same idea is present in mainstream TV for more grown up audiences, in their sitcoms and dramas. Even Disney has been picking up this revenge plot in recent years. And these shows are not setting the standard which the culture is prone to follow (unlike in certain other social issues like, to an extent, homosexuality), but instead reflect with at least some degree of accuracy the values of the people. Only a quick perusal of Facebook or a few minutes of eavesdropping (on people almost any age) is enough to see how ready and willing people are to stick up for their honor and hurt others. When people insult you, respond with a worse insult. If someone does you wrong, don’t let them get away unpunished. There is no thought to turning the other cheek.

You can even see this among Christians in ways just like the world, or sometimes in unique ways that are particularly detestable since they bear the name of our Lord Jesus. Consider the obnoxious, rude, and sinful bumper sticker with a cross which says, “If this offends you now, what until you see it at final judgment!” That attitude is nothing less than fleshly revenge against a world Jesus already told us would ridicule His people.

Of course, Jesus refuses to let us do any of this. Defending your own honor, getting revenge, or responding to people with insult are all clearly a violation of what Jesus said here:

You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I tell you, don’t resist an evildoer. On the contrary, if anyone slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.

Matthew 5:38-39

Remember that being slapped on the cheek isn’t really as much of a physical attack as an insult. Slapping someone in the face is a way to spite them. And what does Jesus say? When our reputation, honor, skills, or character are insulted or ridiculed, how should we respond? Turn the other cheek. Getting even, insult for insult and humiliation for humiliation, is explicitly forbidden. Instead, we are commanded to let them be. Do not retaliate. Don’t even bother sticking up for yourself. And why should we, anyway? There is no reason but pride. If an insult is true, we should simply listen and graciously acknowledge our fault. But if an insult is false, why bother responding? God will vindicate His people on His own time in His own way.

Despite the “amens” this might receive, Jesus’ command here is a completely countercultural idea. Our culture (along with most cultures throughout history) demands that we stick up for ourselves, defend our honor, and pay back those who wrong us. But Jesus calls us higher, to a better culture of love. In this culture, we do not get even, because vengeance is the Lord’s. Nothing we can do to a person compares to the judgment they receive from God for their sin, a judgment Jesus Himself took on the Cross. Indeed, responding to an insult with anything but kindness is an insult to God, which says to Him, “You didn’t do a good enough job judging their sin. Jesus didn’t suffer enough to cover an insult to me! In fact, I am more important than You are, since Jesus did not retaliate to those who insulted Him but remained silent.” That attitude is messed up.

So let’s review the calling: don’t bother defending yourself from people who insult you. Do not pay back anyone who wrongs you. Basically, don’t put any effort into showing that you are in the right, because if you are in the right, you have this word from God:

Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for His wrath. For it is written: “’Vengeance belongs to Me; I will repay’, says the Lord.”

Romans 12:19

Instead, pray this prayer:

Vindicate me, LORD my God, in keeping with Your righteousness, and do not my enemies rejoice over me.

Psalm 35:24

(Heads up: “How Serious Was Jesus About…” will be an ongoing series.)

How Serious Was Jesus About Turning the Other Cheek?