Jesus in his great sermon now getting into the meat and potatoes. In the rest of Matthew 5, Jesus uses six situation or conditions of life and contrasts them between simply living by the law and actually living for the kingdom. Or maybe I’ll say it like this – under the mosaic law, people could (and would) simply “check the box” and tell themselves and everyone around them that they were in obedience to the law. But Jesus was not about “checking boxes”. Jesus was about loving God and loving neighbor. He was going to the source, going deeper into the kind of beings we are and the kind of beings we should be. If we are not changed at this deeper level then we will never be right in the kingdom sense. Just thinking and trying not to be caught doing certain behaviors will never make us right with God.
Dallas Willard uses the example of taking a trip to New York City. We don’t get to New York by thinking about not going to London or Paris. Your cab driver will not meet you at NYC and tell you how great it is that you avoided going to LA. You did what you had to do to get to NYC, and that took care of all you were trying to do.
In the same way, when we treasure those around us, when we love people and see them as children of God designed for His good purposes, we don’t have to make an additional point of not killing them. We don’t have to make an additional point of not cursing them. We don’t have to make an additional point of not demeaning them. Not doing these things is just a part the package of seeing them as God sees them. “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” Romans 13:8 ESV. And yes, it is that simple.
Except we like to make things difficult. We like to follow rules. So Jesus comes along and turns the rules on their head. You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Trace the evil and wrongdoings of the human heart, you will find almost always it involved some form of anger, along with its evil twin brother contempt. Jesus understanding of these evil twins becomes the basis of his strategy for establishing kingdom goodness in the human heart. The elimination of anger and contempt represent the first step toward living with a heart for his kingdom.
Under the law, anger is ok, just don’t KILL anybody. Anger in and of itself is actually a natural, spontaneous occurrence and performs a vital function in life. It is simply a feeling which comes upon us in our bodies and moves us toward responding to someone or something which has interfered with our will and our life. And if that was all there was to it, and we don’t hang onto it or act upon it, then that would be ok. In this sense there is no harm, no sin. (Of course, having a headache is no sin either, but do you need them?). Anger could perform its viral function, just like the pain you feel let’s you know you’re touching a hot stove and you had better move your hand. But, of course, in reality anger is much more than this.
Anger, in and of itself, is an injury to others. I can feel your anger, even if you don’t say a word. Your anger hurts me, without you ever having having to lift a finger. Just hearing and knowing your anger, I am already wounded. I will very likely stop doing what I now know has angered you and change direction. My stress level, my heart rate, will probably rise, as will the stress level of those around us. Anger poisons the very environment in which we live. Because it crosses or opposes my will, because your anger places some kind of restraint on me, because it crosses some kind of boundary against me, your anger is almost guaranteed to elicit my anger in return. Anger feeds on anger. And anger as we live and practice quickly turns into something which is inherently evil.
Anger spontaneously erupts within us when our will is somehow obstructed. But in our response in anger to the offending party, there is almost always some will of our own to harm them, or at least the seeds of that will. Every ounce of anger has within it grams of malice. This is why it hurts us to know someone is angry with us. We know that however their anger is manifested, whether by lashing out physically, raising their voices at us, or by simply clamming up and walking away from us, their intention is leave some kind if painful impression upon us. And, they almost always succeed.
But here’s another thing about anger that Jesus specifically would point this out as being so harmful. We can, and usually do, choose to be angry. Anger first comes spontaneously, but we can actively pursue and indulge our own anger. When we do this, it can very easily lead us to become an angry person, and now because of anger which we have chosen to cultivate any incident can tap into that rage which we keep in constant supply and readiness. Think about your own road rage. So you were driving along this morning, and some jerk in a pretty red car cut you off. You exploded with anger and epithets, and the person in the offending car probably was unaware even that they cut you off (unless you made well sure they did know!). But you certainly had that anger within you, just waiting and lurking for the opportunity to show it off to the world.
In the words of Dallas Willard – “Anger indulged, instead of simply waved off, always has in it an element of self-righteousness and vanity. Find a person who has embraced anger, and you find a person with a wounded ego.” When we hold onto and indulge our anger, it can show itself as a quiet resentment or it can be a full out holy war against the one who prompted it. When I hold onto anger like this, I can lash out and explode at anything or anyone within reach. Some people become addicted to the adrenaline rush and only feel fully alive when expressing their anger. It is the sense of our own self-righteousness that allows us to hold onto our anger long after the incident has passed, or allow that anger to manifest itself as completely out of control rage. To continue in anger like this we must view ourselves as the victims of mistreatment, or as rectifying something we see as so unbearably wrong that we use it to justify the rage within.
It is well known that many if us ultimately die from our own anger. Many also did from second hand anger, just like second hand smoke. Think about the needless “collateral damage”, victims we hear about all the time of people simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time when bullets started flying. Innocent people gunned down by stray bullets intended for another. People just showing up to work when a coworkers’ pent up, self righteous rage overflows.
I’ll have to come to that “Raca” and “fool” tomorrow.
But hey, at least I didn’t kill anyone today. So that means I’m good, right. Well, the day’s still young…
““You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘ Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”
Matthew 5:21-22 NIV