April 14 – Selfish Anger Equals Murder

Everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court.—Matt. 5:22a

From Jesus’ own life we know He does not forbid every form of anger. In righteous indignation He twice cleansed the temple of its defiling, profaning influences (Matt. 21:12–13; John 2:14–15). The apostle Paul instructs Christians to “be angry, and yet do not sin” (Eph. 4:26). Faithfulness to Christ sometimes demands that we exercise a righteous anger. Many of the current cultural trends, the surges of violence and grossly dishonest and immoral practices, and the unbiblical ideas promoted even within supposedly evangelical circles need to be opposed with righteous anger. That’s because such things undermine the kingdom and glory of God. The psalmist wrote, “God is a righteous judge, and a God who has indignation every day” (Ps. 7:11).

In His sermon, Jesus did not speak against legitimate, righteous indignation, but against a selfish anger toward someone for doing something against us, someone who’s just rubbed us the wrong way. The word the Lord used for “angry” indicates a simmering anger that a person nurtures and refuses to let die. Examples of such anger are the long-standing grudge or the smoldering bitterness that refuses to forgive someone. This kind of anger does not want reconciliation and can become so profound as to be a “root of bitterness springing up” (Heb. 12:15).

Jesus says anyone who harbors such severe anger against another person is the same as guilty before the civil court of murder and deserving of the death penalty in God’s eyes.

So are there names and faces that come to mind when confronted with this stark reminder from Scripture? Is there personal anger that needs instant removal from your heart?[1]

The Evil and Danger of Anger

everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court. (5:22a)

We know from other Scripture, and from Jesus’ own life, that He does not prohibit every form of anger. It was in righteous anger that He cleansed the Temple of those who defiled it (John 2:14–17; Matt. 21:12–13). Paul tells us to “be angry, and yet do not sin” (Eph. 4:26). Although the principle is often abused and misapplied, it is possible to have righteous anger. Faithfulness to Christ will sometimes demand it.

In our day of peace and harmony at any cost, of positive thinking, and of confusing godly love with human sentimentality, we often need to show more anger against certain things. There are things in our country, our communities, our schools, and even in our churches about which we have no excuse for not being angry, vocally angry. Many of the trends in our society, many of the philosophies and standards to which our children are exposed, and some of the unbiblical philosophies and standards within evangelicalism need to be challenged with righteous indignation, because they attack the kingdom and glory of God. God Himself is “angry with the wicked every day” (Ps. 7:11, KJV).

But Jesus is not talking about anger over God’s being dishonored, but rather selfish anger, anger against a brother, whoever that might be, because he has done something against us, or simply irritates and displeases us. Orgizō (to be angry) has to do with brooding, simmering anger that is nurtured and not allowed to die. It is seen in the holding of a grudge, in the smoldering bitterness that refuses to forgive. It is the anger that cherishes resentment and does not want reconciliation. The writer of Hebrews identifies its depth and intensity as a “root of bitterness” (Heb. 12:15).

Such anger, Jesus says, is a form of murder. The person who harbors anger shall be guilty before the court. To be guilty before the civil court should have been to be guilty of murder and deserving of the death penalty. Anger merits execution, because the fruit of anger is murder.[2]

5:22 The first is the case of a person who is angry with his brother without a cause. One accused of this crime would be in danger of the judgment—that is, he could be taken to court. Most people can find what they think is a valid cause for their anger, but anger is justified only when God’s honor is at stake or when someone else is being wronged. It is never right when expressed in retaliation for personal wrongs.

Even more serious is the sin of insulting a brother. In Jesus’ day, people used the word Raca (an Aramaic term meaning “empty one”) as a word of contempt and abuse. Those who used this epithet were in danger of the council—that is, they were subject to trial before the Sanhedrin, the highest court in the land.

Finally, to call someone a fool is the third form of unrighteous anger that Jesus condemns. Here the word fool means more than just a dunce. It signifies a moral fool who ought to be dead and it expresses the wish that he were. Today it is common to hear a person cursing another with the words, “God damn you!” He is calling on God to consign the victim to hell. Jesus says that the one who utters such a curse is in danger of hell fire. The bodies of executed criminals were often thrown into a burning dump outside Jerusalem known as the Valley of Hinnom or Gehenna. This was a figure of the fires of hell which shall never be quenched.

There is no mistaking the severity of the Savior’s words. He teaches that anger contains the seeds of murder, that abusive language contains the spirit of murder, and that cursing language implies the very desire to murder. The progressive heightening of the crimes demand three degrees of punishment: the judgment, the council, and hell fire. In the kingdom, Jesus will deal with sins according to severity.[3]

[1] MacArthur, J. (2008). Daily readings from the life of Christ (p. 113). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (p. 294). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1220). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

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