You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.Matthew 5:21-26
Anger is a serious thing. And to be angry with one’s brother seems to be compared to murder in the above passage. Or at least, Christ says that my anger with my brother could be subject, by the law, to punishment. Maybe it’s not that anger is the same as murder, but just that it has the same punishment as murder.
Why could my anger be subject to punishment? If my anger never results in a literal murder or the harm of another, why would it be subject to punishment? Or maybe a better question would be, is it possible for my anger to never hurt anyone?
I felt some pain when I was angry at my students yesterday, and I’m pretty sure it felt something like pain to them to experience my anger. My heart rate shot up real quick, and heat that felt red moved up my neck and into my face. I did raise my voice a bit, and talked firmly and sternly with my students. It was not an enjoyable experience for me, since my health has seemed a bit delicate over the past week or so, and anger seems to heighten health issues. And it was not enjoyable for some of my students, either. I could tell, as some of them were squirming, wide-eyed, and nervous. Some of them have not experienced this burning from me before. (A couple of them in that class have. But the majority of them have not had his fire personally placed on them, and the majority of them got it yesterday.) Was this anger not injury to all of us in some way? Should I be punished because I was angry with my students and I caused injury to myself and injury to them?
People who are angry with others are angry because they have something against them. Others have hurt them, disrespected them, ignored and neglected them.
I have something against my students. And this thing I have against them, is it not triggering my anger, and should they not stop their nonsense and come and “be reconciled” to me before I take them to the higher law?
People get angry for a reason, and I think that is the message that Christ is trying to get at here more than “anger is bad”. I am not saying that anger shouldn’t be controlled. God himself is slow to anger, which means he controls his anger, but he still gets angry.
The best and most effective way to control our anger is to be plugged into our fellowship and relationship with Christ and to have the Holy Spirit living inside of us. One of the fruits of the Holy Spirit is self-control.
While Christ does say that anger is subject to punishment, he flips the scenario around and makes us responsible for extinguishing the anger of others who have something against us. This passage seems to be much more about us triggering anger in others and others having something against us, and us taking the time to slow down and figure out what someone has against us and figuring out what we have done wrong and coming face-to-face with the fact that yeah, we really could be wrong and we really have done something wrong and we’re not the perfect angels we thought ourselves to be. Sometimes we are responsible for the reactions of others, contrary to popular culture these days that says we don’t have to care about people’s visible reactions and feelings.
Christ seems to be saying much more in this passage that, instead of getting angry at, or ignoring people’s anger, that we ought to take the time to examine the situation and ourselves more carefully. We ought to try to figure out why someone is angry and see how we can help them or help the situation. If they are angry because of us, then we ought to humble ourselves and apologize if we need to, especially if it’s legitimate and before they take us to the law to get it solved, which could end in us being implicated. But also, if it’s not legitimate, we should at least try to understand and help them through it before, again, they take things to the law and maybe implicate themselves.
God, fill me with your spirit, again and again. Thank you so much that when I ask you to fill me with the Holy Spirit that you freely and generously give me the Holy Spirit and that you won’t give me a snake when I asked for a fish and you won’t give me a stone when I asked for bread. You give me the good gift of your Holy Spirit. And please help me to reconsider my own anger and the anger of others and to deal patiently and carefully with anger. Thank you for your help. Amen.