Dealing with anger - Matthew 5:21-26

This is a sermon by Lee McMunn from the Riverside Church service on 12th July 2015.

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Dealing with anger

Matthew 5:21-26

I came across a report this week called Boiling Point. It was a report commissioned for the Mental Health Action Week in 2008. It focused on the problem of anger that many people experience - how it is affects individuals, families and communities. And what we can do to minimise the harm that it causes.

The effects of uncontrolled anger are very obvious - unhappy lives, broken marriages, scarred children, neighbourhood fear - the list could go on.

Here are some of the key findings from the report.

• Almost a third of people say they have a close friend or family member who has trouble controlling their anger.
• More than one in ten people say they have trouble controlling their anger.
• 58% of people said they wouldn’t know where to ask for help if they were suffering from anger problems.
• Those who sought help were most likely to do some from a health professional - a GP or a counsellor.

This report focused on those with extreme anger problems. But the reality is that anger in some form is a feature of all of our lives.

Perhaps for you it is the anger caused by frustrating circumstances - the late bus or the car that cuts in front of you.
Or maybe it’s the anger caused by unfilled dreams. Or maybe it’s simply the anger stirred up through the unkind words of someone close to you.

It’s very obvious that the anger we normally feel is explosively destructive. It has no positive benefits either for ourselves or for those around us.

But what can we do about it? Is there any way to cure it? Is there any way to prevent it before it arises in our hearts? And what about when it does rear its ugly head, what then? Is there any way to purge it?

These are the question we’re going to be answering today as we continue our teaching series through the Sermon on the Mount. We’re going to focus on verses 21 to 26 but I want to start by reminding you of what Jesus says in verse 20. Read verse 20.

There is an amazing promise here. That when we truly commit to Jesus as Lord and Saviour that he will do a deep and lasting thing in our lives. He will transform us at the centre of who we are that will lead to a transformed life that will positively impact our families, our colleagues and our neighbourhood.

This is in total contrast with the change being offered by the people Jesus called the Pharisees. They were offering outward conformity to religious and moral rules. Jesus is offering something much better and much more beautiful.

The first thing you need to do to sort out the problem of anger is not to see a counsellor but is to become a Christian. That is the first and crucial step that needs to be taken.

What then? Anger doesn’t disappear the second we become a Christian. Something decisive will change. We will have the power of the Holy Spirit to help us fight the battle. But we still need to fight for change. The question is how?

Jesus gives us some tactics in verses 21 to 26. He doesn’t say everything in these verses but he does say two vital things we need to keep in mind as we seek to slay the beast of anger.

• Recognise it as a problem (Vs 21-22)
• Repent of our sins (Vs 23-26)

First, we must recognise anger as a problem.

Look at what Jesus says in verse 21. Read verses 21 and 22.

It’s very obvious that Jesus is making a contrast between two things. He says, “you have heard that it was said but now I tell you this.” The question is, what is he comparing? What is he contrasting?

At first sight you might thing he is contrasting his views with what is written in the Old Testament. That is not what he is doing. Instead, what he doing is contrasting what the Pharisees were teaching the people and what he is teaching his disciples.
How do I know this? First of all, because of what Jesus has already said in verse 20. He has already highlighted the clash of values. Therefore, we should expect him to go on to compare the options. And that’s what he does for the rest of this chapter.

Secondly, when you read what Jesus says carefully it becomes more obvious what he is contrasting. What does he say exactly? “You have heard it was said to the people long ago.” Notice what Jesus doesn’t say. He doesn’t say, “You have read what was said to God’s people long ago.” But instead, “You have heard it was said to them.”

Who is telling the current generation what was said to a previous generation? The answer is the Pharisees.

But here’s the problem. They didn’t just read from the Old Testament. They put their spin on what God had said. And they added their own interpretations. They did all this with an attitude that wanted to do the minimum for God whilst actually looking really committed to God.

In this case they told the people that the people of God long ago had been told by God to not murder and that anyone who murders will be subject to judgement.

At first sight this seems like a very accurate representation of what had been said and what we find in the OT. So were the Pharisees teaching the truth?

Well not according to Jesus. Look at what he says in verse 22. Read verse 22.

What’s the issue? The Pharisees were restricting the OT commandment to the bare minimum. Essentially, they were teaching that as long as you didn’t murder anyone then you had done all that was necessary.  And Jesus says no way. Which is a staggering thing for him to say. I tell you this - who does he think he is? Well that’s the point. He is the divine Son of God.

What authority! Is this how you view Jesus? Does he command you with this authoritative voice?

He declares that in his kingdom it’s not all about keeping the letter of the law, it’s all about keeping it’s true meaning and true direction. Which in this case means not simply avoiding the action of murder but the restricting and removing of all those other attitudes and actions from which murder springs.

Like anger. Unconfessed and unforgiven anger leads to the judgement. This must be the judgement of God rather than a human court because which human court could possibly deal with internal anger. 

The words we say about people. It seems the Pharisees were restricting the judgement of unkind words spoken to spiritual brothers and sisters to appearance before the Jewish court. But Jesus says such words put a person in danger of hell.

Notice who they are said against - your brother. These are words used against other Christians. We must get our expectations right as we join a local church. These actions left unconfessed and unforgiven these will lead someone to the fire of hell. If this is our settled treatment of other Christians then it is a sign that we are not truly converted.

In summary, we are to recognise anger as a problem!

What can we do about it? Is there a cure? Can it be prevented? Can it be purged?

In this section Jesus deals with one aspect of purging. We’ll get to that in a minute.

But before that let me just say something about prevention.

How can we prevent anger from rising in our hearts?

Last week the Riverside Men’s book group met to talk about Romans chapters 8-11. One of the things we talked about was something called mortification. That phrase comes from the way the King James Version of the Bible translated Romans 8:13, “If ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.”

How do we mortify our sinful desire and deeds? Instinctively we think it’s about something we must resist or remove from our lives.

But listen to what Tim Keller writes, “Mortification withers sin’s power over you by focusing on Christ’s redemption in a way that softens your heart with gratitude and love; which brings you to hate the sin for itself, so it loses its power of attraction over you.”

How can this approach prevent anger rising up in our hearts? In many ways! For example, as we focus on the gospel of Jesus we will be more grateful. We will be more trusting in God’s good plans for us. Increasingly we will find a change in our emotional mood in situations that would preciously have roused anger in your hearts. So if you want to prevent anger then focus more on Jesus!
What about when it arises in our hearts? How can it be purged?

Look at what Jesus says in verse 23. Read verses 23 and 24.

The scene is one of 1st century worship. Someone is doing something good - offering a gift at the temple. But all the while they know they have a Christian brother or sister who is angry with them for good reasons. They have obviously sinned against them in some way.

What does Jesus command them to do? Repent of their sins. They must be reconciled.

When? They must do it quickly. In fact, for their outward show of religious piety to be accept they must be genuine inner reconciliation between the brothers. Otherwise all the religions show counts for nothing.

Our temptation is to say nothing and hope it goes away. It we know we have offended another Christian in any way, no matter how long ago it was then let’s get it sorted. This will help purge the anger from another Christian’s heart.

If someone comes to you and asks for forgiveness and reconciliation, what should you do? How can you forgive the debt? You must remember that Jesus has already paid for that person’s sin. Jesus has already suffered the anger they deserve and so your anger must be removed from them.

We can apply this even if someone holds something against us but we haven’t sinned against them. Do everything we can to be reconciled - to purge the anger from another.
This purging is not simply for he Christian community. Look at what Jesus says in verse 25. Read verses 25-26.

This time the focus is on reconciliation with an enemy, so not a member of the Christian family. If we have offended them then we should seek to be reconciled quickly, both for our good and their good. We should desire to purge anger from their lives. Do you see how the Christian is to be a blessing to the wider community?

Are there non-Christians who you have offended and angered? Who do you need to say sorry to and ask for their forgiveness? Let’s get on and do it.

Sometimes people say that Christianity has nothing to say to everyday life. I hope after what I’ve said today you’ll see that’s absolutely ridiculous. It is not easy to live the way outlined by Jesus but if we do, in the power of the Spirit, Jesus will create in us a deep righteousness that far surpasses that of the Pharisees. A righteousness that will be good for us, our church and the wider community.

So if you are a non-Christian, come to Jesus.

And if you are a follower of Christ, then let’s have fresh resolve to gaze at him and live for him all our days.

Let’s pray.


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