If you haven’t noticed, anger is making daily headlines. News of destruction, hate, and violence are almost so common that it doesn’t phase some. The reach of anger’s hand is far and wide; and one’s personal life is no exception. We get angry and other get angry at us. The question is; in a world wrought with anger, how does a follower of Christ deal with anger? Christ answers this question in Matthew 5:21-26. He teaches us that a right heart runs from anger and pursues reconciliation.
First a definition! Anger is a hateful and hurtful response that stems from a selfish heart. Jesus is not talking about anger toward injustices. He’s talking about destructive anger that is a product of meeting selfish desires. Anger punches walls or people because it doesn’t get its way. Anger shouts condemnation and profanities, because preferences aren’t met. Anger harbors hate to please pride. I believe that we view anger on a spectrum, anything from quiet resentment to committing murder. And within this spectrum lies the dark secret of anger. The spectrum leads us to believe that some forms of anger are not as bad as others, thus making some more acceptable than others. The truth is that anger is far more destructive that it wants you to believe. Anger steals life!!
In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, He teaches that anger steals life. Not just murder, but all anger that is not rooted in God steals life. How can this be? See, God created everyone in His image, therefore when we get angry, we get angry at those created in God’s image, thus we’re attacking God’s image. And Jesus reveals this in two insults. First he references the word “Raca” in Matthew 5:22. This word means “empty headed”. It would be the equivalent to damning someone or calling people worthless. So when we get angry we’re attacking a person’s value. God’s image gives everyone value, so when that value gets attacked, God takes it seriously.
The second insult is about calling someone a fool. Proverbs describes a fool as someone who neglects correction, is lazy, is arrogant, and the list goes on. To call someone a fool is to attack their identity. This would be the equivalent of calling a person or group of people idiots. Therefore, anger attacks another’s value and identity. When we’re angry, we say things to get even. Essentially, we’re trying to take something away from them. But what we don’t realize is that something that we’re trying to take away is their image in God, we’re stealing what God considers their life. In anger, we attempt to take away another’s image (value and identity) in God, the ultimate form of which is the physical act of murder. Thus, Jesus teaches us that anger steals life.
If anger steals life then we must run from anger and pursue reconciliation. Reconciliation cares about restoring relationship, it cares about restoring life that was stolen. We pursue reconciliation not only because Jesus commands us to, but also because Christ has pursued reconciliation with us. Although we were the ones that wronged God, He made the first move and sent His Son Jesus to die on the cross that we might be forgiven of our sins. He then rose from the dead just as the Scriptures said He would. His resurrection is our reconciliation. All we must do to receive reconciliation and the forgiveness of our sins, is to believe in Him. That’s it. And if God is so willing to reconcile with us despite our grave iniquities, then who are we to withhold reconciliation from others?
So how do I run from anger and pursue reconciliation as Christ teaches us? Through preparation, practice, patience, and prayer.
Preparation—If we can recognize when we get angry then we can consciously prepare to run from it. Is it when you’re hungry, talking politics, when do you get angry? By knowing this I can prepare to run from anger and choose a peaceful response. Romans 12:17-18, “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”
Practice—Practice recognizing calling anger out and turning from it. Practice reconciliation. Maybe there is someone you need to forgive or confess to today. Colossians 3:12-13, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
Patience—We’re going to get our buttons pushed. We live in a world that is wrought with sin, so things are going to happen that will tempt us toward anger. But if God can have patience with you and I, then we can have patience with others. We can choose to respond with patience rather than anger. We also need patience to pursue. When we pursue reconciliation with others, they may not accept it the first time. But pursue reconciliation nevertheless. Have patience and allow God to work on their heart. Proverbs 15:1 says, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
Prayer—finally we must admit that we can’t run from anger and pursue reconciliation on our own. It’s difficult to do this. Most of us often believe that if I feel it, then it must be right, and then act on it. This is not wise. When we feel anger, we should not give the devil the satisfaction of acting on it. We must humble ourselves before God recognizing that I can’t have a right heart on my own. Psalm 51:10, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit in me.”
When we pray God hears us and will give us that right heart. He will give us the opportunities for preparation, practice, patience, and prayer so that we may have a right heart that pursues reconciliation and runs from anger.