21 “You have heard that it was said to those who lived long ago, Don’t commit murder [Exodus 20:13], and all who commit murder will be in danger of judgment. 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with their brother or sister will be in danger of judgment. If they say to their brother or sister, ‘You idiot,’ they will be in danger of being condemned by the governing council. And if they say, ‘You fool,’ they will be in danger of fiery hell. 23 Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift at the altar and go. First make things right with your brother or sister and then come back and offer your gift. 25 Be sure to make friends quickly with your opponents while you are with them on the way to court. Otherwise, they will haul you before the judge, the judge will turn you over to the officer of the court, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 I say to you in all seriousness that you won’t get out of there until you’ve paid the very last penny.
Jesus quoted the sixth commandment (cf. Exodus 20:13). Then he vastly widened its reach to our thoughts, not just our actions. He said emphatically that contempt, anger, and words that tear down and destroy others are as morally vicious as the physical act of murder. They harm others, but also damage us greatly when we harbor those feelings and thoughts. And Jesus lived that truth. He didn’t seek to kill his foes but was willing to lay down his life for them.
Loving Jesus, I want to say, “You don’t know the people I deal with.” But when I see how people defamed and hated you, that’s silly. Chip away my resistance. Reshape my thoughts and feelings in your image. Amen.
* William Barclay, Daily Study Bible Series: The Gospel of Matthew—Volume 1, Chapters 1–10 (Revised Edition). Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1976, pp. 139-140.
** Wright, N.T. Matthew for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-15 (The New Testament for Everyone) (pp. 44-45). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.
We all know the commandments about love, and for the most part, I think we would all say we do a pretty good job of loving others. Commandments about anger, I think most of us would say we struggle a bit more, but I think we’d all rate ourselves pretty good on that. Today’s passage is one of Jesus’ more challenging passages on anger. So why talk about love? I think we can tell a lot about our anger by looking at how we love.
We say we love everyone, but most of us have exceptions to that rule. “I love everyone, but not when they…” Most of us don’t phrase it that way. Instead, most of us look at bad things happening to others—things that we’d be outraged if they happened to our friends and loved ones—and find reasons to say that they had it coming. They don’t deserve the level of concern I have for my friends and loved ones. Why? We have a host of reasons.
He shouldn’t have provoked me.
He shouldn’t have acted without thinking.
He shouldn’t have disagreed with me.
He shouldn’t have resisted arrest.
There’s a lot we’ll turn a blind eye to—a lot of love we won’t give—if we’re convinced that the other party had it coming. And it’s that gap between how much we think we love and how much we feel we should allow to happen to others that’s a good measure of our anger.
Anger is a negative emotion, and our culture isn’t a big fan of negative emotions—how many times have you heard someone criticize an argument as an emotional response?—so we look for ways to dress up our anger as hard logic. Because if something is hard logic, how could it be wrong? Many times, that’s what we tell ourselves to let our quiet anger go unchecked.
If we’re not loving and feel justified in that—or if we see unjust things happening and feel justified in allowing them to continue, or supporting them—anger is often the root. This can be a very hard thing to admit to, and an even harder thing to control, making Jesus’ talk on avoiding angry thoughts seem even more impossible. And that’s fine. I don’t think the point of this passage was to make us feel guilty every day for failing; it’s more to give us an ideal we can continue to strive for for the rest of our lives. Identifying and dismantling our anger is probably something we can all spend the rest of our lives doing. It will be really uncomfortable—we tend to be very good at justifying our anger so we don’t have to deal with it. But in striving for love, dealing with our anger is often one of the most important things we can do.
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