The world is full of anger. Sometimes our anger gets big and explosive, and everyone pays when it detonates. Other times our anger gets small, simmering and smoldering. Low-grade anger carried around in our bodies spills out like acid on those around us. And it’s so easy to be angry these days with pandemic restrictions, political hot-button issues, geopolitical tensions, and tragic injustice. No wonder so many people are so very angry over so many issues so much of the time.
But what if there was another way? What if the anger that dominates us could be arrested? What if anger could be diffused in our hearts before it ever gathers strength? What if Jesus can set us free from the bondage of a heart enslaved by anger? What if in the Kingdom of Heaven our angry hearts could truly become hearts of peace?
In this sermon, we look at three themes about anger from Matthew 5:20-26:
- The Heart of Righteousness: Jesus teaches that righteousness is about more than just what we do on the outside, it’s about who we are on the inside. To help us understand what this inner heart righteousness really looks like, Jesus gives us a series of illustrations in Matthew 5, the first of which is about anger. His intent is to teach us the difference between behavior modification and heart transformation. The Old Testament commandment was “don’t murder.” But Jesus says simply following that commandment misses the point; if your heart is righteous like God’s, you won’t even let anger take root. Murder is the symptom; anger is the disease that the righteousness of God wants to heal.
- The Deadliness of Anger: If you look carefully at the passage, there’s a 3-fold death spiral: anger, contempt, and vilification. Cultivated anger, the type that is sustained and fed, is different from healthy anger. When healthy anger is nursed and fed, it turns into contempt and ultimately vilification of its source. Unchecked anger is dehumanizing and desecrating of another. Murder desecrates the image of God in another person; but unchecked anger can do the same thing without committing murder. Jesus is saying that a heart that cultivates anger has no place in the Kingdom of Heaven.
- The Mending of the Kingdom: In contrast to the death-spiral of anger, there’s a healing-spiral: compassion, reconciliation, and peace. Jesus illustrates this in two ways, first with our “brothers” and then with our “enemies.” First, He says that in the Kingdom of Heaven harmonious relationships take priority over worship; we should stop everything and take initiative to mend a broken relationship with another believer, even if we are not the one with anger in our heart. The heart alive in the Kingdom of Heaven is so burdened with compassion by the death-spiral of anger ravaging another brother’s heart, that it is willing to do whatever it takes to set them free. Second, Jesus says the righteous heart of the Kingdom seizes the opportunity to keep anger from spiraling out of control in a situation. This kind of heart sees the image of God in both their brothers and in enemies.
You see, Jesus is offering us a new kind of heart. It’s the difference between the heart of an orphan and the heart of a child. The Heart of an Orphan is prone to fearful anger and prideful unforgiveness, but the Heart of a Child rests secure in the Father’s love and forgiveness and gladly extends that love and forgiveness to others.
Takeaway: How’s your heart?
- Who needs your forgiveness?
- Who needs your apology?
- Who needs your peace?
Living The Message episode available here: https://youtu.be/vwQadVcNB6g