It’s been almost 20 years (4/25/95) since the Arizona Republic newspaper reported the story of Steve Tran of Westminster, California. Steve had a bug problem: cockroach infestation in his apartment. He tried everything but couldn’t seem to get rid of the nasty creatures. One day he heard about a product known as the “bug bomb”: an aerosol that you simply pressed a button and left for a couple of hours, then return to a bug free home.
Steve Tran was a desperate man, a frustrated man, a man who wanted to be sure he got rid of those roaches once and for all. So he bought not 1, not 2, not 10, but 25 bug bombs and set them to spraying his apartment.
What Steve failed to take into account was 1) how flammable the bug poison was and 2)the pilot light of the stove. The spray ignited, blasting his screen door across the street, breaking all his windows, and setting his furniture ablaze.
"I really wanted to kill all of them," he said. "I thought if I used a lot more, it would last longer." According to the label, just two canisters of the fumigant would have solved Tran's roach problem.
The blast caused over $10,000 damage to his apartment building. And the cockroaches? Tran reported, "By Sunday, I saw them crawling among the rubble.”[i]
Some people seem to have a knack at getting into explosive situations. I’m not talking bug spray and pilot lights, but I’m talking about times when we are tempted to give in to our anger. Somebody once observed that anger is only one short letter from danger.
Of course anger is not always evil. There are times when anger is the proper response. But there are other times when our anger needs to be denied.
If everything angers us, we need to repent. If nothing angers us, we need to repent.- Burk Parsons
The Bible puts it this way in
Ephesians 4:26 Be angry, and do not sin…
How do you do that? How do you tell the difference and avoid the big blow ups? Jesus offers us some much-needed wisdom on this subject in Matt. 5:21-26.
Jesus’ words about anger come in the context of His famous Sermon on the Mount, a message about righteousness in your heart. Throughout the sermon He stresses the importance of what’s happening inside you instead of merely wearing the mask of hypocrisy to appear righteous to others. This is what He means in vs.20.
In these verses He describes the danger of anger in 3 simple statements:
I. ANGER CAN CONDEMN US (v. 21-22)
A classified ad in a newspaper read: Wedding dress for sale, never worn. Will trade for .38 caliber pistol.[ii]
That ad connects two things Jesus connects: anger and murder.
Now obviously Our Lord does not condemn all anger. The Bible tells us God Himself gets angry. Psalm 7:11 God is a just judge, and God is angry with the wicked every day.
Jesus Himself was known to get angry at times! Jesus is not giving a blanket condemnation on all anger. What Christ condemns is a specific kind of anger. William Barclay, in his Daily Study Bible commentary explains:
The verb here used is orgizesthai…[not the flash of anger in a moment] but…long-lived anger; it is the anger of the man who nurses his wrath to keep it warm; it is the anger over which a person broods, and which he will not allow to die.[iii]
This is an anger we put on the front burner of our minds, and allow it to simmer and become stronger and stronger, until it boils over into hateful words.
Jesus mentions two words which express this kind of anger: Raca ( = Stupid! Empty headed idiot!- not spoken in jest, but a hate-filled put down) and fool= a rebel against God. Haddon Robinson explains it this way:
Using the word Raca [is] an attack on a person’s [intelligence] , but using fool [assaults] a person’s moral integrity.[iv]
Jesus is not focusing just on certain words, but on certain attitudes of anger that treat people as worthless, the wrath that condemns people as worthy only of hell. It’s not just about calling people names, but more importantly a failure to love others. This anger, Jesus says, has serious consequences.
It condemns us as guilty enough to face judgment from man ( …the council…). Anger is responsible for many of the horrendous crimes, but even if you never stand in front of a jury, other people are affected by your out of control temper. Your family, friends, coworkers, even strangers see the danger, even when you may not.
Proverbs 29:22 An angry man stirs up strife, And a furious man abounds in transgression.
This anger also makes you guilty enough to face judgment from God (…danger of hell fire.. ) Notice Jesus repeats the phrase liable to= in danger of. He doesn’t say everybody with this anger will be condemned, but that they are in danger of being condemned. Jesus says just as a murderer is guilty enough to be convicted by a human court, an angry person is just as guilty. If a murderer deserves to suffer in hell for his crime, so those who choose to hold on to rage and hatred deserve the same punishment. Pastor/teacher John MacArthur puts it this way:
It is possible for a model, law-abiding citizen to be as guilty… as anyone on death row. It is possible for a person who has never even been in so much as a fist fight to have more of a murderous spirit than a multiple killer. May people, in the deepest feelings of their hearts, have anger and hatred to such a degree that their true desire is for the hated person to be dead. The fact that fear, cowardice, or lack of opportunity does not permit them to take that person’s life does not diminish their guilt before God.[v]
Do you and I take our anger this seriously? It may not seem like such a big thing for us to hold on to our anger at someone who has wronged us, or hurt us. We might like to say things such as, “I’ve never hurt the person I am angry with. They don’t even know how mad I am at them! I just keep it to myself. After all, it’s not like I killed somebody!”
But Jesus says that low, simmering rage is just as dangerous as murder, and makes you just as guilty before God. But the good news, Jesus says, is not only can anger condemn us.
II. ANGER CAN BE CORRECTED (v. 23-25a)
A woman was married to a husband who had a habit of making her angry. One day one of her friends asked, “How can you stay with a man who is so frustrating?” The meek wife replies, “Oh, when he makes me mad I just go and clean the toilet.” “Clean the toilet? How does that help?” “I use his toothbrush.”
Notice I tell this only when Jennifer is not here listening!
Overcoming the danger of anger requires more than just avoiding the danger. We need some positive steps which help us get rid of our anger before it becomes dangerous.
Jesus offers us some strong medicine and like all good medicine, it is strong, though not necessarily pleasant. He tells us: be reconciled quickly.
He paints two pictures of reconciliation:
First in v. 23-24 there is the portrait of a worshipper at the Temple. He is ready to offer his sacrifice on the altar, ready to show his love for the Lord when suddenly he is reminded of his failure to love his brother. There is an unresolved anger churning in his soul, an anger that not only separates him from his brother, but separates him from his God.
Jesus says stop right there, leave the altar and go find that brother and be reconciled. In effect, he says It is a waste of time for you to try and worship God when you are angry with your brother.
In v. 25, the Lord moves from a religious to a legal setting, from a brother to an enemy. He asks us to imagine you owe someone a debt, and you are both on your way to court. You realize there is no way you can win your case. It’s time to settle the dispute, to settle out of court, to come to an agreement before you stand before the judge.
In both of these pictures, Jesus makes the same point: the cure for unrighteous anger is immediate reconciliation. Don’t put it off, Jesus says. Don’t let the pot simmer one more moment. Reach out to the person you are at odds with and do everything you can to be reconciled before the Judge gets involved.
So tell me: why don’t we reconcile quickly? There are many reasons.
Sometimes we don’t want to be reconciled. Our anger makes us feel like the good guy and the other person look like the bad guy. We enjoy being the righteous, injured party, and being reconciled might mean I have to admit maybe, in some very small, very insignificant way, I might be to blame for the problem.
Or the person I’m angry at is one of those people who look down on me, who will probably forgive me and never ask me to forgive them. They see any attempt to bring peace as a sign of weakness, and I’m just not going to give them the satisfaction. Why do I have to make the first move? Why don’t they?
You could come up with plenty more of this kind of thing, but no matter how you dress it up, it still comes down to the sin of pride. I don’t want to be reconciled because it will humble me, and I don’t like being humbled. Yet this humble reaching out to be reconciled, is the best cure for anger. Letting go of your anger requires you take the initiative and humbly reach out and be reconciled.
What if the other person refuses to be reconciled? Reconciliation takes two. You can forgive them, you can reach out to them, but if they refuse, there can be no reconciliation.
Romans 12:18 If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.
It’s not always possible, but you and I must make sure we do all we can to be reconciled quickly, so that our anger does not become sinful and separate us from God.
Two sisters spent the day fighting. That evening they prepared for bed, still mad at each other. As usual, they knelt by the side of their beds for their prayers. “Dear God,” the 8-year-old began, “Bless Daddy and Mommy, bless our cat and dog.” Then she stopped. Her mother gently prodded, “Didn’t you forget somebody?” She glared across the bed at her 6-year-old sister and added, “And, oh yes, God, bless my ex-sister.”
We must realize the danger of our anger, and be reconciled, or Jesus warns us:
III. ANGER WILL CONFINE US (v. 25b-26)
In those days, a person who owes a debt he cannot pay is first brought to court by his debtor. If he can’t pay the debtor is thrown into until someone else pays the debt for them. Many times, the debtor is so poor, he dies in prison.
Jesus says this is what anger will do to you and I if we don’t take steps to correct it: it will confine us. It locks us in a prison of our own making. The longer we hold on to anger, the stronger we forge the bars of our jail. We become bitter, unforgiving, unloving, and unholy. We cannot worship God as we ought, and we will not love others as we should. There is no escape from such a debtor’s prison, because our anger bankrupts us, and enslaves us.
Matthew 5:26 Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny.
How does a hopeless debtor without any money get out of such a prison? There is one way: somebody else pays your debt. Someone who loves you enough and rich enough to pay what you owe and open the door and set you free.
That somebody is Jesus Christ.
When your anger wraps chains around your soul and you cannot seem to break free, He can get you out of your jail. He can help you escape the prison of anger if you will turn your eyes away from yourself, your anger, from everything else and everybody else and turn your eyes upon Jesus.
Remember the two thieves who were crucified on each side of Christ? Two men who had wronged and been wronged, two angry men who, according to Matt. 27:44 both hurled angry insults at Jesus as He is dying. And yet according to Luke 23:39-43, one of these angry men has a change of heart. Watching Jesus, hearing Him pray for God to forgive those who were killing him, somehow it softened this hard heart. As the anger melts away, this man who has been a prisoner for so long, calls out with his last breath Jesus, remember me when You enter your kingdom. And remember how Jesus replies?
Luke 23:43 And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”
From prison to paradise, this angry man sees Jesus, and his anger melts away and the chains fall off and he enters heaven a free man.
You can let your anger confine you, bind you, imprison you, and you will one day find out it’s a jail you cannot escape. But you can turn to Jesus, call out for mercy and let go of your anger, and He will set you free.
Chuck Swindoll writes: I remember reading about an eagle that swooped to the ground one day, catching a weasel in its powerful talons. But when it flew away, its wings inexplicably went limp, and it dropped to the ground like a lifeless doll. As it turned out, the weasel had bitten its attacker in midflight, killing the proud eagle as it flew. If we cling to an attitude of anger or jealousy, it will, like the weasel, sink its teeth into us when we least expect it.[vi]
I look around tonight and none of you are wearing an angry face…well, almost none of you. But deep inside you may be clinging to some dangerous, deadly anger. You might be angry over something that happened an hour ago or a year ago or a decade ago. You stand condemned before God and man, imprisoned by chains of your own making. Tonight I urge you to heed Jesus’ warning about the danger of anger. Do what He tells you to do—be reconciled quickly. Bring your anger to Him, let it go and let Him set you free.
[i] Leadership, Vol. 17, no. 2.
[ii]Swindoll, C. R. (2000, c1998). The tale of the tardy oxcart and 1501 other stories (electronic ed.). Logos Library System;Swindoll leadership library. Nashville: Word Publishers.
[iii]The Gospel of Matthew : Volume. 2000, c1975 (W. Barclay, lecturer in the University of Glasgow, Ed.). The Daily study Bible series, Rev. ed. (Mt 6:1). Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.
[iv] What Jesus Said About Successful Living- Haddon Robinson
[v] The John MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Matt. 1-7- John MacArthur, Moody, 1985, p. 292-293