Concerning Anger Matthew 5:21-26
21 “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.
Would you put your hand up if you have committed murder?
Murderers are rather on my mind at the moment. The result of our visit from Prison Fellowship the other day is that three people from the Valley are going to experience the final session of the Sycamore Tree restorative justice course at HMP Winchester at the end of this month. Just amazing!
And they are sure to come across some murderers although they probably won’t know it….
So no murderers here, then?
No? Ok let me ask the same question a different way: who has ever been angry
with someone else?
Jesus says verse 22 that anger is as bad as murder, anger will be subject to judgment and the implication is that anger will suffer the same eternal consequences as murder. It is a really serious problem.
But why does Jesus take this view? He says that the origin of murder is in the heart.
When we intentionally wish to kill another person’s influence in the world, question their integrity, or damage their reputation; when we want to eliminate another person’s place in the world; when we see someone as a threat; or, in the words of the serial killer in the penultimate edition of Sherlock: When we want to ‘make them nothing’, then, so far as Jesus is concerned, we have as good as murdered them……
But what, you may say, what about ‘righteous anger’? The anger of Jesus in the temple when he turned out the money changers. Righteous anger is not sin. This when Holy Spirit reveals his indignation with what we see. Our hearts may ache, but we probably won’t get agitated. Righteous anger tends to be about others, on behalf of others, not about ourselves. Righteous anger is speaking truth in love and we will be calm and detached.
But how can we stop getting angry in a sinful way? And we are ALL guilty of this from time to time.
I know I have had a problem with anger during the course of my life, and drinking alcohol tended to make it worse. They say ‘its only a problem if it’s a problem’ and there’s no doubt that alcohol is a problem, if we get angry when we drink. Its one of the reasons why I have stopped drinking.
But alcohol is just an un-inhibiter, and we need to get to the root of our rage if we are to manage it. And the root is our desire to control: to put our wishes at the centre of the universe; to make ourselves the tin pot gods of our world: It’s pride.
Ultimately, like all sin, anger boils down to idolatry. And the way to address it is to recognize our true standing in the world, as God, the creator of the universe, the creator of you and me, sees it: Which is both less and more than we might imagine.
Less because, in God’s eyes, we are loved as much by God as everyone else is and we are only as important in God’s eyes, as everyone else….not more important than anyone else. We are no more important, in God’s eyes than the call-centre operator who wants to sell us double glazing, when we don’t want to buy it. We are no more important in God’s eyes than the new waitress, who pours our soup into our lap or gets our order wrong or brings it late. We are no more important in God’s eyes than any of these people.
But, on the other hand, our standing in the world is much more than we expect, because we – even you – even me are LOVED by GOD, the Creator of the Universe. He knows your name and my name. He knew you and he knew me, before we were even born….Amazing!
And he is constantly waiting knocking at the door of our hearts, for us to open our hearts to him.
So how does this work in practice? Let’s look at an illustration. I thought I would share with you an occasion on which I have been angry and you may or may not identify with it, and the causes of anger may be the same as your own.
As you know I lived in a village just further South from here, I was a church warden, secretary and treasurer for the parish. As I spent hour after hour doing the administrative tasks that these jobs entailed, I realized that there was someone else in each of the six villages in our benefice, spending their time doing the same thing, essentially duplicating my work, five times…
I couldn’t see that it made any sense and thought that these six tiny parishes should be merged together to cut down the admin. as Itchen Valley Parish wisely did some time ago.
So I wrote a letter to the village magazine about this back in 2005
It unleashed a torrent of fury!
I won’t go into the details, but I have to say the reaction of others to my article made me really cross. And was followed up by a number of difficult encounters with particular individuals about which I would wake in the middle of the night, thinking about how I should have responded!
Have you ever had that? Waking up in the night angry about conversations of the previous day?
But I was wrong to be cross. I was wrong to be cross.
As God asks Jonah in Chapter 4:4 (After Jonah was angry with God for relenting from destroying Nineveh), the question I should have asked myself was ‘Is it right for you to be angry?’
My anger and, it has to be said, the anger of those I was dealing with, damaged relationships, and, because none of us broke the cycle of conflict, by any sort of forgiveness, the anger achieved nothing and the problem was not addressed and it just went on an on and on and didn’t get better.
But, looking back, I think it is instructive to examine what was at the root of my anger at the reaction to my proposal, as this may provide a window on why we get cross about things, particularly in relation to the church.
Why on earth did it matter whether or not my proposal was accepted?
Well it is easy to say ‘because you weren’t getting your own way’. But frankly, by the time you are in your fifties, you do learn, if not as a child, that you are not going always to get your own way. So I don’t think it was that.
I think it is mainly, because I was pretty certain I was right. Now I know how this sounds. But please bear with me a moment….
You see I had to learn a difficult lesson, that when you need other people’s agreement to achieve something, being right is not enough…. and I am really sorry that I had not understood that then….
So the first problem was pride, I thought that my better reasoning should necessarily be accepted, because it was right. And I was wrong to think that.
Secondly, house ownership in the parish gave me the view that I was entitled to have my views on what should happen in the church implemented, as I was a substantial stakeholder.
So the second problem was pride as well seeing myself as a house-owner, in a particular light in relation to everyone else.
Thirdly, I was a relatively new Christian, I had not yet understood and absorbed what Jesus coming to earth as a human being implies for the life of a Christian disciple.
You see, Jesus gave up his position of equality with the Creator of the Universe to become a mere human being. What this means is that all the foundation stones of pride: position, ownership, intelligence, background, everything that give us status in the world above others, they are ALL to be sacrificed to God’s purposes in the world.
Christian discipleship is in fact the antithesis to pride.
Jesus made himself nothing. And we are expected to live as if the same were true of us.
So we must see in the other person, with whom we are dealing, the image of God and treat them accordingly. Treat them well, even when it is not fair. This is what grace means and it is by offering grace in response to hostility that we build the Kingdom of God.
In fact its only when the treatment that we receive is unfair, unjustified or even outrageous, that we have an opportunity to show what Jesus wants us to show in these circumstances, which is grace.
Instead of looking at our rights, our standing, and what is fair…..we should be showing grace. We should be showing Jesus how we are seeking to follow him by reacting kindly to abuse, reacting with gentleness to rudeness, reacting with forgiveness to unfair treatment.
If we can do this, and I have found myself having to do this a few times recently, the astonishing thing is that the pain we feel at the injustice of the situation goes away. It just evaporates
And doing this has a profound effect on our relationship with God….
Jesus says in verse 23 that if we know that someone has something against us we must go and settle that before we come to worship God. And that is not just because he tells us to do so. There is practical good advice in what he says. Indeed, I would say we cannot worship God, we cannot have any real relationship with God, if we carry anger in our hearts.
And this is not just theological theory. I have seen how removing that anger,
perhaps by forgiveness, can have a dramatic effect on us.
I have permission from the relevant person to use this story.
A friend I was sitting next to at dinner one evening said to me… it’s the sort of thing
that gets said to vicars at dinner parties, she said ‘I used to feel that I had a good relationship with God, but now I just feel spiritually numb’
I think I was guided to say (before I could stop myself actually) ‘that sounds like some kind of sin in your life, what is going on?’
She was pretty surprised, not unreasonably, but admitted that she was very, very angry with someone for what seemed to me to be extremely good reasons. In fact, I thought she was totally justified in being very angry indeed. But having read, at my suggestion, RT Kendall’s book ‘Total Forgiveness’ Total Forgiveness by RT Kendal she decided to give forgiveness a try.
A few days later she sent me an email saying the following:
‘I have very rarely felt the presence of God so near. I really DO have you to thank for that. Your advice was spot on. I have been able to work through the forgiveness business and feel SO much lighter, nearer to God and HAPPY’. More recently she wrote: ‘I have become so very much happier and so grateful for all the wonderful things in my life, rather than holding on to the sadness’
Letting go of anger can transform our relationship with God; can change our entire life from misery to happiness; as it has with my friend.
If we do this, we will ensure that the Itchen Valley prison visitors are never visiting us at HMP Winchester and we will have the blessing of the Holy Spirit resting on our shoulders and He will bring us peace and joy and we will be happy, despite everything that has happened to us.