Matthew 5:21-48 (AD 28)
Those who give in to anger and hate are lost, Jesus said.
He was not referring to that moment that anger comes into your mind – that’s the temptation part. It’s what happens after that which matters – do you allow those thoughts and feelings to sit there, or even feed them (resentment), thinking about all the other things they’ve done or said that upset you.
Jesus wasn’t saying watch out for your hateful thoughts because you’ll inevitably end up killing someone. He was saying you cannot think or speak angrily or hatefully because even if you do nothing else, it is godless, unholy, disobedient, and leads to hell just as surely as killing someone does.
That doesn’t mean hateful thoughts are just as bad as killing someone. They’re not. Paul makes it clear that sins (in his example sexual ones) against the physical body are worse than others because they are sins against the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:18-20). Plus, murder is the destruction of the image of God.
(Similarly with Paul’s next section on adultery, Jesus doesn’t equate the thought crime with the physical crime. Rather, he’s addressing those who think that thoughts and words don’t matter – that there’s no crime beyond the physical.)
Jesus expresses this idea by describing with increasing vividness what angry or hateful thoughts and insults lead to: judgement, the courts, and the fires of hell. Here’s the progression of Jesus’ words:
- The angry thoughts, calling someone an ‘empty-head’ (Raca) or a ‘fool’ are part of the same point that he’s making…with emphasis…avoiding an ‘out’ via “I only thought it”, or “I didn’t use bad words”
- Fast-forward to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians 5:5 (“For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God”) – words which, if we don’t remember what Jesus said 25-30 years earlier, might seem like Paul’s gone off a bit harshly…
- …Some people nevertheless still think of Paul’s words as hyperbole –exaggerating to make a point in a way that is out of step with Christ’s forgiving nature. In fact Paul is doing nothing more than further explaining Christ’s explanation of what God has been tell his people for 1,500 years already.
So…when are you like this? For example when you (think you) are wronged? Treated harshly? Other’s refusing to accept responsibility for their actions? People taking enjoyment from discouraging you or bringing you down?
How do you feel about them? What are your thoughts about them and what do you say, either to their face or behind their back? What do you to take back control or to get one over on them in your words or your thoughts? Our anger can feel like getting some control back. Maybe it’s someone at work and you feel like there’s no point making a complaint to HR – so anger is all you’ve got, and you don’t want to just let it go.
7 things to help us address this:
- Recognise that the very first feeling of anger or hatred is a temptation
- Talk to God (as soon as the temptation happens)
- This should be a reflex. Talk to God about everything, so that turning to him in the mini-crises of thought-temptation are natural.
- Go to them about it (if it’s something that they can do something about)
- Sometimes people are just as unpleasant and unreasonable as you think they are. Many other times you just didn’t realise what they were going through.
- See them through God’s eyes.
- Are they without God?
- Remember that they’re on their way to an eternity of indescribably torment. Your first reaction to that might be good, they deserve it (hopefully not)…but then you remember that so do you. And that actually, if you’re honest, you don’t want that for them.
- Whatever superiority they have over you they are, more than anything else, to be pitied if they don’t have God.
- Are they Christians?
- Remember you’re dealing with a child of the Most High God!
- Are they without God?
- Pray for them
- Crucial advice for any relationship: it’s hard to stay angry with someone you’re praying for.
- Serve them
- Find ways to do something for them practically
- Remember that Christ didn’t die for you because you loved him, he died for you despite the fact that you spent the first X years of your life not caring about him at all, and even now that you DO love him, you still let him down regularly. But he still keeps you safe in him.
[Adapted from my Bible Study series on The Beatitudes, 2018]