Be at peace with all men
This week is the first of a two-part message on Anger. Anger can have a significant impact on all our lives and is especially relevant to what is happening now in Jamaica. In Matthew 5:21-26, Jesus gave a warning about the effect uncontrolled anger that should cause us to stop and take note.
Through this passage, it becomes very clear that we cannot separate our relationship with God from how we treat our neighbours. A good relationship with God requires a good relationship with our neighbour. Jesus said the greatest command was: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbour as yourself." Luke 10:27 NIV.
Anger is a basic human emotion that is experienced by all people. It is typically triggered by an emotional hurt that occurs when we think we have been injured or mistreated. However, it is important in our lives as it prompts us to defend ourselves when in danger. It is a natural feeling and a God-given emotion.
But many of us struggle with anger, and it can lead to sin if we entertain it and handle it in the wrong way. "You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgement.' 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgement... Matthew 5:21-22 NIV. It's safe to say that the average Jamaican would consider himself or herself to have a good heart and to be 'a good person.' A common line of reasoning that justifies that we are good sounds something like this: "Well, I know I'm not perfect, but at least I'm not a murderer!" But in this passage, Jesus is making the point that anger stored up in the heart is equivalent to murder.
Anger is serious and dangerous if handled incorrectly, and Jesus describes anger in these verses like a crescendo. It builds through three stages. The first stage of anger is
1. Anger directed against another person
This includes thoughts of making a painful impression on others, whether physically, verbally, or emotionally. Jesus says that we shouldn't even allow ourselves to become angry enough to consider harming someone in any way (feelings, too) because then we've already committed murder in our hearts. If this anger is not resolved in an amicable, beneficial manner but is internalised, it festers and soon resentment and unforgiveness start to build, which takes us to stage 2:
2. Contempt, disdain, hatred, scorn
Matthew 5:22 NIV says, "Again anyone who says to his brother or sister 'Raca,' is answerable to the court." The word "Raca" is a transliteration of the original word that suggests that something is being said with great contempt towards another person. This process is a silent anger, which then manifests itself in contemptible and hateful speech towards another. "... out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks". Matthew 12:34 NIV. The issue is that in anger, we want to hurt someone. In contempt we start expressing it with very little care about the other person's feelings.
The third stage of anger is:
"But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell." "Fool" here was an expression of malice. The term "you fool" is a translation of a statement that denotes a fixed and settled hatred for another person. This third stage in the anger process is a settled hatred: murder. But we should love our brothers to the extent that we can forgive them when they wrong us. This is critical for us to live a clean life before God. "For if you forgive people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins your Father will not forgive your sins." Matthew 6:14-15 NIV
A favourite tactic of the enemy is to encourage us to harbour anger and unforgiveness in our hearts, which leads to hatred. After all, it is our right to feel wronged. But this is an attempt to destroy us.
In Jamaica today, many of us enjoy being angry because with anger comes certain rewards like power, intimidation, emotional distance, and the ability to manipulate. And while a few might not see these traits as rewarding, some thrive on the fruits of their anger. But God wants us to be free from the consequences of uncontrolled anger.
We continue next week looking at how to overcome anger.