I am really angry about something.
No, it has nothing to do with anything here at SBC Voices or with any of my social media interactions. Those sometimes raise my blood pressure, but usually only for a moment. The specifics of my anger are unimportant and will remain secret. In general terms, some people I thought were my friends did something that hurt me pretty deeply and made me realize that they evidently did not share the respect I had for them. Sometimes, I will start stewing about this, and my blood pressure rises until I think it is going to boil over. I think about whether I should confront them and tell them exactly how I feel. I consider ways to make them pay for what they have done to me.
And then, I go and do something silly like decide to preach through the Sermon on the Mount on Sunday mornings. I get slapped hard in the face by Matthew 5:22!
“But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”
There is a lot at work in this passage and I plan to deal with it in a brief series of posts. But the undeniable fact is that it is a serious thing to harbor anger and unforgiveness against others, especially against brothers and sisters in Christ.
And I am convinced from the 56 years I have been alive, and the 32 years I have been in full-time ministry, from the marriage counseling, from the relationship issues I’ve dealt with and other counseling that I have done, that anger is a huge problem among American Christians today. About 8 years ago, I got involved in blogging and I realized that the anger I had observed among the people of the churches I have served is also a problem among church leaders. We who frequent blogs often evidence short fuses, defensiveness, and a propensity to strike back against others. If you scratch the surface, you find that anger is a real issue in the hearts and lives of pastors.
Before I go any farther, let me confess that anger is a sin I struggle with. My purpose here is not to sit on high and issue judgment. If we are honest, just about every one of us will admit that this is a real problem.
This is a messed up world that provokes anger. People are angry at their parents and at their children. Often, marriages are marked more by anger and bitterness rather than love and companionship. Of course, when marriages crumble, there is all too often a legacy of anger passed down to every member of the family. There are people in every church who have been abused in one form or another and this inevitably leads to anger. People are angry at their lot in life, that their dreams have not come true, that troubles have befallen them and that life has seemed unfair. It is a fallen world and life is hard. We are an overworked, sleep-deprived, rat-racing people, leaving us stressed out and angry.
This anger is exacerbated by friends who stand behind us telling us that we have every right to be angry and that we ought to make sure that the person who hurt us should pay for their deeds. “You have every right to be anger because of what that person did!” These well-meaning cheerleaders reinforce our anger and strengthen our resolve to hold on to it.
We defend our anger as “righteous indignation,” invoking Jesus’ strong words to the Pharisees or his overturning of the money changers tables to justify how we feel and how we act. We tell ourselves we are “exposing sin” or shining the light into the darkness, but often we are doing little more than venting our deeply held anger.
The effects of the anger can be seen all around us. Anger splits churches and destroys ministries. It causes marriages to die and families to fall apart. It causes people to make foolish and self-destructive choices. It poisons our spirits.
But, and this is the part we need to hear, it also affects our walk with the Lord Jesus Christ. Matthew 5:22 makes that absolutely clear. Those who are angry are “liable to judgment” and those who demean others are “liable to the hell of fire.” It is no small thing to harbor anger and bitterness!
It is essential that we define the sin of anger. There are two words commonly translated anger in the Greek language. In Classical Greek there was a defined distinction between the words that is not as clear in Koine. But the classical meanings can help us understand the damaging effects of anger.
The first word (thume) more often referred to the emotion of anger, of losing your cool. Things happen and emotions rise up. It is not the emotion of anger to which Jesus referred. If you are human, you will feel anger frequently. It will happen at home. It will happen at church. Emotional anger is a constant reality in our lives.
I have been having a six month constant problem with a credit card account at a large online store. For some reason, every time I ordered something, the transaction would go through, but then be cancelled about five minutes later. Time after time I called them and they could not figure out how or why things were going wrong. My account was in good standing, but for some reason they would cancel every order. When I called, they would tell me that they would “file a report” and someone would get back to me within the next couple of days. They never fixed the problem and they never contacted me again. So, a couple of months ago I contacted them again. The lady came on the line and asked, “Who do I have the pleasure of serving today?” I answered, “I’m not sure you are going to find it to be a pleasure.” I was right. My anger roiled a little that night and after they promised to “file a report” again, I was not a happy customer.
That kind of anger is a normal part of life. I didn’t cuss the young lady out that night, but I’m sure my attitude and words did not uniformly honor God. But this kind of blood-boiling, temperature-rising kind of anger is dangerous, but it is not what is in view in Matthew 5.
The second word (orge) is more active. It is not just an emotion, but a choice, a decision to seek vengeance, to hold a grudge or to strike back at the source of your anger. We are talking here of acts of vengeance, not just emotions.
This word (orge) is used to describe the wrath of God. God doesn’t lose his cool or fly off the handle, but he does have an everlasting anger against sin. It offends him. And he has determined that he will punish sin. We give thanks that God poured out his wrath against our sin on Christ, but that does not alter the fact that God has a genuine wrath against all sin and rebellion. Those who refuse Christ’s payment for their sins face that eternal wrath at the end of life. His anger against sin leads him to action to punish that sin, as it deserves.
And that is his right as God! He is perfect and holy and just and he has the authority to punish sin. But you and I do not. That is a divine right. We cannot punish sin. We do not get to hold grudges and seek revenge.
Romans 12:19 makes that absolutely clear.
“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’”
God has the right to balance the books and to seek vengeance against other peoples’ sins. You and I do not. Paul could not have been any clearer here, could he? “NEVER avenge yourselves.”
While we all may experience angry emotions, it is never okay for us to harbor that anger, strike back at the person against whom we are angry, hold grudges or seek any form of vengeance. Never!
Anger, Grudges and Unforgiveness is ALWAYS Sin!
This fact is proven by scripture after scripture. Permit me to simple copy a few of those, with minimal comment.
Matthew 5:44 cannot be more clear.
“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
Romans 12 picks up this theme, in verses 17-21.
“Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus told us to pray,
“…and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
I wonder if people realize what they are praying. “Lord, forgive me in the same way I forgive those who sin against me.” Let’s be honest, most of us don’t want that, do we?
Is there any wiggle room in Matthew 6:14-15?
“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
If you refuse to forgive someone who has sinned against you, you have no right to ask God to forgive you! And there are no qualifications there. “If you do not forgive (unless the sin is serious enough).” Sorry. The text is clear. And it is not alone.
There is Mark 11:25.
“And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”
We cannot seek forgiveness we are not willing to pass along to others.
The parable of the Unmerciful Servant reinforces this point. In Matthew 18:34, Jesus speaks of the prison that the servant will be sent to because he refuses to forgive the other, then he ends with this warning in verse 35.
“So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
I will finish with Ephesians 4:32.
“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
Jesus Christ forgave sinners, those who did not deserve his mercy and could not earn his grace. He loved the unlovely, saved the unworthy and showed mercy to the undeserving. And Paul commands that we love others as God in Christ loved us.
My point is simple. Anger is a big deal. Striking back in vengeance is a big sin. It has serious consequences. In fact, I am convinced that it is this sin that is holding back Christians as much as any other. We have justified our anger and defended our refusal to forgive. In doing so, we have quenched the Spirit and prevented the experience of the blessings of God. If we want to walk in freedom and power, we must obey the Scriptures and forgive one another as God in Christ forgave us.
(NEXT TIME: I will examine Matthew 5:21-26 and identify some of the dangers of anger.)