Jesus taught that being angry or insulting another person leads to the same consequences as murdering them. This is a radical Kingdom teaching that goes beyond an examination of our behaviors. It focuses on our hearts.
In this passage, Jesus is explaining what it means to embrace an ethic of God’s Kingdom. He contrasts God’s Kingdom with the Old Testament teaching by saying “you have heard it said.” They had heard it said they were not to murder, but Jesus was saying “Not killing doesn’t go far enough.” If we are angry with a brother or sister, we are headed to judgment. If we insult, we are liable to go before the court. Anger in our heart is as liable to judgment as murder, and insulting people in our heart or with gestures or words is leading in the same hellish direction as murder.
Society only judges behavior, but under the reign of God, righteousness that goes beyond the scribes and Pharisees must consider anger and internal insults the same as murder.
Jesus is not saying that God is keeping score and is planning some form of revenge. Rather, he is saying that in the nature of the world God created loving deeds that bring about corresponding blessed circumstances, while unloving deeds, and especially all forms of judgment, always bring corresponding destruction.
However, aren’t some forms of anger actually good? What about righteous indignation or anger at injustice? After all, Ephesians 4:26-27 says, “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.” If we read this rightly, though, Paul is saying that the only way to have anger and not sin is by getting rid of it as soon as possible. We will encounter things that will stir up anger, but then we have a choice as to whether we will partner with that anger or let it go. If we hold on to it, we give the devil a foothold. Paul teaches us to “rid” ourselves of such things as: “anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language” (Colossians 3:8).
Even when we see injustice, we are not to “let the sun go down” on our anger. This is not to say that anger is not justified. We are simply to let it go. We’re so accustomed to anger being our motivation for the pursuit of justice that we have trouble imagining otherwise. Whatever we’re trying to accomplishing through anger could be accomplished better through compassion or a broken heart. As Martin Luther King Jr. taught, his followers were to march out of love for their enemies, not out of hatred. We are called to stand up out of sorrow for that which is evil and dehumanizing, not out of anger and hatred. This is the only way that we can be free and it’s the only way we can offer that freedom to others.
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