READ: Matthew 5:21-26
21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.
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.
23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you,
24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison.
26 Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.
This passage is a great example of what I was talking about yesterday. It breaks down into three distinct teachings that probably weren't said by Jesus all at the same time. But if you wanted a condensed look at Jesus' teaching on anger, here it is.
The first 2 verses are Jesus taking the "teachers of the law" to task for their faulty interpretation. "You have heard it said" is like saying, "You people who have been running the synagogues have been holding one kind of judgment over people's heads, and you think you're doing it God's way. You want to appeal to the perfect standard of a perfect God? It isn't murder that will bring judgment on you. Just being angry is enough! Hey, you want to haul people into your courts for what they're thinking... look out!"
The second 2 verses are about anger in personal relationships. Isn't it interesting that Jesus brings church into it? Well... not church... God. You see, "leave your gift at the altar" meant something very different in the jewish context than it does today. For the Jews, you really weren't "in God's presence" until you were directly before the altar. So a triangular relationship is set up in these verses. It isn't just you and me having an argument. It is you, me, and God. And you and I can't experience our relationship with each other apart from our individual relationships with God. And you and I can't experience our relationship with God in its fullness until we are reconciled with each other. The fact is you and I can not come to God alone. Modern evangelical thought would tell us otherwise, but that is such a "western" construct. We need our brothers and sisters, however many there are and in whatever context we know them, in order to really know God at all. Even if you live in a tiny outpost in the woods (those of you who've never been to Nottingham can laugh all you want to... this is a BIG town when it comes to fellowship with believers), you won't make it alone.
The final 2 verses have to do with civil relationships. As believers we are told by Paul not to have lawsuits with each other. But what happens if someone outside the family of God brings suit against me? I need to be prepared to "come to terms" with him/her as quickly as possible. The people who bought our house in Kensington, CT told us the deal would be cancelled if we wouldn't agree to pay for a new roof on the house. I pondered what the right thing would be. This is a young couple with three small children. He is still in grad school. She's a nurse. If I just "gave" them $5000 to put a roof on it seemed to me they might get into a situation where they simply wouldn't have the money when it came time to do the work. So I suggested putting the money in escrow for up to 5 years. If they don't use it to put a roof on in that time, it reverts to us. This protects my interest in the money and it protects their desire to do the roof. I also felt this way I'd be doing what is right for the house itself. The couple readily agreed to the proposal, and the sale went forward. The "argument" that was a civil case became something I could be proud of doing even though it ended up costing me.
Jesus has given us a model for learning wisdom from our anger: wisdom in dealing with the judgments of others; wisdom in dealing with anger in our interpersonal relationships; wisdom in knowing how to deal effectively in civil matters.
Pastoral Relief and Retreat
- Wethersfield, CT, United States
- I am Pastor at Poquonock Community Church, Congregational (CCCC) in Windsor, CT. My wife Jama and I live in Wetherfield, CT. We'd like to invite you to Terre Haute -- High Ground -- That's what Jama and I call the retreat space on our property. We offer free intentional get-away retreats. We'll feed you and house you and give you space to be with the Lord. All are welcome; no questions asked. This blog is my daily devotional journal. I write it because it is so easy to go for weeks without ever taking the time to be alone with God. Writing helps me develop a discipline I need.