C’mon, preacher. I’ve never killed anyone. I’ve got the Sixth Commandment down—piece of cake!
“You shall not murder.”
I don’t think anyone would disagree that murder is not cool. Whatever you’re feelings are about justifiable homicide, war, etc.—everyone seems to agree that murder is not okay. So we’re not going to spend a lot of time on this one. It’s just that one little line. Instead, we’re going to jump right to the New Testament:
“You have heard that it was said to our ancestors, Do not murder, and whoever murders will be subject to judgment. But I tell you, everyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Fool!’ will be subject to the Sanhedrin. But whoever says, ‘You moron!’ will be subject to hellfire. So if you are offering your gift on the altar, and there you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
Jesus takes the Old Testament idea of the action (murder) and converts it to a matter of the heart (anger). We can’t get away with avoiding behavior any more. We are confronted with the attitude and heart that underlies the behavior.
This is a problem for me. I could avoid killing people all day long. Getting angry? That’s a whole ‘nother matter! Jesus is saying that what’s on the inside can separate us from God. We can’t hate each other on the inside, and then go pretend that everything is okay. But we do it all the time. Something happens and fills us with anger. Then we walk into church and we put on a happy face and say, “Praise Jesus—God is good!” We’re two-faced liars who would rather be passive-aggressive towards people than to be open and upfront.
Jesus says, “I call shenanigans!”
He calls us out and says that the things we have between us can get between us and God. Don’t try to get right with God when you’re not right with everyone else. Let’s be honest—we do it all the time. We come to worship while harboring anger towards other people. And how often are we intentional about reconciling that anger before we worship? It almost never happens.
Anger by itself is not wrong. We see examples in the Bible of God getting angry. We see Jesus getting angry. It’s not wrong—it’s part of the character of God. And if it’s part of the character of God it’s part of how we are wired. No, anger is not wrong.
How we deal with anger is where we go wrong.
Be angry and do not sin. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger, and don’t give the Devil an opportunity. -Ephesians 4:26
Anger is not bad—it’s part of who we are. Paul seems to believe that we can be angry and not sin. Anger is an attribute of God. God’s anger is a right reaction to moral evil and injustice. It’s not about personal insult or hurt. When God sees moral evil and injustice, God gets angry. What God gets angry about; we can get angry about in a righteous way. We can spot injustice and be righteously angry. When we get angry about our personal causes and offenses is where we run the risk of getting into sin.
Anger in and of itself is not wrong. The question is simply, “What are we angry about?”
What we get angry about and how we deal with that anger are the important things here! Anger can stir up trouble and have harmful consequences.
There are 3 Primary Causes of Anger:
Injustice. We can get angry about the things that God gets angry about—when it’s about faith, righteousness, and justice.
Frustration. Something blocks us from our desired goal/outcome. Frustration can cause anger. It’s normal to respond in anger to frustration. If my desired outcome is to get all of my kids out of the door and into the van by a certain time and they fail to comply, my children are being roadblocks to my desired outcome. They are preventing me from my plan. And I get steamed—I become angry. It’s an easy anger, but it’s not a good anger.
Threat/hurt. Injury, insult, attack, etc. Any time we’re injured, see an injury coming, or perceive any kind of threat (physical, emotional, etc.) our normal response is to get angry. Have you ever whacked your thumb with a hammer? We respond in anger. Did the nail do anything wrong? Nope. How about the hammer? Nu-uh. Yet we get angry over the hurt.
The same thing happens in relationships. When we see someone flirting with our significant other, and we feel some sort of threat, we respond in anger. We might call that type of anger jealousy, but it’s still an anger response.
But just because anger responses are normal in these situations does NOT mean it’s okay to hold on to our anger. That’s why Jesus comes along and says, “Your anger is keeping you from your relationship with God.” Just from a physical point of view, holding on to our anger can cause real health problems. Living in freedom from anger can heal our souls AND our bodies.
But it often easier said than done. My dad’s side of the family is Scottish. My mom’s side is Irish. People often joke that I’m genetically bred to be angry. But there is no DNA excuse—we can’t skate by simply because of where we’re from. So here are some practical steps to letting go of the anger.
Acknowledge/identify the anger—Who am I angry at? What am I angry for?Confess to God. Confess to the person you have an issue with. Stuffing your feelings deep down inside is only going to make you sick. Tackle it head on (lovingly, if you confess to the person you have an issue with).
Restrain your outbursts—no matter how mad you get it’s not gonna change the past. How you handle your anger IS gonna change your future. I remember a classic Disney cartoon in which Donald Duck was taking an anger management class (via a record player). The voice on the record told him to try 10 second countdown timer—when he felt himself getting hot under the collar he was supposed to count down from 10 to zero. Whatever it takes for you, find a way to practice restraining your outbursts. Give yourself time to cool down.
Let compassion replace resentment—get a different perspective; is there any other way to look at what’s happening? When it comes to our anger towards other people, we can go a long way in letting go if we try to see the situation from another point of view. From my shoes I’ve been wronged, sure. What would happen if I tried to see it from an outsider’s vantage point? What about from the vantage point of the person with whom I’m angry? Find compassion for what they’re going through rather than focusing on your own sense of indignity.
Resist ruminating—the 10 second replay button has to go! Going over and over and over and over situations that make us angry do nothing to help us cool down. In fact, they usually keep the fire stoked. If we’re serious about keeping our anger under control, we need to stop replaying the situation in our heads. Find something positive and lovely to think about instead. I’m not saying to ignore the situation and sweep it under the rug. I’m saying that we don’t have to re-live it day after day and hour after hour.
Please do not take your anger out to the general public (like Facebook). It only serves to escalate the problem and doesn’t allow you to forgive. The public route is merely an attempt to justify your anger. If you have to talk about it, talk to the person you’re angry at and not the entire community.
Jesus calls us to right relationships—to reconcile conflict as best we can (sometimes that’s not going to be possible—it is a two-way street). It’s time to let go of the anger we’ve been holding on to and time to move forward.
Questions for Reflection
Who am I angry at?
Have I tried to work through the anger or am I holding on to it?
Chris Linzey is husband to Tené, father to the three most beautiful children in the world, movie addict (seriously, if it’s on a screen he'll watch it—doesn’t matter how crummy or low-budget), and a Navy Chaplain, currently assigned to Naval Air Station, Meridian. Chris has a deep desire to help people live lives of faith where the Bible is more than mere words on a page, but the way we live everyday. His undergrad and Master’s studies were in Biblical Studies and he focused on the New Testament (his mentor was a Gospel of Mark scholar). He went on to get a Master of Divinity (MDiv) in Pastoral Preaching. Follow him at @chrislinzey.