Christianity 201

September 25, 2012

Allowing Anger to Diminish

NIV Matthew 5: 21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

James Bryant Smith currently has three of the top ten titles at InterVaristy Press: The Good and Beautiful God, The Good and Beautiful Life, and The Good and Beautiful Community. I discovered this excerpt in the July 7th issue of the Salvation Army magazine, The War Cry (U.S. edition).

The very first issue of the heart Jesus addresses in the Sermon on the Mount is anger (Matthew 5:21-22).  Many people believe that righteousness is determined by external actions, and therefore if we have not outwardly broken a commandment (e.g., struck or killed someone) we have kept the law and are therefore considered righteous.  But Jesus goes deeper, into the heart, the place from where all actions spring.  he says, “If you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment.”

Why?  Is He making it harder to be righteous?  Is he raising the bar so that no one can make it?  Is He more strict than Moses?  No. Jesus understands the human heart – and the heart is His primary concern, not merely outward actions.  The heart full of anger, the heart that hates, is not far from the heart that would murder.  In fact, it is essentially the same inner condition.  All that is missing is the actual act.  Jesus understands that an angry person would actually harm someone if he or she could get away with it.

When Jesus commands His apprentices not to be angry, He is showing us the way to a good and beautiful life.  His command implies that we can actually do it.  Many people cannot imagine living without anger.  But it is possible, otherwise Jesus would not have instructed us to live without it.  Unfortunately, if we hear the command “do not be angry” and think we must do this on our own strength (i.e., in the flesh) we will fail and begin to resent Jesus for commanding it.  For an explanation of how we learn to live without anger, we have to look at the rest of Jesus’ teachings, His overall narratives.

The narratives of the kingdom of God are quite different from our own false narratives.

These kingdom narratives are based on the reality of the presence and power of God.  For Jesus, the kingdom was not simply a nice idea, but a very real place – life with God, which is available to all.  Outside the kingdom we are on our own.  We must protect ourselves, fight for our rights and punish those who offend us. Inside the kingdom of God, life is much different.  God is with us, protecting us and fighting for our well being.  Knowing this, much of our anger will diminish.

James Bryant Smith
In The Good and Beautiful Life