Anger Is Principally Murderous


For the rest of the chapter Jesus corrects his listeners understanding of the law. He’s going to speak on anger, lust, divorce, oaths, retaliation, and love. Each section he begins by stating some form of the phrase: ”you have heard that it was said; … but I say to you.” Again, Jesus is not giving another law as if the Old Testament laws were incorrect or incomplete. Rather he is correcting his listeners understanding of those very same laws.

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment. ’ 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. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 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. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. -Matthew 5:21–26 ESV

Jesus is teaching the heart of murder is anger; or anger is principally murderous. The hearers of the day knew they would be liable to judgment if they lifted their hand and killed another person. They did not however understand that they would be equally liable to judgement if they merely lifted their heart in anger toward another. This is the principle behind the command in Exodus 20 to not murder. Jesus wants us to know it is not enough to merely conform outwardly to an external law. To be right with God, one must love his neighbor inwardly, and therefore not be subject to the guilt of judgement.

Jesus also wants us to know that fulfilling the law of love is not only concerned about our own heart, but the heart of our neighbor. The two illustrations in our section of Scripture are concerned about the possibility of another person being angry with us.

The first has to do with bringing an offering to God. Jesus tells us that if we remember another person has anger in his heart towards us, we are to first go and be reconciled with that person before we bring the Lord our offering. God is concerned equally with your brother’s anger as well as your own. If you are the cause of someone else’s anger, your duty of love is to become the remedy and solution to their anger. Our redeeming Lord renews the sinner’s memory. If he brings to your memory an offense you may have caused another person, you are to make it your high priority to make things right.

The second illustration has to do with a person making an accusation against you. This person desires to bring you to court because he is angry with you for some reason. Paul wrote a half chapter in 1 Corinthians 6 dealing with this same issue. He tells us it is a shameful thing for a believer to head off to an earthly courtroom. He exhorts us in verse 7–8:

Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers!

There is no earthly courtroom that can judge and sentence a person for the crime of anger. But Jesus teaches us that every murder that happens here on earth was born first from a heart of anger. Anger is principally murderous.

2 comments on “Anger Is Principally Murderous”

  1. Hi Scott!

    I thought this was really good. I’d like to talk to you about this one idea sometime: “If you are the cause of someone else’s anger, your duty of love is to become the remedy and solution to their anger.”

    I’m not sure that I agree with this. First, because no one makes us angry. We are angry because that is what is in our heart: “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.” Matthew 15:18

    Second, I don’t believe I can remedy someone’s anger. If I have sinned against someone, I need to confess, ask forgiveness, and make it right. But I am not the solution to his anger: Jesus is. Whether someone makes something right with me or not, I am called by God to deal with my own heart.

    Does this make sense? I think it’s biblical. It’s what is taught in the “How People Change” course, too.

    I’ve had to do (and continue to do) a lot of work in this area of my life. I was raised with a lot of anger, told that I “made” my mom angry a lot. I think it is inconsistent with the Gospel.

    Eager to hear your thoughts!

    Kïrsten M Christianson Sent from my iPhone

    O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption. (Psalm 130:7)


  2. Hey Kirsten!

    Thank you for the thoughtful challenge. I have heard it said of C.S. Lewis that any time he said one thing about something, he was saying the same thing about everything. Unfortunately, I have neither the mind, nor the consistency of thought that he had. I hope you know me well enough to trust that I adhere to the sovereign doctrines of grace. I also believe, as your quotation suggests, that my anger proceeds out of my own angry heart. I can not blame you or anyone on the day of judgement for my sinful anger. Yet I can surely be both the cause and the remedy for your sinful anger. There are primary and secondary causes at play here and I do not feel it always necessary to distinguish between such things in a devotional blog post. But let me attempt an explanation…

    Let’s say I decide to spread horrible rumors around church. I slander your good name over and over by making up lies about you and another man. You don’t know why I am doing such things. You bring your concerns before our elders and they side with me because I have swayed them with lies as well. They begin to bring accusations against you for your unfaithfulness. I snicker every time I see you and continue my relentless pursuit of ousting you from Bethlehem. You have been sinned against, and you are angry. The anger that you feel came from inside of you. You will stand before the Lord for any anger you have that is not righteous anger. Your fallen heart is the primary cause behind any anger you feel whatsoever. Yet, I am the secondary cause behind your anger. You said, “no one makes us angry. We are angry because that is what is in our heart:.” Primarily that is true, secondarily it is not the whole truth. I can certainly be the cause of your anger. And we both will stand before the Lord for the same events, yet from different perspectives.

    I also can’t primarily be the “remedy” for your anger, but secondarily I can certainly be. I know that Jesus is the ultimate “solution” to mankind’s anger problem. Yet, even in our Matthew 5 devotional text, Jesus wants you and me to become our brother’s secondary remedy. If I am walking into BBC’s sanctuary to offer worship to the Lord, and I remember that you have something against me because of my sin; I am suppose to leave Church, head over to your house, beg for forgiveness and reconciliation, and then head back for second service. “Whether I make it right with you or not, you are indeed called by God to deal with your own heart.” True. But Jesus wants to use me as a means, as a remedy to your anger. Being used in this way does not bring us glory because we are simply doing what Jesus commands in Matthew 5. Jesus heals. And Jesus heals through means.

    I think what you have said is biblical. I also think what I have said is likewise biblical. I am sorry that you were raised with a lot of anger. I am also sorry that you had to endure condemnation and guilt for your mother’s anger. It is true that your mother’s anger was born in her own heart. Whether you played a part in being a secondary cause is something you will need to work though in your own mind. I hope this helps and rests in the consistency of the gospel of free grace.

    Blessings sister,

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