Gospel Words: Anger

 •  6 min. read  •  grade level: 8
The Scribes and Pharisees were especially ritualist and external. This was letter, not spirit. Our Lord not only condemns a righteousness of mere outward acts, but insists on inward reality as indispensable for the kingdom of the heavens. He does not explain at this time how the requisite practical righteousness is possible and actually made good in sinful men. He had already let Nicodemus know of the necessity for a Jew no less than a Greek to be born anew, as well as to have redemption by His cross. Here to His disciples He expounds _ the absolute need of realizing the varied spiritual qualities brought before them in order to enter the kingdom. As the Pharisees fatally narrowed the scope of scripture, the Lord gave its fullness as none but He could. The first of these references is to the law of murder. But the Lord goes immeasurably farther for the kingdom.
" Ye have heard that it was said to those of old, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be subject to the judgment. But I say to you, that everyone that is [lightly] angry with his brother shall be subject to the judgment; and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be subject to the council; and whosoever shall say, Fool, shall be subject to the hell of fire " (Matt. 5:21, 2221Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: 22But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. (Matthew 5:21‑22)). The law and the prophets He had vindicated. All must come to pass. Yet the law made nothing perfect. He speaks Who is above the law and gave fullness to all on His own authority.
Thus is the commandment made exceeding broad and deep. The ax is laid to the root of the evil tree. All violent feelings are judged as in God's sight, and every evil word of malice and contempt shown to be of sinful and dangerous consequence. As He said later in the same Gospel (12:37), "By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned." Here He warns, not so much of every light word, but of wrath, hatred, and contempt. The Judge of all the earth, Himself despised by man and abhorred by the nation, as was soon proved, could not fail to discern aright.
The danger He denounced is the burning sense of self, of the old man set on fire of hell. Circumstances might hinder its expression; but it stays in the heart it ruled, and makes itself at length felt in its malignity. He that formed the heart knows it, as He detects a feeling so contrary to His own nature, not only unbecoming in man, but wholly inconsistent with the peacemakers, the pure in heart, the merciful, as well as the poor in spirit, the mourning, the meek, and those hungering and thirsting after righteousness, the blessed ones that suit the kingdom of the heavens. How too could it agree with being persecuted for righteousness' sake? how with being reproached, and having all manner of evil said and done against one falsely for Christ's sake, yet, rejoicing and being exceeding glad to be thus defamed and ill-used for His name?
But we know that very recently (Mark 3:1-61And he entered again into the synagogue; and there was a man there which had a withered hand. 2And they watched him, whether he would heal him on the sabbath day; that they might accuse him. 3And he saith unto the man which had the withered hand, Stand forth. 4And he saith unto them, Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill? But they held their peace. 5And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other. 6And the Pharisees went forth, and straightway took counsel with the Herodians against him, how they might destroy him. (Mark 3:1‑6)) the Holy and the True looked round with anger in the synagogue on those who watched with murderous hate, if He would heal a poor sufferer on the sabbath. Instead of shrinking from the issue, He bade the man rise up into the midst. They (the high and the broad) were silent; but the fire of their anger burned to destroy Him, after He also bade the man stretch out his palsied hand, restored on the instant. His holy anger was distressed at the hardening of their hearts who, in the vain confidence of tradition (ever spurious), were thus maddened against the active and blessed goodness of God as a reality among men here below.
Again, John the baptist said to the Sadducees coming to his baptism, Viper brood, who forewarned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce therefore fruit worthy of repentance; and think not to say within yourselves, we have Abraham for father. These were scathing words; but if anger dictated a word, it was unselfish and holy. It was indignation at men who sought a religious form to cover their unbelief and wickedness. And He, whose sandal-thong John counted himself unworthy to untie, pronounced woe after woe on these Scribes and Pharisees, albeit standing highest in Jewish estimation. Blind guides He called them, fools too and hypocrites and serpents; how should they escape the judgment of hell? Was not the blessed Lord fully justified in His words, overwhelming as they were to the highest degree? It was not enmity to tell an evil-doer the truth, that he might repent. Flesh hates fidelity.
If it be objected that so the Lord was entitled righteously to denounce, but no one else may, what are we to learn from one of like passions with ourselves? He on just occasion could say in the Spirit, to an erring saint at Corinth with questions about the resurrection, Fool! as he said before, Wake up righteously, and sin not; for some are ignorant of God: I speak to your shame. So in the next chapter he declares that if anyone love not the Lord, let him be Anathema Maranatha (accursed at the Lord's coming), 1 Cor. 15:1616For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: (1 Corinthians 15:16). The same apostle tells the saints (Eph. 4:2626Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: (Ephesians 4:26)), Be angry and sin not. If one truly follow the Lord and the apostle, anger then is a duty, not a sin; yet one surely has to watch and pray withal.
The source, motive, and aim decide. If of God and for Him by the Spirit, anger has His sanction; if for self, it is evil that exposes to judgment: and so the Lord denounces on its various degrees expressed in a form familiar to Jews.
O my fellow-sinner, whose words have been habitually sinful, violent and ungodly, how can you, as you are, enter the kingdom? And if you cannot, what must be your end without end? The Judge tells you plainly. But He is now the Savior, the only perfect Savior. Flee, flee for refuge, for pardon, and a new nature, to Him Who alone can give all you need. The resource of God's grace is Christ. And if we believe on Him, His love constrains us to live, not to self, but to Him Who for our sakes died and rose again. Then only do we cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.