Richard Whitaker- Discipleship and Connections Pastor LHBC

Matthew 5:21-25
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. (ESV) Matthew 5:21-25

As an inexperienced lieutenant, the new commander required end-of-deployment award recommendations and performance evaluations for all of my subordinate leaders.  I casually wrote and submitted the assignment by the required date and waited with optimism for the actions to go through.  I had checked that box – mission complete! However, my boss brought those write ups into his sights for a careful review and he did not assess my work with the same optimism.  

I settled into a chair that afternoon, my eyes drawn over his desk to the papers bearing my handwriting covered in red ink.  I didn’t realize beforehand that the good captain held a Masters degree in English.   Our time together revealed that it was his mission to fulfill the limits of Army writing education with me as his pupil!   This experience taught me a valuable lesson.  Everything good begins with a pure heart.  While I “completed” the task on time, my prideful heart led to lifeless write ups.   

To grow us in the quality of our Christ following, Jesus teaches that our acts of obedience are measured by the attitude behind them.

It’s worth noting that the people who thought of themselves as religious heavy weights were found by Jesus to be the most spiritually empty.  Focused on the external acts of obeying God’s law, the Pharisees developed a blind spot in their relationship with God.  They were blind to the truth that the angry heart that wishes someone harm is equal to the angry heart that leads to murder.  

What kind of anger is Jesus talking about? It’s the type of selfish anger that places oneself above another as their judge.  This tree of prideful anger finds root in an exalted attitude and branches into dehumanizing insults that throw shade at our fellow bearers of God’s image.  

Jesus explains that insulting others and calling them empty headed (aka You fool!) or any other such label is a sin requiring the judgment of hell.  Before we gloss over the seeming harshness of Jesus’ words as outdated thinking reserved for ancient times, we are kindly served by remembering the extreme value that Jesus places on every single person – even the people who don’t hold the same opinions, interests, values, etc…as we do.

Every soul bears the image of almighty God. We are his handiwork and deeply loved by God.  Jesus is saying that we don’t have the right to destroy the God-created life of another person with our attitudes, thoughts, and words.  On the contrary, we must find a way by God’s empowering graces to move beyond unrighteous anger to love.  Otherwise our worship will be worthless.  How can this be?

The apostle John explains that our relationship with others has a direct impact on the nature of our relationship with God. Listen to his clarification, “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” (ESV) 1 John 4:20-21.  John learned from Jesus first hand that we’ve lost our way when we forget that our love for God is explained by our love, or lack thereof, for our brothers and sisters in Christ. 

How can we get back on path and deal positively with anger?  Start by remembering that Jesus is not saying that we must be happy with evil or unjust treatment.  We can be angry at any unjust treatment while letting go of the sinful desire to harm our brother or sister with thoughts or words that can ruin them emotionally and spiritually.  

Keeping our eyes focused on pleasing God is a faith step that puts into practice the teaching of the apostle Paul when he said, “Do not take revenge my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath.  For it is written, ‘It is mine to avenge, I will repay’ says the Lord”  (Romans 12:19, NIV).  Trusting God to bring about justice and lead us through those times when we are angry will bring peace and keep our worship true.

Dear Lord, thank you for opening my eyes to the anger that destroys my fellow image bearers and blocks my relationship with you.  I repent of this attitude that lingers in my flesh as you make me into a more loving and forgiving person like your son Jesus.  I need your grace to overcome unhealthy anger by replacing old attitudes and habits with righteous thinking and speaking that exalt you.  May it be so in the mighty name of Jesus, Amen.

Psalm 30:4
Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints,
    and give thanks to his holy name