How to Deal with Anger: Matthew 5:21-26

A woman was driving home one night. The weather was really nasty. Rain was coming down in buckets and visibility was very poor. Seeing taillights ahead of her, she followed the car in front. The car in front seemed to be going in the right direction. So she gingerly followed. All of a sudden the car in front put his break lights on and came to a stop. She began to wonder what had happened; Maybe the road was impassable or he had hit a deer.  She began to feel uncomfortable. Parked in the middle of the road was not a good place to be in a storm. Someone might run into the back of her. Much to her alarm the driver in front turned their lights off. Her confusion turned to frustration then anger. Suddenly a man get out of the car in front and walked over to her car. He knocked on her window. She opened the window an inch and nervously asked the man what his problem was. “That’s what I was about to ask you.” The man replied. Angrily, she retorted that she wasn’t the one who had stopped in the middle of the road and turned off her car lights.

The man corrected her “Lady, we are not in the middle of the road. We are parked in my drive way.”   

Benjamin Franklin once said “Anger is never without a reason, but seldom with a good one.” Christopher Hall writes, “To live in a world permeated with evil is enough to make you angry. Those we love can arouse deep anger within us as they purposely or unknowingly hurt us.

People unleash enormous wickedness and suffering on the world at large, and suddenly we find ourselves sucked into evil's vortex. The instinctive, natural way to express anger is to respond aggressively. Anger is a natural, adaptive response to threats; it inspires powerful, often aggressive, feelings and behaviors, which allow us to fight and to defend ourselves when we are attacked. A certain amount of anger, therefore, is necessary to our survival. On the other hand, we can't physically lash out at every person or object that irritates or annoys us; laws, social norms, and common sense place limits on how far our anger can take us.

So how should the Christian respond? Is it legitimate to become angry, either over our own pain or the suffering inflicted on others? At first glance, the New Testament exacerbates the conundrum. Both Jesus (Matt. 5:22) and Paul (Eph. 4:27) teach that anger is inappropriate or at best should be short-lived (Eph. 4:26-27), but both clearly became angry at times (Matt. 22; Gal. 1). Our experience and the Bible both suggest that there is legitimate anger and sinful anger. How are we to distinguish them?” Christopher Hall argues that “Too many Christians… have been taught that anger is always sinful… and should be absent from the spiritually mature.” Obviously, "anger that is expressed destructively toward others, ourselves, or God adversely affects our spiritual journey.

Anger's power can destroy our health, our relationships, our community, and our sense of God's presence and grace." Yet the capacity to become angry, an attribute of Jesus himself, is a significant aspect of humanness, rather than sinfulness. Tonight we are going to learn how to distinguish between righteous and sinful anger and how to deal with the latter. I want us to recognise when rage is so deadly. Realise why reconciliation is so essential. Remember why resolution is so imperative   


1. Recognise when Rage is so Deadly

“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.’  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 Sanhedrin. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”  (Matthew 5:21-22)


Lets begin by noting what Jesus is not saying. Jesus is not saying that anger is the same as murder or as bad as murder. Why the association then? What is the difference between manslaughter and murder? Murder is the taking of a life with malice and aforethought. It is premeditated. That should give us the clue. Anger that is directed against evil, or against injustice, when it is channeled constructively is not sinful.  But unresolved anger is. Personalised anger is. Prolonged anger is. Premeditated anger is.


It is what we do with our anger and to what, or at whom it is directed, that makes it legitimate or sinful. Clarence Darrow, a famous criminal lawyer once said, “Everyone is a potential murderer. I have not killed anyone, but I frequently get satisfaction out of obituary notices.”  “So, I’m I really going to go to Hell for calling someone a nerd?” No. Jesus isn’t saying that either. He’s simply saying that among his followers, he expects to see a different attitude.  A heart that values relationships, that longs for reconciliation not retaliation. From Jesus’ perspective, we can see why this is so serious. As He’s saying these words, He already knows what kind of death awaits him at the cross. So reading between the lines we can hear him say, “Hey, you people who cut others down with your words. I’m here to give my life for them and for you. That guy you just called an idiot? I love him. He’s so valuable to me that even if he was the only person in the world, I’d still die for him. And you’re making him sound worthless and insignificant? What does that say about my mission to die for him? That’s not the kind of behaviour I expect from those who follow me, in my family.” Jesus describes the downwards spiral that makes anger so destructive, so dangerous, so deadly. Notice the progression.

1.1 Unjustified anger begins in the heart

“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. But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment” (Matthew 5:22).

What business is it of us to be angry with a brother or sister in Christ? We have no business being angry with someone for whom Christ died. If we have an issue with a brother or sister we should go and talk it through and be reconciled. John tells us, “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” (1 John 3:15). The first phase of unjustified anger begins in the heart. The second phase?


1.2 Unwarranted anger leads to contempt


 “anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin” (Matthew 5:22).


Anger that smoulders in the heart soon finds expression through the lips. “Raca” doesn’t quite have the ring today that it did in Jesus day. It means “empty head”. The word may have originated from the sound of clearing the throat in preparation to spit. Rrraaaacah! That’s what I think of you!  Jesus said this is a greater evil than just anger. In silent anger, we want to hurt someone. In contempt, we say so. Instead of “Raca”, today we might use dork, nerd, bonehead or something worse – perhaps a sexual, racial or cultural term.  But the intent is always the same.


It’s to put someone down, to cast them aside – like spitting on them. Jesus says that people who express contempt are guilty enough to be judged by the highest court in the land. Unjustified anger begins in the heart. Unwarranted anger leads to contempt. Thirdly,


1.3 Unresolved anger results in malice

And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” (Matthew 5:22). We are so used to the word “Fool” it doesn’t shock. But we surely have plenty of other colourful words with which to substitute.  The word denotes a fixed and settled hatred. Malice is always served cold. In this most serve form of anger, Jesus switches from the illustration of where the punishment is ordered to the punishment itself. 

When Steve Tran of Westminster, California, closed the door after activating twenty-five bug bombs, he thought he had seen the last of the cockroaches that shared his apartment. When the spray reached the pilot light of the stove however, it ignited, blasting his screen door across the street, breaking all his windows, and setting his furniture ablaze. "I really wanted to kill all of them," he said. "I thought if I used a lot more, it would last longer." According to the label, just two canisters of the fumigant would have solved Tran’s cockroach problem. The blast caused over $10,000 damage to his apartment building. And the cockroaches?  "By Sunday, I saw them walking around again." Remember anger is just one letter short of danger. Recognize when rage is deadly.


2.  Realise why Reconciliation is so Essential

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to that person; then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23-24)


In verses 21-22 Jesus has focused on why our unjustified anger toward another person is so deadly. But in 23-24 he switches to what we should do about it. He focuses on those who may have been wrecked by our anger. Now if you are thinking “am I really responsible for someone else’s grudge against me?” the answer is probably “yes - go and find out”. The guilty party should take the initiative to resolve the conflict with his brother for whom Christ died also. Seek them out. Apologize. Ask for their forgiveness. Seek reconciliation. It is far, far more important to be reconciled to a brother or sister in Christ than it is to be engaged in religious activity. Worship is a sham if we have knowingly hurt someone and resist the Holy Spirit’s prompting. And if that person is not yet a believer, does that mean I’m excused? As a result of your behavior, will that person be more likely or less likely to believe in the Jesus you claim to follow? Confessing your sin to an unbeliever – saying sorry - is probably the most effective way to witness to them.
Recognize when rage is deadly. Realise why reconciliation is so essential.


3.  Remember why Resolution is so Imperative

“Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.” (Matthew 5:25-26)

In this last section, Jesus gives us a mini-parable to teach us that the business of reconciliation is urgent. If you continue to hold anger in your heart or if you have sinned against a brother or sister and refuse to be reconciled, you are asking for it. Anger that remains unresolved can land you in court and lead you to jail. In a debtors prison, in order to get out, someone else would have to pay your debt. Because you won’t be making money in prison, without help your stay there could be terminal. So Jesus says, this is urgent business. Settle matters outside of court. It’s always cheaper, its safer and its redeemable.

Kansas University football player Dion Rayford found this out the hard way. He was arrested after getting stuck in a drive-thru window. When employees at a Taco Bell forgot his chalupa, he tried to go in after them. The 6’ 3", 260-pound man did not quite make it through the tiny drive-thru window. Rayford was charged with several misdemeanors and was suspended from playing in the last game of his career. Jesus says, when you persist in anger, more than your career or your reputation is at stake.

Anger embraced and allowed to grow is so destructive, so dangerous, so deadly. So, we have begun to distinguish between legitimate and sinful anger and how to deal with the latter. We have begun to recognise when rage is so deadly; to realise why reconciliation is so essential; and remember why resolution is so imperative.

Let me
conclude with five simple biblical principles of anger management. Five ‘P’s to overcoming anger.

1.    Be Patient: Be slow to act when anger is aroused


“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.”(James 1:19-20)


Take some deep breaths. Breathe deeply. Relax when you begin to feel the stress levels rise. Angry people tend to jump to—and act on—conclusions, and some of those conclusions can be very inaccurate. The first thing to do if you're in a heated discussion is slow down and think through your responses. Don't say the first thing that comes into your head, but slow down and think carefully about what you want to say. At the same time, listen carefully to what the other person is saying and take your time before answering. Be patient. Then…

2.    Be Pure: Deal with the root causes of anger


“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” (Ephesians 4:31).


Purge your heart of wrong motives. Don’t embrace it. Don’t harbour it. Don’t nurse it. Don’t befriend it. Don’t play with it in your mind. Crush it while you still can. Begin with your own heart and take responsibility for your own emotions. Be patient. Be pure.


3.    Be Pardoning: Forgive when people treat you badly


“Fools show their annoyance at once, but the prudent overlook an insult.” (Proverbs 12:16)


“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1)


“Do not repay anyone evil for evil… If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. Therefore "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:17-21)


Act in the opposite way to the way you have been treated (this is the heart of the Sermon on the Mount). If a person is stingy be generous to them. If a person is insultingly aggressive - turn the other cheek. If they impose on you do even more for them than is asked of you. Return love for hatred and prayers for persecution. Be patient, be pure, be pardoning.


4.    Be Productive: Channel your anger constructively


“In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” (Ephesians 4:26-27)


Deal with the causes there and then. Don’t let them stew and fester. When you're angry, your thinking can get very exaggerated and overly dramatic. Try replacing these thoughts with more rational ones. For instance, instead of telling yourself, "oh, it's awful, it's terrible, everything's ruined," tell yourself, "it's frustrating, and it's understandable that I'm upset about it, but it's not the end of the world and getting angry is not going to fix it anyhow." Be careful of words like "never" or "always" when talking about yourself or someone else - like "you're always forgetting things". These are not just inaccurate, they also serve to make you feel that your anger is justified and that there's no way to solve the problem. They also alienate and humiliate people who might otherwise be willing to work with you on a solution. Remind yourself that getting angry is not going to fix anything, that it won't make you feel better (and may make you feel worse). If there is an issue upsetting you here are three steps to take:

1.    Think of the problem (not the person). Name or explain the problem in a short sentence.

2.    State how the problem (not the person) makes you feel, using a specific emotion. Not – “you make me angry” but “I am angry because…”

3.    State how you would like the problem resolved.

Be patient, pure, pardoning, productive and finally,


5.    Be Prayerful: Ask God to help you deal with anger


“I want people everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing.” (1 Timothy 2:8)


Give your feelings, your emotions and reactions to God and ask him to help you act like Jesus, hating the sin but loving the sinner. Five P’s to dealing with anger. Be patient. Be pure. Be pardoning. Be productive. Be prayerful. Let me close by sharing something that happened this week and how God is helping me deal with anger.


Remember, you can't eliminate anger—and it wouldn't be a good idea if you could. In spite of all your efforts, things will happen that will cause you anger; and sometimes it will be justifiable anger. Life will be filled with frustration, pain, loss, and the unpredictable actions of others. You can't change that; but you can change the way you let such events affect you. Controlling your angry responses can keep them from making you even more unhappy in the long run.

Frank and Anita Milford would agree. They say a little arguing and a "happy outlook" keep them together. This week the celebrated their 81st wedding anniversary. Frank, 101, and his wife, Anita, 100, were married on May 26, 1928. They are currently the longest-married couple in the United Kingdom. The couple, who met at a YMCA dance in 1926, celebrated their anniversary Tuesday at the nursing home where they live in Plymouth. "We're always here for each other. It is all about give and take on both sides," Frank Milford said. "You need a happy outlook and to just get on with it. I don't know where the years have gone to. It's marvellous really."  Lets pray


Lets pray.





With grateful thanks to:

Jeffery Anselmi: Jesus on Anger 

Chip Bell: If Looks could Kill

Christopher A. Hall, Review of Andrew Lester’s

The Angry Christian: A Theology for Care and Counseling


Lisa Harper, What is righteous anger? Christianity Today

John Piper: Getting Right with God and Each Other

Matthew Rogers: Fixing Broken Relationships

The American Psychological Association


See also:

Anger: Handling a Powerful Emotion in a Healthy Way by Gary Chapman (Northfield)

The Cry of the Soul: How Our Emotions Reveal Our Deepest Questions About God by Dan Allender and Tremper Longman III (NavPress)

The Anger Workbook by Les Carter and Frank Minirth (Thomas Nelson)

She's Gonna Blow: Real Help for Moms Dealing with Anger by Julie Ann Barnhill (Harvest House)