Anger in the First Degree
Murders come in all kinds of ways. They come through violence. They come through domestic squabbles. They come through gang warfares. The history of the world is unfortunately littered with records of murder. In fact, murders are so commonplace that they don’t always make the news cycle unless they’re bizarre or multiple. Yet, the most prevalent form of murder that never gets reported is anger.
In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus Christ shocks his audience by declaring that anger towards people is actually anger in the first degree – It is equivalent to murder! Murder is just the outward evidence of anger.
“You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court” (Matthew 5:21-22).
Jesus just dropped a preaching bomb on his audience. Anger = Murder! Can He really be serious!?
There are two different Greek words for anger in the New Testament.
In Matthew 5 Jesus is using the word orgizo, referring to that ongoing anger that is typically fueled by malice in the heart. It's what happens when you bitterly hold a grudge against someone. It's that feeling of hostility you get when you see someone or even hear their name. It's that kind of anger that grows, and you just hold revenge as your main goal. This is the kind of anger that Jesus calls “Anger in the First Degree.”
That same word for anger (orgizo) is used in Luke 15:28 to refer to the attitude of the elder brother in the story of the prodigal son. You remember that his prodigal brother came home and his father threw a party for him. The elder brother did not rejoice at the party for his brother. Instead, he was sulking, angry at his father and brother.
Have you ever uttered any of these statements?
Benjamin Franklin once said, “Anger is never without a reason, but seldom with a good one.” We live in an increasingly angry society. Studies indicate that 1 in 3 people have a close friend or relative that has a tough time controlling his/her anger. More than 1 in 4 people admit that they worry about how angry they feel sometimes. While we can all readily acknowledge (I trust) that Jesus has some strong words about anger, we still struggle with it being a natural part of our lives. In his book Wishful Thinking Transformed by Thorns, Fredrick Buechner acknowledges the reasons behind this problem:
“Of the 7 deadly sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back – in many ways it is a feast fit for a king.” (pg. 117)
In our fallen condition we love anger. We even excuse anger as being a normal practice. I would conclude that anger is even considered a “respectable sin” within much of the church culture. But Jesus had a very different perspective. He couples anger with murder. God’s commandment not to kill really means we should take positive steps to make things right with our brother. The peril comes when we stop at the negative statement “Thou shalt not kill” and feel as long as we have not actually committed the physical act of murder, all is well. But Jesus says we must not stop there, we must not harbor even the thought and feeling of anger in our heart. We must actively take steps to remove the cause of the trouble; we must aim to be in the right relationship with others.
Perhaps there are those reading this post today that are actually murderers. Not physical murderers, but murderers of the heart–anger in the first degree.
Thank God for the injunction in Matthew 5 that tells us to act quickly. Thank God that his terms are easy. They are just this, that I face and acknowledge this sin, confess it utterly and absolutely, and stop any self-justification. It matters little in this conversation what they may have done to you. If there is something in actual practice that I can do about the broken relationship I must do it at once! Do not delay! “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” (Matthew 5:25).
Caleb Phelps graduated from BJU with a BA in Bible and an MA in Theology. After graduating from seminary Caleb traveled in evangelism which took him across the country to many different churches and camps. While he was traveling Caleb met the love of his life, Rachel. They got married and moved to Indianapolis, IN where Caleb now serves as the youth pastor at Crosspointe Baptist Church. You can check out his youth group's website at www.crosspointeyouth.com.
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