Is Anger Ok?

Anger. It is something we have all done. Its something we have all experienced, serving as the object of someone else’s diatribe. As Psychology Today noted, anger is, “often pretty clear-cut. It’s rarely subtle.”

Though we have all encountered forceful and emotional expressions of negativity, few of us know what to do with our rage. Some encourage us to openly vent our frustrations. Others bury their feelings deep inside, proclaiming that everything is fine. Sure, they haven’t spoken to their friends in 50 years, but everything is fine. Lastly, others use anger as a source of motivation, referencing past insults and forecasts of doom to find the energy needed to become their schools next valedictorian or to smash the opposing football team. Anger remains both a common and complex emotion.

Thankfully, the Jesus of the New Testament addresses our challenges. He goes beyond the pithy statements found in Matthew 5:3-10 and explains how to be salt and light. In the process, he deals with things such as divorce, lying, and even anger.

According to Jesus, anger is not something to be vented, hidden, or repurposed. We are to abhor it and to repent of our sinful, negative emotions. If we remain angry, frustrated, or bitter, we will awake one day soon to find our souls imprisoned under God’s wrath with no way of escape.

Murder is Bad

When Jesus tackled the topic of anger in Matthew 5:21-26, he found his society’s understanding of rage to be artificially constrained and short sighted. The scribes and the Pharisees had restricted the discussion of anger to a discussion of murder. They said that anyone who murder their wife, coworker, or neighbor “will be liable to judgement (Matt 5:21).” Their vague restatement of Genesis 9:6, Exodus 21:12-14, and other passages on murder correctly affirmed the sanctity of human life and the need to address accusations of murder with spiritual diplomacy and legal nuance. Those who take the life of an unborn baby, a middle-aged mom, or of a bedbound senior-adult should be held accountable to the standards of divine justice. Jesus concurs with this assessment of the Old Testament law.

Anger is Bad

But Jesus did not believe the religious leaders of his day went far enough. They lost sight of the reality that God also hates our self-centered pride which fuels our anger. As Proverbs 29:22 notes, “one given to anger causes much transgression.” When men and women lash out at their children, mom and dad do so because they are selfish. The mud stains on the carpet ensure that mom and dad will have to exchange their quiet evening on the coach for some intense floor scrubbing. Because their divine plans have been interrupted, they lash out at the kids. In other words, they expressed anger because they wanted what they wanted and were willing to punish others to get it and maintain it. Even are close friends, our kids, and our spouses are not protected from the negative emotion that flows from our love of self.

According to Jesus, the eyes of the arrogant are just as deadly as “the hands that murder the innocent (Prov 6:19).” If we were to update the analogy, we could say that Jesus views the mini-van driving mom screaming at her kids and of the faced-tattooed, serial killer sitting on death row as one-in-the-same. Matthew 5:22 bluntly states, “everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgement.” To keep us from writing off this sentiment as the miscalculation of a poor biblical interpretation, Jesus circles around the concept of anger and expands his definition. He notes that those who insult their friends and call their friends fools will be punished for their unkind words (Matt 5:22). The concept of the term insult implies the notion that one is empty headed. In other words, to insult one’s brother would be to call him stupid, bone headed, or dumb. To call someone a fool was to label someone as being worthy of hell fire and damnation. When we insult the guy who cuts us of off in traffic, the politician who never seems to get things right, and the kids who all seem to do the opposite of what we asked, we commit the sin of anger. We are not simply Irish or passionate or misunderstood. According to Jesus, we are angry. We are sinning against God.

The Importance of Reconciliation

Because anger leads to eternal judgement, we should quickly exchange anger for reconciliation. Jesus tells two miniature parables in Matthew 5:23-26 towards this end. In the first, he tells his audience that they need to leave everything including an animal on the alter and go and be reconciled. Were we to update Jesus’s words, we would say that if one is leading the choir or preaching a sermon and realizes they have committed anger, they need to walk off the stage, drive to their neighbor’s house, and ask for forgiveness. Pastors, church leaders, and religious people do not get a special pass when it comes to anger. God does not look the other way when they fume with anger because they reached so many people or built such a large church. Jesus tells them to drop everything and repent.

To drive the point home, he tells a second parable of a man on his way to debtors prisons. He says that if the man cannot settle before court, he will wind up in prison and will never get out. The man in prison, lacks the ability to work and to gain the capital need to pay off his debt. In other words, Jesus declares that those who take their anger, bitterness, and vengeance to the grave will miss out on the mercy of God and know only the fires of hell. Before we get to eternity, we should seek peace with those we have offended. We should ask them to forgive us for all the wrongs that we have done. And we should stand at the ready to forgive others freely extending mercy to everyone who asks. Those who voice their negative emotions on Facebook and those who secretly nourish a lifetime of bitterness that pops out in the occasional ugly look or snide comment will miss the hope of heaven and spend eternity under God’s wrath. Instead of cultivating anger, we must invest in reconciliation, seeking peace with all. If we do not and allow our angry to fester it will destroy us. We must hate anger and pursue reconciliation for judgment is coming.

Is All Anger Bad?

However, the concept of God being wrathful or angry reveals that not all anger is sinful. Some things should be viewed with forceful negativity such as rape and murder. God’s righteous and just anger should burn against sin. Moreover, Paul tells us in Ephesians 4 to be angry and not to sin. A place exists for forceful, godly negative emotions.

When human anger is righteous, it should mimic the character of Jesus and provoke within us a strong desire that pushes towards justice and forgiveness. Godly anger pushes us to help the poor and to demand justice for the abused. But it then leads us to evangelize and pray for those who cheated the poor and committed the abuse. When Christ emptied the temple with a whip in Matthew 21:12, he returned the next day to call those same men and women to repentance. When he was hung on a cross and insulted, he extended his murderers forgiveness (Lk 23:44). Indeed, “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (Ps 103:8).” His people should do likewise (Jm. 1:19).

Blessed are the Peacemakers

The soul does not have to walk past bloated horses, screaming men, or dead children to understand the cruel nature of human conflict. The little girl that has hidden under her unicorn blanket while her parents send hateful words screaming across the living room knows the importance of peace. War whether in the macrocosm or the microcosm is horrid thing.

But despite the commitments of the United Nations to help people, “practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbors,” the world remains ravaged by wars. The followers of Christ should not be surprised by the inadequacies of governments and agencies for humanity has a natural disposition for war. As soon as the news of a bad report card or of a broken antique vase hits our hearts, the booming cannon of anger forcefully sounds again. Despite humanity’s attempt to establish peace through calls for moderation, the promises of hugs, and the gains of technology, harmony remains elusive.

Jesus Calls for Peacemakers

Still, we want peace. The human heart readily identifies with Jesus’s proclamation, “Blessed are the Peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God (Matt. 5:9).” To find this peace, souls must first discover how one becomes a son or daughter of God. In other words to promote peace, men and women must first experience the peace God. Jesus serves as the foundation of all earthly peace.

How Does Jesus Display Peace?

As the prophet Isaiah noted, Jesus is the “Prince of Peace (Is 9:6).” When baby Jesus arrived in the manager, he brought peace to those with whom God is well pleased (Lk 2:14). This was unusually fantastic news!

At birth, no one is blessing to God. Since Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit at the dawning of the human age, humanity has suffered from the effects of sin. Having declared war against God, men and women unceasingly choose evil because their natures possess an eternal bent towards selfishness and violence. This lack of righteousness in the human society ensures that war will continue to flourish both in our homes and on the international stage. No one could please God. No one could lay claim to the peace of heaven.

At this juncture, the glory of Christ becomes even more glorious. He exercises the roles of prophet, priest, and king so that God can find us pleasing. Jesus comes as an infant to pursue the salvation of the lost. The Gospel of Mark reports that Jesus came preaching, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” As the perfect prophet of God, Jesus condemned sin and then called sinners to repentance. Thankfully, his call to holiness transcended the scope of the legalist, white-collared grandmother who is always wagging her finger. Acting as the final high priest, Jesus offered his life as the perfect sacrifice for our sins. He made repentance possible, dying so that no one else has to sacrifice for their sins. Christ accomplished it all, trading his life for us. Thus at the moment of repentance, the sinner takes possession of Christ’s righteousness. When God sees the redeemed, he sees his son with whom he is well pleased. In Romans 5:1 Paul sums up God’s plan for peace, writing, “Therefore since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Then as king, Jesus reigns. He continual works for the good of his children interceding for them, directing them back towards grace when they stumble into selfishness and war. Through his pursuit, salvation, and care of sinners, Jesus brings peace to earth.

Who is a peacemaker?

A peacemaker is someone promotes peace because he has experienced the peace of Christ through repentance and faith. As a new creation, Christians possess the tools needed to foster peace: confession, truth, forgiveness, and forbearance. In other words, those who experienced peace with God will in-turn become the purveyors of peace on earth.

Confession

Sin is the soil that sustains war and violence. If unconfessed sin exists in the believer’s life, she will be unable to help her neighbor. In other words, those who hope to bring others to peace while sharing intelligence and military equipment with the terrorists of pride, selfishness, and lust will harm both themselves and those they wish to help. Jesus noted, “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Before the believer can help someone else, she must repent of her own sin and rest in the peace of a clear conscience. Only once the log is out of her eye can she move forward to help her husband, children, coworkers, church members, and in-laws.

Truth

After self-examination and repentance, the peacemaker should bring the word of truth to bear on the lives of others. To borrow the well-used expression, the Christian must call a spade a spade. Instead of looking the other way when she spots her friend’s husband checking into a motel with a women not her friend, she address the situation pointing to Matthew 5:27-32 and a host of other passages that condemn adultery. Similarly, Paul tells Titus to address those start fights writing , “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice have nothing more to do with him (3:10).” The peacemaker engages sin with truth for the purpose of correcting errors and erroneous behaviors. In bringing the ethic of Jesus to bear on all of life, she fosters both peace with God and peace among men.

Forgiveness

After sharing truth, the believer should extend forgiveness. The peacemaking progress often breaks down at this juncture. The human soul craves vengeance. It desires to know that the villains who called them names, stunted their careers, and destroyed their friendships have suffered through at least one night of the silent treatment. But this is not the heart of Christ. He welcomes sinners. When the prodigal son returns to his Father, the Father runs to him throwing a feast for him. Such should be Christian forgiveness. As Jesus tells his listeners in Matthew 5:44-45 “But I say to you, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” The moment a person confesses their sin and asks for forgiveness, the believer should extend the hand of fellowship and bring the war to its God intended conclusion. The list of misdeeds are burned, the internal bitterness is tossed out, and the urge for vengeance is abandon. In their place now sit mercy and grace.

Forbearance

Lastly, the peacemaker forbears. He does not give up after one conversation. He does not quit and wait for those in a state of war to make the first move. He pursues his enemies and those engaged in combat. Even when they mistreat him or respond to his initial offerings for peace with a list of his past failures, he does not retreat. He keeps pursuing peace for Christ, pursing the man despite his hatred and mistreatment of The believer. The apostle John reminds us that, “In this is love not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved if God so loved us, we ought to love one another (1 Jn 4:10).” When Jesus arrived, he did not find you or me residing peaceable in a garden, musing about the origins of dreams. He found us in a state of all out rebellion, brandishing machine guns and machetes in an effort to overthrow God’s sovereign decrees. Still, Jesus loved us and pursued us to the point of death. If God cast us off because we did not respond to the first gospel plea that we heard, how many of us would reach heaven? If God can endure thousands of rejections, should we not do the same?

Final Thoughts

Often Christians fear confrontation because it threatens to create more confusion and war. If John responds to the truth of the gospel with anger know the whole church is consumed with gossip as texts go around asking church members to either side with John or the church’s elders. Though mishaps happen, this fear overlooks one important truth: God’s spirit dwells in all of his people. In Philippians 4:7, God promises that “the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your mind in Christ Jesus.” When the believing soul calls another believing soul to peace, the peacemaker do so knowing Christ is also guarding the brother at war. In other words, the call to peace will always resonate with the believer. And if the call of peace is rejected and the one at war proves to be unredeemed, the Christian should not lose heart. He has helped a confused soul understand its spiritual state. The knowledge of sin proves to be the foundation of evangelism that allows the gospel to penetrate. The Christian does not despair but rather pursues the man at war afresh seeking to lead him to peace.

Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God.

Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit

Like a child with shoulders slumped low from a long day of school, poverty drags a backpack of negative connotations wherever it goes. Even those who dedicate their lives to caring for the poor do so understanding poverty to be the outworking of sorrow, corruption, and suffering. It is something to be avoided, changed, or fixed.

Despite this reality, Jesus embraces poverty as the foundation of his kingdom ethic. He begins his famed Sermon on the Mount with these words, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.” To be a follower of Jesus, one must embrace the poverty of the spirit.

The Beatitudes

To grasp the importance of these words, the reader must understand the flow of Jesus’s Sermon. The Beatitudes found in verses 3-10 describe the essence of Christian character. To quote the famous British Pastor John Stott,

The group exhibiting these marks is not an elite, a small spiritual aristocracy remote from ordinary Christians. On the contrary, the Beatitudes are Christ’s own specification of what every Christian ought to be.

All Christians are to be poor in spirit, sorrowful, meek, hungry, pure in heart, peacemakers, and persecuted.

But to arrive at the later virtues, Christians must know the poverty of Jesus. Without it, no one can reach the kingdom of God. So what is it? What does Jesus call us to when he pronounces blessing upon the poor in spirit?

Poor or Poor in Spirit?

Theologians have hotly debated the meaning of Matthew 5:3. Some like St. Francis of Assisi and John Calvin have claimed that Jesus is addressing earthly poverty. While the “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests…the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head (Lk 9:58).” Those who beg for a living seem to have more in common with Christ than those who live in palaces. Moreover, in Luke 6:20, the parallel or sister passage to Matthew 5, Luke omits the phrase “in spirit” giving us the following rendering: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” This quotation seems to support the notion that the kingdom of God is made up of the physical poor. The question then becomes which passage should interpret which?

Which Passage?

I believe as did Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones and Stott that we should follow the Reformation maxim and allow the clearer text to interpret the vaguer phrase as all Scripture is inspired by God. The prepositional phrase “in spirit” should be viewed as a divine interpretive insight into our savior’s meaning. We should always reason from the more clear to the less clear. When we apply this principle to the “poor in spirit” debate, we cannot help but conclude that Jesus was speaking of spiritual matters and not of economics. A quick survey of Scripture confirms this interpretation. Though Jesus saves one thief on the cross, the other enters hell (Lk 23:43). Jesus heals 10 lepers and yet only one returns to worship the Son of God (Lk 17:11-19). Moreover, Jesus redeems men such as Matthew, Nicodemus, and Zacchaeus, who oppressed the poor prior to their conversions.

God cares for the poor. Those who walk the path of affliction with the well torn shoes of difficulty are often more disposed to the concept spiritual poverty than those managing hedge funds. But one’s lack of wealth does not turn the key to heaven. As the church father Chromatius noted,

The necessity of poverty does not produce blessedness in each of us, but a devout trust sustained through poverty does.

In other words, poverty of spirit can be found both in government housing and in fenced off communities. Earthly poverty does not always equal heavenly glory.

What is Poor In Spirit?

To be poor in spirit, one must recognize his or her ultimate worthlessness in comparison to the majesty of God. Lloyd-Jones helpfully defined poor in spirit as, “a complete absence of pride, a complete absence of self-assurance and of self-reliance.” In other words, The poor in spirit realize that they have nothing within themselves by which to commend themselves to God outside of the wages of sin and death. Instead of boasting in their church attendance, in the successes of their children, in their common sense, in their giving, in their service hours, or in their ability to be better than their neighbors, those who are poor in spirit have one prayer: “God, be merciful to me a sinner (Lk 16:13).” They understand that they come to God much like the mail-order bride with billions of dollars in credit-card debt comes to the Crown Prince of England. They have no hope outside of a ridiculous their appeal for mercy.

The great news of the gospel is that Jesus responds to this cry for help. Jesus dies and burst out of the tomb on Easter morning so that he might redeem sinners such as us. Second Corinthians 15:19-20 declares, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”

To obtain the riches of the kingdom, we must first understand our poverty. As one early church sermon on Matthew noted, “The root of all evil is pride, and the root of all good is humility.” Once we understand we are nothing and give up all hope of saving ourselves, then and only then, do we begin to inherit everything. Only those who are poor in spirit can enter the kingdom of heaven.

To quote Jesus again, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God.”