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).

Did Jesus Believe the Bible?

Jesus epitomized the spirit of transformational revolution. He sought to revolutionize the religious system of his day which cared more about wearing the right clothes and eating the right foods than caring for the sick into system that valued the outcasts and that listened to the hurting. He replaced the ethic of persnickety self-righteousness with the ethic of love, asking us to do “whatever you wish that other would do to you (Matt 7:12).”

What Was Jesus Up To?

Though scholars, ethicists, and the average church goer all applaud Jesus for reinfusing kindness into religion, they still debate the nature and goal of his reformation. One popular idea that floats through the halls of academia and occasionally relaxes in the lounge of pop culture states that Jesus came to create a new religion. In stark contrast to the angry God of the Old Testament who huffed and puffed away whole civilizations, Jesus forgave the prostitutes and ate dinner with the tax collectors. In other words, Jesus came to unbox religion from the constraints of a tradition waylaid with sacred texts that had obscured the guiding star of divine love.

Other thinkers claim, Jesus that came to show humanity that religion was in a constant state of evolution. Jesus discovered that faith was not found in static texts but in the cultivation of one’s hidden eternal spark found. As souls developed their kernel of divinity, both humans and God would develop better and truer ideas of tolerance, kindness, justice, mercy, and love. In other words, Jesus came to help men and women evolve into Godhood. People like the apostles who tried to place both Jesus and faith within the Scriptures profoundly misunderstood the revolutionary ethic of Jesus.

When we confront the above ideas in literature, the classroom, and YouTube, we must return to the Scriptures and see what Jesus says about Jesus’s revolution Spirit.

Did Jesus Toss the Bible?

In Matthew 5:17-20, Jesus defines the radical nature of his ministry and teaching. He does not agree with the world’s assessment of him. He tells his disciples, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Jesus does not see himself at war with the God of the Old Testament. He does not find the stories of Adam and Eve, Jonah in the Wale, or Sodom and Gomorrah embarrassing or intolerant. He did not think the the Scriptures needed to evolve. In verse 18, Jesus says that until heaven and earth pass away, his word will stand. The expression “heaven and earth” was a colloquial phrase used to convey something similar to our phrase “when pigs fly.” Jesus’s point is rhetorical and clear. The Old Testament will never be outdated.

At this juncture, many theologians and friends will nominally shake their head in agreement before tossing out a, “but.” They assert that the Word of God is eternal but that not all doctrines our needed. For example when the waters of popular opinion become to shallow to sustain God’s view of sexuality or of race, many in the church will encourage us to toss those doctrines overboard so that we can reach the lost and dying with the love and mercy of Christ. Though perhaps well-intended, the impulse to jettison the less palatable parts of the Bible runs counter to Jesus’s understanding of his message. He declares that “not an iota or dot, will pass from the law (Matt 5:17).”

When Jesus tackles the teaching of the Pharisees and the scribes, he does not take issue with their text but with their misinterpretation of their text. He repeatedly says, “You have heard…but I say to you.” Jesus will not tolerate those who pull out sharpies and start crossing out lines for the purpose of restricting or loosening the laws of God.

When men and women do begin to edit God’s law, they invariably restrict its application and expand its exceptions, tolerating all kinds of evil. According to the pharisees and scribes, a righteous person could be consumed with anger and bitterness if they did not murder. He could sexually harass her neighbors if he did not sleep with them. Moreover, he could still sleep with her secretary if he went through the divorce courts first. The pure in heart could also lie if the lie was inconsequential. Lastly, the holy people could take out vengeance on her neighbor if she did so with moderation. Pharisees and scribes achieved righteousness but denying righteousness. Those who read through Matthew 5:21-48 can easily grasp why Jesus said in verse 20, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it.

The Fulfillment of the Law

Jesus fulfilled the law when he perfectly obeyed the law. Now, he stands between us and the law not to protect us from the law but to empower us to obey it. When Christians believe, Jesus writes his heart upon their hearts and gifts them the Holy Spirit, enabling to follow the law. Because he fulfilled the moral law, his people can be moral.

But fulfillment consists not simply of obedience. When Jesus speaks of fulfillment, he is also declaring himself to be the zenith of the Old Testament. He is the savior that was promised to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. He is the prophet that Moses was never able to be. He is the shepherd king that David aspired to be. He is the perfect high priest. He is the culmination of the Old Testament. All the stories about exile and redemption were pointing to him. For example, the Passover was pointing to the day when he would be the perfect sacrifice on the cross. Jesus came to fulfill the law. He loves even the odd rules about fabrics and eating shrimp for it points to the saving work of Jesus. He is the fulfillment of all that came before. He abolished nothing.

Final Thoughts

Jesus did not take issues with the Jewish Scriptures. He founded his ministry upon them. Rather, he took issue with how the Pharisees and the scribes interpreted the Scriptures. He was revolutionary because he rightly interpreted the Word of God through the Christological lens. Jesus did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. May we too be found faithful in our pursuit of holiness!

Salt and Light: Evangelism +

Once Christians recognize that the ooze flowing from towards the world’s reservoir is one of hostility, they tend to build sandbag forts around their communities. In the days of old, men and women retreated into the deserts or set up monasteries behind large brick walls to keep the sins and sorrows of this world at bay. In the modern era, Christians construct walls around exclusive social groups centered upon everything from denominational structures to youth sports in an effort to keep out the displeasure of the world.

Though this impulse arises naturally, it contradicts to the commands of Jesus. After finishing up the beatitudes, Jesus tells his disciples to be salt and light (Matt 5:13-16). In other words, Jesus is declaring that his followers have been redeemed in part for the purpose of preserving the world from decay and for the purpose of saving it from darkness. In short, the followers of Christ should not retreat but engage this dying and dark world.

The Need for Salt

When Jesus employs the analogy of salt, he implies that the world is in a state of decay. Though the modern soul gravitates towards notions of evolutionary progress, Jesus shares no such hope. He located evil not in earthly systems but in the hearts of those who create those cultural systems. From the center of the soul comes the evil that “defiles a person (Matt 5:18).” Technology alone cannot change our disposition towards destruction. The great physicist Albert Einstein famously noted,

The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking, and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe. We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive.

The technology of this century has also failed to change our thinking. The arrival of the internet has opened new worlds of information to millions of souls and has allowed families on opposite sides of the world to converse through live video chats. Though the internet can facilitate great good, it can also be used to bully teenagers, to steal hospital data, and to traffic in sexually explicit images. Even the medical sciences which enable doctors to create new drugs that can destroy cancer cells can also be used to create the poisons stuffed into missile warhead. Technology and education cannot keep the world from social decay. We need a new way of thinking.

Christ alone can change human thinking. He can turn our hearts of hatred into hearts of love. He died to free us from the paralyzing shame of sin and rose from the dead to demonstrate that all who believe on him for salvation can think and act according to the ethic of love through his power. Christians are to share this good news with their decaying world. They are to be salt and light.

The Benefits of Salt

When Christians encounter sin and brokenness in this world, they cannot close their eyes to their neighbor’s suffering. Rather, they are to address it, rubbing salt into this world’s decaying flesh. For example when a Christian sees a city councilwoman misusing the food pantry funds, he should speak up and vote her out of office. When a believer sees her classmate being bullied, she should counter her school’s culture and extend love to the harassed soul. And when a family is wrecked by strife, the saved family member should speak well of all involved and refuse to engage in the gossip. Though such actions may expose the Christian to false accusations, slander, and criticisms of being “too good for the rest of us,” society always benefits from the presence of the Christian. The poor receive better care. The bullied student is pulled back from the edge of suicide. And the entire extended family has Christmas at grandma’s house for the first time in decades. Martin Luther rightfully concluded,

Salting has to bite…If you want to…help people, you must be sharp and rub salt into their wounds…denouncing what is not right.

Christians possess the new way of thinking, the salt the preserves society from decay.

When society goes bad and politics devolve, Christians should not point fingers at the decaying world. It is doing what it has always done: decay. Instead, they should examine their own lives. The famed British pastor John Stott noted,

No one reproaches the meat for going bad! It cannot do anything else. The real question to ask is where is the salt?

Why Light

The next logical question that comes from Jesus’s discourse is: “Must the salt be recognizable?” Can Christians quietly vote for noble political candidates, donate to good causes, and encourage the hurting apart from the gospel of Christ? In other words, can Christians advocate for good in the public square apart from their faith?
Jesus says no. He says his followers are, “the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden (Matt 5:14).” When Christians interact with the world around them, they do so as little lights. Just as Christ came into the world containing life, “and the life was the light of men (Jn 1:4),” the followers of Jesus bring truth to bear on their world because the light of Christ has shown in their hearts (2 Cor 4:6). They do not hide Christ for he is the foundation of their convictions. They share Jesus with the world for the light of the gospel is the only power that can reorient human thinking to the ethic of love. Just as no one would turn on a flashlight and hide it under their covers, no Christians will experience the love of Christ and then hide Jesus from society. She shares Jesus with her family, coworkers, and neighbors.

Moreover, she should do so confidential for Jesus promises to go with the Christian as she shines the light. In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus proclaims,

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

Though the world will hate us and persecute us, we have nothing to fear for God is with us. The light will not snuffed out. It will push back the darkness.

Equipped with this knowledge, the people of God should set out to bring the truth and grace of God to bear on this world. They shine the light of Christ when sitting down to lunch with the unlovables, when taking the sick to the doctor, and when visiting the elderly. And as they do so, they explain who their God is and how his love has lead them to a new way of thinking. They bring the gospel to bear on all of life so that the world may “give glory to your Father who is in heaven (Matt 5:16).”

Do We Have To?

If a soul can comfortably hide the light of Christ within the confines of private religion and avoid salting this decaying world, that soul possess a worthless faith. Moreover, it is destined for destruction. In verses 13 and 14 of Matthew 5, Jesus bluntly tells his disciples “You are” the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Salting and lighting are essential qualities of the faith. If our faith does not preserve and enlighten the world around us, we prove ourselves to have no faith at all. In Jesus day, salt was contained in the rocks around the Dead Sea. As rain fell and evaporated back into the sky, the salt would evaporate from the rocks. The rocks would still have the white hew of salt but would no longer contain salt. Such rocks were good for nothing. They could not keep even a small piece of meat from decay. A professional faith which benefits neither one’s soul nor his neighbor’s is in the words of Jesus, “no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet (Matt 5:13-16).” Faith that lacks salt and light proves to be no faith at all. Dietrich Bonhoeffer noted,

Either we are the salt of the earth, or else we are annihilated; either we follow the call or we are crushed beneath it.

May God help us all to be salt and light.