Getting to the Heart of Anger – Matt 5:21-26


It appears to me that we are living in an angry nation at the moment:

  • People are angry on the roads – the way they drive and the way they respond to other road users: road rage
  • Entertainment: violence, WWF, TV games
  • Violence we have seen in our society recently: service delivery protests, students unrest, xenophobic violence
  • Incidence of race and race-related slurs, attacks [e.g. revenge attacks in Coligny, North West – house burnt, journalists assaulted]

For too many people, anger has become a common and acceptable part of life.

Anger, the heart and Jesus

Read Matt 5:21-26

In this passage Jesus is going to show that:

(1) Anger consumes us more than we realise,

(2) Anger is more integral to God than you think,

(3) Anger is more integral to you than you recognise.

Anger consumes us more than we realise

The Pharisees had taken the Law of Moses and restricted the 6th command of the Ten Commandments to murder or homicide (you can give you CG leader a hard time about war and the death penalty).  If you refrained from murder you had kept the law perfectly; which is not that hard – most people get through life without murdering anyone!

But Jesus traces a line from murder to anger (22a) that hides unseen in many people’s hearts. He says anger is equally as serious in God’s sight.  Angry feelings and insults are the ugly symptoms of a heart that desires to get rid of someone who is in our way, to silence them.  And our English language captures the reality of what Jesus is saying here so well:

  • The angry words of a child to their parent, “I hate you, I wish you were dead”
  • The lies and insults of a work colleague that performs a “character assassination”
  • The facial expression that deserves the description, “if looks could kill”

Jesus is saying that anger starts in the heart and expresses itself in all parts of our lives – every part of human nature is involved[1]:

Your emotions

Sinful anger expresses itself in many feelings – hatred, annoyance, resentment, aggravation.  You don’t have to rant and rave, scream and shout.  Grumpiness, sulky self-pity, critical attitudes are evidence of the same.  But anger is so much more…

Your body

Anger shows itself in your physical body: flushed face, adrenaline surge, clenched muscles, churning stomach, nervous tension, change in voice.  The Biblical words used of anger describe nostrils, burning and steaming or smoking and swollen.  Were you never that class that used to annoy your class teacher just so that you could see the vein pump on their forehead, or see them turn red or hear their voice squeak?

Your mind

Jesus particularly identifies two ways in which anger is shown.  He warns against saying “Raca” to your brother, and he warns against saying “You fool”!  Scholars and Bible commentators do not agree on the exact meaning of these two words.  The best summation is probably: Raca expresses contempt for a man’s head: ‘you stupid!’; fool expresses contempt for his heart and character: ‘moral fool’)[2].  So anger also consists of angry thoughts, mental words, pictures, attitudes and judgements.

The irony of Jesus’ words, “anyone who is angry will be subject to judgement” is that anger requires that you become the whole criminal justice system in your head – except for the defence attorney – investigator, prosecution, witnesses, judge, jury, jailer, and hangman.  Verdict: “guilty as charged” – and my anger justified.

Your behaviour

And everything from cutting remarks, caustic words, curses, exaggerations, gestures, heaving sighs, walking out, rising decibel levels, threats, scowling looks, hitting, physical violence, murder (and many other sinful actions).

Deal immediately

The point is that angry emotions, words and action are designed to hit, hurt and destroy.  The playground saying, “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never harm me” is a false defense.  Angry thoughts and insulting words do damage to relationships and leave scares.  It kills a part of the victim’s heart.

In this passage, Jesus makes it clear that it is wrong to be wrongly angry – there is judgement from an all-seeing God who knows the depths of our hearts, and even the danger of the fires of hell (5:22).

The seriousness of this matter is in the two illustrations Jesus uses.  These illustrations are about anger in our lives being as serious and dangerous as murder.  Immediate and urgent action is necessary.  If you are coming to temple, if you are going to court – deal with your heart and do whatever you can to forgive and reconcile!

[it is not primarily about not going to court or not fighting with sister and brothers in Christ – as important as that is.]  Any anger that starts to take hold of your heart (emotions, body, mind, actions) – deal with it immediately.

Anger is more integral to God than you think

The Bible is about anger.  Who is the angriest person in the Bible?  God is.  Some people call it God’s wrath – but whichever word you use, it means the same: God is wholly opposed to and against all sin.  When God is angry it is not a fly-off-the-handle / uncontrollable rage.  No, it is intimately linked to his holiness and justice.  Anger is a characteristic (attributes) of God – integral to who He is.

Romans 1:18 The wrath (anger) of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness

When God is angry it tells us something very important.  Why?  Because anger can be utterly good, right and appropriate, it can be beautiful and the only fair and true response to something evil; and a loving response on behalf of the victims of evil.  B.B. Warfield puts it like this, “it would be impossible for a moral being to stand in the presence of perceived wrong indifferent and unmoved”.  Because he loves he gets angry with what harms.

The example that most people know about Jesus getting angry at the temple and turning over the tables of the money changers.  On the surface it may seem like Jesus was just upset about their corrupt money changing practices (they were skimming too much off the top).  But actually it was about the perversion of worship and access to God at the temple.  Although Jesus tells us not to say, “you fool!”, he confronts the Pharisees with the words., “you blind fools” (Matt 23:17).  So, either Jesus is a hypocrite worse than the Pharisees or this alerts us to the fact that there is a right way and a wrong way to be angry.

The gospel is about the anger of God and the love of God being resolved in Christ.  Jesus Christ absorbs God’s anger (judgement against sin) on the cross on our behalf.  God is rightly opposed and against all sin.  But the glory of the gospel is that he frees us from the consequences of all our disobedience.  The innocent Son of God was hung up on the cross.  The one who had never been wrongly angry, only rightly angry at the evil and the results of evil in this world.  Jesus was so angry with sin and it’s torments in our life that it welled up in love – he sacrifices himself, bearing the burning fire of God’s anger that we alone deserved.

When we get that, we realise that his right-anger ad love in Christ liberates us from our wrong-anger.  How?

Anger is more part of you than you realise

We are made in the image of the and therefore it is natural for us to get angry.  The question is whether it is rightly or wrongly angry.  I want to close by explaining how the gospel exposes wrong anger and empowers us to put it to death

When Jesus was angry here on earth it was (1) defending the glory of God and (2) defending the vulnerable and defenceless.   The people for whom Jesus reserved his harshest and rightly-angry words were the Pharisees.  Why?  They glorified themselves (prayer robs, public giving, seats of importance at meals and the synagogue, lengthy prayers) when they are full of and they prevented people from entering God’s Kingdom.  His anger burned against them: “You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces” (Matt 23:13), “you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them” (Luke 11:46); “You yourselves have not entered [the Kingdom of God], and you have hindered those who were entering (Luke 11:52).  Jesus is angry with those who

When we get angry it should also be in defence of the glory of God and in defence of the vulnerable and defenceless who are preyed upon.  BUT (here’s the insight) when we get wrongly-angry it is because it is in defence of a functional god (something that we have put in place of the true God) or for someone that doesn’t really need or shouldn’t be defended.  Let me give you four quick examples:

  • If you get angry in traffic (anger stems from an excessive longing to have everything go according to my plan)
  • The businessman/politician/academic/minister who angrily throws an invitation in the bin and shouts at his secretary to call the conference organisers to find out why he is not speaking (His anger stems from a longing for the influence and recognition as a powerful leader).
  • It’s late Saturday afternoon, you just sat down on the couch with a cup of coffee after a busy morning with kids sports and parties. The doorbell rings.  You you’re your coffee down.  It spills on you hand and the floor.  You shout, “can someone get that, am I the only one who does anything around here”.  Your daughter answers: it’s the express delivery of your wife’s Mother’s Day present. (Your anger stems from a longing for pleasure/comfort/peace)
  • The young mother who harshly drags her misbehaving toddler out of a Moms and Tots group. You can hear her shouting threats at him in the next room.  As she walks back in she sheepishly says to the other moms, “he only got three hours sleep last night and he is getting sick.  (Her anger stems from a longing to be accepted or desired as a good mom)


If you want to deal with anger you have to go to the heart an ask, “from whom or what am I seek that which only God can give.”  Only God can give the lasting pleasure, comfort, peace, recognition, acceptance that you deeply desire.  And he does it when we find God through Christ.


Sermon Questions

Please use / augment / discard these questions so that your group has a fruitful discusssion

  1. Grant said that we live in a society that is angry.  Do you agree or disagree?
  2. What line does Jesus draw between murder and anger?  Why?
  3. Is it true that “anger consumes us more than we realise”? Why or Why not?
  4. What is the point of Jesus’ two illustrations at the end of our passage?
  5. Discuss this statement: God is the angriest person in the Bible.
    1. What is the biblical definition of anger/wrath?
    2. What is the connection between God’s characteristics of anger, holiness, justice and love?
    3. How do you see anger displayed in Jesus’ life (cf. Matt 21:12-13, 23:1-35 Luke 11:37-54)?
    4. What is Jesus defending in his anger?
  6. As image bearers, we also get angry.  But too often we get wrongly-angry, defending a functional god/saviour.  Grant gave a couple of examples of anger as the result of defending functional gods.  Can you share other examples (hopefully from your own life)?
  7. How does the gospel (God’s right-anger to sin satisfied in Christ) free us from our wrong-anger?

[1] These 4 are pointed out by D Powlison, Anger Part1: Understanding Anger

[2] A.B. Bruce quotes by J.W. Stott