Jesus Talks about Anger

David Bast

Read: Matthew 5:21-26

Everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment . . . and whoever says, “You fool!” will be liable to the hell of fire. (v. 22)

I can still remember hearing this verse in church when I was a boy and feeling nervous. I was pretty sure I had never said, “You fool!” to my brother Tom, but I thought it was lucky for me that Jesus hadn’t said, “Whoever says to his brother ‘You jerk!’ will be in danger of hell!” But, of course, that is exactly what he meant. It’s not the particular words we choose. It is talking this way at all that is wrong. And it is in entertaining the feelings that give birth to the words that we actually begin to break the sixth commandment.

Jesus expands the Law’s commandments in two ways. First, he internalizes them. According to Jesus, God is interested in the attitudes lying behind our actions. These are what lead up to them or actually trigger them. “Listen,” he says, “when the law forbids murder, it’s also condemning the ways we can kill people in our thoughts or with our words, even if we never lay a hand on them.”

The other thing Jesus does is to point toward the positive steps the commandment requires us to take. God’s law isn’t just negative. Every commandment implies its opposite. Here in the command against verbal killing and inward hating, the positive duty Jesus talks about is taking the initiative to restore a broken relationship (v. 24). —David Bast

Prayer: Lord, help me be a healer not a hater.