You have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.” But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, “You fool!” will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 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. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.Matthew 5:21-26
The heart of the gospel of the Kingdom is a spirit of reconciliation. Anger that drives a wedge between people to the point of spiritual division within the body of Christ breaks the heart of God. The act of murder is an act born of hatred and unreconciled anger. And by the letter of the law, murder required judgement that exacts the price of death. But Jesus takes the letter of the law further and gets to the heart of the law. If unreconciled anger is at the root of the act of murder, then the heart of the matter is that anger makes one just as guilty as the one who commits the act.
Now let me be perfectly clear. Biblically speaking, anger in and of itself is not a sin. Paul writes in Ephesians 4:26-27: “Be angry, and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” By definition, anger is nothing more than an emotional response to unmet expectations. The question comes down to the righteousness of our expectations. Jesus Himself showed anger at various times within His ministry, but His anger was justified. In every case of anger that Jesus displayed, it was the case of where religious authority was abused to the point of twisting God’s word to manipulate His children. And nothing throughout the history of the Old Testament or the New Testament burns the wrath of God more than those who intentionally lead God’s people astray. That is why some of the harshest penalties of the law of Moses were reserved for false prophets. (See Deuteronomy 13:1-5)
There are plenty of things to be legitimately angry about in this world. Human trafficking. The selling of children within the sex trade. Racism. Murder. All of these are crimes against the image bearers of God himself. And it’s particularly heinous when such crimes are perpetrated against innocent children. These are things that anger the heart of God and should anger all of us. However, the heart of the gospel is one that seeks to reconcile sinners to grace of God. Yes, even the murderer. Yes, even the racist. Yes, even the seller of children and other human traffickers. And there are nothing in this world that burns my own heart to anger more than the scourge of child sex trafficking. However, the truth of the matter is that it is the only the grace of God that brings repentance, not the other way around. The only way we end human trafficking is to reach the heart of traffickers and inspire repentance. The only way we reach end racism is to transform the heart of the racist with the gospel of Christ that reconciles all people until Him.
And Jesus speaks directly to the heart of the gospel by getting to the heart of the law within the heart of mankind. If you have anger in your heart to the point of hatred for another person, then yes, you are just as guilty as if you had murdered them. Whether it be an individual or a class/group of individuals. When we look at the cross of Calvary, and recognize the price God paid to reconcile us, we forfeit all rights to have an unforgiving spirit within our own hearts. And when we harbor anger, bitterness, and resentment within our hearts, we shackle the gospel and put it in a box reserved for those that we find deserving of grace. The truth of the matter is that none of us deserve grace. Otherwise, it isn’t grace; it’s merit. If God can forgive an adulterous, murderous, liar of a king to the point that he is restored and called a “man after God’s own heart,” then He can change the heart of anyone that is willing to seek transformation. Anyone.
And I speak from experience. There have been different people in my life that I have harbored anger and bitterness towards over the years. And every time the name of that person would come up, it would make my heart twist and my head grow cold. And the reality of it all is that my anger was borne out of my own self-righteousness in those cases. My prideful need to be right. In many of those cases, I have sought reconciliation and forgiveness for my attitude towards those individuals. In other cases, I am still working on that. Forgiving and seeking forgiveness.
Now forgiveness and reconciliation do not always mean that the relationship will go back to “normal”. It doesn’t mean that you will be best friends with one another. But it does mean that you no longer hold the offenses of one another to account. The debt is cleared. The line item is vetoed. In fact, by definition, the heart of the word “forgiveness” is “give.” It means you give grace and take the debt that is owed upon yourself. That is what Jesus did on Calvary. That is what we must do with one another for the sake of the Kingdom.
Unresolved anger, bitterness, and unforgiveness within the body of Christ makes a mockery of the cross of Christ. Yes, we are called to hold one another accountable to the law of God and the heart of God. And we must remember that anger does have a proper place and should inspire us to hold one another accountable in a spirit of love. However, the goal of such discipline is not separation, but reconciliation. Discipline is intended to spur repentance in the heart of the offender and reconciliation between parties, but ultimately full reconciliation in our mutual relationship to our Abba Father.