The Dangers of Anger part 1

by John Thomas Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

Sermon on the Mount - Matthew 5:21-26 (Anger)
Jesus advises us on how to deal with anger.

The Dangers of Anger
Matthew 5:21-26
Many years ago, a member of the Missouri State Legislature accepted a $25,000 bribe for his vote regarding a specific bill. Sometime later, he received a $50,000 bribe from the opposing side, so he returned the original $25,000. Eventually, the corruption was discovered, and the legislator, who had turned the state's evidence, related the story on the stand. The examining attorney asked him, "Why was it that you returned the $25,000?" The legislator drew himself up to his full height and, in a voice that showed his scorn of the lawyer for such a question, answered, "I would have you know that I am too conscientious about taking money from both sides!"
Human nature is such that even when caught in a sinful practice, people are very good at quickly justifying themselves as being righteous. This has been true throughout history, and it is still true today, as evidenced by the culture of corruption that extends through every level of government and has increasingly become standard business practice.
The Scribes devoted their lives to studying the Scriptures, yet long before Jesus walked the earth, they had departed from the meaning of the Mosaic Law. Much like our own Supreme Court, they were so immersed in the minor details of interpretation of law according to the precedents set by those that preceded them that they neglected the plain reading of the law and the intent of its author. Their interpretations of the law had, for all practical purposes, replaced God's doctrines with the precepts of men.
The Pharisees claimed they carried out every nuance of practice demanded by the Mosaic Law, but they had departed from that long before Jesus became a man. The Pharisees had made out long lists of "do's and don'ts" by which they sought to live righteously. However, like any time man attempts to "improve" on God's words, they lowered the standards God had set to something they thought they could keep. The result was self-righteousness, yet, like the Missouri legislator caught red-handed, they still claimed to be good.
The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus' great exposition of the nature of true righteousness. (See: Introduction to the Sermon on the Mount). Jesus describes the characteristics of true righteousness in the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:3-16. The righteous are poor in spirit, mournful, meek, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, and peacemakers. (See: Blessed are the Poor in Spirit). Because they are righteous, the unrighteous world will react to them with insult, slander, and persecution. (See: Blessed are the Persecuted). The righteous are the salt of the earth and the light of the world, and they do their good works in such a way as to bring glory to God. (See: Being Salt & Light).
Jesus makes it plain in Matthew 5:17-20 that what He is teaching is in complete harmony with all of the Old Testament. He is not abolishing even the smallest part of it but fulfilling it. This contrasts with the scribes and Pharisees, who perverted the law's meaning and practice. In verse 20, Jesus issues a condemnation and a warning to the multitude that had gathered to hear Him teach, "Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven." Neither the scribes, Pharisees, or anyone else would be part of the kingdom of heaven unless they possessed true righteousness. (See: The Law, Righteousness & the Kingdom). The Beatitudes described its characteristics. The rest of the sermon contrasts these self-righteous religious leaders' false teaching and erroneous practices with true righteousness.
True Righteousness Illustrated
In the rest of Matthew 5, Jesus presents and then refutes the six teachings of the Scribes by explaining the correct teaching of the law as interpreted by true righteousness. The six topics covered are murder (vs. 21), adultery (vs. 27), divorce (vs. 31), vows (vs. 33), revenge (vs. 38), and loving your neighbor (vs. 43). Jesus introduces each of these teachings with the phrase, "you have heard," or "it was said."
In Matthew 6, Jesus condemns certain practices of the Pharisees and then explains how the righteous are to practice those things. Jesus' message is essential, "do not be like the hypocrites, do it this way instead." each section in this chapter begins with an introduction of the topic, followed by a description of the Pharisees' unfair practices and an explanation of how the righteous should do these things. The practices examined include giving alms (vs. 2), praying (vs. 5), and fasting (vs. 16).
Jesus continues this theme in the rest of chapter 6 and the first part of chapter 7, but Jesus becomes more direct by giving commands instead of contrasts. Jesus gives three prohibitions that contradicted the practice of the Jewish religious leaders: do not lay up treasures on earth (6:19), do not be judgmental (7:1), and do not give what is holy to dogs (7:6).
When I began this series on the sermon on the Mount, I said that much false teaching had come from these passages of Scripture because people fail to examine the context of what is being said. Too often, people want to take one little section and turn it into a rule – a new law. There are two reasons it is wrong to do that. First, it removes what Jesus says from its context resulting in using His words to support ideas He did not teach. Frankly, when that happens, it is blasphemy. Second, it repeats the very same error of the Scribes and Pharisees. They were so intent on examining the minutia of the letter of the law that they failed to see and follow the principle of the law itself. Alternatively, Jesus described in Matthew 23:24 that they were blind guides who strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.
This morning we will begin our examination of these illustrations of true righteousness, which contrasted the perverted teachings of the Scribes with the proper and righteous teachings of the Mosaic law.
Legalism and Murder – Matthew 5:21
The first subject Jesus brings up is murder and hatred. Follow along as I read Matthew 5:21-26, "You have heard that the ancients were told, 'You will not commit murder' and 'Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.' 22 "But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever shall say to his brother, 'Raca,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever shall say, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery Hell. 23 "If therefore you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your offering there before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. 25 "Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not deliver you to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. 26 "Truly I say to you, you shall not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent.
Notice that the section starts with the phrase, "you have heard that the ancients were told . . ." Notice that the word "ancients" is plural. This is not a reference to something God told Moses. Jesus is referring to the Rabbis of past generations. The past Rabbis were often referred to as the "fathers of antiquity" or "the men of long ago." Those are the men that Jesus is talking about, and it is their teaching that he will contrast with His teaching. Jesus would not contrast His teaching with the Mosaic Law because He has already said in Matthew 5:17-19 that He is in complete harmony with the Mosaic Law.
Notice as well that it begins, "you have heard." In many respects, the typical Jew of the day had become separated from the Scriptures. Most of them had lost the ability to read and converse in Hebrew during and after the Exile. The common language was now Aramaic, and the trade language was Greek. Though the Old Testament had been translated into Greek – the Septuagint – scrolls (books) were bulky, expensive, and far out of the financial reach of the average person. The result was that the people relied on the religious leaders to read the Scriptures in the synagogue service and then explain them. Since the people did not understand the text in its original language, they had no basis for judging the description and explanation given to them. In addition, their respect for the religious leaders led them to accept whatever they were told without doing an investigation. Unfortunately, most scribes and rabbis no longer translated and explained the scriptures themselves. Instead, they taught from the Talmud, an exhaustive arrangement of the rabbinic traditions. The traditions of men had replaced the word of God.
And so it is that Jesus begins the section by reminding the people what the Scribes told them, " 'You shall not commit murder' and 'Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.'" They had started well by repeating the sixth commandment from the ten commandments of Exodus 20. However, instead of explaining what that meant, they reduced that to "Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court." That may not seem very important since the latter statement is still valid even in our society. Whoever commits murder is liable to the court. When someone kills someone else and is caught, their case is eventually heard before a judge and jury to decide the proper punishment. The second statement is true, but it is a significant change of meaning, for it reduces and confines what God says about the murder to mere punishment at the hands of a civil magistrate.

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