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“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother – or neighbor - will be subject to judgment. (Matthew 5:21)
Last week we contrasted our mindset when trying to obey God: from “Lifeless to Better to Best.” Trying to obey, that is, so as to stay out of trouble, or to gain his approval, or to feel good about ourselves, is lifeless. We can do better. We can live the best.
Today we move into Jesus’ teaching on anger. Here is a personal example of my … lifeless … approach to anger. I decided years ago I would not do anything or say anything that would cause me to have to apologize later. That was my guardrail against anger.
And it works, for the most part. But it is not actually a guardrail against anger, is it? Instead, it is a guardrail against showing anger.
Surely you can see the lifelessness of such an approach. My entire motive is wrong. I don’t want to show anger or act in anger because I do not want to have to apologize later. Why? Because my pride is such that I disdain humbling myself like that. I am too proud to apologize, so I will just avoid showing my anger.
This is exactly why Jesus taught us that the heart is the real issue, long before the action. My actions may be acceptable to the public, but my private heart is still a mess. A mess!
Perhaps a better approach would be to try not to get angry at all. Or not to sin in my anger. Apparently we can be angry and not sin. Jesus did, and we also read:
“In your anger do not sin.” (Ephesians 4:26)
But the plain truth is I have not done very well at not getting angry, and have failed completely at being angry and not sinning. And you? So let’s seek to live the best life possible, instead of “Lifeless” or “Better.” And a fine place to start would be with Jesus’ own words:
“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are generous, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are stingy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! (Matthew 6:22-23)
With generous eyes I practice viewing the other person in a light most favorable. I cut them some slack. I extend the grace I would want them to extend to me. (That would be the same grace I extend myself each time I act poorly, by the way). Jesus tells us that if our eyes are generous, our body will be full of light. But if our eyes are stingy and suspicious – and angry, our body will be full of darkness. And, “how great is that darkness!”
Viewing the other person in a light most favorable is looking at them, and whatever they did to raise your anger, with generous eyes. Maybe they are having a bad day. Or perhaps something very difficult is going on in their life. Or they just showed their fragile humanity and fumbled the situation. Or, maybe, just maybe, I am just being a big baby, whining because I did not get my way!
Generous eyes will also help us to first look in the mirror, as Jesus observed:
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? (Matthew 7:3)
If I first look in the mirror and see the huge plank-s in my heart, perhaps what at first seemed to my stingy eyes to be logs in the other person’s life, will diminish to mere specks of dust by comparison. My anger will diminish with it.
Let’s begin to practice these.
And yet these are only steps we can take to change our hearts. Transformation is the goal, and only Jesus and the Holy Spirit can do that. Therefore let us learn more and more to lean into and lean onto the Holy Spirit to soften our hearts. Someday soon we may respond to anger with a heart so averse to reacting in anger that we say, “Why would I drink that rat poison?”
That would be walking in the light with a generous heart, a heart after God’s own heart.1
Next Week: Rats in the Cellar
11 Samuel 13:14