I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.
Having announced that He has not replaced or relaxed the Law of Moses, and having proclaimed that only a righteousness that exceeds that of the meticulous law-keeping of the scribes and Pharisees will warrant eternal life, Jesus goes on to give six illustrations of this ‘exceeding righteousness.’ As the Framer and Founder of the Law, Jesus authoritatively declares the Law’s original intention, which was missed by the religious leaders of His day and of ours as well. The six illustrations which prohibit anger, lust, divorce, oaths, revenge, and hatred, share in common the fact that all six are social commands; that is to say, they are oriented toward and regulate the way we live with others. As a fruit of our right relationship with God in Christ, our first deed in the world is the good work of good human relationships. The quality of our relationship with others is a measure of our faith.
Jesus’ teaching of these six commands follows the same general formula: (1) Stating the Old Testament commandment; (2) Declaring His authoritative radical intensification of the commandment; and (3) Giving applicatory steps to obey the commandment. This week we will examine the first of these six social commands, where Jesus equates the penalty for simmering anger and verbal contempt with that of murder. Words like, “idiot,” “jerk,” and “stupid,” are part of our culture’s everyday vocabulary. Even if we don’t always say them verbally, we consider them part of our normal everyday feelings toward others who wrong us. But while we may consider such dismissive words, or the angry heart behind them, as trivial and unimportant, astonishingly, Jesus reproves even what we think of as normal, with the consequence of eternal judgment! Using the commentary of Davies and Allison, Frederick Bruner writes: “Anger and harsh words, in short, are not just ‘shortcomings’ among many other relatively harmless ‘weaknesses’ we have; they are, in Jesus’ judgment, ‘grievous sins,’ ‘to be excorcised at all costs,’ or else there will be the most severe judgment imaginable.”
Every day of our lives we face incidents that challenge our anger, and every day these incidents are a fresh call to the Gospel. Ultimately Jesus’ proclamation of perfect righteousness in the area of anger and derisive speech is an evangelist, preaching to us of our need for the Gospel.