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Friday, February 17, 2017

How to Tell the Difference between Righteous Indignation and Sinful Anger: 3 Questions to Ask

As I have been preparing to preach on Matthew 5:21-26, the enemy has been at war with me.  I have seen temptations and opportunities toward anger this week more than I have before.  How easy it is, in our self-centered culture, to find us focused on ourselves instead of the world around us.  Sure, they ran us late, they cut us off, they hurt us; but we are not to act like the rest of the world.  As a people saved from the anger of God through the death of Christ, we must understand mercy and grace toward others.  This is a reality I have forgotten this week, I have repented and asked the Lord to empower me going forward.  I hope you will do the same.

In Matthew 5:21-26 Jesus is teaching the people about the true meaning of God’s law- it more than external obedience, it is about the heart.  Sinful anger is just as serious as murder.  But, doesn’t we see Jesus himself getting angry?  Consider the words of Paul, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Ephesians 4:26).

Not only we are we encouraged to make sure we settle our anger quickly, but we are told that there is a way to be angry that is not sin.  In fact, we see Jesus had a righteous indignation.  But, how can we tell if our anger is sinful or righteous?  I submit we can start by asking three questions.

Question 1: Is my anger opposed to the fruits of the Spirit and does it produce the works of the flesh?
This question alone provides a fantastic grid for examining our anger.  Paul writes in Galatians 5:19-22,

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 

If our anger leads us to produce the works of the flesh, it is sinful anger.  If our anger leads us to squelch the fruits of the Spirit, it is sinful anger.  Anger must not muzzle goodness, gentleness, self-control, or peace in our lives.  In other words, when we look to Carrie Underwood as a solution to our cheating boyfriend, we are not looking to Jesus as the model for our anger.  Righteous anger may not always feel good, but it is the pursuit of what is good.

Question 2: Does my anger lead to wanting and doing what is truly best for others, or does it lead me to seek to destroy others?
Notice what Jesus says is a mark of sinful anger in Matthew 5. 

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. – Matthew 5:22 

Jesus is saying that murder is more than simply intentionally taking the life of a human being.  .  Sinful anger is the desire to damage or destroy another, even there reputation.  Notice he emphasizes what is said with our mouths above what is done with our hands.  Out of an abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.  To be straight forward: Intentional damage of another’s character is no different than intentional taking of their life.  Do we desire the destruction of others or do we want for our neighbors what we want for ourselves (Matthew 22:36-40)?

Question 3: Does my anger lead to seek peace and reconciliation or division and strife?
Consider Jesus’ words again in Matthew 5.

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 5:23-26

Notice, Jesus takes the application of His teachings into the temple, among the people of God.  Forgive and reconcile- even before sacrifice.  Reconciliation is more important than sacrifice because reconciliation was the goal of sacrifice (2 Corinthians 5:18-20).  Reconcile soon and quickly with your brother or sister.  The punishment for sin is great, but also peace is better.  Peace should be our motivator.  Jesus is a reconciler and we are to do the same. 

May our anger be righteous that we might see the blessing Jesus promised

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
– Matthew 5:9

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