Lesson 2 – Anger, the Potential to Murder

Anger, the Potential to Murder

Scripture:            Matt. 5:21-26


First let us consider what some psychologists have to say about anger.* Most will agree with the proverb; “Whoever is angry is in trouble.”  Children show anger very early.  In fact, they become angry so early some consider it an inherited trait.  Perhaps anger is their tool to get someone to help them attain satisfaction for their innate urge of hunger.  Preventing the movement of a baby’s body parts will fire up their anger – just try it.

It is evident that anger is a territorial mechanism.  When uninvited strangers camp on another person’s physical territory they generally bristle – along with their dog.  People also lay claim to their psychological territory.  Personal criticism is sure to be rewarded with an anger response.  People become angry when someone impinges on their ideological or theological territory.  For instance, tempers often flare when people criticize another person’s political or religious beliefs.

In an attempt to list the different situations that “fire off” anger, one study group found the number to exceed two hundred.  However, some professionals say all of the stimuli that cause peoples’ anger to flare fall under three headings: Blocked behavior, wounded vanity and real or imaged injustice.

Block a hungry person from their meal and their emotion of anger will quickly be evident.  If they learn there is no food and believe there is no way to obtain it, the emotion of fear will develop.  Both of these emotions are enemies of a healthy personality.  Anger is a contagious emotion.  It begets itself in people who witness the display of anger.  Its result is personal unattractiveness, disintegrated personality and social tragedies.

The conscious stimuli people respond to with anger are not always the real cause.  In some situations people have repressed their emotion of anger, perhaps as far back as their childhood.  It can cause them to rationalize the cause of a present anger response.

A study of our automatic nervous system after a “flare up” will show how “anger is poison” to our body.  This may have been just one of the reasons the Apostle Paul warned:

In your anger do not sin.  Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.  Eph. 4:26, 27

Those who do not heed this warning will surely, to say the least, become a grouch because of the sugar left in their blood stream and the malfunction of their digestive system after a sustained angry encounter.  In our text, Jesus will show us how anger is the first step to murder.

In this study we will take special note of the differences in the categories of law.  The Law of Moses belongs in a different category than the law of God’s new covenant – the law of life.  This is the intent of Jesus’ teaching in our text.  Jesus will show how we Christians who have the law of the new covenant written on our hearts and minds will, at the same time, fulfill the requirements of the Law of Moses.


There are two contexts for Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  The first setting was Jesus’ oral deliverance to the Jews who lived in Galilee and those who had come from afar.  It would have been delivered in the Aramaic language.  His aim for the original audience for our text in this lesson was to show the Jews how to fulfill the requirements of the Law in relation to the command, “Do not murder.”  Matthew wrote it down for the churches and others to read years later.  The common language spoken by people in the Mediterranean world was Greek.  Unless Matthew was bi-lingual, someone translated his gospel for him.

Jesus’ audience was very much interested in the arrival of the Messiah and the kingdom He would establish in line with the prophecies given to David (II Sam. 7:12-17; Luke 1:30-33).  Most Jews, including the apostles, did not understand what Jesus meant by the kingdom of heaven (Acts 1:6; 2:36).  It was only after Jesus ascended back into heaven and the Holy Spirit came that the apostles were enlightened.  They began to teach the true concept of the kingdom of heaven and the law of God’s new covenant after the Holy Spirit came to guide them (John 16:12-15; Acts 2:1-4).  The kingdom of heaven and the law of the new covenant was a part of the gospel taught by the apostles to call people out of Satan’s kingdom of darkness and into Jesus’ kingdom of light (Acts 26:18).  In fact, a person cannot be born again unless they have faith in the kingdom and accept the new covenant in their repentance.

Matthew was one of the apostles who was baptized with the Holy Spirit.  After some time he wrote the Sermon on the Mount.  His organization of Jesus’ lesson is what Christians have today.  The intent of Matthew’s writing is the same for us as it was for the original audience.  Christians’ should have a clear idea about the kingdom of God and the law of the new covenant.  We need this in order to understand how we fulfill the requirements of the old covenant.

It is evident the churches today need an in depth study on these two subjects.  Many members do not understand how the word “church” is defined as it relates to the kingdom of Satan and the kingdom of God.  We must have these two kingdoms clearly in mind in order to use the word church in context with the New Testament.  Many Christians do not have a clear idea about the new covenant and the law of life (Heb. 8:10-12).

Even though the subject in this text is anger, we need to remember the original intent was to help the Jewish audience understand in what sense Jesus did not come to abolish the Law of Moses.  They, perhaps, could only hear His words and wonder about the authoritarian message He spoke.  The audience Matthew wrote for should have had a much clearer concept of the kingdom.  The church understood they had been transferred into the kingdom of God.  It was the spiritual kingdom of Israel and not the one Jesus’ audience had in mind.

Jesus did not come to give another set of laws that condemned behavior as did the Law of Moses.  This kind of law belongs in the category of State law.  Jesus came to show and give us laws that describe the way a human being has been designed by God to develop as His children (John 1:4; 14:6).  He came to show how people who have the attitudes He taught would be happy because they had lived in a satisfied manner.  In some cases such as the need for security and glory they had hope for satisfaction.  This is a law that belongs in the category of natural laws describing the phenomenon of growth.

People who have put their faith in Jesus and have experimented with His new covenant laws are free to grow spiritually.  This means their spirit that came from God is developing into the image of Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:29).  The power to continue to grow will depend upon their strength of character; therefore, Jesus has taught us in our text how to remove the deterrent of anger from our personality.  This unhealthy emotion uses energy that is useful for the exercise of strong character; anger weakens character.

The Law of Moses stated “Thou shall not kill.”  However, this did not stop killing.  We have the same laws today in our nation but killing continues to happen on a daily basis.  Jesus said His aim was to fulfill the requirements of the Law.  He further stated that Christians’ righteousness should exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees if we would live our lives on earth in association with the kingdom of heaven.

If the leader in our nation told us that he had a program to once and for all stop murder, what would it be?  It would need to be the same program Jesus offered; otherwise, it would not work.  Jesus’ plan involved the re-learning of the emotion of anger.  He knew if anger ceased to be a part of our personalities killing in the form of murder would stop.  It is the only way to stop murders from happening.

Anger is a learned emotion.  It may have been learned at times when our behavior was blocked.  Blocked behavior is one of the stimuli that arouses anger in people.  Anger is a disintegrating emotion in one’s personality.  That is, it destroys our power to be the kind of person we would like to be.  It leads to murder and it also can lead a person into hell fire.

Jesus has taught other lessons in Matthew 5:38-48, involving anger and hate emotions.  In the text for this lesson He is concerned about anger and its destructive nature in relation to the fellowship of family.  This can include any fellowship where the relationship is called “brother.”  He, without a doubt, had the church He would build in mind.   The church Jesus planned to build will be the church He will turn back to God as the kingdom of God (Matt. 16:18; I Cor. 15:24).  Jesus will turn the kingdom back to God after the members of the church are found faithful at Judgment (Matt. 13:40-43).  The Apostle Paul preached the kingdom of God and Christ and established the church of God in Christ (Acts 20:25; Eph. 5:5; I Thess. 2:14).

Jesus said whoever is angry with their brother is liable for judgment.  That is, he or she is in need of making a correction in their heart department.  If they do not apply a different emotion to the given situation, they will be penalized.  Jesus made use of what His audience knew about their culture as a metaphor for what happens to the “inner man” because of his or her anger.  He called to their attention the Jews religious court system.  Anger is progressive in its nature.  It builds on itself.  A small flame of anger may build itself up to a verbal attack and then to physical attacks on the provoker.  A simple anger emotion is the first step to murder.  The Law of Moses condemned the act of one who progressed through the stages that led her or him to murder.  Jesus attacked the cause.  Law such as “state law” and the Law of Moses, wait for the act to be committed and then pronounce judgment.  Jesus pronounced judgment at every level of anger.  His appeal was to fix what was broken before it developed into a more serious problem.  Jesus taught a law that did not convict (Rom. 5: 13, 14).  He taught the law of life.  It is written on the heart and mind.  It describes and promotes growth of the “self.”  Anger in any form is a detractor of human growth.  Youth and adults must grow out of the baby tantrums emotion of anger – even if our behavior is blocked.

Angry people pass judgment on the provoker of their anger.  Jesus said the starting point for making judgment should be with one’s self (Matt. 7:1).  This is not to say a Christian does not have the responsibility for making judgment calls.  We do, but it must be righteous judgment (John 7:24).  The quality of our life is determined by the quality of our judgment.  “For man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life God desires.”  James 1:20.   Paul cautioned sinners about becoming judges of other peoples’ sin (Rom. 2:1).  He said it would boomerang.  Christians are justified sinners (Rom. 5:1). James made the following observation:

Brothers, do not slander one another.  Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it.  When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it.  There is one Lawgiver and Judge, who is able to save and destroy.  But you – who are you to judge your neighbor?  James 4:11, 12  

James spoke of “the perfect law of liberty.”  Jas. 1:25.  It is our king’s law of life that gives freedom (Jas. 2:8-13).  It teaches us what is good for growth and also what a person must be freed from to have the liberty to develop a healthy personality and strong character.  This is the law of the new covenant.  This is the category of law Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount.  This is the royal (king’s) law – the law that gives freedom (Jas. 2:8, 12).  Please note that James showed Christians how we fulfill the requirements of the Law of Moses by keeping the law of life (James 2:8-11).  The people who tried to keep the Law of Moses were condemned by it (Rom. 7:7-9).  Christians seek to keep the law of life because, like the law of nature, it does not condemn.  It describes life.  If we fail to apply the law of life and do murder we will be judged by a law like the Law of Moses (Rom. 2:12).  The Law is for the unrighteous – not the righteous (I Tim. I:9).

James’ discourse about slander in the foregoing scripture moves our lesson to the more degraded level of anger.  We slander and laugh at the object of our anger.  When the object of our anger is our family we are enraged against him or her to the point of defaming their “self.”  Every person’s spirit, like our own, came from God; therefore it is designed in His likeness.  James wondered how a person could curse man and praise God with the same mouth (Jas. 3:9-11).  In this vein, Jesus said, “Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin.”  Raca is an Aramaic term of contempt.  By Jesus telling His Jewish audience this would make them answerable to the Sanhedrin, He was showing how anger, if unchecked, could progress to a more degenerate level in regard to their character and personality.  It was more serious, not that it was a bigger sin, sin is sin, but its effect was more destructive.

Please note that Jesus is showing how we fulfill the requirements of the Law in our lives.  His teaching is directed at the spiritual condition of a person.  The emphasis is on the person who has anger in his or her emotional cache.  He is not, at this point, concerned with the one who might have provoked the anger.  The problem is not out there.  The problem of anger is in here.  I have the problem.  My anger emotions are the enemies weakening my character.  My character is the source of my power to move upon the projects I have chosen to give satisfaction for my innate needs.  My happiness is dependent upon a satisfactory life.  If it is not satisfactory here, I won’t be there with Jesus in the hereafter (Luke 18:29, 30).

This progressive stage of anger, slandering our brother, propels a person into the “blaming game.”  This game started in the Garden of Eden with Adam (Gen. 3:8-13).  Eve jumped on the band wagon and the blaming game is still rolling.  The object of the game is to make the other person appear to be more unrighteous than the “blamer.”  It is often a response to “wounded vanity.”  The blamer’s motive is to feel good about their own self at all times and at all costs. This leads to the next level of the insensitiveness of anger.  The only way to stop a game is just “stop it.”  If we will not tell ourselves to “just stop,” we are likely to become something like a dog gnawing on a bone.  In the case of the “blaming game” the bone is our “self.”

Jesus moved His lesson to the insensitiveness level of anger when He said, “But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’  Will be in danger of hell fire.”  Matt. 5:22.  Real or imaged injustice has lead to divorce in families, splits in the church, and it has plunged nations into war.  Millions of people have died because of anger on this level.  National leaders decide millions are their enemies.  Now they feel free to label them “not worth being a part of their world.”  This, in fact, is not so much an explosive anger as are the lesser stages of anger.  Angry people on this level mentally place other people whose spirits also came from God on their list of “morally worthless.”  They may not kill them with their own hands but they applaud those who do.  We hear them say things like; “It’s good enough for them.”  The problem is that killing the enemy does not heal the condition of the hard heart of anger that led up to the killing.  The problem of anger is never out there.

The Greek word that has been translated fool is “moros.”  It could be a transliteration of moron because that is one description of the category in which a very angry person finally places their enemies.  Whether they actually kill them or not is irrelevant, they are beyond the point of caring what happens to them.  In most cases, except war, no one actually gets killed, but the damage to the person who harbors anger is the same as if the act was done.  Jesus taught us how to fulfill the demand of the Law; “Do not murder.”  Christians do it by eliminating the emotion of anger that fires up as we encounter the challenges in life.  The processes of eliminating the anger emotions are difficult; however, anger emotions must not incubate in our hearts (Eph. 4:31; Col. 3:8).  We will learn more about this task in another lesson involving the emotions of anger and hate (Matt. 5:38-48).

The category of “fool” or “morally worthless” is the category in which governments place people of another nation before they begin to kill them under the banner of war.  Adolph Hitler branded the Jewish people “morally worthless” and killed six million.  Under normal times, the only thing that protects people who are considered morally worthless from death is the law of State.  If this protection was lifted, millions could be killed overnight without the declaration of war.  This is what angry people do.

“Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.”  Romans 12:19.  God will be angry for Christians (II Thess. 1:6, 7).  This lesson has dealt with the anger emotion in the context of “brothers.”  Consequently, Jesus concluded with the injunction in verses 23 through 26.  Injunction, or command, is translated from the Greek word “entole.”  It is the most frequently used term in John’s gospel and his epistles.  It is used of moral and religious precepts.  Please see Matthew 5:19.  We will include the study of this scripture in our upcoming lessons on how to replace anger with love for our friends as well as those we hate.

Questions for Discussion

  1. In what sense is anger a territorial mechanism?
  2. List the three entities that cause the anger emotion to fire up according to some psychologists.
  3. Explain how anger can be considered contagious.
  4. Explain how anger can be poisonous to one’s body.
  5. Give the two historical contexts for the Sermon on the Mount.
  6. What was the difference in Jesus’ approach to the issue of murder and the Law of Moses?
  7. How does a person acquire the emotion of anger as a part of his or her personality?
  8. In what sense is anger detrimental to strong character?
  9. Why does the emotion of anger and righteous judgment not function well together?
  10. Jesus used the word “brother” in the text for this lesson.  In what context does this place our study of the emotion of anger?
  11. What do we learn from James’ document about anger?
  12. Give the progressive dynamic path of anger as it takes its full course within a person.
  13. Why do Christians not feel we need to take revenge on those who become our enemies?

*The information used in this lesson from psychologist and other professional sources can be found in “The Psychology of Christian Personality,” by Ernest M. Ligon and books written by Dr. M. Scott Peck.

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