Throughout this summer, our church has been studying the Ten Commandments in a sermon series entitled, "The Laws of Love". Last week our senior Pastor preached on the sixth commandment, "Thou Shall Not Murder". As he pointed out, if there ever was a commandment where our initial reading would cause us to think that we've at least kept one of them, it would be murder. But Jesus doesn't let us off the hook so easily. In the middle of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount he exposes all of us as murders:
"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'. But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgement." (Matthew 5:21-22a)
I've been thinking this week about how often I am guilty of exactly what Jesus is saying. Anger (i.e. the unrighteous kind; we won't go into it in this post, but make no mistake there is in the Scriptures an anger against sin that is commended by God) is a spiritual cancer. It eats away at us in the church as a full-frontal assault on the twin pillars of truth and love, both of which find their foundation in the chief cornerstone, Jesus Christ. Anger can cause us to emphasize one over the other; truth at the expense of love (which is barbaric), and love without its origin in truth (which is much closer to hate). I think Frederick Buechner, a 20th century novelist and Presbyterian minister, said it well. He writes concerning anger,
"Of the Seven Deadly Sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back--in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.”
Anger is indeed a feast and plays us for the fool. It fools us into thinking we are storing up rage against a brother or sister, or even God, and thus erodes truth because we are only weakening ourselves. And anger destroys our own joy in community and as believers, which is the most un-loving we can be toward ourselves, much less our brothers and sisters. If you're like me, you're tired of feeding this monster.
The great Reformer John Calvin calls us in the church to be "an embassy for reconciling men to God" in his commentary on 2 Corinthians 5:18. Paul had reminded the Corinthians of their identity and mission. "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation." (2 Corinthians 5:17-18) Anger can be the antithesis of that mission. Notice how Paul tells us that the rallying cry for our ministry of reconciliation with our brothers and sisters is firmly rooted in the reconciliation bought for us through the blood and atonement of Jesus. How much more then is at stake in our ministry of reconciliation? Our anger not only makes us into murders, but it creates spiritual amnesia. We forget our reconciliation in Christ. And we forget the ministry of reconciliation for which He has called us his own.
Lee Hutchings is the Pastor of Discipleship at Highlands Presbyterian Church in Ridgeland, Mississippi