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The Rev. David W. Hall (PhD, Whitefield Theological Seminary) is married to Ann, and they are parents of three grown children. He has served as the Senior Pastor of Midway Presbyterian Church (PCA) since 2003. After completion of his undergraduate studies, Pastor Hall studied at Swiss L’Abri and then enrolled at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri, graduating in 1980. In addition to pastoring, David Hall is the author or editor of over 20 books and numerous essays.

Column: First Truths from the First Gospel by David Hall

Jesus' Law About Anger

October 2, 2014 •

Read Matthew 5:21-26

Often we will read in the newspaper or see on the TV news about a road-rage killing or some other situation in which anger gets out of control and leads to a homicide. For example, a woman is attacked, her attacker was consumed with anger or lust, and then her husband, as a result, could not forget the event; he could only think of taking revenge on the attacker. Cities occasionally have road-rage shootings that shut down interstates. One of the reasons that the TV program Revenge is popular is because we are all tempted in this area. Anger can lead to many dire consequences, death among them. Pent-up rage may lead to heart attacks, strokes, or other illnesses—mental or psychological.

Anger, in many forms is one of the largest problems in our world, and it can lead to death. Often even the best of Christians can get angry at other persons or at situations. If it is not dealt with properly, anger can become consuming. Maybe if you have a problem with anger, or don’t even know you do, these verses from the first gospel will help you. Also, it would be odd in the extreme for people to focus on the gospel of redemption and not also see that the gospel penetrates to the heart of anger.

We have seen how Jesus was in harmony, not collision, with God’s Law. Yet he remained in utter contradistinction to Pharisees interpretation of God’s Law. Over the next 27 verses, Jesus gives six examples of this perspective. Each has a distinctive form: “You have heard it said . . . But, I say.” The phrase “You have heard it said” refers to the Scribes’ interpretations of the law. The religious experts of the day focused more on their oral tradition than on what was written, namely Old Testament quotations. The written law was fairly simple; however, the Scribes developed another layer of interpretation over the written law. Their words had become virtually on par with God’s law. In so doing, the Scribes had over-extended the law by implications and deductions to cover every possible situation.

For example, the fourth commandment said the Sabbath is to be kept Holy and no work done on it. Scribes forgot why God said this and instead went to great extremes to define work. Thus they classified the following as work: to carry food weighing as much as a fig, enough honey to put on a wound, enough oil to anoint, eye salve or enough ink to write two letters of the alphabet. Endless hours were spent deciding whether a man could lift a lamp from one place to another on the Sabbath or whether a tailor committed a sin if he went out with a needle in his robe, and whether a man could lift his child on the Sabbath: these were burning questions.[1]

On and on they went with their choking religion of legalism, missing the whole point and use of the Law. The problem was that they tried to make the law do something for which it never was intended. The law was not intended by God to be either an agent of justification nor a casebook of petty guidelines. Rather, it was given as a guide for believers to seek God’s will. The Scribes enlarged the 613 commandments into the Mishnah (by 250 A.D.), which expanded to hundreds of pages. Then the commentary on the Mishnah (called Talmud) was written, expanding up to 60 printed volumes. They had stretched or enlarged the law beyond its intended scope. It had become a beast, a killer, and it is against this that Jesus stands. “You’ve heard it said,” then, refers to one of the oral scribal traditions found in these over 60 volumes.

The second phrase in the form “But I say” asserts Jesus’ authority as Law-giver. This was a bold claim for his authority. The new Moses claims the authority for divinely-infallible interpretation of the law, not based on what another said, but based solely on “I”. His person was authority enough. That Jesus would claim this authority for himself, apart from rabbinic training, was a scandal to these Scribes.[2]

The Jews had put God in the box of their Law. God and true piety were exploited by the Jewish rendering of the Law. God was swallowed up by the idolatry of the Law by the Jewish nation, and the Law rather than God was serving as the Lord of Israel. Jesus sought to liberate the true internal law from this entrapment and encumbrance. The Pharisees had obscured the law. Jesus restored it to its integrity.

What Jesus did was similar to this. Suppose there was a group called the “Presbycees.” And they defined Presbyterianism by the following terms to require members to be:

·      Well educated;

·      Socially prominent (many times members of some social elite);

·      Upwardly mobile;

·      From a long tradition of Presbyterian families. Many a Presbycee could be heard to say, “My grandpappy was an elder during the Civil War.”

·      Traditional values advocates;

·      Emotionally reserved (“stuffed shirts,” say some);

·      Strong emphasis on family.

Now suppose that John Calvin came back from his grave (whose locale is unknown except to cheesy tour guides). He might well seek to change these mutations of the Presbycees without being opposed to original Presbyterianism. He could attack the above traits as not being primary so much as cultural and insist on Presbyterian being defined as one who believed in:

·      Jesus as the Son of God; and divine election, regardless of economic class;

·      Salvation by grace alone irrespective of education;

·      The Bible alone is God’s revelation, no matter whose parents or grandparents believed it or didn’t.

·      The Church should be led by elders—not a democracy—according to scriptural pattern.

This would not be novel but a return to the original. Similarly, Jesus came to deepen reform, and return to the demands of the Law rather than destroy them.

Jesus takes the sixth commandment “Thou shalt not murder” and interprets it here as including a prohibition against anger, which is the root of murder. All of us get angry from time to time. If you think you don’t, let me just mention a few phrases that make some blood pressures rise. This is how practical the Sermon on the Mount’s gospel is. All must admit sin. Here are some angering subjects:

·      “That co-worker who’s not carrying his load.”

·      “That child of mine.”

·      “That person acting like such a spiritual Christian when she’s not at all.”

·      “That stupid computer network.”

·      “That committee or board or commission.”

·      “The guy in front of me who can’t drive” or who won’t SIT DOWN!”

·      “Your mother-in-law.”

·      “Those ISIS terrorists.”

·      “Taxes or IRS or the Postal service.”

·      “That impossible teacher or politician.”

·      Why, some even have high blood pressure at the mere mention of a certain preacher’s or elder’s name.

Some of these set off confessors of Christ just thinking about them. Well, if you’ve felt that kind of anger, be honest enough to confess it and delve into this passage to see what Jesus says. That’s a first truth of mere Christianity.

In this passage, Christ has one central theme: Anger and insult are so serious and dangerous that we must avoid them like the plague and seek reconciliation if possible. All of this is intended by sixth commandment. This should leave us desperately seeking Christ both for forgiveness and also for strength to change.

[1] See William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1956), 124-125.

[2] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1960), 214.


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