Summary: This sermon focuses on how Jesus teaches how we are to banish anger also from the hearts of others.
Last Sunday I told you about a seminar for children entitled: A Volcano In My Tummy. The program description reads in part: “This course will teach children…how to handle their anger using the anger rules; anger can then become a motivating force that will help them build healthy relationships and lead successful, happy lives.” We asked the question whether anger can be managed, even harnessed to build healthy relationships and happy lives, as stated in the course aim. That led us to ponder this sermon theme: Anger Management or Anger Banishment? What does Jesus say? Today is part 2 of that sermon since Jesus had a lot to say about anger, more than I could fit in last week’s sermon. Give me your full attention now because to ignore what Jesus has to say about anger is way more dangerous than ignoring the stop signs on your way home from church this morning. You might, by God’s grace, make it home safely should you blow through all the stop signs, but if you despise God’s grace and ignore what Jesus says about anger, you will not make it to your heavenly home.
Last week we heard Jesus tell us that the sin of anger is just as dangerous as the sin of murder (Matthew 5:21, 22). Therefore Jesus urges us to banish sinful anger from our hearts as quickly as a parent would remove a rattlesnake from a baby’s crib. Jesus then went on to say: “…if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23, 24).
What strikes you as odd about that statement? How would you have worded it differently if you had spoken those words? I would have said: “If you are angry with another, do something about it before worshipping your Lord.” Instead Jesus said that if someone else has righteous anger in their heart against you, be reconciled to that individual first before you worship the Lord. Wow. Jesus doesn’t just want me to banish anger from my heart; he also wants me to work at banishing anger from the hearts of others!
How does that compare with the world’s way of thinking? How often haven’t we heard this kind of “apology”? “If anyone was offended by what I said or did, I’m sorry.” I can’t of course look into the hearts of those who speak words like these, but it always strikes me that the message being relayed is really: “I don’t know why you have such a problem with what I said or did, but sorry…I guess.”
Compare that attitude with a close look at what Jesus said. “…if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you…” (Matthew 5:23). The word translated as “something” could just as well have been translated as “anything.” In other words, if there is anything your brother is angry with you about, no matter how small, then go and be reconciled. Do we do that? Or do we instead say things like, “I was just joking. I don’t know why he’s so upset. He’s just got to get a thicker skin.” No, says Jesus. It’s not your brother who has the problem, the problem is yours. You have said or done something to upset and hurt another. Out of love for that individual you need to go and set it straight. Offer a heartfelt apology without making any excuses.
Dads, I wonder if we don’t especially need to work at this. In the guise of equipping our kids to face a cruel world we’ll often criticize their efforts and make light of their shortcomings. We don’t mean to hurt but we often do. The thing is we are to be a safe haven. We are to be the one adult male that our children are not afraid to make a mistake around. That doesn’t mean we won’t offer constructive criticism, but we don’t need to do it by belittling or being sarcastic. Banish such attitudes so that there is no question in the minds of our children that we love and support them.
But does this mean that we should never say anything to hurt the feelings of another? No. The Apostle Paul was very clear when he urged the younger Timothy, “Preach the Word…correct, rebuke…” (2 Timothy 4:2a). When we are warning another away from sin we will have to rebuke and say things that may hurt that person’s feelings. But just as a parent is not afraid to annoy a child by warning him away from playing on a busy street, so we cannot be afraid to rebuke sin. But we need to be careful the way we do it. That truth comes out in the rest of the passage where Paul said, “Preach the Word…correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Timothy 4:2). “Encourage with great patience.” These are words that are good for me to hear often because when I see sin or false teaching that needs rebuking, it’s easy for me to get annoyed because this is more “work” for me, the pastor. You can pray that the Lord would banish that kind of sinful anger from my heart.