Summary: When wronged or hurt by someone we are often tempted to lash out in vicious anger seeking revenge.
The Deadly Sin of Anger
Peter Johnson related this story in the April 14, 1988, issue of USA TODAY.
“Have you ever noticed that sometimes we get angry and remain bitter with people and actually forget why we’re so upset? Take, for example, the notorious Hatfield-McCoy feud.
“It hit newspaper front pages in the 1880’s, when the Hatfield clan feuded with the McCoy clan from across the border in Kentucky. Historians disagree on the cause of the feud—which captured the imagination of the nation during a 10-year run. Some cite Civil War tensions: McCoys sympathized with the Union, Hatfields with the Confederacy. Others say it began when the McCoys blamed the Hatfields for stealing hogs. As many as 100 men, women, and children died.
“In May 1976, Jim McCoy and Willis Hatfield—the last two survivors of the original families—shook hands at a public ceremony dedicating a monument to six of the victims.
“McCoy died February 11, 1984, at age 99. He bore no grudges—and had his burial handled by the Hatfield Funeral Home in Toler, Kentucky. [SOURCE: --Peter Johnson, USA TODAY, 4-14-88.]
In human relationships there are two types of anger, righteous and unrighteous. We won’t be dealing with righteous anger in today’s message, in considering the deadly sin of anger. Sinful anger is vicious, self-destructive, and self-defensive.
Who or What makes you angry? Our anger is usually directed against other people. These may be individuals, groups, nations, or government leaders. More often than not we unleash our anger against some particular individual—a family member, a friend, a co-worker, our boss, a Christian brother or sister, a neighbor. Preachers sometimes are the objects of people’s anger.
Two such cases are found in the New Testament in Jesus and Paul. We read in Luke 4 that after hearing Jesus preach in His home synagogue of Nazareth, “. . . all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove Him out of town, and led Him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl Him off the cliff.”
Ephesus was not any easier on Paul as we see in Acts 19. Paul’s message throughout the pagan Roman Empire emphasized that “gods made with hands are not gods at all.” This infuriated the silversmiths at Ephesus, led by one Demetrius, for that message threatened their lucrative business centered in making idols of Diana, the patron goddess of Ephesus. The result was a mob riot.
The book of Proverbs has many wise warnings concerning the dangers of uncontrolled anger. Proverbs 15:18, “A hothead starts fights; a cool-tempered person tries to stop them.” Proverbs 19:19, “Short-tempered people must pay their own penalty. If you rescue them once, you will have to do it again.” Proverbs 22:24-25, “Keep away from angry, short-tempered people, or you will learn to be like them and endanger your soul.” Proverbs 29:22, “A hot-tempered person starts fights and gets into all kinds of sin.”
How might a hot-tempered person sin? According to Jesus in our text from Matthew 5:21-22, anger is the root cause of murder. Remember His warning, “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.’”
Anger led Cain to murder his brother Abel. He was angry at both God and Abel, because God had accepted Abel’s offering but rejected Cain’s. God speaks to Cain in Genesis 4: “Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.” Instead anger mastered Cain, and he murdered his innocent brother.
Erwin Lutzer, in his book Managing Your Emotions, writes: “We all know that Alexander the Great conquered the world. But what few people know is that this mighty general could not conquer himself. Cletus, a dear friend of Alexander’s and a general in his army, became intoxicated and ridiculed the emperor in front of his men. Blinded by anger, quick as lightning, Alexander snatched a spear from the hand of a soldier and hurled it at Cletus. Though he had only intended to scare the drunken general, his aim was true and the spear took the life of his childhood friend. Deep remorse followed his anger. Overcome with guilt, Alexander tried to take his own life with the same spear, but was stopped by his men. For days he lay sick calling his friend Cletus, chiding himself as a murderer.”