I have been so blessed by all of your notes and e-mails regarding the articles. Please keep communicating. In fact, today I want to talk about one of those notes.
Two weeks ago, in the article “Which Direction?” I mentioned Jesus’ comment that anger is as bad as murder. One reader wrote in that I left out the phrase “without a cause.” It is true that the article left out that phrase, but it was for good reason. As you may know, the Bible translations that we have today, including the King James Version, came from copies of manuscripts, some in pieces, from the earliest documents the translators had available to them.
From the time each letter was originally written and delivered, it was hand-copied and then sent to other churches for their edification and strengthening. Unfortunately, when copying the letters, the copyist was not always consistent, and sometimes, the copyist would make small changes or additions to either explain, expand on, or soften the comments made, which is where we find ourselves in this conversation.
Let me say this from the beginning, I am NOT condemning the King James Version or any of its more current updates. The KJV was interpreted in its time and done by educated individuals. The truth is, however, that the phrase “without a cause” is only included in some of the manuscripts that currently exist. In fact, most scholars that I have studied believe that this phrase was added at a later time, after Matthew’s Gospel was penned, to soften the extreme requirement made by Christ. This is why most other translations and paraphrases, including the New International Version, which I use most often, eliminate the phrase from the actual paragraph and relegate it to a footnote, noting that this was most likely a later addition.
So what do we say about Jesus’ words concerning anger? Is it okay to have “just anger” against someone, to justify our anger according to righteousness?
Once again, Jesus said, “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 judgment” (NIV).
The word Jesus uses here, translated “brother” is adelphos, which here refers to a fellow disciple, whether man or woman. Jesus, then, is referring to those who are a part of the family of God, those closest to us, those with whom we worship and serve, and not only those within our individual congregations, but also those who worship in other congregations and denominations.
In this section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus presents six contrasts between the Law, that is, the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, and the higher standards of the Gospel, emanating from the righteousness of God. In fact, throughout the Sermon, Jesus puts before his listeners standards that are almost impossible to meet in our natural way of thinking. Can any one of us actually accomplish these on our own? In the natural person, are we really able to love our enemies, to be forgiving of those around us, to keep from anger, etc.? I don’t believe so.
Actually, even with the Spirit of God living within us we struggle with these “guidelines” from Jesus. These guidelines, as it were, call us to a much higher level of responsibility, one that is on the level of God’s values rather than our own.
Just or Righteous Anger
Is there such a thing as just anger, or a valid cause for anger? Can we be angry at those who sin against God and others? Perhaps, in some fashion, but consider Paul’s words in Romans 3:23,24, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” According to Paul, every one of us has fallen short, and therefore, each of us was subject to God’s judgment before we were found in Christ.
Paul goes on to speak to the Ephesians and the Colossians about anger, telling them to get rid of it, listing it with rage, slander, malice and other negative behavior (Ephesians 4:26, 31; Colossians 3:8). He instructs Timothy to teach the church to “lift up holy hands without anger or disputing.”
It is obvious that we, still in the process of renewal, will most likely fall short. We will get angry with those around us and with the evil that is in the world. However, If we use the phrase “without cause” to justify our being angry at someone, no matter what the offense, we are minimizing the high standard to which Christ has called us and risking a root of bitterness growing in our hearts.
You see, I can hold to high values, and expect others to do so, as well, but when I am dealing with others, I must remember that God’s anger is God’s to work out. My task is to represent Christ and His sacrifice.
My hope is this, that whenever I am wronged, or see someone being wronged, or become indignant against an individual, a people group or denomination, or, dare I say, a political group, that I will be able to submit that anger to God, thereby making myself available to even the worst offender, that perhaps, by some miracle, I might be able to share the grace of God.
You may be right—you may have been wronged—but what we have suffered pales when contrasted with that which was suffered by our Savior. Because of Christ’s sacrifice, and with the help of the Spirit of God, we can, as James instructed, be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (James 1:19,20).
Hey, friends, keep writing. I love hearing from you!
Mary Kay Glunt
Ebenezer Presbyterian Church
P.O. Box 393, Greenfield, MO 65661