Matthew R. Perry

Have You Committed First-Degree Anger? (Part I)

In Sermons on June 9, 2008 at 9:20 pm

During my freshman and sophomore year of college, I worked at Winn-Dixie as a produce clerk. During that time, I met some interesting folks and became good acquaintances with them. One of those individuals was a young man named ________________________. He and I went to the same high school (I graduated a year ahead of him), but I didn’t get to know him until we worked at W/D. Even with our religious differences (he being an atheist and I being a Christian), we got along quite well. He was a nice, polite, mild-mannered guy with freakish strength.

Imagine my surprise when, after I transferred to Palm Beach Atlantic College and returned back home from break, my mom showed me the front page of the paper with his picture on it with the headline, “Charged with First-Degree Murder, receives a 25-year sentence in prison.” As I read the story, I couldn’t believe how it all happened. He started dating this girl in high school, when her ex-boyfriend started coming around and stalking her. And, to make a long story short, Alex took care of the problem in a most cold-blooded, cold-hearted way.

It’s been 16 years since this happened. And I began to think about the disposition with which __________________ presented himself at work. All the while, that anger and ultimately that murder was lying in his heart that whole time. It is an emotion that lurks in the heart and takes no prisoners. Some say it’s OK: “It’s just the murder that makes the front page and occupies the lead stories on the 6:00 news. It’s OK to be angry, just as long as you don’t make the front page, right?” They have a case. You never see anyone sentences to first-degree anger, do you?

This was the mindset during Jesus’ time. The Pharisees led the people to think that as long as you kept the law outwardly, you were righteous. Some looked at Jesus and thought he was trying to relax the commands of God — but in reality, Jesus goes deeper to God’s true intention behind the command. It’s not simply about an external obedience but an internal transformation.

1. Anger plants the seeds of murder in our hearts (Matthew 5:21-22).

My wife has found a new hobby. Over the last few weeks, she has been working hard at planting flowers and shrubs and such in order to make the house look like a home. She has such a gift for this — and the results are obvious. But at the beginning, each of these flowers started with a small seed that was planted at just the right depth and nourished in just the right way. The result is a beautiful, colorful bloom!

Anger plants the seeds of murder in our hearts. Again, Jesus says,

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ [22] But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire” (Matthew 5:21-22).

The first question asked is, “Wait, is all anger bad? Isn’t there some anger that is good? Wasn’t Jesus angry?” Yes, Jesus had at least two bouts of anger when dealing with the moneychangers in the Temple. And there are times when God calls us to show a righteous anger at some great injustice done in the world to others.

But this an anger that is toward others who have offended us. James Boice notes, “If we are honest, we must admit that far more often we are angry at some wrong done against ourselves, real or imaginary, some insult or some deserved neglect.” Carson notes that Jesus is like a good preacher who confronts his audience. “You think yourselves far removed morally speaking from murderers — have you ever hated? Have you never wished someone were dead? Have you ever committed character assassination? Such vilifying lies at the root of murder, and makes a conscious realization that he differs not a whit, morally speaking, from the actual murderer.”

All of our words and our actions begin with the attitudes of the human heart. We find ourselves so offended that we tend to say, “I wish they would just go away.” They begin to use their tongue to humiliate — even to the point of saying, “Worthless! You fool!!” We want them to hurt as badly or more so than we hurt.

James 3:3-6 puts into view exactly the horror of the tongue:

If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. [4] Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. [5] So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! [6] And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.

You may say, “Those are just words — how can one equate harsh words with murder?” Easy – because they come from the same seed of anger. What is the rub ultimately? The rub is that we are harboring seeds of murder against another one of God’s creation. MacArthur tells of a Jewish legend in which a young rabbi named Simon Ben Eleazar who had just come from a session with his famous teacher. The young man felt especially proud about how he handled himself before the teacher. As he basked in his feelings of wisdom and holiness, he passed a man who was especially unattractive. When the man greeted Simon, the rabbi responded, “You Raca! How ugly you are. Are all men of your town as ugly as you?” “That I do not know, “the man answered, “but go and tell the Maker who created me how ugly is the creature he has made.”

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  1. […] Creek Baptist Church, Lexington, KY, on Sunday, June 8, 2008.  To read through Part I, click here.  To listen to other audio sermons, click […]

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