(This sermon, Could You Be Charged With First Degree Anger?, was preached at Boone’s Creek Baptist Church, Lexington, KY, on Sunday, June 8, 2008. To read through Part I, click here; Part 2 here. To listen to other audio sermons, click here.)
Jesus ties it all together in Matthew 5:25-26:
Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.
So what is Jesus saying? Jesus is saying, “Dear disciples and all who would hear, you have a window of opportunity.” One day, you will have to give an account of your life before the Great Judge of the Universe, Jesus Christ. When that happens, it will be too late, for the Scripture does say, “It is destined for man to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).
But until then, God in his great patience and care gives us an opportunity to take care of those issues. So this would be a great time to put this all together and go step-by-step through this.
First, remember that you and all other human beings are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27).
Secondly, admit that you do get angry at times—and don’t make excuses.
Thirdly, take steps to rectify the situation immediately. Even in times of worship, where one’s pride may take the fore because you are attending, now is the time to get up and go reconcile. Frederich Buechner once wrote, “Of the 7 deadly sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back–in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.” So deal with it now!
Fourth, trust that God will administer justice, if need be. Romans 12:19-21 says:
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”  To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
If your trust truly is in Christ alone, then that Gospel trust must bleed over into every area of life — especially this one.
Lastly, ask God to change your heart. In Ezekiel 36:25-26, God says, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” When God works this, we will become more sensitive to his working. True followers of Christ have this, but it takes a diligent pursuit. If you want a hardened heart, then do nothing — that heart will come and drag you right into hell. If you want to be right before him, ask him to change your heart.
Yesterday, I came across a documentary by NPR on the life of Gerry Mulligan. Mulligan was a premiere tenor sax player who was a very influential in the field of jazz in the 40s, 50s, and 60s, and was even working on a project when he died in 1996. Mulligan was an innovator, but he was also a bit headstrong. He knew what he wanted his arrangements and his band to sound like — even if it meant going against what others in the field felt was un-doable. While he made a number of friends and gained a ton of admirers, he also had some on the other side of that fence.
In 1995, Mulligan found out he and another one of his former band members, found out they had cancer. These men shared great admiration for one another, but also some serious artistic differences that would often strain the relationship. In light of the cancer, made this very wise comment, he said “When Gerry and I found out we had cancer, all those disagreements were just taken off the table and we focus on the issues we agreed on. None of those things we disagreed on in the grand scheme didn’t matter.”
This is something to ponder, isn’t it? While there are certain this we can never compromise on (Christ, the Bible, the resurrection, the Trinity, the local church, etc.), there are issues that will plant the seeds of anger and contempt in our hearts. What will it take for us to repent of those issues? Let me ask it another way: what will God have to do in your life to help you see that nothing is worth destroying your relationship with God or with your neighbor? Will it have to be cancer? A church split? A catastrophe of some sort? Or have Jesus’ words penetrated to such a degree that his word is sufficient?