To hear Jesus talk about the ways of the kingdom of God must have been frustrating to the unsaved, as it is today. But having accepted salvation and received the Holy Spirit, we can see Jesus’s teaching as more than just the proof that we need a savior. We can see it as the ways and laws of living the abundant life of Christ. Let’s look at some of the key themes of Jesus’ teaching on how to live life. We’ll take a look at the sermon on the mount. The scope of these articles won’t allow us to hit every part of it, but just a look at a few key points will tell us a lot. Today, we’ll look at the way Jesus addresses anger, lust, and practicing religion.
The Sermon on the Mount
After the Beatitudes, which turn the normal assumptions about being blessed or happy upside down, Jesus takes his listeners through a profound set of “rules” designed to do two basic things. The first is to change their thinking from managing their outward behavior, to managing their inward orientation. And the second, which is related, is to get them to see how much of their life, even their religious and moral life, is spent on trying to impress other people. Jesus says in Matthew 5:14-16 that his disciples are to be the light of the world, so that others can see them, and see the way to God. But at the same time, you’ll see in a minute that we are not supposed to do things to be seen. Which is it? We’ll come back to this question.
Jesus really gets going about heart and behavior when he addresses anger in the next section.
21 “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” (Mt 5:21-22).
All the Jews, like most people, know that it is wrong to kill people. It was part of their ten most important and fundamental commandments. But Jesus is much more radical than everyone else. He says effectively, “If you are angry, it is the same thing as murder.” Why? Because it comes from the same place. How am I never supposed to get angry? You can explain this in a lot of ways, and people have. “Jesus got angry in the temple at the money changers”. Or, “The Bible says be angry and do not sin” (Eph 4:26). But all of this is an attempt to avoid the plain instruction here. If Jesus is saying this, then there must be some way in which we can obey this teaching. More importantly, there must be something about obedience to Jesus on this issue that is good for us. There must be something about it that relates to the kind of life that Jesus refers to when he promises that he came so that we could have life, and have it abundantly (Jn 10:10).
Most people see the sermon on the mount as an unattainable set of laws that Jesus gives us so that we will know we need him to save us. They say that he is trying to show people that, not only are they not righteous, but that they cannot be. But what if that isn’t true? The authors of Scripture tell us again and again that we should be righteous. Jesus said that unless we are more righteous than the Pharisees, we won’t enter the kingdom (Mt 5:20). He said we must be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect (Mt 5:48). So could it be true that we could look at the commands like this one to not be angry as some part of the good news? Can you imagine not becoming angry? Does anger ever feel good?
To be clear, Jesus, who was perfect, did sometimes get indignant. It is true that he got fired up when the money changers were misusing his father’s house and exploiting guilt of the people who came to the temple to worship. He got indignant when the disciples wouldn’t allow people to bring to him their children for blessing. I don’t think that is what Jesus is talking about here. He’s talking about taking things personally and getting angry because of it. How in the world does one manage to avoid taking things personally? It’s about the worldview, which comes with a right view of yourself.
Picture this. There is a guy at work who is mean. He is rude to everyone and one day, he turns his rudeness toward you, in front of everyone. He makes some comment that is meant to be a put down about some project that you worked hard on and did your best. You get angry about it. What does it mean that he said that? Does it meant that you did a poor job? Consider that. Maybe you did. Did you do your best? Yes. Was it good enough? Maybe not in this case. Why? Maybe you need more training. Are you willing to correct it? Yes. In this case then, he may have been right in his criticism, but he was a jerk about how he said it. Furthermore, he said it in front of the rest of the team, which made it much, much worse. This is understandable, but it is important to figure out why that made it worse.
First of all, he disrespected you. So what? That is his problem. You may need to call him on it, you may need to ignore it, but you absolutely must understand it. Why does someone act that way? It is because of his own feelings of insecurity that someone would look for someone else to put down, especially in front of others. So what do we know? You could have done a better job, but you still did your best. You’ll need to address that. But we also know that this man is insecure and he covers it up by talking down to coworkers. If he can get an audience, even better, because other people are his means of self-evaluation and self-esteem. Here is the secret: that’s got nothing to do with you.
Yeah, but how on earth will you manage to control anger in the situation? But I didn’t say “control anger” and neither does Jesus. I’m talking about freedom.
As a follower of Christ, you and I can learn to see the world as Christ sees it, for what it is. Reality. Your feelings don’t tell you what reality is. They only tell you what you think deep down that reality is. If you understand that, your feelings will become useful. As soon as you fish out some lie you’ve believed by following a sinful feeling back to its source, you can develop a concept of the world that is true, and begin to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Ro 12:2). This takes work. It takes time with God in the Word, and a courage to face reality about the way things truly are, and the way you still misunderstand that.
In this situation you got angry. But you know from the Bible that this is a problem with the other guy and his own insecurities. But because of your insecurities, the disrespect has got you ready to blow. Maybe you also have a worldview of nonconfrontation and you aren’t going to blow up on him. Rather, you are going to go home and call your mom, or complain to your wife (just as bad), perhaps to all the coworkers when he’s not around, and maybe up the chain.
You are going to do this because you think it will take away the hatred you have for yourself. But it won’t. It’ll actually make it worse because you know this is a cowardly way of dealing with things.
Step back and ask, “Why am I getting angry?” You’ll find that this guy is pushing some very specific buttons. He is reinforcing a false belief in you that you are no good. Why do you think that? Is it because you didn’t do as well on this project as you wanted? Not fundamentally. Fundamentally, you think, “Of course I didn’t do well. I’m no good.” I don’t know why you think you’re no good, but I’d bet serious money that you learned that from a caretaker, and it really doesn’t matter who it was.
When Jesus says, “Don’t be angry at your brother, because that’s how people get murdered,” he isn’t trying to give you another rule you can’t follow in order to confirm your suspicion that you’re no good. He’s trying to set you free.
Anyone can go through life and manage to avoid murdering someone. Most people don’t want to go to jail. But imagine that you did this hard work of following feelings back to the source, the lie. When you see that you have a fundamental belief that you are no good, and you see that you got that belief from a specific source, deal with it. Spend as long as it takes, and do whatever it takes, but deal with it. Start out by forgiving the caretaker. In fact, I’d recommend confronting them. Say something like: “I know you were only doing what you thought was best when you loved me less than you should have because you were trying to control my behavior, but I have resented you for a long time, and I have suffered self-doubt and self-hatred because of it. It was wrong of you. But I forgive you.” This is the most powerful thing you can do. Jesus actually commands that we forgive others and says that we won’t be forgiven by God if we don’t (Mt 6:15). This is because if we are unwilling to forgive others, we have yet to believe God as needed to forgive us and has indeed forgiven us.
Next, learn to abide in the presence of God by prayer, time in Scripture, mindfulness on God, and mindfulness on his ways and worldview. Train your mind.
8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil 4:8).
Counter lies with the truth. When the coworker is rude, and a voice in your head says, “You’re a loser.” Ask yourself, “Is that rational? Is it biblical? Is it true?” No? Then don’t believe it. One day it will happen. Something that usually would make you angry has zero effect on you.
Besides rooting out your beliefs by following your feelings to their source, and besides forgiving the one who originally caused the source lie to root in, you also must learn to respond appropriately. Jesus’s command in the sermon on the mount mostly relates to how we view other people. God calls us to love others; our brothers, our neighbors, and our enemies.
How would you love this guy? Well, now you dont take things like this personally, so you can evaluate his words. Are they true? Yes? Listen then, and adjust for next time. Thank him for his feedback. Also, without anger, in love, speak the truth to him about how you’d like him to address you in the future. To be an image-bearer of God, you must be just. He should not necessarily be allowed to get away with this behavior, not because you are angry, but because it is wrong. It may be even better to do it when you witness him doing it to someone else. In that case, it won’t be tempting to take it personally. You are only righting a wrong.
Jesus said if your brother sins against you, tell him (Mt 18:15). He also said to go to him alone first. This means you don’t need to talk to the whole office, or the whole family about it first. That is a cheap way to draw strength from others. But it’s a lie. You don’t gain strength of character by doing that. You avoid gaining strength of character. You will grow exponentially when you begin to deal with your problems in a direct manner. Getting into these habits will change you at the core. You are dying to yourself so that you can find your Self (Lk 9:24-25). You are losing your life to save your Life, that is your “abundant life” (Jn 10:10). You are becoming what you are in Christ, walking in the “newness of life” (Ro 6:4).
If you will follow Jesus in this, then one day, you will find yourself unflappable. You will be able to become indignant at certain things, but they won’t undo you the way they used to. You won’t be angry in the sense that Jesus is talking about when he says it is the same as murder. Your view of God will be set in. Your view of the world will be set in, and your view of yourself will be proper. Tomorrow, we’ll look at Jesus’ teaching on lust