Community Group Study Guide — Anger and Reconciliation
In this section of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:21-48), Jesus is highlighting the difference between the type of righteousness the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law had and the kind of righteousness that he calls his followers to. The Pharisees had an external/outward righteousness. This caused them to focus more on the action than the heart and it led to pride and hypocrisy. Jesus tells us that this is not in line with the “Law and the Prophets” and is actually a “relaxing” of the Law (Matthew 5:17-20). It will not be comfortable for us to look into our motives, heart and inner person, but Jesus is inviting his followers to examine their actions AND their inner life to see if we are truly walking in the ways of Jesus.
The first area Jesus addresses is our attitudes towards others and how that lines up with fifth commandment, “you shall not murder”. The righteousness of the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law would say “you shall not murder and whoever murders will be liable to judgment” (Matthew 5:21). In a strict sense this would allow for you to hate, belittle, name call or ostracize someone who has wronged you or even someone you just do not like, as long as you do not kill them. Certainly God calls his people to something more than this.
Jesus shows us three ways we’re inclined to violate this commandment from the Law without actually physically committing murder.
First, by harboring anger for others. Jesus uses the term “brother” here, which implies both men and women who share the faith and are close to you. This reminds us that often these actions of anger and hatred are played out in the midst of close relationships, but we should be aware that they are not limited to only people in our families or close community. Jesus calls us to a different heart attitude altogether and he desires for us to realize that murder is more than an action, it is rooted in the heart. Unrighteous anger is the root of murder and at its core an expression of it. Paul tells followers of Jesus to “put away anger” (Colossians 3:8). Anger is an emotion and often we are unable to control the initial impulse of it. Usually anger emerges when something goes against our will (often this is unrighteous anger) or when we see something that is unjust and out of line with how the world ought to be (righteous anger). The thing we can control is if we focus on that anger and allow it to stew and build into bitterness and hatred. Jesus and Paul are telling us that it is dangerous to cultivate anger and allow it to grow.
Second, by insulting others. Behind this word “insult” is the Aramaic word “raca” which may have originated from the sound you make in your throat when you react to someone with contempt. You know that guttural clearing of your throat when you have a moment of disgust! “Raca” is an insult similar to calling someone an “idiot” publicly (social media!!!!) or even privately today. We may not agree with someone and we may not like them or what they are doing, but to sink to this level of insulting them is not befitting for a follower of Jesus and certainly does not help that other person change or see the wrong they may be doing. Jesus wants us to see that it is a violation of the fifth commandment and it is something we are often prone to do.
Finally, by calling others “you fool!”. This may seem really close to insulting others, but the biblical idea of “fool” brings to mind the book of Proverbs and the wisdom literature. To be a “fool” was to be on the path of destruction and to be in rebellion against God with careless arrogance. This means that “fool” is a strong claim to make of someone else and is not something to be said lightly in the cultural context of Jesus’s day. It may even imply the desire that this person was “a fool” and therefore is on the path to hell or some sort of harm. Jesus will address this more clearly when he talks about loving your enemy later on in this section of the Sermon on the Mount.
Behind each of these cautions, Jesus is showing us that we cannot hate our brothers and claim to love him at the same time (1 John 3:11-15).
What can we do to positively live out kingdom righteousness in this area? Jesus gives us two paths forward to love our brothers, sisters and others:
First, avoid false spirituality. Jesus connects the reality of the human heart and how easily we harbor anger with the need to live out whole person worship by using the word “so” in verse 23. So… If you are going to worship, in the context of Jesus’ day it was offering sacrifice, and you remember an offense you need to go reconcile. Jesus is highlighting the impossibility of loving God but hating your brother or sister. We cannot think of our worship as disconnected from our everyday life and who we are, because that is exactly what the Pharisees were doing. Jesus’ desire for you is to live a life where your inner person is connected to what you actually do and that starts with verse 24 and leaving your gift and going to be reconciled with the person you harbor anger against.
Second, be quick to reconcile. Matthew 5:25 sets up the image of a court preceding, similar to a civil lawsuit in our day. Jesus sets it up as if his hearers are the ones accused of doing wrong and there is a real danger of being put into prison, presumably upon their lack of ability to pay the debt. Here we are told the need to keep short accounts and to come to terms quickly. Jesus is imploring us to be people who seek reconciliation and do not give in to bitterness and ultimately a lack of forgiveness. This will be repeated again at the end fo the Lords prayer where we are told that those who do not forgive will not be forgiven (Matthew 6:14-15). Likewise, the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18 shows us that those who are forgiven much should be people who quickly seek reconciliation and forgive. Putting these ideas together, if you have a debt to pay or if you have a load of bitterness or hurt done to you or done by you, you would benefit by seeking reconciliation with kindness and speed. Be willing to admit your faults and seek the mercy of those you may have wronged.
True righteousness is living out a love for God and love for people. If we harbor hatred, anger or bitterness we are actually breaking the command to “not murder”. Jesus wants us to understand that we cannot love and worship God while harboring bitterness towards others; and that we’d be blessed by being quick to seek reconciliation and forgiveness.
At your community group:
Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.
How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week?
Read Matthew 5:21-26
How does this passage show us the link between our inner life and what we do? Why is it important to address feelings of anger or the ways we may internally belittle people?
How is it possible to have the right outward actions towards someone else but internally be violating God’s will for our righteousness? Read 1 John 3:11-15 to help answer this question.
What do you think Matthew 5:24 is calling us to do in our real everyday lives?
What typically keeps people from reconciling and offering forgiveness? How does the gospel help us seek peace with others?