Resolving Conflict: How to Handle Anger
When was the last time you got angry? If you’re like most folks, probably not so long ago. Anger is an emotion we experience a lot in life. In fact, I’ve heard anger compared to a warning light on a car dashboard; it means something is wrong and it needs to be addressed. And if it isn’t addressed soon, then the problem can get much worse.
During His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus shared some vital teaching about anger as He continued to instruct His followers what it means to be righteous, or to be and do right. Jesus made clear during His sermon that He had not come to abolish the laws - or commands - of God, but that He had come to fulfill them. (Matthew 5:17). This word fulfill in the original language means to “draw out” or to “fill up.” Jesus’ aim was not to destroy the law, but to deepen our understanding of it.
So as He continues with His sermon, Jesus begins to offer examples that would help us to get a better grasp of what it means to be righteous, and to fully understand what God intended with the laws He had given earlier in the Old Testament. To do that, He will use the phrase, “You have heard it said… but I say” a number of times in the coming passages, all in an effort to clarify and explain the intent of God’s Word. The first example He offers is a command that everyone knows, whether you are a Believer or not, “Do not murder.” (Matthew 5:21-22).
Jesus says it is not just imperative that we not kill another, but that we also keep our anger in check, because we will be judged for that too! In the verses that follow, Jesus offers some very important principles for managing anger and resolving conflict. Maybe you’re wrestling with some anger today; anger towards a family member, or a co-worker, or a boss. Maybe you’re struggling with some anger towards a friend or teammate or classmate. You will benefit from the vital principles Jesus teaches us in Matthew 5:21-26.
1. Keep anger in check. (Matthew 5:22). Never let that anger get out of control with physical or verbal retribution. The Bible speaks of two kinds of anger: righteous and unrighteous. Even God gets angry, but His anger is always righteous; it is pure and holy, born of His love for us. (Ref. 2 Chronicles 24:17-19; Psalm 7:11; John 2:13-17). Sometimes our anger may be righteous, but even so, that is never an excuse for allowing anger to rage out of control. (Ephesians 4:26)
- Unchecked anger can reveal a heart that is far from God. The heart is that place
where our deepest desires dwell. The anger that Jesus is referring to is a seething bitterness toward another. It is an unrighteous anger. When we come to the point of calling people names, hurling insults, harboring hatred and contempt, we have gone too far. Those kinds of actions reveal a heart that is far from God. (1 John 3:15)
Why would Jesus be so concerned about anger? Because there is no way that we can harbor bitterness and hatred and, at the same time, love God and love others (Matthew 22:37-38). That kind of anger would be a huge barrier to spiritual growth and discipleship. So how can we keep anger in check?
- To keep anger in check yield your heart fully to the Holy Spirit. In fact, self-control is a fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). If you’re struggling with managing anger, ask God to teach you about these fruits and to make them evident in your life.
2. Mend broken relationships before they prevent worship. (Matthew 5:23-24). Jesus said that when there is a contentious, broken relationship between you and a fellow Believer, it is imperative for you to reconcile that relationship because it will hinder your worship and your relationship with God. In fact, He says to reconcile that relationship before you come to Him in worship. The Apostle Paul echoes the same urgency in dealing with your anger toward another. (Ephesians 4:26-27). Is there anyone in your life right now with whom you need to reconcile?
3. Take the initiative to settle disputes and debts. (Matthew 5:25-26)
After Jesus taught about reconciling with a fellow Believer, He teaches about reconciling with an adversary. In Jesus’ day a person who couldn’t pay a debt could be thrown into jail until the last penny was paid. Once a Roman judge rendered a decision, there was no way out; so Jesus urged Believers to settle debts before facing judgment. Practically speaking, paying debt is always a best practice, for lots of reasons. (Romans 13:8)
Theologically speaking, settling debts and disputes with one another before we stand before our ultimate, heavenly Judge is vital. But it’s not only imperative that we settle our debt with one another, it’s most important that we settle our debt with God. We all have a debt, created by our own sin, that can only be paid through faith in Christ. (Romans 3:21-23; 8:1)
For much more, listen to the full message Sermon on the Mount - Part 3 - Resolving Conflict.