You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 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.
Jesus clearly has some very strong words about anger. Perhaps we may be surprised that Jesus used such frank and harsh words or that it is unfair to compare anger to murder. But before we jump to any conclusions, it is important for us to remember that Jesus is not so much after our conformed, external behavior, as he is about our hearts.
Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:20 that “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” This means that unless our right standing before God is greater than the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, we will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Now when it came to external conformity or “obedient” living, the Pharisees by and large would have every single one of us beat. They followed the 613 Old Testament laws and laws that they made up on top of the Old Testament laws so that they wouldn’t come close to breaking those laws.
So what were these religious leaders missing? Jesus didn’t have their hearts. They followed all of the “rules” and then some, but their hearts where in the wrong place.
When it comes to anger, just because we may not take our anger to the extreme in the form of murder, doesn’t mean Jesus has our hearts. If we have anger in our hearts towards others and we do not do our part to reconcile the situation, we allow our anger to take root within us or we can try and act like it really doesn’t matter.
In either situation, as the apostle James writes, “For the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:20).
Jesus wants our hearts more than externally forced obedience. At the end of the day, what matters is not how good we think we were, but whether or not Jesus had our hearts!