In the last post, I introduced the idea that God has assigned each human life value and that we have no right to diminish that value. I also said that diminishing the value of life is the root of most of the problems in this world. I want to go one step further and suggest that probably every single one of us has been guilty of not valuing life as we should.
“But wait,” you might say, “I’m against abortion. I’m against euthanasia. I’ve never killed anyone. I’m not racist. I value life!” All of those things may be true (and I intend to touch on all of them in due time), but let me ask a very serious question: have you ever been angry with someone?
Let’s take a look at what Jesus said about anger in the Sermon on the Mount.
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.
We often explain these verses by saying that Jesus is dealing with attitude as much as action, and is considering the precursors to murder as serious as murder itself. But what attitude is Jesus condemning here when he says that the one who is angry with his brother is liable to judgment? I think it is the attitude that my brother’s life is of less value than mine (or than what God has given it).
Murder is the ultimate devaluing of a person’s life, but all three of the things Jesus mentions in this text also devalue a person’s life. Remember that God has said that each of us is worth the sacrifice of His Son for us, and each of us is worth the opportunity of forgiveness. Consider, then, what Paul said in Ephesians 4.32: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” The word, “forgive,” here is not the Greek word we often think of relative to forgiveness (and that we see later on in the Sermon on the Mount). That word is more of the sense of “transactional” forgiveness, of “putting away” or “sending back” the wrong done. The word used in Ephesians 4 comes from the same place as the Greek word translated “grace.” And so, we could also say in Ephesians 4.32, “Act graciously toward one another, as God in Christ has acted graciously toward you.” God has seen fit to be gracious to us and to show His love to us; how can we withhold grace and love from someone else by being angry with them?
“But Jesus got angry!” Sigh. Yes, it’s true that we have passages like Mark 3.5, “And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart…” But if we look at what Mark says about it, the anger seems not to have been directed so much at the Pharisees as people, but at “their hardness of heart.” We have a hard time making this distinction. It is one thing to be angry at what is going on (particularly sin) and to be provoked by that anger to take action, but it is quite another to be angry at someone such that the primary outcome is that we think less of them: “Oh, they’re such a terrible person because of _______!” Rarely, if ever, does the latter produce anything productive. Indeed, it is as James said, “For the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”
We must all be mindful of our anger. If we get angry, it must be an anger that stirs us up to take action to achieve the righteousness of God. Let us be angry about the sin in the world so that we preach the gospel to all. Let us be angry about the affliction of the poor and those in need so that we visit the widow and orphan in their distress. But let us not be angry such that we mentally diminish the value that God has placed on another human being. Let us not be angry with someone so that we think them less worthy of the gift that God has so graciously determined to make available to them.