We said in yesterday’s study that Jesus’ definition of murder extends beyond the unlawful taking of another person’s life, but extends even to our hateful and angry attitudes toward other people.
And it does not help us much to recall that there is such a thing as righteous anger or that there is a valid distinction between being angry against sin and angry with the sinner. Of course, there is a righteous anger. Jesus himself spoke in righteous anger against the hypocritical stand taken by the so-called leaders of his day. Paul spoke in justified anger against the legalizers who were trying to undermine the true faith of the Galatian believers. David gave voice to anger in what are known as the imprecatory psalms. But it is not very often that our anger is like that. If we are honest, we must admit that far more often we are angry at some wrong done against ourselves—real or imaginary—some insult, or some undeserved neglect.
Do we commit murder? Oh, yes—by this definition. We lose our temper. We harbor grudges. We gossip. We kill by neglect, spite, and jealousy. In addition, there is no doubt that we would learn that we actually do worse things if only we could see our hearts as God is able to see them. It is no accident that even in our own speech, such things sometimes are termed “character assassination” or that we speak of destroying a person by words. This is literally true, and we do it. Only Jesus says that we are not to be that way as Christians.
Now these verses go on to show in a far more positive way what the cure for anger is to be. The first step in that cure, according to Jesus, is to admit that we do get angry. We must begin by recognizing the fault.
You would think, of course, that such a point would be obvious and that all men would do this naturally. But it is not obvious, even though modern psychiatry teaches the same thing. The subtlety of the human mind prevents it. You see, a man can do the worst possible things that a person can do in this life—murder, cheat, steal, commit adultery, and so on—and when he is brought face to face with his actions he will find a dozen reasons why it was not a fault at all or why it was necessary for him to do them.
In May of 1931, the city of New York witnessed the capture of one of the most dangerous criminals the city up to that time had ever seen. His name was “Two Gun” Crowley. He had shown himself to be the kind of man who would kill at the drop of a hat. Some time before his capture, he had been parked at the side of a road when a policeman came up and asked to see his license. Without saying a word, Crowley drew his gun and cut the policeman down. Then, as the officer lay dying, Crowley jumped out of his car, took the policeman’s revolver, and fired another bullet into the body. What did “Two Gun” Crowley think of himself as a person? We know, because when he was finally captured in his girlfriend’s apartment at the end of an hour-long gun battle involving hundreds of police, a blood-stained note was discovered that had been written by Crowley during the battle. It said, “Under my coat is a weary heart, but a kind one—one that would do nobody any harm.”
Later, Crowley was sentenced to the electric chair. When he arrived on death row at Sing Sing, he did not say, “This is what I get for killing policemen.” No! He said, “This is what I get for defending myself.” The point is that “Two Gun” Crowley did not blame himself for anything.
Now if that was true of “Two Gun” Crowley and other criminals, how much more true is it of normal men and women like you and me? We sin, but we cover up the sin. We refuse to acknowledge it even to ourselves. No wonder, then, that Jesus taught we are to acknowledge it first of all. We are to admit our anger, acknowledging our guilt, and we are to do this as the first step to its cure.