A Commentary by John Stott

Matthew 5: 21-26. A Christian’s Righteousness: Avoiding Anger

‘So if …’, Jesus continued (23), and proceeded to give a practical application of the principles he had just enunciated. His theme was that if anger and insult are so serious and so dangerous, then we must avoid them like the plague and take action as speedily as possible. He offered two illustrations, the first taken from going to the temple to offer sacrifice to God (23, 24), and the second from going to the court to answer the charges of an accuser (25, 26). Jesus expressed them in the cultural terms of his own day, in which the temple still stood and its sacrifices were still being offered. Perhaps it would be legitimate to translate his illustrations in slightly more modern dress.

‘If you are in church, in the middle of a service of worship, and you suddenly remember that your brother has a grievance against you, leave church at once and put it right. Do not wait till the service has ended. Seek out your brother and ask his forgiveness. First go, then come. First go and be reconciled to your brother, then come and offer your worship to God.’

Again ‘If you have an unpaid debt, and your creditor takes you to court to get his money back, come to terms with him quickly. Make a settlement out of court. Even while you are on your way to court, pay your debt. Otherwise once you reach court, it will be too late. Your accuser will sue you before the judge and the judge will hand you over to the police, and you will find yourself in jail. You will never get out till you’ve paid the last penny. So payment *before* prison would be much more sensible.’

The pictures are different: one is taken from church, the other from the law court. One concerns a ‘brother’ (23) and the other an enemy (25). But in both cases the basic situation is the same (somebody has a grievance against us) and the basic lesson is the same (the necessity for immediate, urgent action). In the very act of worship, if we remember the grievance, we are to break off our worship and go and put it right. In the very act of going to court, on our way there, we are to settle our debt.

Yet how seldom do we heed Christ’s call for immediacy of action! If murder is a horrible crime, malicious anger and insult are horrible too. And so is every deed, word, look or thought by which we hurt or offend our fellow human being. We need to be more sensitive about these evils. We must never allow an estrangement to remain, still less to grow. We must not delay to put it right. We must not even allow the sun to set on our anger. But *immediately*, as soon as we are conscious of a broken relationship, we must take the initiative to mend it, to apologize for the grievance we have caused, to pay the debt we have left unpaid, to make amends. And these extremely practical instructions Jesus drew out from the sixth commandment as its logical implications! If we want to avoid committing murder in God’s sight, we must take every possible positive step to live in peace and love with all men.

Tomorrow: Matthew 5:27-30. Avoiding lust.

The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of the Sermon on the Mount. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.