Matthew 5:21-26 – Losing your cool!

Matthew 5v21-26. LOSING YOUR COOL!

(Extra Reading Ephesians 4v25-32)


In the previous section Jesus talks about the OT Law and that he didn’t come to do away with / abolish the OT Law but really to fulfil it. What did he mean by that?

Simply this, that the OT pointed to his coming and when he came, not only did he perfectly obey God, BUT he gave us kingdom principles that supersede the OT Law.

Thus the statement that entrance into God’s kingdom required a righteousness that was far superior to that of the Jewish Religious leaders [5v20] shows that outward compliance to rules and regulations is inadequate – we need changing on the inside.

In the remainder of his sermon Jesus now illustrates how this is to workout in practice.

He raises the standard from a purely mechanical obedience to an attitude of heart and mind that acts positively and beneficially towards God and other people.

The first illustrated point he makes is about murder and anger.


He raises the standard from a purely mechanical obedience to an attitude of heart and mind that acts positively and beneficially towards other people because of a new and living relationship with God.

V 21 and 22 . “you have heard that it was said ….but I say to you

Jesus is doing two things here:

–         we know that the Jewish religious leaders added layer upon layer of rules and regulations to the original instructions for God – so we cannot assume that everything the people heard about the OT was actually in the OT.

Jesus is not saying the principles of the OT are wrong but their misunderstanding and misinterpretation.

–         “But I tell you…” shows his authority and that his requirements go to the heart and not just outward actions.

He is overthrowing erroneous traditions and showing the real direction towards which the OT points.

Not just murder but anger and contempt – i.e. not just action but attitude and motive as well.


Anger in itself is an emotional response – it is a feeling that seizes us. As such it is not necessarily wrong.

  • Anger – interfering with my will.

Usually anger is an intense feeling towards others, sometimes resulting in harming them, if they should interfere in my life or thwart my will.

Anger directed toward someone is wounding – when I know someone is angry with me it hurts. And very often it evokes my anger in return.

At this level is like an alarm bell that tells me there is resistance or obstruction of my will. However, very rarely is anger just a warning signal, almost inevitably anger turns into something inherently sinful.

Why? Because there is a degree of malice in almost every degree of anger. That’s why when someone is angry with us it hurts. Just a look, (or a refusal to look) just a raised voice (or refusing to speak to us), they intend to cause us pain and usually succeed.

  • Anger – wounding my ego.

Anger usually rises as a spontaneous response BUT we can then actively indulge it and we usually do – and even enjoy being angry.

It is possible to the point where we become angry people.

This because our ego is wounded / our vanity is offended so we embrace anger to defend our self-righteous egos.

ILLUS.: Why are there incidents of road rage? Because of one incident with another motorist? Probably not, but that is the trigger that releases pent up emotion.

ILLUS.: A few weeks ago two teenage girls were killed in a street shoot out. They were caught in the cross-fire of other people’s anger.

Why do these things happen? Because someone has allowed anger to smother / to burst into flame / and explode in murderous actions.

Is it any wonder Jesus started here – this is where the new principles of his kingdom need to begin and take root.

It is easy to see it in road rage of street murder or physical abuse. BUT anger doesn’t have to be physically expressed to poison the world.

Just by harbouring anger it affects our bodies and our environment. It saps our mental and emotional energy.

It takes energy to remind ourselves of how badly so-and-so has treated us.


  • The Warning.

Some see three levels of punishment – a kind of progression from judgement (presumably from people in general), to Sanhedrin (Religious / civil court), to the fire of hell (divine judgement).

BUT Jesus Jewish hearers would have understood that God himself stood behind the legal system of the state. Jesus moves through the system to drive home the point that the punishment to be feared is indeed divine – hell!

  • The Prohibition

But what is Jesus prohibiting?

Murder? Yes! His hearers would not disagree – nor would we.

Anger? Behind the murderer’s action is anger, malice, hatred – so those feeling are also blameworthy and thus subject to judgement.

Contempt? Jesus talks about calling someone ‘Raca’ or ‘fool’.

Both are abusive term of contempt.

In a way contempt is worse that anger. In anger I want to hurt you BUT in contempt I don’t care whether I hurt you or not.

It is using abusive language – considering people of no value. Racial, sexual or cultural abuse or simply considering someone a “waste of space”.

Jesus raises the bar! The judgement that was thought to hang over the murderer actually hangs over the angry, spiteful, vengeful, contemptuous person as well.


Yes to both questions BUT we need to be careful.

Jesus was angry about the profiteering in the Temple [Matt.21v12ff], he was angry with legalists and hypocrites; AND in Matt.23 he even called the Pharisees and teachers of the law “you blind fools!”

There is a place for burning with anger at sin and injustice!

Our problem, if we are honest, is that we usually “burn with indignation and anger, not at sin and injustice, but offence to ourselves.” [Carson]

Jesus never did – when he was arrested, illegally tried, beaten, spit upon, flogged and crucified his response was “Forgive!”

1 Peter 2:23 23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. (NIV)

Let’s face it we are quick to get angry when we are offended BUT slow to get anger at sin and injustice in others areas – then we tend to philosophise.


Jesus uses two illustrations that show us how to manage anger. These are not rules they are stories to illustrate a point.

  • Right relationships before religious ritual.

When you go to the temple to offer your gift and remember someone is angry with you – it is more important to forget the ritual and restore the relationship.

This is a significant occasion – like a baptism or ordination service or getting married. Jesus is using an extreme situation to make a point.

Humans love to substitute ceremony for purity, integrity and love BUT Jesus will have none of it.

  • Deal with the acorn before it becomes an oak tree.

This is a similar illustration to the first one – it is about restoring relationship. Not allowing a situation to fester and grow out of proportion and out of control.

It is far easier to pick up an acorn than it is to uproot an oak tree.

In both cases Jesus is condemning personal animosity.


Jesus is not simply teaching in this section a new set of ‘Do Not’ rules.

Rather he is teaching how to positively deal with the sinfulness of our natural responses – at heart level not action level. It presupposes a work of God to create in us a new heart – spiritual life – spiritual birth.

Jesus is showing us the preciousness of human beings.

ILLUS.: £5 note – crisp and new worth £5; old , torn, tattered and dirty is still worth £5

He is teaching us that people are valuable and merely NOT killing them doesn’t do justice to that human worth!

The point is not that we have a list of things to avoid doing to others.

Not getting angry is a way some people have of winning.

They can ignore you and treat you as nothing!

OR some will say “I don’t get mad – I get even!” BUT you don’t have to be angry to be mean, unkind and contemptuous.

Jesus is taking us to a level that reflects the kind of love God has for us. As we more and more share in the life of God  – kingdom life – our life are brought into harmony with his life.

I don’t fulfil kingdom principles by simply NOT being angry or NOT treating people with contempt.

When I positively seek right relationships and positively pick up acorns before they become oak trees the negative is taken care of.

ILLUS.: recently went to SGM to speak at the annual thanksgiving. When I got there my friend Ian Bucahannan didn’t congratulate me for NOT going to Madrid or Paris. I took steps to go to London and that took care of me not ending up somewhere else.

“Likewise, when I value those around me and see them as God’s creatures designed for his eternal purposes, I don’t make an additional point of not hating them or calling them twerps or fools. Not doing those things is simply part of the package.” Paul – “He that loves has fulfilled the Law” Really!!!

Not going to Paris and Madrid is a poor plan for going to London. And not being wrongly angry is a poor plan for treating people with love. It won’t work and that was never Jesus’ intention.

Laws, like the 10 commandments, that deal with actions can’t reach the source of the actions, the human heart. Paul again – “If a law had been given that could impart life then righteousness would certainly have come by the law”. Gal.3v21.

BUT it could not, that is why we need the saving grace and mercy of God through faith in Christ and the gift and constant filling of the Holy Spirit to live kingdom lives that please God and reflect his love and concern for humans.

1 John 4:19-21

19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother. (NIV)


One thought on “Matthew 5:21-26 – Losing your cool!

  1. Thank God that when we are ‘torn or tatty’ we are worth as much in His sight. Anger destroys our peace with Him…and I should know! If only our anger was taken out on sin and injustice.

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