Few people realize that the secret to a more loving spirit and wellness in the soul is to get free of 6 universal habits that sabotage it. Jesus exposes them in his Sermon on the Mount.
You’ve probably heard parts of the Sermon many times, but never realized that it’s one continuous dissertation, not a random collection of disconnected sayings. (Three full chapters, Mat. 5 – Mat. 7.)
Also, Jesus presents it in a specific order, step by step. This is the secret to putting off the old self and putting on the new, as Paul phrased it (Eph. 4:22; Col. 3:10).
The Savior has first-hand, divine expertise on the workings of the human soul, and died to ensure that we can put his words into practice without paying a Death penalty for mistakes while we learn. You can overcome sin and evil with good if you simply “take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Mat. 11:29)
Therefore, I thought I’d re-post my series on the sneaky habits that Jesus addresses in his talk from the hillside. Because they usually come disguised as “right,” it often feels wrong to give them up. Evil always masquerades as right, exactly why these universal habits remain deeply entrenched in all cultures.
You have heard it said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I’m telling you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment also. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin [Jewish equivalent to the Supreme Court]. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” (Mat. 5:21-22)
Step 1 is to eliminate retained, habitual, willful anger and scorn. (Raca and fool are terms of contempt.) Unless you start here, your spiritual walk might as well be on greased marbles. If you’ve ever wondered why Christ-like love seems impossibly unrealistic, this is why. But Jesus is laying out an intelligent course that leads to a loving spirit quite capable and willing to pray for enemies, bless those who curse you, etc., assuming you want to go there with him.
“Angry with” includes everything from pet peeves to irate rants to raging violence. “Brother” is synonymous with “neighbor.” “Subject to judgment” refers to human judgment as well as God’s.
Contempt covers a lot of ground, too. “You fool!” is evil because it includes all forms of ridicule, shame, malice, indignation, and superiority—which most people consider good and proper as long as the “right” people are shamed and ridiculed. In fact, you’re quite the “fool” yourself if you give this habit up and refuse to indulge it.
Obviously, if you’re full of scorn, you can’t genuinely love (wish goodness for) the objects of your scorn. You’re too preoccupied with making sure they know your disdain. So a soul in this condition is petty and pinched, easily offended, and at the mercy of every situation they encounter. They don’t overcome; they’re owned. Powerless.
The Mechanics of Anger
To merely feel anger is no more sin than to feel a toothache. Anger is a reflexive emotion like pain and fear, and has a legitimate function. By God’s design, we have no control over its arrival, so there’s no need for guilt. But willful anger or nursing a grudge is the sin that Jesus is addressing. Just as we’re not designed to live in constant pain or fear, neither are we designed to function well in constant irritation.
Anger’s only purpose is to alert us to an offended sense of internal “justice.” That can be anything from being cut off in traffic, to a rude remark, to an actual crime. The point of the alert isn’t to put “that jerk” in his place, but rather, to let you know there’s something that needs your immediate attention. Whatever can be accomplished with anger can be better accomplished without it.
Anger’s antidote is mercy—that is, to temporarily suspend the sense of offense for a moment, a day, a month, whatever. This does not mean to deny that a wrong was committed or pretend it’s okay. Jesus never did that. You fully acknowledge the fact, but choose to not take action until the anger alert subsides. You’ll find a new, almost giddy sense of power and control.
This takes planning ahead of time, i.e., intention, will. If you genuinely want to get free of anger’s grip, don’t wait until your blood is boiling to try it out. That moment is too late. So make a plan well in advance and start with small aggravations. As you practice the new habit of mercy over a month or so, you’ll get stronger and better at it until one day, you’ll catch yourself in the act of being gracious.
When it happened to me, Jesus’ words never rang more true: “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” While everyone else touts random acts of kindness as a big deal, yours will be routine.
Not What We’ve Heard
Getting rid of anger is the first step to good will and a healthy soul. Indulged anger and contempt always seek to do harm to one degree or another. And that always returns harm: judgment—first from neighbors, then from God. Also, there’s always an element of self-righteous ego in it, however mild it may be. Whenever I get mad, it sure isn’t because I humbly believe I’m wrong.
So the benefits of Jesus’ strategy are first to the self, then to neighbors. This step alone brings greater strength, patience, joy, a sense of direction, life to the full. It isn’t selfish; it’s why Jesus says to love your neighbor as yourself. Thus, if I let go of my “right” to be mad, not only do I un-sabotage my own spirit, I also un-sabotage my neighbors.