But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment (Matt. 5:22).
Tragedy and heartache do not recognize holidays; they do not take vacations. Inexplicable pain always seems to make an ill-timed arrival.
So it was on Christmas morning 2011. In Stamford, Connecticut a rambling and impressive home, aged and under renovation, went up in flames in the dark of early morning. On a day when little girls should have been thundering down the stairs to discover what was under the tree, two seven year old twins and their nine year old sister perished in the fire along with their grandparents. Many of us were probably buffered from the grief of the story by the noise and busy-ness of our own celebrations. If we heard of it, we couldn’t dwell on it – not on Christmas day.
We ask but never get an answer as to why such things happen. In the days that followed this event, however, investigators did discover an answer as to how it happened. Smoldering embers from the fireplace had been shoveled out and placed in a container in the mud-room of the house. The fire was dormant, but not extinguished. Eventually what was unseen and smoldering came to life with a flame, and the flame became a conflagration.
The anger we carry within our heart is like smoldering embers. The danger is unseen, no smoke, no obvious threat. But the fire is there nonetheless and if left unattended those smoldering embers will soon become a flame. Our deceptive hearts are capable of masking anger while at the very same time stoking it and feeding it. We smile at the world and perform pleasantries with our neighbors while harboring bitter thoughts and painful memories.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus connects words spoken in anger with the act of murder. The sharp and abusive tongue has its roots in the same soil as the violent hand. Both come from a heart that carries anger. James 3:5 likens the tongue to a small spark. A careless word can do great damage.
The hot glow of embers will usually go undetected unless we look deep beneath what seems to be harmless in order to discover the fire that is truly there. That’s what Jesus is inviting us to do. We can’t get too comfortable in the knowledge that we will never be prosecuted for the crime of murder. When Jesus takes this well-known commandment and makes us culpable of breaking it with our anger, we are being forced to look deep into our own heart.
Smoldering embers need to be doused in order to no longer be a threat. Does this work with anger? Along with masking our anger and feeding our anger, we are also capable of simply denying our anger. Which of those are you prone to do? Read Ephesians 4:25-27. How do these verses help you understand the words of Jesus about our anger?
Gracious God, help me to be honest about my anger – and then grant me wisdom to know what to do with it. Help me to discover the smoldering embers in my own heart, and keep me from hiding my anger while feeding it at the same time. Guard me and others from the harm that a divided and angry heart can do, I ask in Jesus’s name. Amen.