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In the Name of the Father, and (+) of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
Devotion from the Blessed Dr. Martin Chemnitz
The second point to consider is what is meant by the killing prohibited in the Fifth Commandment. The word “kill” of itself means to destroy, to snuff out, or to cut off the life of a man. But Christ in His interpretation shows that to kill under the Fifth Commandment refers not only to the act itself but also to the inner attitudes of the heart, to our deeds and to our words. He shows that the Pharisees, in their ignorance of the grammar of the Holy Spirit, were insane in their understanding of the Fifth Commandment.
Christ lists four kinds of homicide, and a more proper catalog of sins which are in conflict with this precept cannot be drawn up. Indeed, from this list we must draw the rule that in the case of each of the individual commandments four kinds of sin are to be noted: (1) the inner emotions of the heart or mind; (2) sins of gesture; (3) sins of words; (4) sins of deeds…
The second kind of murder consists in the inner thoughts of the heart against one’s neighbor. Christ speaks of anger and is saying that all desires of the heart against our neighbor are involved here. In 1 Cor. 13:5 thoughts of the mind are mentioned: “Love thinks no evil.” Likewise in Matt. 9:4, Jesus says, “Why do you think evil in your hearts?” In Gen. 27:41 the intention or the advance decision to do harm is described. It is in the will: “Then I will kill my brother.” Thus the root of murder clings in all our inner powers. We must consider how the apostles, on the basis of the foundation laid down by Christ in Matt. 5:22, developed fuller explanations: Gal. 5:20, “Hatreds, contention, jealousy, strifes, dissensions”; Col. 3:8, “anger, wrath”; bitterness, desire for revenge. See fuller explanations in the long lists in Rom. 12:19; 1 Thess. 5:15; and 2 Cor. 12:20. Likewise James 3:14; Rom. 1:29, 31, “filled with contention and maliciousness, faithless, unforgiving”; 1 John 3:15, “hatred”; 2 Tim. 3:3, “pitiless.” These depraved desires can be categorized thus: Some arise out of sorrow and impatience over an injury; some are born out of jealousy toward a neighbor’s happiness; some out of our natural wickedness and desire to be disagreeable.
These points are very well taken and have a great deal of value in demonstrating how the Holy Spirit, by examples of the Fifth Commandment, is teaching what is necessary for an explanation of the whole Decalog. For Christ in Matthew 5 makes a distinction between venial and mortal sins and very properly shows this in regard to the Fifth Commandment.
Regarding the Pharisees who considered the inner corrupt desires as either nothing at all or only minor sins, Christ says in v. 20, “You shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Concerning those who “while there still is time will not lay aside their anger and become reconciled,” He says in v. 26, “You will not get out until …” But because these lusts which are contrary to the Fifth Commandment cling in this corrupt nature of ours, so that no one is free of them, He teaches this doctrine in v. 24: First let us be reconciled and then let us go to the altar, that is, let us seek forgiveness.
Paul in Eph. 4:26 gives us useful advice concerning the different degrees of anger. He speaks of the first feelings, when out of the misery provoked by some injury, a hot anger boils up in the heart and the blood. In Col. 3:8 he uses the word thymos, “wrath” or “outburst of passion.” This term refers to something caused by a violent impulse. The Greeks use it to describe a kind of pounding around the heart involving many blood vessels wherein the emotion of anger is strongly felt, as when blood bursts out of the lips.
Thus Paul says in Eph. 4:26, “Be angry but do not sin,” that is, the first emotion or feeling cannot be stopped or avoided (as the Hebrew word in Ps. 4:4 meaningfully describes this agitation), but see to it that this does not continue on to become sin by which “the Holy Spirit is grieved” and “place is given to the devil,” as Paul says in vv. 30 and 27. Therefore he commands that we fight against this so that “the sun does not go down on our wrath,” v. 26, but rather that the heat of anger be cooled and we seek forgiveness from God. But of those who do not calm their angry heart and allow the sun to set and keep nursing the flames, Paul says that they are giving place to the devil and have fallen into such a great sin that the Holy Spirit is grieved.
The second degree or level of anger he calls orgē, when the mind devises and plans evil and burns with desire for revenge. The third level is hatred, long-standing anger. The fourth which follows is jealousy, dissension, quarreling, contentions, and other outward actions, as James 1:20 says, “Man’s anger does not work the righteousness of God.” The Holy Spirit has made these distinctions so that we may learn what great efforts we must make in order to control the inner desires of our mind and what great evil follows when we give free rein to these lusts. We must also note that this doctrine applies to the other commandments.
Chemnitz, M., & Preus, J. A. O. (1999). Loci theologici (electronic ed., pp. 406–407). St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House.
Merciful Father, help us to see that our anger does not produce the righteousness You require. Forgive us for letting anger take root in our hearts and for speaking and acting out of anger. Grant to us humility, patience, and kindness; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord. Amen.
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