Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so we may not continue to carry around anger or lust, but seek to live holy lives for the sake of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Let’s see if you can understand the picture…
Two people come together – a husband and his wife. They kiss and cuddle and caress and…well, without going into too much detail, the woman becomes pregnant!
At first there are no outward signs. The conceived child grows in secret from a few cells to quickly form a human body with emotion and purpose. Soon afterward the physical changes can be detected by a medical professional or by the woman as her body adjusts. A little later the changes are soon noticed by others. Finally, at the right time, a child is born and the lives of all those around are changed irreversibly.
But let’s try another picture…
Two people come together – in this case it could be a husband and wife, but it could also be a parent and child, a brother and sister, a boss and a worker, or any other possible combination of two people.
In this case they misunderstand each other; have different goals, expectations or interests than each other; or they compete with each other over limited resources, and…well, without going into too much detail, they have a conflict…and one or both of them become pregnant. Of course, there’s no physical child, but they’re ‘pregnant’ with anger.
At first there are no outward signs of this ‘pregnant’ anger. Some of us are very good at hiding our anger by denying our feelings or by running away from the situation. While the physical and emotional changes are small at first, it can be detected by feelings of anxiousness, sleepless nights, outbursts of frustration and tears, withdrawal from relationships, or by depression. By this time others may notice some of these symptoms as we lash out with our tongues and fists, by our refusal to talk to someone, or by our moodiness. Like it or not, anger conceived and left to grow in the heart will sooner or later give birth in words and actions to affect the life of its ‘parent’ and all those around, perhaps even irreversibly.
Or another picture…
Two people come together who aren’t married to each other – either in reality or virtually. This means it can be two people face to face, but it can also be one person looking to be with a pornographic magazine, internet site, movie, or TV show with nudity and sex scenes. As they come together, they…well, without going into too much detail, they become pregnant…when lust and longing is conceived in the heart.
At first there may not be any outward signs, and if there are, there are attempts to hide them. While many are taught ‘its ok to look but not touch’, we too often forget (or want to ignore) what the effect of ‘just looking’ does to our hearts and minds, and how this in turn affects our relationships. Soon we’re no longer content with those God gave us and instead lust after those God intends for someone else. Then, if the pregnant lust is born into action and adultery is committed, well, relationships are shattered, trust is broken, and the lives of all those affected may be changed irreversibly.
Now, why do we talk about anger and lust in this way? Because Jesus knows our sinful words and actions are only the birthing of what was first conceived in our hearts.
We often associate the heart with emotions, but in the bible the heart is the control centre of our will. This means when our heart (or our will) is set on something, we’ll find a way of achieving this. So, when anger or lust is in charge of our will, this will always lead to sinful thoughts, words, and actions.
When Jesus-interprets the 5th and 6th Commandments (which teaches us not to kill and not to commit adultery), he helps us realise the intention to kill or the intention to commit adultery is conceived in the heart, and even more importantly, what’s conceived in the heart and mind is just as real as an unborn child in the womb of a woman.
Dealing firstly with the pregnancy of anger, Jesus isn’t telling us we should never get angry. The sin is, many of us won’t forgive, so we carry anger around inside us. By carrying it, it often becomes our master which controls our actions and reactions, and so restricts our joy, harms our relationships, and limits our service and love toward others.
Knowing God sees our hearts, we don’t just carry a ‘pregnant deed’, but in God’s eyes the thoughts and emotions within us are already public acts and real deeds which we’re answerable for.
Of course, the anger we carry inside is often born bit by bit as we lash out in many ways, including verbally. The old saying ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me’ is rubbish!
Resentment or harsh words ‘kill’ or harm more people than the combined effects of all the drugs, alcohol, and smoking in the world. You could say the worst pollution in the world is our anger, and these days there’s a lot of anger dwelling in people’s hearts!
God sees the anger we carry in our hearts. So instead of carrying our anger against each other to the altar, he asks us to first be reconciled with each other.
In this case a good start is to recognise the anger or bitterness within yourself, or to recognise the subtle signs of anger toward you within someone else. You may know (or at least suspect), someone may hold something against you.
In this case, don’t wait for them to come to you, but Jesus says (as one loved and forgiven by God) you’re to approach them. When you approach them, rather than pointing out their faults, misunderstandings, anger, or failures, firstly admit your own. Confess your sin to them in order that they may forgive you and be reconciled with you. Then, as reconciled people, come to the altar and celebrate the undeserving forgiveness and peace won for you through Jesus Christ at the Lord’s Supper.
Now, in regards to the pregnancy of lust (which is much like the pregnancy of anger in the way it can enslave you), it also seeks to put people down. Where anger puts people down by hatred or fear, lust puts people down by desire. Both times you become a ‘god’ who decides who is—and who is not—worthy your time and effort.
Where the 5th Commandment protects life, the 6th Commandment protects marriage. Even though these days marriage is rubbished, criticised, re-defined, or even dismissed, God reveals he loves marriage so much he institutes and blesses marriage, and so he seeks to protect marriage. In order to protect marriage, God doesn’t just prohibit touching outside the bonds of marriage, but even the looking. What Jesus condemns is the looking in order to lust. Lust, like anger, will happen, but when we want to continue the happening, or sustain the feeling of lust (through our looks or stares), that’s what Jesus challenges.
While there’s nothing new under the sun, the discipline to control one’s own sexual desires is very difficult today because access to sexual content in movies, on TV, or over the internet (including our phones) is so easy!
Yet Jesus knows how our misdirected desire for pleasure and sex becomes a god which controls and binds us. Too often people get the message that our usefulness and acceptance within the community is tied up with our attractiveness, and so in order to feel loved and valued, we seek sexual fulfilment.
Yet the more we seek to make ourselves more attractive on the outside to others, the more we can feel de-valued and unloved because they no longer see the person within. We become objects of sexual desire to lust after, and not persons with value who should be loved and cherished.
Again, confession and forgiveness can heal guilty or ashamed consciences. Confession and forgiveness can restore broken marriages when there’s been addictions to pornography or infidelity, although admittedly, once trust has been broken, even forgiveness may not easily restore what was torn apart. It takes a lot of courage for a married person to open oneself up to the possibility of further hurt by someone who has previously been unfaithful.
While many of us might boldly boast ‘we’ve never killed anyone or committed adultery’, Jesus warns us the pregnant thoughts and desires which we carry about in our hearts and minds are just as real as having enacted them with our bodies. In God’s sight, the thought is already the action, which makes all of us murderers and adulterers.
Despite this there’s good news! For the sake of the innocent suffering and death of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, we’re forgiven for all our sinful words and actions, but also for our sinful thoughts and desires which were conceived in our hearts!
Yes, Jesus calls us to repent and live faithfully as God’s holy children in a world where anger and sexual promiscuity is rampant, but Jesus is also the incarnation of our God who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He loves us and forgives us for our carried angers and lusts and sends us his Holy Spirit to replace them with love. As forgiven and loved people in God’s sight, we may in turn seek the forgiveness of those around us and then together come to the Lord’s Altar with joy and thankfulness.
In the same way, we may also receive the grace to forgive those who sin against us. This forgiveness isn’t by our own power or goodness, but with the help of the Holy Spirit.
With the Spirit’s help, let us live holy lives, even as Christ has made us holy, aborting all anger and lust and living in peace and love with those around us.
And in this way, the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.