As believers, how can we overcome anger in our lives? In this message Pastor Brian seeks to give helpful and practical suggestions to deal a death blow to sinful anger.
Putting Anger To Death
There was once a little boy with a bad temper. His father gave him a bag of nails and told him that every time he lost his temper, to hammer a nail in the back fence. The first day the boy had driven 37 nails into the fence. Then it gradually dwindled down. He discovered it was easier to hold his temper than to drive those nails into the fence. Finally the day came when the boy didn’t lose his temper at all. He told his father about it and the father suggested that the boy now pull out one nail for each day that he was able to hold his temper.
The days passed and the young boy was finally able to tell his father that all the nails were gone. The father took his son by the hand and led him to the fence. He said, “You have done well, my son, but look at the holes in the fence. The fence will never be the same. When you say things in anger, they leave a scar just like this one. You can put a knife in a man and draw it out. It won’t matter how many times you say ‘I’m sorry’, the wound is still there.”
If there was ever a universal sin, that sin is anger. It just very well may be the very first sin that we each commit. I remember when our first child, Josiah, was born that he cried, and cried, and cried. We couldn’t figure out what was wrong. We made sure he had fed, was changed, the pins weren’t sticking him. But he still kept on crying out shrilly. Finally, in desperation, we called the doctor, who actually stopped by the house to check on him. After examining him, he said, “There’s nothing wrong with him. He’s just angry. That’s why he won’t stop crying.” Have you ever heard an infant let out a blood-curdling scream? Often the reason is nothing more than they are mad and want to let you know about it! If they were able, they might wrap their chubby little hands around your throat and throttle you until you give them their way!
And, the situation doesn’t really change when we become adults. We may become a little better at hiding our anger, but we still get angry just the same. Some of us show our anger by getting red in the face, and raising our voices, and stomping our feet, or slamming our fist into a wall, or throwing things, or saying hateful things we regret later. Others of us, turn inward, and become sullen and silent, and let bitterness and unforgiveness fester in our souls. So, whether we explode in rage on the outside, or boil with resentment on the inside, we are all guilty of the sin of anger.
This morning I want to deal with the sin of anger under three headings: The Definition of Anger, The Danger of Anger, and the Defeat of Anger.
1. The Definition Of Anger
The online dictionary defines anger as “a strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure or hostility.” All of us feel annoyed or displeased or hostile against someone from time to time, but when that feeling becomes strong we have moved into the realm of anger.
Now, it’s important to note that anger is not always sinful. If it was, then both God and Jesus sinned, because both get angry. In Mark 3:5 the Bible tells us that Jesus looked around at the Pharisees with anger. They would rather that a man continue as a cripple rather than be healed, because it was the Sabbath day, and this grieved Jesus and angered Him. Revelation 6:16 speaks of the “wrath of the Lamb.” And when it comes to God, we see His wrath in Scripture everywhere! In Psalm 7:11 the Bible says, “God is a righteous judge, and a God who has indignation every day.” In John 3:36 we read, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life, but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” Ephesians 5:6 says, “for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.” Revelation 14:10 speaks of “the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.” We may not like this picture of God, but it is Biblical. And because it is Biblical, it is true. God is a God of wrath and indignation, as well as a God of mercy and grace. So, if all anger is sinful, then God is sinful. Now, there is much in our world that should provoke us to righteous anger. In fact, Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:26, “Be angry, and yet do not sin.” So, how do we know whether we have righteous anger or sinful anger? In James 1:20 the Bible says, “for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” If your anger is the anger of man it is sinful. If your anger is the anger of God, it is righteous. To manifest righteous anger, we must be angry at the things that make God angry, namely sin and injustice.
Well, let’s try to go a bit deeper in our understanding of anger. Anger is always a response to something else. To one degree or another, anger is a response to someone or something that endangers something we love. That’s why you get angry at the guy speeding down your street when your children are playing in the front yard. That person is endangering your children whom you love, so your response is a form of righteous anger. However, anger can turn sinful very fast when what is being endangered is yourself! We all love ourselves. That’s what it means to be selfish. Sinful anger is a response that stems from our pride, selfishness, or idolatry.
Let’s take a few examples. You find out that someone has gossiped about you, and you immediately become angry about it. Why? Because your reputation is at stake. The issue is pride. Someone rebuffs you in a comment you make on Facebook, and it angers you. Why? Because someone has dared to take issue with something you have said. Again, the issue is pride. Someone inconveniences you, and it angers you. Why? Because you are more important in your own estimation than the other person. The issue is self-exaltation. Now, perhaps it wasn’t right that another person slandered you or rebuffed you or inconvenienced you. But why do we get so angry and upset over things like that, and are never angry that 54 million babies have been killed through abortions since 1970? Why do we get so angry that someone has slandered us, and never get angry that God is mocked or belittled or dishonored in the lives of people all around us? Why are we so enraged about others rebuffing us, and care so little about Christians being persecuted unjustly in other parts of the world? Why do we care so much more about our own honor, and so little about God’s honor? Of course the answer is that we love ourselves and so are easily angered when anyone endangers us. But shouldn’t we love God and our neighbor just as much and be equally angered when they are endangered or belittled?
Often in a marriage or in a church there is someone with a strong personality and wants to call the shots. When someone challenges them, they become angry. Why? Because of selfishness. They want things their way. Someone may cut in to our lane in traffic or we go unrecognized at work, or our idea is shot down by our spouse and we become angry. Why? Probably because we love ourselves too much.
We can become angry at our children for their disobedience. But why, really, are we angry with them? If we were honest, we would have to admit that it is because their actions embarrass me, spoil my reputation in the church, or inconvenience me. It may have very little to do with them dishonoring God.
Why did Jesus get angry? Well, he got angry with the Pharisees because they cared more about enforcing their interpretation of the Sabbath law than in a crippled man in their midst. He got angry with the moneychangers in the temple, because they had turned God’s house of prayer into a den of thieves and dishonored God. Jesus got angry over the injustices to men, and the dishonor of God. Is that what angers us? Probably not!
2. The Danger Of Anger
There are many temporal dangers of unchecked anger, such as depression, drug or alcohol abuse, or physical illness like heart disease. Studies have shown that within two hours of an angry outburst, the chances of a heart attack or stroke skyrocket.
However, it is not that danger that I really want to focus on. I want to focus on the spiritual and eternal danger we face if we don’t fight anger.
In Ephesians 4:31-32, Paul writes, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” Now, let’s look carefully at this passage.
Right in the middle of the passage Paul speaks about anger. However, there are five other words that surround the word “anger.” They are “bitterness, wrath, clamor, slander, and malice.” Let’s think about each one.
Bitterness. This is a smoldering resentment, which often manifests itself in an unwillingness to forgive. This is anger turned inward.
Wrath. This is bursts of rage, or violent passions, or temper tantrums. This is anger turned outward.
Clamor. This consists of loud outcries of anger, bickering, or shouting down an opponent. This is anger turned loud.
Slander. Slander consists of insulting language, and abusive speech. This is anger turned verbal.
Malice. This consists of wishing evil on others, or spite. This is anger turned vengeful.
Now, notice that Paul tells us to put all these things away in verse 31, and then in contrast, he tells us what to put on in verse 32 – kindness, tender-heartedness, and forgiveness. Now, this teaches me that if I do not put away anger with all of its manifestations, I will not forgive others. Anger, if we are not careful, can easily turn into a grudge. Unforgiveness is a resolute anger. It is an anger that won’t budge. Have you ever heard someone say, “I will never forgive my Mom or my Dad or my brother or this person for what they did to me!”
Now, when anger turns into a resolve not to forgive, what is at stake? In Matthew 18:34-35 in one of Jesus’ parables it says, “And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.” Jesus said very clearly in Matthew 6:15, “But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” Now, how important is it that we are forgiven by God? It is absolutely crucial, is it not?! If we are not forgiven, we will not be in heaven. We will not inherit the kingdom of God. We will not experience eternal life. According to Jesus, no one is forgiven by God who is not willing to forgive others. So, if you are one of those people who are holding a grudge against someone for the hurt they caused you, let it go! It’s not worth losing your soul over! Cancel the debt you feel they owe you! Jesus treats anger that has turned into unforgiveness the same way He treats lust. He says if you don’t fight lust you won’t be in heaven. He says if you don’t forgive others you won’t be in heaven. So, this is a very serious and real danger that we must seriously consider. My friends, beware of allowing a root of bitterness to spring up and cause trouble and defile many.
3. The Defeat Of Anger
So, brothers and sisters, how do we defeat anger in our life? What can we do to diffuse it and subdue it, and conquer it? There are several things.
- Look Beneath The Surface And Discover Why You Are Angry. When Cain got angry that God accepted Abel’s offering, and not his, God said to him, “Why are you angry?” And God is asking you and me the same thing, every time we get angry. We need to give Him an answer. Why are we angry? What is it that you love that is being endangered? Is it your reputation, your ease, your convenience, your pride? Whatever it is, you need to put your finger on it.
- Repent of Loving These Things Above God. We all love certain things. The problem is that we take a good thing and make it an ultimate thing. That’s the definition of idolatry. We have disordered And when an ultimate love becomes endangered, we lash out in anger. We need to confess to God the real sin behind the sin of anger, and turn from it in heartfelt repentance.
- Change Your Attitude Toward The Person That Made You Angry. Actually, that’s a misnomer. The person didn’t make you angry. They didn’t cause you to become angry. No one can cause you to be angry about anything. They might be the occasion of your anger, but not the cause. We choose to react in anger. In Ephesians 4:32, after Paul tells us to put away all anger, bitterness, wrath, clamor, slander, and malice, he tells us to be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ has also forgiven us. So, no matter what someone has done to you, we must change our attitude and behavior toward them. We must replace hostility for kindness, callousness with tender-heartedness, and forgiveness with unforgiveness.
What if the Person that Made You Angry is God? A lot of people have told me over the years that they are angry with God and they have never gotten over it. They are angry about what God allowed to happen to them, or to their spouse or child or mother or father. Maybe one of your parents suffered terribly with cancer, or your child committed suicide. You remain angry with God because you know that He had the power to prevent those things from happening. Many pop psychologists will encourage people to just vent their feelings toward God. They might say, “It’s OK to be angry with God. He’s a big boy. He can handle it.”
Now, is it true that it is OK to be angry with God? When we are angry with someone we have made a moral judgment of them. When we are angry with God, we are accusing Him of wrongdoing in our life. In our anger we are accusing God of treating us unfairly or neglecting us or doing evil to us. We might think that God owes us something better than what He has given us. Now, I am not suggesting that you stuff your angry feelings toward God and pretend they don’t exist. I am suggesting that you confess your angry feelings toward God to Him as sin, and repent of them and ask Him to help you release them. To go on being angry with God implies that you believe He has done wrong to you. It is the same as calling God a sinner. It is the same as saying that we don’t believe God is good. To be angry with God is an indication of our unbelief.
- Trust In The Justice of God. Believe that God’s justice will prevail. Remember, that putting sin to death is largely a matter of faith. Faith in God’s Word and His promises. Romans 12:19 says, “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.” Now, there is a promise. God will repay and take vengeance on all sin and injustice and wrongs in the world. He will right every wrong. Even if we never see justice done in our lifetime, a Day is coming, in which it will all be put right. The question is, do we believe it? If we do, we can put our anger away, and let the situation go. God will have the last word. We can trust Him. We are told never to take our own revenge. Well, what is revenge, other than executing our anger on someone who has done something to hurt us?
- Trust In The Sovereignty of God. You are angry because someone did something that hurt you. However, if we believe in the sovereignty of God, we believe that God allows people to sin against us for a reason. Most of the time it is so we will grow in Christlikeness and personal holiness. Remember that Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers. He suffered much because of them. He ended up in a strange country, far away from his family and homeland. Later, he was falsely accused of rape and ended up in prison for 12 years. However, the beautiful thing about Joseph is that he never seems to allow himself to become bitter. Later he told his brothers in Genesis 45:8, “It was not you who sent me here, but God.” In Genesis 50:20 he said, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.” Also, in 2 Samuel 16 when David is fleeing Jerusalem after a coup by his son Absalom, a man named Shimei met him and cursed him, and threw rocks at him. Now, Abishai asked permission to go over and cut off his head. But instead David responded, “Let him alone and let him curse, for the Lord has told him. Perhaps the Lord will look on my affliction and return good to me instead of his cursing this day” (2 Sam. 16:5-14). Do you believe that God is sovereign over all the pain and hurt and suffering you experience? Do you believe that God causes all things to work together for your good? If you do, it will go a long way in enabling you to defeat anger in your life.
Friends, God is calling us to put sinful anger to death. Fight the good fight of faith. Believe the Scripture that tells you that God is sovereign and just and that His justice will prevail. Humble yourself so that instead of lashing out in anger when someone does something that you don’t like, you can respond to them in love and grace. Let’s pray.
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