A Wise Response To Anger
Once again our political process has begun, which means debates, commercials, and robocalls. In my reading this week I came across a piece from political pollster Jeff Horwitt that caught my attention. He said, Four years ago, we uncovered a deep and boiling anger across the country engulfing our political system. And here we are four years later, with a very different political leader in place, and that anger remains at the same level.
I am not sure that if over the past 4 years the anger in our culture has stayed the same, gotten better, or grown, but all you have to do is watch the news for 5 minutes and you have to agree that we are living in a shockingly angry culture. Anger rears its ugly head is all of its different forms.
There is the low-burn anger of cynicism and irritation that’s around us all the time. People make snarky comments, step in front of you at the grocery store, feel the need to have a better story than the one you just told, or make hurtful statements and then say, can’t you take a joke? People living with a low burn anger always seem irritated at everything and everybody. We used to call these people Grumpy Old Men, now it seems we are all Grumpy Old Men.
Sometimes anger is violent, explosive yelling and screaming. Last Sunday we were driving to see my dad for his birthday. We were on Bynum Leatherwood road and had just passed one of the traffic lights where there is a merging lane. The car behind me whipped into the merging lane and floored it. But they only had 150 feet of road and when I didn’t hit my breaks for them to get around me, they went into a full rage. Waving her hands in the air, hitting the steering wheel, pointing at me, and not with her pointing finger. Even with our windows up, and radio on we could still hear this lady shrieking. She went from 0-11 like that. (Snap)
Sometimes in our anger we say words that never, ever should have been spoken, never in the way that they’re spoken. Because we are angry we say things that we feel need to be said, or think will make us feel better. But what we end up doing is setting off a grenade in a crowded room. You can never undo that damage.
A lot of us walk around angry, even though most of us would never admit to being an angry person. You might not be angry, but I wonder how many times in the last month you lost your temper, or said something you regretted. Solomon was very aware of how anger affects our world, community, and even the church, it’s a very normal human reaction. So of course Solomon is going to talk about our anger in the book of Proverbs.
People with understanding control their anger; a hot temper shows great foolishness. Proverbs 14:29
It is better to be a patient man than a mighty warrior, better to be someone who controls his temper than someone who conquers a city. Proverbs 16:32
Sensible people control their temper; they earn respect by overlooking wrongs. Proverbs 19:11
An angry person starts fights; a hot-tempered person commits all kinds of sin. Proverbs 29:22
As rampant as anger is in our culture, there is still a lot of confusion. We believe because we don’t ever explode, or lose our temper that anger is not one of our issues. When the truth is that while anger does happen in those big explosions, for most of us, our struggle with anger is little-moment anger.
James asks the question, Do you know where your fights and arguments come from? (4:1). The way that I want to answer that question is, yes. I argue and fight with people who upset me. The reason that I get angry is because my wife/kids/boss/friend/neighbor/traffic/government/stranger/dog made me angry. They did something to upset me and this is the appropriate response. I mean we live in a broken world, and all of these broken people constantly mess up.
It’s easy to think that my problem with anger exists outside of me, but that’s not what James says. He writes, They come from the selfish desires that war within you. If you don’t get anything else I say this morning, I need you to get this mustard seed: No one is more influential in your life than you are, because no one talks to you more than you do.
You are constantly talking to yourself, (thought most of us are smart enough not to move our lips, or to answer ourselves because then people begin to worry). You are always talking to yourself and what you tell yourself is significant. James says we fight with one another because of the selfish desires that live inside our hearts. You crave something that you do not possess, so you murder to get it. You desire the things you cannot earn, so you sue others and fight for what you want. You do not have because you have chosen not to ask. And when you do ask, you still do not get what you want because your motives are all wrong—because you continually focus on self-indulgence.
James is saying is that when we’re angry, we want to look at what is going on out there as our reason to be angry. I am angry because of the the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker, or whatever. The truth is that if we ever want to understand our anger, we have to look in the mirror. We don’t explode in anger because of what is happening out there, the source of our anger is in our heart. What is happening out there might tip the scale, but my anger is colored and controlled and shaped by what’s inside of me.
Let me try to unpack this: Let’s say that you are sitting in traffic. You look at the clock and know you are going to be late. Traffic is just not moving, folks are sitting in the intersection of a traffic light that is switching to quickly; you have already sat through this light 2 times. You begin to talk to the person in front of you, telling them they need to move or get out of the way. Because they are not listening and getting out of the way you begin to pound on your dash talking about how this knot head in front of you has no business driving.
That’s when you look at the car next to you and see this woman with a big smile on her face. She’s got her make-up kit open, and she’s thinking, God must love me, ‘cause He’s given me a little extra time to get ready this morning on my way to work. Even though you are both dealing with the same problem, you two are not having the same experience. If outside things had the power to make us angry, then the woman putting on her make-up, singing along with the radio would be just as angry as you are.
Guys I totally get it, traffic’s not fun. And yet in our illustration you have two people in the same situation, while having remarkably different reactions. James says there is a reason for this. Now watch carefully. (Take the lid off a water bottle and shake the bottle.)
Why did water come out of the bottle? You might think it was because I shook it. But the real answer is that water came out of the bottle because their was water in the bottle. I can shake this bottle all day long and tea will never come out of it. When you are shaken by life you will only pour out what is inside of you.
That’s what Jesus means when he said, It’s out of the heart that the mouth speaks. You can only spill out what is already inside of you. I have had people blow up about something, I have had people call me things that aren’t worth repeating, I have heard folks say things that would make a sailors wife blush. And then they say, I don’t know where that came from, that doesn’t sound like me. I want to reply, that might not be what you want the world to know about you, but you said exactly what you meant. If it wasn’t inside of you, it would have never come out.
We don’t have an anger problem, we don’t have a temper problem, we have a heart problem. That’s why when we are in a disagreement with someone, your voice is getting louder, your face is getting red, and then when the phone rings you pick it up and say Hello.
We can blame our temper, or our heritage, our short-fuse or whatever we want to blame. But the truth is that we get angry because we have anger inside of us. We get angry because other people don’t understand how great I am, don’t give me the respect I think I deserve, they don’t allow me to have my way since I am so much smarter, better looking, more athletic, richer, more valuable than they are.
Most of our anger comes from this desire to be the greatest in the Kingdom, we not much different than the apostles. What we need to do is approach God and beg for forgiveness. We need to ask God to help us find our peace in Him, to live our lives like we understand that the Son of Man came to die and that He alone is worthy to sit on the thrones of our hearts. We need to allow the Holy Spirit to guide our life. Our temper problem is rooted in the fact that we have squelched the Holy Spirit in our lives. Paul says that when the Holy Spirit is alive and well in our lives we will have peace, patience, and self control.
I believe that it was Joyce Meyer who said, Anger is not a sin—it is what you do with it that becomes sin. Paul writes in Ephesians 4:26-27 When you are angry, don’t let it carry you into sin. Don’t let the sun set with anger in your heart or give the devil room to work. Paul doesn’t say, don’t get angry or if you get angry. He writes When you are angry. We’re all going to be angry at times, but it’s not feeling anger that’s a problem. The problem comes when we choose to act poorly on those feelings.
Maybe you come home from a long day and you are frustrated before you even walk in the door. And as soon as you walk into the house, your spouse, who has been having their own difficult day says something you don’t particularly appreciate. So the frustration that you have inside of you, spills out as heated words are being exchanged. It really doesn’t amount to much, but you’re determined to get your way, and they are determined to get their way. So the argument rages on.
You both fume during dinner, then the kids are bathed, and put to bed without a word being spoken. When it’s time to go to bed, they put their back to you, and you put your back to them, both of you hug your side of the bed so you don’t touch each other. Paul says that you have basically opened the door and said Satan why don’t you just come right on in and see what kind of havoc you can do to our marriage.
That when the Devil comes into our relationships, he brings bitter words, temper tantrums, revenge, profanity, and insults. Eventually you are barely able to say a civil word to one another. I know there was a time when you two adored one another, you just loved to hear the sound of each others voice. There was a time when you loved one another deeply. But now you are living in your own version of a cold war. You are living in the same place, in the same house, but you are not friends, there is no romance, no love. We realize there is a problem, but it’s not my problem. You say it’s all her fault and she says it’s all your fault and you have two innocent people living in a horribly loveless marriage.
The reason that we are in the middle of this mess is not because we were angry, but because we acted poorly when we were angry. There are a few things that we did, that put us in this predicament.
First you personalized something that was not personal. You made it all about you, which is a very tempting thins to do. You might remember that I described this one time as we are the stars of the movie about our lives. We are in every scene, we have dialogue on every page. It’s so easy to think that everyone is as interested in us as we are interested in ourselves. But we forget that everyone is starring in their own movie and you are just a part of their supporting cast. So when someone does something that aggravates you, they are not smacking their gum to get a reaction from you, they are just smacking their gum.
Then we begin to ignore opportunities to love others. The second commandment is just like the first, love your neighbor as you love yourself. But I have become so offended by you, that I refuse to love you. You are no longer someone created in the image of God, now you have become my adversary. I refuse to see any goodness in you, I refuse to see you the way that God sees you. I am the greatest in the Kingdom and you are just this annoying little gnat. Because you are so insignificant, because you are not worth my love then I can dismiss you. I forfeit the opportunity to walk along side of you, to be involved in what God is doing in your life and allow you to be a part of what God is doing in mine. All because I refuse to love you.
Which finally leads to becoming adversarial. I can make jokes about you, I make snarky little comments so that people will know how great I am and how worthless you are. I find areas of your life that don’t meet my standards and gossip about you behind your back. When I have to talk to you, it’s just quick responses that don’t get to the heart of what is really going on. I am quick to break off any relationship that we might have had, and make it difficult on other people who try to have a relationship with you. I not only pick sides, but I expect other people to pick my side as well. I change locations so I can be with people who think I’m great and your trash. I yell a condemnation at a person. I make a threat. I try to manipulate people. And next thing you know I am in a huge mess because I have acted selfishly and poorly.
In 2 Corinthians 5 Paul is encouraging the Christians in Corinth to live a life worthy of the sacrifice of Christ. He reminds them that God redeemed them and that redemption should cause them to live differently from the culture and world where they find themselves. Then in verse 15 Paul says, He died for all, that those who live should not from now on live for themselves. The sin in our lives causes us to close off our world. Our sin causes us to think about ourselves and only about ourselves.
But you were not created or redeemed to live that way. I was never meant to have a life that is driven by what I want, where I want it, when I want it, and how I want it. I am not the greatest in the kingdom; that throne belongs to Jesus. You and I were meant to live a life of love. Love trumps anger, love trumps everything. The logic of love outweighs every other logic we have. Love gives us to power to overcome when we want to give in. Love gives us the power to accept when we want to reject. Love gives us the ability to forgive when we want to condemn. And love gives us the ability to speak words of peace when we want to rail in our anger.
We have been told that the gospel is how to get people in a baptistry. That’s not the gospel. The Gospel is how we declare to the world that God is love, and His love has changed everything. His love is the power we have to look beyond ourselves, and our feelings, to see Him at work in the lives of others. His overwhelming love calls us to be at work in His kingdom, not out of a sense of duty, or out of fear that He will punish us if we fail to perform, but out of thanksgiving for His love that changes everything.
This morning if you are living in anger, God is calling you to explore His overwhelming love for you. Because the only force stronger than anger is love.