Pastor David B. Curtis

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Be Angry, But Don't Sin

Ephesians 4:26 & 31

Delivered 09/10/2000

It's no secret that a deadly virus is rampant in our society -- the virus of anger. If we delay one instant after the light changes, or cut someone off on the freeway, we can trigger vile language, a vulgar gesture, and even a gun shot. If a waitress is slow at a restaurant, a line is too long, or a checker seems too slow - the result may be outbursts of anger. Grudges, resentments, bitterness are common companions in homes, causing chronic anger, violence, or abusive talk. It seems our society has lost its civility.

Our call as believers is to model the love of Jesus, even in the midst of an angry society. We have been supernaturally equipped to control anger. This kind of self control is a desperately needed ingredient in our society.

Anger is an emotion that touches all our lives:

Ephesians 4:26 (NKJV) "Be angry, and do not sin": do not let the sun go down on your wrath,
Ephesians 4:31 (NKJV) Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.
Colossians 3:8 (NKJV) But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth.

In the day and age in which we live, there is some civility, we have graduated beyond outward barbarism. The world we live in is not quite as tooth and claw as the former age. Whereas, in days gone by, when someone was angry, they would lop the other fellow's head off, or take immediate revenge. In our society, that is not allowed. Thankfully - although at times it looks as if we may be returning to those more ancient ways - we don't normally beat someone when we get upset.

However, anger has not become passe'. Since 1966 crime has tripled, and violent crimes have quadrupled. We still get angry, but most of us have been taught to internalize our anger, rather than to express it outwardly. So, although we may not show it, we still seethe with the best of them. Is there any Christian who will not confess to having been angered in the past week? Of course not. Even the most dedicated of Christians still get angry, and we must learn to recognize this sin, and deal with it.

The reality is that all of us face situations and challenges that may make us angry - no one is immune. When the famous painter Leonardo da Vinci was painting The Last Supper, he became angry with someone impeding his progress and lashed out at them. After that incident, he went back to his painting, but when he reached the point of painting the face of Jesus, he found that he could not do it without first making things right with the person who had caused his anger. Regardless of our emotional makeup, anger affects all of us and when we allow anger to control us, we feel poorly, knowing that we must make things right.

A severe example of the damage that anger can bring is seen in what happened in Reading, Mass. on July 5, 2000. What began as a simple hockey practice, with kids taking turns slapping shots at the goalie, ended in murder. Michael Costin, 40, whose three sons were on the ice, was informally supervising the play. After a while things got a bit rough, and Thomas Junta, 42, one of a handful of people in the stands, complained loudly to Costin when his 10-year-old took an elbow to the nose. Accounts vary, but some say Junta stepped to the edge of the ice, where he and Costin got into a shoving match, and a rink employee ordered Junta to leave the building.

He did. But a short time later Junta returned and confronted Costin outside the locker room. At that point, Junta knocked Costin to the floor and kneeling on his chest, "Was doing a job on him, wacking him...and slapping his head on the floor," Reading Police Chief Edward Marchand told The Boston Globe. When officers arrived, Costin, whose sons witnessed the beating, was unconscious and had no pulse. Two days later he was removed from life support and died. It was just a stick practice, and because of anger, one father died, and one went to prison. Anger grips our lives and causes us to do things we later wish we had not done.

Acceptable Anger

Ephesians 4:26 says, "Be angry, and do not sin..." This tells us something very important - there is an anger that is acceptable.

Because anger is frequently attributed to God in the Bible, we must agree that not all anger is evil. Pressing the matter further, if we are to imitate God, then there must be times when we should be angry.

In Ephesians chapter 4, we have two seemingly conflicting statements. In verse 26, we seem to be commanded to be angry; in verse 31 we seem to be commanded not to be angry. The solution is to be found in the fact that there are two kinds of anger. The anger which is a manifestation of our flesh is to be put off. The anger which is a manifestation of God's righteousness is to be put on.

The command, "Be angry!" just doesn't sound right, does it? We are uncomfortable with a command like this. We find ourselves trying to avoid or explain this command away, because anger does not sound godly. But we must remember that there are two kinds of anger. There is the "anger of man", which "does not achieve the righteousness of God" (James 1:20), and the anger which is an expression of God's righteousness. We are commanded in our text to be angry in a way that is righteous, that is a reflection of God.

God was angry at the unbelief of Moses, which caused him to resist obeying the command of God to go to Egypt and confront Pharaoh, insisting that he let God's people go (Exodus 4:14). God is angered by the mistreatment of those who are helpless, the strangers, the widows, and the orphans (Exodus 22:21-24). God was also angered by men turning from trusting and worshiping Him to the worship of idols (Exodus 32:10; Deuteronomy 6:14-15; Judges 2:13-14; Ezra 8:22).

All of these offenses which arouse God to anger seem reasonable enough, but there are times when men may commit offenses which seem minor to us, and yet which provoke God to anger. Do you realize that God is angered by the grumbling and complaining of His people?

Numbers 11:1 (NKJV) Now when the people complained, it displeased the LORD; for the LORD heard it, and His anger was aroused. So the fire of the LORD burned among them, and consumed some in the outskirts of the camp.

Our Lord Jesus was also angry. True anger is that which is concerned with others' wrongs. You can see it in Jesus: He was angry at the Pharisees when they opposed his healing of men on the Sabbath day. "He looked upon them with anger" (Mark 3:5), we read, "and was grieved in his heart" over their stubborn indifference to the needs of suffering humanity. It made him angry.

Jesus got angry. In John 2:13, He went to the temple where He saw tables for buying and selling, like a business. He became angry when He saw that the temple, which should have been a place of prayer and worship, had been converted to a business. Jesus overturned the tables and made everyone leave because He was angry - but He did not sin in His anger.

He was very angry because they were ignoring the purpose of the Father's house. They were teaching men wrong things in the name of God. They were carrying on destructive activities in the name of religion. So there is a time to get angry.

Godly men were also angered by unrighteousness. Moses became angry when he finally came down from the mountain and saw the extent of Israel's sin (Exodus 32:1-20). Earlier, Moses was angered by Pharaoh's hardened heart, and his refusal to listen to God and to let the Israelites go (Exodus 11:8). While the text does not say so, it would appear that David was angered by Goliath's blasphemy (1 Samuel 17). David was later angry when Nathan told him the story of the rich man who stole a poor man's little lamb, not knowing that he was the villain (2 Samuel 13:21).

Paul was angered when he learned that false teaching had reached the saints in Galatia, and that some were embracing it. The whole epistle of Paul to the Galatians is white hot with Paul's expressed anger and outrage.

I agree with Henry Beecher who said, "A man who does not know how to be angry, does not know how to be good. A man who does not feel indignation over evil is either a fungus or a wicked man." When someone mocks God and His Word, I should be angry. When I hear a comedian on television talking about "mistakes God has made," I should feel some anger. When there are religious leaders who use Christianity as a cloak for their own greed and lust, my blood should start to boil. When atrocities are committed in Kosovo, or when Communist governments in China and North Korea murder their own people, it is a time for anger. I should be mad when I hear of pastors and teachers leading people astray by telling them there are other ways of salvation besides Jesus Christ. These are good reasons to get mad.

"Be angry", the apostle says. There are things that ought to make you angry, many things that ought to make you angry today. There is a time to get angry.

Unacceptable Anger

"Be angry but do not sin." Not all anger is wrong for man, but some anger is clearly wrong.
Ephesians 4:31 (NKJV) Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.

What's the difference between good anger and bad anger? Sinful anger, of course, is anger that is self-defensive, i.e., centered in the self. It is always wrong. Sinful anger is part of the old life, it is to be put off. If you are angry because your feelings have been hurt, or your pride has been injured, or you have been mistreated in some way, perhaps you have not been given the position of the place or the favor that you think you ought to have - this is sinful anger and is to be put off.

Christian morality is the experience of divine power. But the experience in moment by moment living includes conscious choices. The practical, nitty gritty, day to day living of the Christian life is the experience of divine power. If it were not, then all our moral choices and all our pursuit of holiness would be done in our own strength; it would signify our own merit, and it would redound to our own glory. And the whole purpose of God to be glorified in his creatures would fall.

The Cause Of Sinful Anger

One root cause of anger is frustration. Things don't go our way in life. Promotions are denied, or our kids don't do what we tell them to do, and so we feel helpless, frustrated, and - ANGRY! You know, if you are a perfectionist, you are regularly subject to anger, things aren't perfect in this sinful world and so you are almost constantly frustrated and angry!

Nothing causes anger as quickly as thinking too highly of ourselves. The more exalted we are in our own eyes, the more justified we will feel in being angry with the person who offended us.

Proverbs 13:10 (NIV) Pride only breeds quarrels, but wisdom is found in those who take advice.

When we stay angry, we act as if we were judge and not God. Romans 12:19 says:

"Do not avenge yourselves, beloved, but give place to wrath, for it is written: Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord. No, if your enemy is hungry feed him"

If we hold a grudge, we act as though God were not a just judge. We act as though we are the moral guardians of the world, and if we don't hold this wrong against this person, it's going to slip away into oblivion, and a great injustice will go unrequited. But this is sheer unbelief. Vengeance belongs to God. He will repay. It is his business, not ours. So again, holding a grudge puts us in the place of God

Proverbs 15:18 (NKJV) A wrathful man stirs up strife, But he who is slow to anger allays contention.

Short tempers and long grudges breed strife and disunity in the church.

The Damage Unresolved Anger Causes

Unresolved anger can even cause health problems. The University of Tennessee completed a study on women and anger in which they discovered that many health problems, such as depression, headaches, obesity, and autoimmune diseases are the direct results of allowing unresolved anger to fester. Such anger-related illness is more common in women, because men are more likely to express their anger. The reality is that many times our anger stems from unrealistic expectations which we place on ourselves. We become angry when we cannot change frustrating circumstances at work; when family members, friends, and co-workers fail to live up to our expectations; or when we believe we are being treated unfairly or disrespectfully. The anger triggered by these things is okay; it is what happens if the anger goes unresolved that can cause problems. The circumstances and consequences of unresolved anger affect all our lives, even though we try to go through life avoiding the subject.

Frankly, it is most difficult to do this in the privacy of our own homes when our guard is at its lowest point. Sometimes the worst outbursts of anger take place among those we care about most - this is unfortunate, but true.

Richard Walters is a psychiatrist in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He writes:

People will be murdered today because of someone's anger. Others will die from physical ailments resulting from or aggravated by their angry feelings. Many people die in anger-related auto accidents. While others carry out the angriest act of all: suicide. Countless relationships die little by little as resentment gnaws away at the foundations of love and trust. Anger is a devastating force, and its consequences should sicken us.

Proverbs 14:17 says, "An angry person does foolish things." A few chapters later, Proverbs 29:22 says, "A hot tempered man commits many sins."How many of us have ever done something stupid, dangerous, or immoral, because of anger....something that in retrospect we wish we had not done?

Alexander the Great was an incredible strategist and soldier. At one time, one of his boyhood friends, who had been promoted to general in his army, was drunk and began to speak disrespectfully to Alexander. In a fit of anger, Alexander grabbed his spear and threw it at his friend - his intent was simply to scare his friend, but his aim was poor and he caught his friend in the heart, killing him instantly. This great man, who was able to conquer nations, could not conquer his own anger; as a result, he lost one of his dear friends. He was so distraught that he wept for days and even tried to kill himself.

How Do We Control Inappropriate Anger?

1. We need to express our anger in an appropriate way.

If I am upset because I can't get a computer program to work, it is not right for me to snap at by family. It is sinful to allow one's temper to blow up and have fragments scatter all over, hurting the innocent people around us. It is also wrong to express anger by seeking revenge. "Don't get mad, get even" may be a nice-sounding slogan, but it is not found in any Bible that I know of. Instead, Romans 12:17 says, "Do not repay anyone evil for evil." It is almost always wrong to express our anger in a way which feeds tension or conflict. That is why, even when our anger is somewhat justified, we must not lash out at another person.

One step for controlling anger Scripture offers is the wisdom of delaying our angry response, rather than reacting without thought. Proverbs tell us:

Proverbs 14:29 (NKJV) He who is slow to wrath has great understanding, But he who is impulsive exalts folly.
Proverbs 15:18 (NKJV) A wrathful man stirs up strife, But he who is slow to anger allays contention.
Proverbs 29:11 (NKJV) A fool vents all his feelings, But a wise man holds them back.

Proverbs 15:1 says, "A gentle answer turns away wrath," and that is true whether we have a right to be angry with the other person or not. And, friends, no matter how justified we may think our anger is, it is never an excuse for physical or verbal abuse. Screaming and swearing at someone because we are mad at them is simply wrong. Recently a study done by Iowa State University discovered something which the Bible has taught all along. Venting anger, yelling and screaming when you are frustrated, hitting your spouse with a foam rubber club when you are upset, or going out and playing paintball with someone you are mad at, are not emotionally healthy things to do, even though some psychologists have been encouraging people to do this for years. The study found that people who vent their anger tend to become more and more aggressive in their behavior. Instead of venting, we need to express our anger in appropriate ways.

As Christians, we have the power available, if we depend on God, to delay expressing anger so we won't say or do things we regret later. Inevitably, if we wait until the next day to express anger, we either do it rationally or feel no need to do it at all.

2. We need to get over our anger quickly.

Keep short accounts This seems to be Paul's biggest concern. Normally, anger should die a very quick death. Its natural life span as an emotional reaction is certainly less than 24 hours. But if we choose to nurse it along and care for it, our anger can stay alive and thrive for years, and that is a sin. Paul says:

Ephesians 4:26 (NKJV) "Be angry, and do not sin": do not let the sun go down on your wrath,

Now, "Do not let the sun go down" may be a figurative expression. Paul may simply mean, "Don't prolong your anger."

Friends, if we harbor anger for too long, if we allow it to turn into bitterness and hatred, it will eventually explode.

Fred Buechner says, "Of the seven deadly sins, anger is probably the most fun. Many folks feast on their anger. The chief drawback, however, is that we are devouring our own selves." If you are mad at someone for something which happened two weeks ago, two years ago, or two decades ago, you are choosing to be angry. They are not making you angry, it is your choice, and it is a sin, and it is very destructive emotionally.

Perhaps the most effective weapon for controlling inappropriate anger in the Christian's arsenal is:

3. Forgiveness.

Forgiveness works, because it is an alternative to anger. Forgiveness means: "we no longer seek retribution against one who has hurt us." Forgiveness frees us to live in a broken world, maintaining loving relationships with imperfect people. Forgiving love is rooted in the fact Jesus has forgiven us. By forgiving people, I no longer go to the graveyard of yesterday's hurts and dig up decaying stuff to fuel my continuing anger against a person. With the help of the Lord, it's possible to forgive any offense.

One thing that will help us to forgive is to begin to see the person who wronged us for what he is - a failed human being not infinitely different from us.

Admitting the control of anger is not within our power is part of the solution. We need the supernatural help of Christ, because it is not enough to refrain from expressing anger. The Christian is called to love the person with whom we are angry.

1 Corinthians 13:4 (NKJV) Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up;

The first thing Paul says about love is that it "suffers long." This is the Greek word makrothumeo, this word, as it is used in the NT, is a word that almost on every occasion conveys the idea of having an infinite capacity to be injured without paying back. It is used with regard to people, not circumstances. It's having a long fuse. The loving person is able to be inconvenienced or taken advantage of by a person and yet not be upset or angry.

Does this describe you? Please understand that to not be a loving person, to be angry at someone, is not some small character flaw; it is to break the greatest commandment, it is to not love God.

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