Image of a Bible

Home Improvement: The Gripes Of Wrath: Love’s Number One Enemy

Ephesians 4:26-5:2

I want to talk with you for a few minutes about anger. After all, every single person within the sound of my voice knows what it is to be angry and anything that common to the human experience deserves to be talked about—so let’s have a go at it today.

Anger is loves’ number one enemy. Nothing is as destructive of the quality of living and the quality of loving in our homes as is anger. Norman Vincent Peale, in his book, The Positive Power of Jesus Christ, tells of meeting a movie producer who was speaking about his father. He said: “My father had the worst temper of any person I’ve ever known. He used to break things, smash the furniture; I was terrified of him as a child. And then my father became a Christian and from that day on his style of life was changed. I never saw that kind of uncontrolled anger in him again. I said to him one day, ‘Dad, how is it that you’ve come to so control your temper?’ He responded: ‘I have become Jesus’ man, and that has made all the difference.'” The producer went on to say to Norman Vincent Peale: “Ever since that day when my father told me that, I have never once doubted the power of God.”

So we need to deal with the anger in our lives. Anger is like a time bomb that ticks away in a relationship, and if we can’t defuse that bomb, then everything will blow up. What I want to do today is to use this great word from Paul to the Ephesians to help us learn how to defuse our anger. Take a look with me.

The first thing that Paul says is that anger can be positive.

He says to the Ephesians: “Be angry.” You see, he recognized that sometimes it’s right to be angry. A funny story springs to mind here. There was a Quaker who owned a very stubborn mule. One day this Quaker was completely exasperated because he couldn’t get the mule to move. He tried everything he knew to move the beast, but nothing worked. Finally, with hands planted firmly on his hips, he glared at the mule and said: “Thou wicked and perverse creature, thou knowest that as a Quaker I cannot curse thee. Thou knowest that as a Quaker I cannot strike thee, but what thou dost not know is that I can always sell thee to a Presbyterian!” Well, we laugh at that, but there are times when we need not apologize for anger. Anger is not always wrong. On more than one occasion, Jesus Christ showed anger of volcanic proportions. Jesus, angry at what the temple had become, exploded and drove the money-changers out. When He was attacked for healing a man with a withered arm on the Sabbath, He responded with anger. He was angry at the various forces and powers which were set against God. He angrily addressed Satan. He angrily threatened demons. He was angry at the devilish nature of people—especially as He saw it in the Pharisees. So I look at Jesus, and I am led to say to you that there are times when it is a sin NOT to be angry. It seems to me that we, as Christians, whisper and murmur about some things in our society which we ought to be yelling about at the top of our voices. It seems to me that we, as Christians, ought to be filled with righteous anger about the lack of decency, the lack of integrity, the lack of justice, the lack of morality in our society. It was that kind of anger which motivated and inspired the latter years of Abraham Lincoln. Visiting one day in New Orleans, he watched while a young slave girl was sold on the auction block. With a seething anger, he clenched his fists, digging his nails into his hands, and he said: “This is wrong, and if I ever get the chance to hit it, I’ll hit it hard.”

Yes, we could do with some righteous anger from the Christians in our time, for in our world today, there are times when it is a sin not to be angry. That’s the kind of anger Paul was referring to when he said to the Ephesians: “Be angry.”

But Paul also recognized that anger can be negative.

He said: “Be angry, but do not sin.” Anger can be abused and thus it can be abusive. I read about a lady who had a very bad temper. She died, and at her funeral, just as they were lowering her casket into the grave, a storm came up and the wind blew and the rain fell and the thunder rolled and the lightning crashed and hit a tree right there in the cemetery. As the lightning hit that tree, the woman’s husband looked up toward heaven and said: “Well, she’s arrived!” Well, there are people who go about life in a perpetual state of storm and they do themselves a lot of harm. Anger is not good for us physically. The physical response of the body to anger is quite overwhelming.

Adrenalin is pumped into the blood. The heartbeat and the blood pressure go up. The digestive processes stop. The red blood cells are multiplied in the bloodstream. The liver pours sugar into the bloodstream. The salivary glands stop functioning. Blood vessels contract. You begin to sweat. People say: “My blood boiled. I was hot under the collar. I was really uptight.” And it’s all literally true. Anger is physically destructive. People who get angry do not see or hear very clearly. People say: “I was so mad that I couldn’t see straight.” And you know it’s true. When you confront someone like that, you can’t reason with them. You can’t deal with them rationally because they have thrown away control of themselves. Later on, they will come and apologize and say: “I wasn’t thinking.” And that’s true, they weren’t thinking. Anger affects both our normal physical processes and our normal mental processes.

Worst of all, anger of that kind, ruins your Christian witness. Leonardo Da Vinci was working on “The Last Supper” and became very angry at one of his assistants. He lashed out at the man, verbally abused him, and then in a rage, drove him out of the place where the picture was being painted on the wall in Milan. Then he went back to his work. At that time, he was painting the face of Christ. Suddenly, he discovered that he couldn’t paint that face. Only after he had gone to the man whom he had so abused in anger and apologized for the way he had treated him- only then could he go back and paint again the face of his Christ. You see, you cannot display the reality of Christ in your life when you are filled with wrath and anger and hostility and indignation. Mark this down: Calm waters will reflect the beauty of the heavens above them, but storm-tossed waters do not reflect beauty at all. So anger can be negative. It can be abusive. It can be destructive. That’s why Paul said: “Be angry. But do not sin.”

Then Paul shows us how to keep anger positive, not negative.

He says in Ephesians: “Do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.” There is an enormous amount of good, solid, practical wisdom contained in those few words. Let me show you what I mean. Some psychologists say that we are to deal with anger by concealing it, keeping it to ourselves. Other psychologists say we are to deal with our anger by ventilating it—letting it fly.

Interestingly enough, recent medical science and the Holy Scriptures differ with both of these viewpoints. You see, anger repressed often leads to depression, and anger expressed often leads to destruction. What the Scriptures teach and what medical science now echoes is this: Anger can be controlled and disciplined by love. When you begin to feel anger, you don’t explode, you don’t make a big scene. You choose to act in a controlled manner. You see, when you are dealing with anger, you always have a choice. We are made in the image of God, and that means we do not lose our tempers. If they go, it’s because we let them go. The person who forces you into an intemperate anger has conquered you. To put it into the vernacular, you tell me what ticks you off, and I’ll tell you who makes you tick.

John Powell, on one occasion, was walking down the street with Sidney Harris, the newspaper columnist. They stopped at a newspaper stand. Powell bought a newspaper. The newspaper fellow was very, very rude—abrupt. He slapped down the paper and slapped down the money; in fact, he was downright discourteous even though John Powell had approached him in a very kind and generous way. Sidney Harris said: “Do you stop at this newspaper stand often?” “Every morning”, John Powell said. “Are you always nice to this fellow?” “Yes, I am”, John Powell replied. “Does he always respond in the same way?” “Yes, he does”, John Powell says. “Well then, why don’t you tell him off?” And John Powell responded, “I don’t want him to decide what kind of day I’m going to have or how I’m going to respond.”

We all know that we can control our tempers. Have you ever observed, for example, whom you lose your temper with? You don’t lose it with your boss, instead, you lose it with your wife or with your husband or with your children. You choose someone with whom you can get away with it—or with whom you think you can get away with it. So when we are dealing with anger, let’s please remember that it is a matter of choice. We can choose to control it, or we can choose to let it fly. The Bible calls us to a controlled anger.

Here then are four suggestions for controlling anger:

  1. When we get angry, we get tense physically. We pace back and forth. Our hearts pound. We wring our hands. So instead of that, when we begin to feel angry, we ought to stand perfectly still. If we can sit down, that’s good. If we can lie down, that’s even better. Have you ever tried to conduct a heated argument while you’re lying down? It was the Psalmist who said: “Be angry, but sin not. Commune with your own hearts on your beds and be silent.”
  2. When we get angry, we instinctively raise our voices. When we sense anger rising within us, we should deliberately speak more and more softly. It’s very hard to argue when you’re whispering. You’re still expressing your anger, you’re still getting it out, but instead of exploding it out, you’re directing it out like the steam from a singing tea kettle.
  3. When we feel anger toward someone else, we need to try to focus on something good in that person’s life. Jesus always did that. He always looked for the beautiful in the life of another. When you’re angry, it’s hard to do, but work at it. At the moment of anger, look for the beauty.
  4. Perhaps this is the most important of all. You’ve heard it said that when you’re angry, you should count to ten. Here’s better advice. Instead of counting to ten using the words”one..two..three…four…five…six…seven…eight…nine…ten”, I’ll give you ten other words to say to yourself. Ten words. It takes the same amount of time to say them. Ten words. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Do you see what happens? In the midst of your anger, you focus upon Jesus Christ and His forgiving love. It’s amazing to discover how quickly that releases you from sinful anger.

Well, let me leave you with this. My years in the ministry have brought me into contact with some truly magnificent Christian women and men—people whose lives I deeply admire. Among the most admirable of them all is a man named Hayward McDonald. He is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy. He was rapidly moving up the chain of command in the Navy when one day, by accident, he was inoculated with an unsterilized needle. He contracted polio. It left him completely paralyzed from the waist down. He has now spent the rest of his life walking on crutches or sitting in a wheelchair. Yet, through it all, he has become a successful lawyer, a prominent politician, and an outstanding Christian leader. He has as winsome and radiant a faith and a personality as you could ever hope to see. I remember saying to him once: “It’s amazing to me that your polio has not made you angry and bitter at life.” He looked at me and said: “The disease paralyzed my legs, it never touched my heart.”

Dear friends, if you want to be able to choose to make anger a positive, and not a negative force in your life, then you need to invite the Spirit of Jesus Christ to come into your heart. The best way to keep the devil from having room to work in your life is to invite Jesus Christ into your heart. If you take Jesus Christ into your heart, then I promise you the quality of living and the quality of loving will be drastically improved both in your home and in your life.

Share This