Jesus And Our Anger
Ephesians 4:1-3, 25-32
From the fourth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, I wish to read the first introductory verses of that chapter and then drop down to begin reading at the 25th verse. This is God’s Word:
“I, therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace…
“…Therefore, putting away falsehood, let everyone speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry, but do not sin. Do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his hands so that he may be able to give to those in need.
“Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for edifying, as fits the occasion, that it may impart grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you.”
Soli Deo gloria. To God alone be the glory. Let us pray.
Now may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
I think it’s safe to say today that everyone within the sound of my voice at this moment 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.
When I think of anger, I think in terms of the internal combustion engine that drives our automobiles. That engine operates on a series of small explosions, a drop of gasoline is ignited, explodes, and the force of that explosion drives the pistons which in turn make the car move. Ignite all of the gasoline all at once, and the car will be blown into tiny pieces. Anger is like that. It’s a case either of controlling the explosion so that you get somewhere or letting the explosion control you and thus tear you up on the inside and tear up your relationships on the outside. Anger, you see, in and of itself, is neither right nor wrong. It’s what we do with our anger that makes it right or wrong.
I’ve searched the Scriptures on the subject of anger and discovered that the Scriptures have much to say on that subject. But I think perhaps the most helpful passage of all is the passage which I have just read for you in the fourth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. There, Paul addresses the matter of anger. And I want to invite you right now to come along with me for just a few minutes and let’s see what Paul has to say.
The first thing that Paul says is this, you can find it in verse 26, “Be angry but do not sin.”
Now, Paul is acknowledging there that there are two kinds of anger. “Be angry,” he says. He’s acknowledging that there’s an anger which is right, “but do not sin,” he’s acknowledging that there’s an anger that is wrong.
A funny story comes to mind here, for what reason I cannot imagine, but here it is anyway. It seems there was a Quaker who owned a very stubborn mule. On one day in particular, this Quaker could not get that mule to do a thing. He tried everything that he knew, he couldn’t get the mule to budge. Nothing worked. Everything he tried, the mule simply stood firm – wouldn’t budge. Finally, in complete exasperation, the Quaker walked around to the front of the mule, he planted his hands firmly on his hips, looked the mule straight in the eye, 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 starve 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.”
There are times when we don’t need to apologize for our anger because, yes, the Bible teaches us that there are times when anger is right. You look at the life of Jesus and you begin to see that Jesus Himself demonstrated an anger of volcanic proportions. Jesus, in a rage because of what had happened to the temple of God, seized a whip of cord and drove the money changers out into the street. In a blazing fury, He was. On another occasion, He was criticized, verbally attacked, because He had healed a man with a withered arm on the Sabbath, and the Scriptures note specifically that He turned and looked at His accusers with great anger. He was constantly angered by the earthly powers and forces that dared to set themselves over against the power of God. He angrily addressed Satan, “Get thee behind me.” He angrily cast out demons, “Come out, you deaf and dumb spirit.” He angrily condemned the devilish human nature that He saw in people, particularly as revealed in the Pharisees about Him. He looked at them with anger in His eyes, and the words had anger dripping off of them. He called them, “You brood of vipers.”
So I look at Jesus, and I am glad to say to you today that there are some times when it is a sin not to be angry. I want you to understand that we as Christians, it seems to me, are whispering about some things that exist in our society when, in fact, we ought to be yelling about them at the top of our voices. We ought to be moved to righteous anger by the lack of decency, the lack of integrity, the lack of morality, the lack of justice that exists in our society. It was that kind of righteous anger that motivated and inspired the latter years of Abraham Lincoln. For early on, in a visit to the city of New Orleans, Lincoln happened to observe with gathering dismay, a young slave girl being sold on the auction block. And as he watched with anger seething within him so that his fists were clenched until his nails dug into his palms, Abraham Lincoln said, “This is wrong. And if ever I get the chance to hit it, I’ll hit it hard.”
I submit to you today that we could do with some of that kind of righteous anger from the Christians in our world. I say it again, there are times when it is a sin not to be angry. Paul understood that. And so Paul says to us, “Be angry.” He was acknowledging that there is such a thing as righteous anger, and he was encouraging that kind of anger, the anger that rises up within us because of things that are done to someone else. But then Paul also said, “Be angry, yes, but do not sin.”
He was acknowledging that there is such a thing as selfish anger. The kind of anger that rises up within us because of things that are done to us. Jesus was never mad about the things that were done to Him. But He was furious about the things that were done to other people. Paul condemns selfish anger. He says it plainly, “Be angry, yes, but do not sin.” But then the second thing that Paul shares with us here in this passage is this. You can find it in the next verse, there, in the first half of the 27th verse – he says, “Do not let the sun go down on your anger.” J.B. Phillips translates that verse like this, “Never go to bed mad. Don’t let the devil have that kind of foothold in your life.” I like that. What Paul is trying to get us to see here is that when this selfish anger begins to build within us, we’ve got to get it out, we’ve got to express it, as it were. If we choose to bottle it up within us, then ultimately it will destroy us. We will be fair game for the devil’s handiwork. “Don’t go to sleep,” he says, “Don’t go to sleep thinking about the things that are tearing you up on the inside or tearing up your relationships on the outside.”
Several years ago, in a sermon broadcast on the Protestant Hour, the late Catherine Marshall told of a very talented young organist in her church in South Florida. The young man for some reason, and the reason didn’t seem very important later, the young man developed a deep bitterness and resentment toward the minister in that church. He was very angry about the thing. And yet he kept that anger all bottled up within him. In time, it began to affect his personality. It began to affect his musical talents. It not only affected his relationship with the minister but it went on to affect his relationships with other people in the congregation. And finally, absolutely miserable with this boiling anger within him, that young man crept into the chapel of the church one night and there opened his heart to God, asking God to help him solve the problem of this anger. And he heard a whisper of God’s Spirit in his heart, a whisper that said very simply, “Release this man from your resentment.” The young man obeyed, and with glorious results. The relationship was restored. And the young man went on to become a great, great blessing to the life of that congregation. He was a young man who understood the wisdom of what Paul’s talking about here, “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.” Don’t go to sleep, thinking about the things that are tearing you up on the inside or tearing up your relationships on the outside. Don’t give the devil that kind of chance to work in your life.
When it comes to anger, I think Paul would agree that we are rather like that tea kettle that sits on the stove at my home. When the water on the inside is boiling within, the steam is not released all at once. Rather the steam is directed out through a tiny, tiny hole in the top, and when the steam is directed out through that tiny hole, do you know what? The kettle sings. That’s what Paul’s talking about. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger. Get it out. Express it. Don’t hold it in. But then quickly, I would ask you to notice that he goes right on to say something else. It’s down in the 32nd verse, he says, “Be kind to one another, forbearing, forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven you.” You hear what he’s saying? He’s saying, yes, if you’re angry, you need to express that anger. But when you express your anger, express it in a Christian way. That’s so important. Paul is not encouraging here those explosions of ill will and temper that wither everything in sight. Those explosions though brief can cause long-term damage. You know how it is with a tornado. It only takes a few minutes for a tornado to whistle right through a town but it may take years for the town to dig out. That’s the way it is with our anger.
And so Paul says when you express your anger, express it in ways that are kind and tender and forbearing and forgiving and loving. Express your anger in Christian ways. “Ah,” you say, “how do we do that?” Well, let me set before you right now, three very simple, very basic, very elementary techniques. You can take these home with you and you can try them. I hope you will try them because I believe they will work for you. Three very basic techniques for how Christians respond to anger.
The first technique is this: when anger begins to boil up within us, we have a tendency to become tense physically. Our emotions are exaggerated, our muscles are taut, we pace back and forth, we wring our hands, and our bodies become very, very tight. Now that physical tension is simply building a fire under the anger that’s already boiling. So the first technique is this: when we get angry, we need to force ourselves to stand perfectly still. Better yet, we need to sit down. Or best of all, we need to lie down. That’s right. When we get angry, we need to lie down, flat out. Have you ever tried to conduct a heated argument when you’re lying down? That’s what the Psalmist was driving at when he said, “Be angry but sin not, instead commune with yourselves on your bed and be silent.” Technique number one, when we get angry, lie down.
Technique number two: when anger begins to boil within us, we have a tendency to raise our voices. And at that point, the shrillness of our voices only serves to antagonize an already bad situation. And so when we feel that we are getting angry, the first thing we need to do is to very, very deliberately, speak lower, slower, more softly. When we get angry, we need to start speaking in a whisper. Have you ever tried to conduct a heated argument when you’re whispering? When we get angry, technique number two, we need to speak in a whisper.
Technique number three: when we feel anger boiling up within us, we need to follow the age-old advice. You’ve heard it, “When you get angry, you need to count to 10.” That’s good advice, I suppose. I want to give you some better advice. Count to 10, yes, but don’t use those words, “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.” No, let me give you 10 other words. 10 words, it takes the same amount of time to say them, just 10 words. Count to 10 using these 10 words, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Father, forgive them for they know not what they do. When you get angry, count to 10 using those words and you will be astonished to discover that you are bringing right into the midst of your heart nothing less than Jesus and His forgiving love. And you’ll be astonished to discover how quickly that will release you from sinful anger.
Three techniques. When we get angry, lie down; when we get angry, speak only in whispers; when we get angry, count to 10. Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.
Well, if you’ve stayed with me this far, then please don’t leave me now. Jesus was crucified. Understand, please, that was both the most public and the most horrible form of execution in that or any other day. And it wasn’t pleasant to watch. He began with His hands and His feet being nailed fast through palms and through the upper arch to the great wooden beams of a cross. And then because the weight of the body would pull the nails loose, the wrists were bound tight to the Cross. And then that Cross was lifted up, held against the sky, and dropped with a sickening thud into a hole in the earth. There He would hang. It was death in essence by slow suffocation: held fast by hands and wrist, the weight of His body being pulled by gravity downwards so that, with the passing of time, the diaphragm would weaken. And then the muscles surrounding the rib cage would begin to cramp and to knot and begin to contract and as they contracted, they would very slowly but literally push the breath right out of Him.
There was terrible physical pain. The pain of nails being driven through the most sensitive spot in hand and foot. The pain of a crown of thorns rudely jammed down upon His head with the bleeding accompanying it and scalp wounds always bleed profusely. There was the indescribable, unquenchable thirst, gasping for air, and dying through suffocation. Gasping for air always dries out the mouth so that, in time, the skin on the lips and the tongue and inside the mouth begins to crack wide open like arid ground in a desert waste. And there would have been the agonizing buzzing of the ever-present Middle Eastern flies, and with hands and arms fixed, no way to swat them away. And then, in addition to that, the inner pain. The pain of the rejection and the ridicule of the crowd, the pain of this one who was love being hated, this one who was gentle being crushed, this one who was forgiving being killed. On top of all that, the weight of a whole world’s sin: every evil thing that you and I have ever done or has ever been done to us; every lie that you are I have ever told or has ever been told to us; every sin that you or I have ever committed against God or against anyone else; all of that multiplied by all of those people who have ever lived or whoever will live, all of it dropped on Him. And He was innocent.
By the great God in Heaven, I tell you, if ever there was a time for the anger of God, that was it.
Had He chosen to blast into oblivion this planet and everyone who lives upon it, no one would have blamed Him. But that’s not what happened. Instead, from the cross, we hear words, not of anger, but words which can only break our hearts and claim our souls. Father, Father, forgive them. Do you see what that means? It means that we are loved by God. We are forgiven by God. And that means that no matter what anyone else may say to us or do to us, no matter how cruel or insensitive or violent someone may be towards us, no matter. We do not have to lash back in anger. Because we are loved by God, because we are forgiven by God, because of what God has done for us in Christ Jesus, we can be moved to love and to forgive others. It’s a matter of having Jesus in your heart. More to the point, it’s a matter of surrendering all those little corners of your heart you’ve been trying to hold back for yourself. It’s a matter of loving God and loving yourself because you know God loves you, and loving others because of what God has done for you in Jesus Christ.
And so Jesus Himself comes into this place today to move down these aisles and across these pews to reach out and to touch you right where you’re sitting now; to touch you and to whisper in your ear, “I love you. I love you. Will you give your life to me?” My friends, in your answer to that question is the answer to your anger. Let us pray.
Almighty and most gracious God, teach us to know beyond any shadow of a doubt that if we choose to follow Jesus Christ in our lives, that Your Holy Spirit will go to work in us to make us more and more like Him every passing day. In His name do we pray, amen.