HOW TO BE GOOD AND ANGRY
It was a day of worship. The morning sacrifices had been made. The priest had gone into the Temple with the incense to offer it before the Lord. And the people had partaken in their morning prayers. Suddenly, in the outer courts, there is a disturbance. Doves are flapping. Tables go flying. People are scattering. Coins are clattering. And in the middle of it all is a Galilean Rabbi wielding a whip. His arm is raised and lowered. Another sharp crack of the lash.
Who is this Man? Has He lost His mind? Can this be sweet, gentle Jesus? Can He be... ANGRY? The anger of Jesus should come as no surprise to us. The anger of the Lord is a common theme in the Scriptures. The Lord's anger is directed against sin and unrighteousness. He becomes angry. His wrath and His anger is "revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men," especially when they "suppress the truth in unrighteousness" (Romans 1:18). God becomes angry when His truths are substituted for lies. He gets angry...
God gets angry, and we should, too. We should get angry...
There are times when Christians should stand up and say, "I'm angry and I'm not going to take it anymore!" Paul speaks of such a time in his epistle to the Ephesians. Let's look at it.
Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth, each one of you, with his neighbor, for we are members of one another.
Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,
Do you see it? Verse 26 - "BE ANGRY." You need to know that this is not a new concept. Paul is quoting from the Old Testament. The quote is taken from the Psalms.
Oh sons of men, how long will my honor become a reproach?
How long will you love what is worthless and aim at deception? Selah.
But know that the Lord has set apart the godly man for Himself;
The Lord hears when I call to Him.
TREMBLE, and do not sin;
Meditate in your heart upon your bed, and be still. Selah. (Psalm 4:2-4).
The word which the New American Standard Version translates "tremble" is taken from the root ragaz. It's literal meaning is "to tremble or quake." But when it refers to a person, its speaks of strong emotions. Those emotions can be fear. They can be worshipful awe before the presence of the Lord. Or they can be anger.
By the way, there is a lesson here. It is a lesson about EMOTIONS. Emotions are not sinful or wrong. The Lord made us to be emotional creatures. Some of us are more emotional than others. And that is okay.
I think that we as Presbyterians have often fallen short in worshiping God with our emotions. Perhaps it is in reaction to that brand of Christianity which goes to emotional excess - where theology and truth are traded in for an emotional roller coaster ride of warm fuzzies.
I am not advocating such excess. We have no basket by the front door with a sign that reads, "Leave your brains here and pick them up after the service. Do not forget to take them on your way out or you will lose your mind."
But I cannot help but think that we have gone too far in the other direction. Emotions are good. We are commanded to love the Lord, not just with our minds, but with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind. And if we leave any part out, then we are falling short in our worship. We are to honor God with all of our emotions. Even with our ANGER.
Paul says, "BE ANGRY..." What does he mean? I want to suggest that this is NOT a command to be angry. The Greek text can be translated either as a command or as a statement of being:
(a) Be angry!
(b) You are angry.
For this reason, the NIV has translated this, "In your anger, do not sin." This brings us to our first point. It is the first of THREE PITFALLS TO ANGER.
THE DANGER OF SIN IN ANGER
Be angry, and yet do not sin... (Ephesians 4:26a).
While it is true that there are times when I SHOULD be angry, there are also times when anger is inappropriate. There is a keen distinction here. Paul has ordered us to "speak the truth in love." It is possible to speak the truth, but not to do it in love. Speaking the truth with any other mode than love is a violation of this command.
Likewise, there are times when I should be angry. But there are also times when I should recognize that my anger is misdirected.
I Corinthians 13 says that love is not provoked (13:5). When I am being easily provoked to anger, I am not showing love.
What provokes you to anger? What is it that really gets under your skin and makes your blood boil? Things in your home... community... church? Ask the Lord for the love which enables to bear all things.
THE DANGER OF UNRESOLVED ANGER
...do not let the sun go down on your anger (Ephesians 4:26b).
When you are angry, deal with it quickly. To allow it to fester and swell and surge for any extended length of time is dangerous.
I want you to know that the word for "anger" in the second part of this verse is slightly different that the word for being "angry" in the first part of this verse.
The difference is in the prefix para. It is a familiar prefix. It means "along side of." For example, when we refer to a paramedic, we speak of someone who works in conjunction with a doctor. A paralegal is someone who works along side of a lawyer.
What does this tell us about anger? It tells us that anger often comes with unwanted companions. Paul makes reference to them in verse 31.
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. (Ephesians 4:31).
Anger is a seed which, if allowed to remain, begins to grow and send out its roots of bitterness. These roots are poison to your soul!
We have a rule in our household which we try always to follow. When there is an argument, we do not go to bed until it is resolved. Sometimes that can make for some late nights. But the result is worth the extra effort.
Keep short accounts. Do you remember the Lord's prayer? Sometimes we recite it without thinking of the words we are saying. Forgive us our debts AS WE FORGIVE OUR DEBTORS.
Jesus goes on to issue a warning. It is a warning that if you do not forgive men, then you will not be forgiven by the Father. There is a correlation between the way you forgive others and the way God forgives you.
Peter asked Jesus a question one day about forgiveness. He asked, "How often should I forgive my brother?" I'm not sure if he was speaking generically or if he and Andrew weren't getting along. But in any case, he had come up with a number. Seven times. He would turn the other cheek seven times. But the eighth time, WATCH OUT!
Jesus answered him, "Not 7 times, but rather 70 x 7." A whole lot more.
Keep on forgiving. Why? Because that is the way God forgives.
THE DANGER OF THE DEVIL
And do not give the devil an opportunity. (Ephesians 4:25-27).
Nothing opens the door to Satan as much as losing your temper. The moment you are controlled by your anger, you are no longer being yielded to the Holy Spirit.
This is graphically illustrated in the case of Cain and Abel. You remember the story. It is set in the context of worship. The two brothers had each come to worship the Lord. They each brought the fruit of their labors to sacrifice before the Lord.
And in some way in which we are not told, it was made known that the Lord honored Abel's offering and did not honor Cain's offering.
Why? I'm not really sure. I suspect that this account underscores the importance of a blood sacrifice. Or perhaps the Lord was looking at the heart and the spirit of the worship of the two brothers and found something wanting in Cain. In any case, the offering of Cain was rejected.
What was the result? Cain became angry. He didn't just become angry. He became VERY angry.
...So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell. 6 Then the Lord said to Cain, "Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? 7 If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it." (Genesis 4:5b-7).
The path of anger can lead to sin. It gathers its companions of bitterness and resentment. And it grows into a wild beast that crouches at the door, ready to pounce.
Two doors. The first is marked "ANGER." Behind it lies the evil beast of sin, waiting to pounce and devour. It is a door that leads to death and destruction.
But there is a second door. Jesus says, "I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will dine with him, and he with Me" (Revelation 3:20). Indeed, He not only stands at the door - He IS the door. Through Him we enter into life and peace.
We have come today to worship the Lord. But in the midst of that worship, there is an uninvited guest. It is that old unresolved anger. It smolders below the surface, needing only a casual stirring to spring to full flame. What to do? Deny it? Pretend it isn't there? Ignore it?
"If therefore you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your offering there before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering." (Matthew 5:23-24).
Imagine it. You are in the temple. You have advanced to the altar. You are in the midst of worshipping God. But suddenly you remember! There is that old unresolved anger. Leave your worship. Leave your gift. Go and take part in TRUE religion.
"But John, you don't know how much I have been hurt. I can't bring myself to forgive!" That is because you do not know how much you have been forgiven.
The King was preparing for a journey to a far country. He called his servants to him and entrusted them with the care of the land. They were charged with protecting and preserving the inheritance.
Years passed and the King did not return. But he sent messengers to assure the people of their King's love and receive news of the kingdom. The messengers were not well received. One was beaten. Another was murdered. A third was publicly humiliated.
The King was troubled when he heard of the reception which his servants had received. But instead of anger, he responded in love. He called his Son to him and said, "Son, I will send you as the sign of my love. When they see you, they will know that I love them and forgive them." And so, the Son came to the kingdom.
But when the unfaithful servants saw the Son coming, they plotted against him. They said among themselves, "This is the Son - if we kill him, then the inheritance will be ours." And so, they took the Son, scorned him, beat him, and killed him.
What is the response of the King? The law of the King demands death. The anger of the King demands vengeance. But the King says...
"I extend to you my love and my forgiveness.
"Because my law demands death, let the death of my Son be reckoned as that which paid the penalty for your rebellion.
"The inheritance which you sought to steal from me, I freely give to you.
"I declare you to be children of the King."
Someone has said that you can only love if you have been loved and then you will only love to the extent that you have been loved. In the same way, you can only forgive if you have been forgiven and then you will only forgive to the extent that you have been forgiven. The good news is that God's forgiveness is without measure.
There may be times when you do not agree with another Christian brother. There may be differences of opinion. That is alright. There may be strong emotion. And that is okay, too.
But let us remember that there is One who had every right to be angry with us.
Once upon a tree, the anger of God which should have been directed at us was replaced by love. And we are charged with doing the same.