October 13, 2019 part 7: The Deadly Sin of Anger
Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,
A tiny baby has a crying fit & spits up its formula; / a little girl has a temper tantrum & upsets the family’s evening; / a little boy gets angry & kicks the dog; / a teenager is fuming & punches a wall; / a wife loses her temper & develops a migraine; / a husband is furious & storms out of the house, slamming the door & cracking a window. Every human being is subject to inward or outward anger, and damaging effects. Even if we’ve never slammed the door or kicked the dog, we have all been guilty of this ‘Deadly Sin of Anger.’ But, because its so ‘natural’ to us, so we often don’t count it as sin, unless someone gets hurt.
Anger itself is not good. Even God’s ‘righteous anger’ exists only because of our sin. And because our nature is ruined by sin, we cannot do ‘righteous anger’ properly, like God can. Last week we talked about the Deadly Sin of Lust. We said that human sexuality, (that is, maleness & femaleness) was created good & holy. Sin has ruined it, but God has preserved its goodness in either chastity or marriage. BUT anger is different. Wrath was not part of God’s original good creation; it only came into existence because of sin. That’s how I can say that all anger is ‘not good.’
Anger is not helpful to our culture, our communities, our households, or our own health. All human anger is rightly is denounced by God’s Church. Anger is acknowledged in the Scriptures, but it is condemned & not commended. When the OT prophets were angry at the unbelieving people, God would say something like: ‘Why are you angry = don’t you think I know what’s going on?’ Even when Jesus overturned the money-changers tables in the temple & chased out the animals with a whip, it does not say ‘he was angry’, it says he fulfilled a prophecy: ‘zeal for your house will consume me.’ Only once, in Mark 3, do we read that Jesus was angry with the pharisees, with their stubborn criticism & immovable unbelief == but that’s Jesus.
Again, while the Scripture does often show God’s wrath or anger, it’s because of our sin. Anger itself is not good; for God is it necessary, correct & productive for His Law against our sin = but it is not good.
And even when faced with terrible injustice, WE will not be able to ‘do’ anger rightly = not like God can. In Matt.5, Jesus connects anger with murder and says: “I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.” SO, Scripture warns us about the Deadly Sin of Anger. Scripture teaches us to carefully avoid anger, and to leave wrath up to God alone. Because we are not perfect, so anger will catch-us-up into its sinful & harmful effects when we try to use it.
With anger, we assault each other in our thoughts, or verbally, or physically. Anger is not just an ‘action,’ it is a ‘reaction.’ In this sinful world, we might conclude that anger can have its proper place, but that doesn’t make it good. A Christian should not desire to quickly use it; and I’m not aware of any place in the Bible where we are told to use it. People will cite Eph.4:26, where some translations say: “Be angry, but do not sin.” But this is not telling us to ‘be’ angry; the Greek says: ‘when you are angry, do not sin.’ It’s an acknowledgement that anger happens, but we must not let it control us so that we sin against others.
People will also say that its okay to be angry about evil in the world, or its okay to be outraged at terrorism, injustice, natural disasters, or senseless & violent crimes. Before we say its ‘okay’, let’s say that ‘our anger’ is not the only possible reaction to those things; and let’s ask ourselves if getting riled up with rage will cause us to lash out in other ways that have nothing productive to do with those constant & terrible things in our fallen world. Let’s ask ourselves if our prayers to God, or our helping of victims will be more helpful & productive than our personal anger.
In our sermon series, we observed that envy -or jealousy- is a ‘boomerang’ sin = it is aimed at another person, but it actually comes back & hurts ourselves. ‘Wrath’ is similar, but even worse. Anger will always hurt & affect all people involved. There is no upside to our anger, there is only hurt & sorrow. Even when we feel there is good reason to be angry, it will negatively affect others & ourselves. Anger can easily take over our thinking, attitude & actions, perhaps for days. So, none of us is surprised that this sin is one of the ‘7 deadly.’ And yet, it is so common a sin that we often excuse it, or shrug it off.
Our old nature will produce in us occasions of /pride or envy, /gluttony or sloth, /greed or lust; and in those times we don’t ‘look good,’ and we can be annoying or frustrating to be around. But anger is more powerful than any of those.
Anger can transform a considerate & charming person into an irrational or dangerous person to be around. Unlike the other sins, anger produces fear in others; and our old nature will then use that fear to get what we want, because our old nature, at its core, is self-centered, self-seeking, self-serving. It’s no wonder we learn to use anger at such a young age.
Jesus points to the source of our anger when He said, “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder.” (Matthew 15:19).
One author observes how ‘losing your temper’ actually means losing other things, too. He says, when temper rages, your good expression goes. / When temper rages, your reputation goes. / When temper rages, your opportunities go. / When temper rages, your friends go. / When temper rages, your family may go. / When temper rages and you allow it to continue in your heart, you are in danger telling Christ Jesus to ‘go.’ You may have met someone who is angry at God, and they say they want nothing more to do with Him. *How foolish is that?
But that’s our old nature.
Anger is so common to our lives, that we often have excuses for it, or even take pride in it. A person will say, ‘I’m just hot-tempered.’ / ‘I don’t hide my emotions.’ / ‘my whole family is passionate.’ It’s true that some people are very emotional, and some are very reserved, and most are somewhere in-between. Different personalities & cultures can affect showing anger. But again, Scripture doesn’t accept any of these excuses. We are responsible for this sin whether we have an outburst, or we just do a ‘slow burn’ underneath the surface; & neither are acceptable to God
God’s Word identifies & exposes anger for its many dangers, so that we will face it and resist it. Psalm 37 instructs us: “Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.” And James sums up the Bible’s instruction: “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19–20).
Christians might hear that and agree with God’s instruction = in general; and yet fail to make the personal connection. Just as when we complain when others are angry & fuming, but when we’re mad its only for ‘real good reasons.’ Or when someone is angry we want to calm them down; but we get even madder when someone is trying to calm us down.
We should change Ps.37 & James 1 into the ‘1st person’, and say them to ourselves:
‘I will refrain from anger; I can control my own tempter. My fretting & fussing tends only to more bad things in my life.’ And, “Let ME be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger; for MY anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires of me.”
Along with knowing our own tendency toward anger, we must truthfully face the fact that we need help to overcome it and control it. Wrath is a deadly sin; so we must face it with the seriousness that God speaks to it. Anger affects our spirit, and our relationship with God. For “The wages of sin is death.” Even if we think we have the most righteous reason,
we must turn to the Lord, who has a thousand-times more reasons to be angry. When we bring our anger here, into the house of God & before His altar, He will change our heart & mind, because here we will see the cross, and see our need to repent quickly so that this sin will not overtake us.
The cross is the sign of the only true wrath & anger poured out on the Righteous One. In His righteous life, as our Brother in the flesh, He showed no anger other than righteous anger against evil. Thru His holy life we are credited with His righteousness as God’s gift to us. In His death on the cross Jesus carried also our deadly sin of anger in His body so we may live as God’s children under God’s forgiving love, enjoying God’s “gift of eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
On several occasions Jesus was threatened by His enemies’ impulsive anger. When they mocked & questioned His claims about His person & teaching, Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” At this, “They picked up stones to throw at Him,” Stoning was the punishment for blasphemy. (John 8).
He was on the receiving end also of the cold, calculated anger of the Sanhedrin who, after witnessing His raising Lazarus from the dead in nearby Bethany, we’re told “from that day on they made plans to put Him to death.” (John 11: 53). They thought they had righteous anger, but they were wrong, & it was destroying them. But, in the end, it was not their human anger, but the righteous wrath of God that sent The Son to the cross, to carry in his body the death-payment for all our sins. “In Him we have redemption thru His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses.” (Ephesians 1:7).
Being here under the shadow of the cross, The Father calls us to repentance & humility, and he renews us again by the assurance of His forgiving love in Jesus. His grace has come with the baptism promise of his own Holy Spirit, so that you & I will be able to DO what His Word instructs us to do: To ‘Refrain from anger and forsake wrath.’
The Bible offers us other helpful instruction. Recall Eph.4: “In your anger, do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” And the verse right after: “Give no opportunity to the devil.” Dealing quickly with whatever gets us riled up & upset is one of the crucial things. In Matt.5 Jesus says, “If your brother has something against you” = or if you have something against him = ‘go and be reconciled.’ (Matthew 5:23, 24). “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph 4:32). The virtue, the opposite of anger, is patience, forgiveness, and putting the best construction on everything. When we refuse to give in to the anger, and when the Spirit brings into the situation patience, forgiveness, and the best construction, anger has to give-way to the power of Jesus Christ.
And then, when there are times that we just can’t seem to break thru another person’s anger, and when someone else doesn’t want to be reconciled with us, we have the best advocate on our side: the Lord himself. When another person has closed their ears to us,
we will turn the matter over to God, and patiently wait for Him to speak to them in a way they can hear. ‘Fret not yourself, it tends only to evil.’ In the face of anger, we also have this comfort: ‘be still, and know that I am God.’
To our most powerful emotion, Paul writes in Rom.12: “Never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God.” When we are calm & patient, *are we seeking revenge? No. It’s when we are livid & ‘hot under the collar’ & outraged. But only God can do wrath rightly. “‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” Especially when we are wronged, we can trust our heavenly Father to take care of us, and make things right for us according to His good will; or simply to show us that it is not the big deal we first thought it was.
And finally, patience, forgiveness, the best construction, & turning things over to God isn’t enough for God’s holy people = there’s more. We are not to just sit there and let our feelings of anger stir up in us again. God’s instruction to us goes on, in Rom.12: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.” Yes, this is also how God has dealt with His own anger toward human sin, toward all of OUR sins.
We have angered Him, and yet in mercy He continues to supply us our needs. He says that His mercy is like ‘burning coals’ on our heads, leading us to repentance, humility and faith. We might not always see the results of our mercy like that toward others, but God’s things often are working in unseen ways. Paul concludes by saying: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21).
Because we live in a fallen & unfair world, filled with injustice, with evil & selfish people, there is a lot of temptation for anger. Our Lord knows this, and saw it firsthand. But we cannot fix things by being angry with them. *So what do we do? ‘Refrain from anger’ for the ‘anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.’
In other words, know that your anger will not result in the good things God wants,
in your life & in the lives of those around you. Bring your anger to the Lord, and trust that He knows how to keep it from hurting others, and from boomeranging back on you.