Today’s topic is anger. The Avengers movies give us a great example of anger in the Hulk. As seen in the Hulk, anger causes you to destroy your enemies, but also hurt your friends. So, it’s an emotion you must deal with very carefully.
Our focus will be listening to Jesus’ teaching on anger from the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5:21-26). The Sermon on the Mount is like Old Testament Wisdom literature (think Proverbs). It is Jesus’ teaching about how to live “along the grain” of the way God has constructed the universe. Before we listen to Jesus, let’s remember how much the Wiseman in who wrote Proverbs says about the topic of Anger:
- Prov 14:17 – “He who is quickly angry will do what is foolish”
- Prov 15:1 – “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
- Prov 16:32 – “Better a patient man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper is better than one who takes a city.”
- Prov 19:19 – “A hot-tempered man must pay the penalty; if you rescue him, you will have to do it again.”
- Prov 22:24-25 – “Do not make friends with one easily angered, or you may learn his ways and get yourself ensnared.”
In Jesus’ “Wisdom Literature” of Matthew 5:22-27, the very first topic that Jesus addresses is anger. In this text, we see that in response to anger, Jesus 1) Destroys, 2) Demands, and 3) Directs.
In verses 21-22, Jesus destroys any hope of self-salvation. Religious people are people who rely on outward conformity to the law. They like to think of themselves as good people, saying: “I’m not perfect but it’s not like I’ve ever killed anyone!”
In these two verses, Jesus sends a nuclear missile to destroy this kind of thinking, and he does so by saying murder is not limited to a physical action toward another person, but includes emotional actions.
In verse 22, Jesus expands the definition of murder, “Everyone who is angry, anyone who insults, anyone who calls someone a “fool”…people who do these things are in danger of the fire of Hell. The angry person is in the same danger as the murderer (uh oh…).
You see Jesus’ aim, he is not just concerned with your outward activity but also the inward condition of the heart.
Notice the progression of anger to insults:
First, “Everyone who is angry…” – Immediately I think: “So is Jesus saying that in the course of Christian living, I can never get angry? The answer is ‘no’ because we know Jesus got angry yet he did not sin. So not all anger is sinful, but how can we tell? Here are some gauges to use:
- “Without Cause.” Some copies of the biblical text had this later addition to give context. Jesus is talking about anger that doesn’t have a good cause. Now this is extremely difficult to discern because when I am angry, I always believe I have a good cause. So, being angry is like being on FIRE: Stop, Drop & Roll. Stop to find out what you are really angry about. Are you angry at work, but you kick the dog at home? Or maybe you are angry with yourself and you kick your family. Our friends at CCEF use the example of ‘duct taping’ your mouth shut until you can really assess what’s making your heart angry.
- Anger that is disproportionate to the offense: James 4:1-2 – “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder.” Wow, what an over reaction! Your desire quickly turns into demands, and when your demands are not met, you murder! A small thing happens, but you explode. Sinful anger has a disproportionate response. Another way to say this is: Do you have a short fuse and a BIG explosion
- When anger festers: Ephesians 4:26 says, “In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” When you hold onto your anger, you think you are punishing them, but really you are devouring yourself (See quote below).
“Of the Seven Deadly Sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last morsel – both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back–in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.” – Frederick Buechner
Second, unhealthy anger turns into insults. “Fool” in the original greek means ’empty headed.’ Being empty headed is a form of contempt: feelings of being superior. You think they are scum, they are beneath you.
Dallas willard describes contempt as the “studied degradation of another.” Anger takes hold of your mind and replays the event, conversation, etc. and you fill in what you think they would say and how you would respond. You always win the argument, you are always right, and you degrade the other person. You are better than other people, and it happens so quickly!
Note that anger is the very first character trait that Jesus addresses. Perhaps it is because Jesus knows the church will expand to include diversity in culture, tastes, music, race, and political viewpoint. It’s very easy to look at those different than you and whisper, “You are beneath me. I wish you weren’t here.”
To summarize this first point, anger is a problem for everyone!
Jesus demands we take anger seriously. He delivers three powerful warnings concerning: The Danger of Anger:
- Anger…..Danger of Judgement
- Insults…Danger to the Council
- Fool……………….Danger of Hell
This is not a moment to downplay Jesus’ warning. It’s not a moment to excuse ourselves or make light of anger. I say this because a common tendency in addressing anger is to make excuses. We prefer to call anger by other names trying to reduce the seriousness:
- I’m not angry…it’s just who I am, I have a short temper:
- I’m not angry…I’m blowing off steam…This is a healthy process!
- I’m not angry…it’s just that these people push my buttons……(This is blameshifting, It is either the people or my buttons, but but not me!)
- I’m not angry….I’m just truthful and people are too sensitive.
When we refuse to identify our anger (as emotional murder), we don’t feel an urgency to correct it. It is treated more like a bad habit rather than something that puts you in danger of Hell.
So let’s take a moment to identify if you are in danger from anger:
- Traffic: Traffic is not a big deal(!). Yet anger can quickly explode. I once had a friend who had a device with missile sounds and bomb explosions he would push to ‘eliminate’ stupid drivers.
- Politics: The other party is always wrong. They receive a label. You hold the people who think differently than you in contempt. They are beneath you. Certain avenues fuel your anger: talk radio, blogs, or news channels fuel your contempt.
- Social Media: Especially Twitter. You hide behind a Twitter handle and say things you would never express in person.
- Emotional Maturity in Dealing with Disagreement: Instead of trying to engage…you don’t get your way and you cut off relationship.
- Fathers: Colossians says, “Fathers do not provoke your children lest they become discouraged.” The word for “Discouraged” is “Thumos” in Greek. This is where we get “thermostat.” Fathers, you are the emotional thermostat in your house. You regulate the emotional temperature. What happens to the temperature in your wife & children when you get involved?
Not taking anger seriously puts you (and your family) in terrible danger!
Jesus gives two pictures illustrating a new set of directions in dealing with our anger:
The first is verses 23-24. There should always be a sense of priority and urgency in dealing with anger (vs. 24). Jesus’ sense of priority is shocking. Reconciliation with your brother is more important than worship.
Please notice what Jesus says (in essence): ‘Anger is such a destructive force that I don’t want you to simply be focused in on your anger, I want you to direct your thinking to others. Ask yourself, does anyone have a legitimate reason to be angry with me? If so, then you take the first step to settle the issue.’
Isn’t it easy when you think someone might be angry with you, for your selfish impulse to say: “They are mad at me…well they can just be mad…..that’s not my problem.” – But do you hear Jesus? He says, It is your problem, and even if you can’t completely fix their anger or agree with all the reasons they are angry – it is your responsibility to take the first step – to do all you can do to make sure a root of bitterness doesn’t consume their own soul.
The second is verses 25-26. This priority in dealing with anger extends to “accusers,” that is, anyone you owe an emotional debt. Any angry words, any contempt of your enemies, any insults, any intent to emotionally maim another person, act quickly to settle the account. Keep short accounts with anger.
- What’s your go to response when you are Angry? Talk about a time when that response has been destructive?
- Gauging your Anger: How do you know if your anger is justified? When has your anger been disproportionate to the offense? Do you let the “sun go down” on your anger – why is that unhealthy?
- Do you down play your anger? What are the most common circumstances which cause anger for you?
- How skilled are you in settling angry accounts with others?