Sunday, June 11, 2006

BE YE ANGRY AND SIN NOT—EPHESIANS 4:18

I need this study as much as anyone else. I get very angry when I get angry, and often there is no real boundary between rising up and “snap mode.” So this is not what I have to offer as someone who has conquered this emotion and controls it well, but what I am learning from the Lord as I ask Him to tell me how to handle this problem in my own life.

The first thing that I noted is that all Christian actions are to be governed by three rules:

1) Be ye Holy even as your Father in Heaven is Holy (Matthew 5:48)
2) Owe no man anything but to love one another. (Romans 13:8)
3) For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s. (1 Corinthians 6:20)

SECTION ONE: THE HOLINESS OF GOD’S WRATH

No matter what state of mind we claim to be in, there are rules that govern our behavior, and boundaries that we are forbidden by God to cross: Thou shalt not kill…Thou shalt not steal…Thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord thy God in vain…etc. Jesus’ words in Matthew 5 take the first command even deeper:

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.

Thus we find that the first requirement for our anger to be Holy is that there be a righteous reason behind it. Jesus’ wrath is a perfect example of this. His outbursts (throwing people out of the Temple, John 2:13-18; upbraiding those cities in which He did the most miracles, Matthew 11:20-24; condemning the Pharisees, Matthew 23:13-39) were intended, not for personal insults (see Matthew 12:32), but for those who openly despised the commandments of God.

So how did Jesus deal with those who were nagging Him for all those years if He did not explode on them? He dealt with the root of the problem. As my pastor says, no interaction is ever personal—it is always spiritual (1 John 3:10). He brought to their minds the Law of God and the Words of God and the Ways of God to convict them in their hearts (e.g., Matthew 15:3-9; Mark 10:2-9; Matthew 12:1-13, resp.). Did they repent? No, but they eventually had to stop questioning Him (Matthew 22:41-46).

One more thing Jesus did: He always submitted His will to that of His father. Even in wrath, Jesus was keenly aware of His Father’s will and sought effectively to do it. So when someone is getting on my last nerve, I ought to ask myself, “What is it that God wants to come out of this exchange?” and work diligently to see that that is what comes out of my mouth—even though I will probably not feel like it.

Hebrews 4:12 tells us that “the Word of God is powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of the soul and spirit, and of the joints and the marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” So we must be careful as we deal with anger that we line our reactions and attitudes up with God’s Word—and that we use God’s Word effectively to deal with other people’s sinning against us.

SECTION TWO: LOVE TOWARD ALL

Jesus said that God’s whole Law, with all 613 explanations and specifications, boils down to two: Thou shalt LOVE the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy strength, and with all thy mind. And Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

Make no mistake, our neighbors do need correction from time to time, but, when we dish it out, we ought to do so in love. As Pastor always says, the spirit in which you say things makes a lot of difference. It is easier to get across to people harsh words with a loving heart than it is to convey the same message in spite. Proverbs 27:6 says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.”

Faithful. That means more than just truthful. It means trustworthy. It means dependable. In other words, you can count on a true friend to correct you when you are out of line, and you can count on a true friend to guide you in the right direction.

Wounds. Proverbs 15:10 says, “Correction is grievous to him that forsaketh the way: and he that hateth reproof shall die.” A friend’s words to bring us back to the right way will not always be what we want to hear, and what we are required by love to say to others who have gone astray will not always be what they want to hear. But if it is the truth, then we must say it.

Friend. A friend loves at all times, the Bible says (Proverbs 17:17a). Let’s look at the type of love that we ought to have toward one another, and let us apply this to our anger (1 Corinthians 13: 4-8):

1. long-suffering—it should take a while before we give an ultimatum. God has extended to us His grace time after time, sin after sin, multitude of iniquity upon multitude of iniquity, before showing us His wrath. A prick of the conscience here, a near-miss there, a gentle word of reproof—and only when all else fails, wrath for the scorner. A scorner proves himself over time, that he will not hear correction. He knows that it is right, but he does not want to repent, and therefore is punished for his iniquities.

2. kind—Whoa! How can anger be kind? Well, what is its intent? What is the reason for it. Kindness and gentleness are not the same. It was a kindness of the Lord to drag Lot out of Sodom, but it was anything but gentle (Genesis19:16). When Paul wrote a scathing letter of rebuke to the Corinthians, he did it not in gentleness, but in anger. He said (read 2 Corinthians 7:8-9). That last clause is so important: That ye might receive damage by us in nothing. Paul’s purpose for writing that angry rebuke was to keep them from harm’s way, not to satisfy his own revenge.

3. not envious—Envy is one of those things that causes us to deal spitefully with others. I know because I have done it: someone else is given what you deserved more than they, and, instead of rejoicing for that person for the grace that they received from God, you get angry with that person. That is not Christlike anger.

4. not boastful—Is the real reason that you are angry that you may show just how righteous you are? “I want everyone to know that I don’t tolerate this sort of thing!” While that may be important in a leadership capacity, that people know what is not acceptable, there are other ways to do it than angrily. Must you be angry to accomplish this? Or is there a better way? And why don’t you tolerate this sort of thing? And is there really a reason that everyone ought to know?

5. not puffed up—Are you angry because you can be? “I’ve got a right to be angry!” Paul said, “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful unto me, but I will not be brought under the power of any” (1 Corinthians 6:12). In other words, just because I have the right to do it, does not mean that it is right to do it at this time. What purpose is there to my anger? How does getting angry solve the problem at hand?

6. not rude—Does this mean no name-calling? I don’t know: Jesus called a lot of names (brood of vipers, open tombs, dirty dishes, etc) when He upbraided the Pharisees. He did the same with His disciples (esp. see Luke 24:25-26). But we must remember that Jesus saved His strongest rebukes for those who rejected the Word of God. He blasted the Pharisees because they pretended to lead the way in righteousness and yet contradicted and, in fact, annulled God’s Word at every turn. He chided His disciples because, even when the Word was plain, they had no faith, even after all these years of His ministry.

It certainly means no cursing: “[With the tongue] bless we God, even the Father, and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so” (James 3:9-10). Jesus said, (read Matthew 5:44-48). It is not natural to do this, and, in fact, it is very hard—anyone who tells you otherwise is lying to you; but it is what our Master, the One of whom we say that He is our Lord, commanded us. And so ought we to endeavor to do it.

7. not self-centered—Whom do you intend to benefit by this wrathful display? Yourself or the person with whom you are angry? Remember Paul’s reason for his remarks to the Corinthians? “That ye might receive damage by us in nothing”? That should always be our intent, too. Again, not easy, just commanded.

8. not easily provoked—There are two different Greek words that were translated “provoked” by the men of King James: one is pronounced par-ox-OO-no (that is the one in our text, today) and it means “to have exasperated.” The other is pronounced er-eth-ID-zo and it means “to have stirred up, or stimulated.” Love should always be readily available for all people with whom God brings us in contact, and therefore should always be “provoked” in the sense of the second word. But it should take a long time for our love to run out for people who constantly try us. Jesus spent years dealing with the Pharisees before He finally blasted them in Matthew 23. Sure, He picked at them a little bit from time to time as He preached, but He waited to fully condemn them until they had proven their hardness of heart to all. (Of course, He is God, so He already knew, but He waited for others to be able to testify to it.)

I was thinking the other day, “You know, we humans are ungrateful no matter what God does for us. Women want to have men’s “rights” and women’s bodies, men want to have women’s powers and men’s bodies, the slave wants to be the master, the master wants more slaves, the poor want to be rich but keep his same friends, the rich want the simplicity of the poor but keep his riches. It doesn’t matter what blessings God has given us, we just never are satisfied or grateful—so it is completely understandable that He just gives up and throws some of us in Hell, because we would never appreciate Heaven with all its numerous blessings anyway!

People want this god of love, but the True God has already given us so much and asks so little (for he remembers that we are only dust, Psalm103:8-18—and we would do well to remember the same!) that when we fail to receive His gift, whom have we to blame but ourselves?

9. thinks no evil—Wow. That is haaarrrddd. Who can say that they think no evil when they are angry? Jesus, and only Jesus. Again, our goal should be the same as Paul’s: That ye might receive damage by us in nothing. He said in Romans, “Love worketh no ill to his neighbour; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (13:10). Consider the consequences of this course of action: will it in the end work ill toward your neighbor? Is the purpose to cause him to repent, as was Paul’s, or is it to just embarrass him in front of his peers?

10. does not rejoice in iniquity—This is the most often overlooked characteristic of love. Because real love worketh no ill to his neighbor, that means he also tries to prevent his friends from working ill to their neighbors, because God would be displeased with them. Real love has a righteous impact. It is the effect of justified, loving anger to bring about more righteousness than was there before. God, Who is Love, hates evil. So our anger ought to be a reflection of that. When one of our friends wants to wrong someone, we should discourage them as strongly as necessary that we may dissuade them from that course of action. It is the only loving thing to do.

11. rejoices in the truth—Real love cannot operate outside of the truth. That is why it is always so vitally important to get your facts straight before getting angry. Too many times we fly off the handle with incomplete information and find ourselves eating crow (Proverbs 18:13). Such actions dishonor God. He is all-knowing: why not just take a second to ask Him, “Is this all there is to it?” He promised to give you what wisdom you need if you just ask (James 1:5).

Furthermore, real love does not tell lies: “Oh, he ought to be angrier than that—let me embellish a little bit, and he’ll act right this way.” I can’t tell you how many times I did that as a child. But it is wrong. If the person to whom we report the wrong-doing is not impressed, then we need to stop and think: Have I over-reacted? Or Is this the wrong person to be talking to? Sometimes the only person you can tell your troubles to is Jesus, because no one else cares—unless it adversely affects them. Jesus cares about our smallest problems, even though others may not. Maybe, instead of embellishing the truth, we ought to just give it to Him and let Him work things out. The Bible says, “A lying tongue hates those it hurts” (Proverbs 26:28) and promises sure retribution for false witnesses (19:5).

12. bears all things—Now the phrase “all things” is the translation of a hyperbole. Love will not endure flagrant, unrepentant sin; it will just bear an awful lot, even when it should have stopped a long time ago (2 Peter 3:9). Think of Jesus’ description of God’s love toward us (Matthew 5:44-48). God really does put up with a lot from His own image. How He can stand it, I just don’t know—but I am grateful for His mercy, because He would be very justified to throw me in Hell, and yet bore all of my sins—and not just my sins, but the sins of the whole world!! Jesus’ Love truly did “bear all things.”

13. believes all things—Again, the phrase “all things” being a hyperbole, love is not gullible: it merely gives people the benefit of the doubt until they thoroughly prove themselves absolutely unworthy of it. And then it gives them some more. Point being that our anger should not jump to conclusions. We ought to think better of people for as long as is possible, bearing the truth in mind. That should temper our anger towards people. Hard to do, I know—‘cause I’ve never done it before!

14. hopes all things—Biblically, the word hope means “to look forward with assurance beyond present circumstances.” Faith deals with what is happening right now (i.e., God is going to work this out because He said He would), hope deals with the future (God is going to bring this to pass because He promised it). Both involve trusting in God for what He will do, based on what He has already done and said. With anger, hope is found in knowing that, if we do as He commanded, He will reward us accordingly. With that in mind, we shape—we conform—our anger to His will, to accomplishing His goals.

15. endures all things—I believe that, since we have already spoken of love, bearing all things, that this endurance is not of mere offenses, but of direct opposition. If we are angry for the right reasons, and are acting with the right deeds and the right motivations, we will undoubtedly receive opposition from the adversary. “Oh, you shouldn’t be like that.” Well, run down God’s checklist, and see if that is so. Sometimes anger is necessary and just, and we should not be ashamed of it nor dissuaded from it. In those times, we need to stand.

SECTION THREE: TO THE GLORY OF GOD

Ultimately, we live to glorify God as Christians. If our actions in anyway give occasion to the enemies of God to blaspheme (2 Samuel 12:14), we will certainly suffer consequences. The final question we should ask ourselves is this: Am I using my anger as an excuse to sin against my neighbor and thereby disobey God? Are my actions intended to please myself, to satisfy my own sense of justice, or am I doing what Jesus would do?

Many times we can say, “Hmph! Serves him right!” But is that what Jesus did? Did Jesus get angry when people refused to believe on Him? Yes. Did He call down fire from Heaven upon them, as His disciples asked Him to do (Luke 9:54-57)? Or did He destroy the mercenaries sent to arrest Him unjustly, as Peter sought to do (John 18:10-11; Luke 22:49-51)? Did He strike down His betrayer? Did He curse those who hung Him on the tree (Luke 23:34)?

Psalm 103:8-18 says, “Merciful and gracious [is] Jehovah, Slow to anger, and abundant in mercy. Not for ever doth He strive, Nor to the age doth He watch. Not according to our sins hath He done to us, Nor according to our iniquities Hath He conferred benefits upon us. For, as the height of the heavens [is] above the earth, His kindness hath been mighty over those fearing Him. As the distance of east from west He hath put far from us our transgressions. As a father hath mercy on sons, Jehovah hath mercy on those fearing Him. For He hath known our frame, Remembering that we [are] dust. Mortal man! as grass [are] his days, As a flower of the field so he flourisheth; For a wind hath passed over it, and it is not, And its place doth not discern it any more. And the kindness of Jehovah [Is] from age even unto age on those fearing Him, And His righteousness to sons' sons, To those keeping His covenant, And to those remembering His precepts to do them.” (Young’s Literal Translation).

Jesus pointed out that God would rather extend mercy than demand a sacrifice (Matthew 9:13). He called us to seek fervently to reconcile first, then, if all else fails, exclude one from our fellowship (Matthew 18:15-25). To glorify God, we must withhold our wrath and let His come through, heaping coals of fire upon the heads of our enemies that they might repent (Romans 12:17-21), longing for their good, and not their destruction. For as God Himself is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9), so should our desire be toward our enemies. God bless you.