RRRrrrr! – Dan Teefey
Sermon text: Ephesians 4:25-32 & James 1:19-21
When I was in high school I had a dirt bike that I used to ride around our horse farm. It couldn't be licensed for the road, but it was great. I would just ride around the farm and try to jump things and run through the creek. Well one evening the motorcycle was not running well so myself and some friends pulled it down the street behind the three-wheeler to a friend's house. We worked on it for a couple hours, got it back going, and then decided after dark, to ride it back to the farm. I rode the three-wheeler and went directly back to the farm which was less than a mile from my friend's house. One of my friends rode the motorcycle and instead of going straight back to the farm decided that it would be a good idea to race up and down the road to make sure everything was running fine. That's when things began to go badly.
My friend did not know that down the street was the local chief of police's house. And as anyone that has spent time with motorcycle's knows, there is a very different sound that a dirt bike makes than a regular motorcycle that is licensed to be ridden on the road. And so that night the chief of police was watching television and heard a dirt bike in the neighborhood and called into the police station to report it.
Meanwhile, my friend eventually made it back to the farm after his joy ride. We put everything in the barn, got into our cars, and started to drive back to my friend's house. We got about 2 blocks from the farm when we saw flashing lights behind us. And we did not just see some flashing lights, there were 3 police cars behind us. We were all in 2 separate cars and the police pulled us over separately.
Now it is important that you realize that I grew up in a small town. Crime is not exactly rampant. Actually, I just read in the paper that the local judge had her first jury trial in years. So when stuff happens, all the cops in town want to be a part of it.
I was driving one of the cars and one of the cops started asking me questions. And I just told him what happened. We were working on the motorcycle and three wheeler and rode them back to the farm, figuring it was no big deal.
My friend, who was riding the motorcycle and also driving the other car, told the police he had no idea what they were talking about. He denied everything. He said he did not know what a motorcycle was, had been at church the whole evening praying, and was on his way home to save the dolphins.
Not good. The cops pulled us out of the cars and threatened to send us to prison for life. What is funny is that I knew nearly all the cops, but the one guy that was being most aggressive. Apparently, he was new to the department and wanted to show everyone how good and tough he was. Eventually they gave us all tickets and sent us home, but I will never forget my call home to my parents.
My dad was irate. He did not understand why I thought it was a good idea to ride the motorcycle and three wheeler on the road. Not only was it illegal, but it was dangerous and especially during the evening. He told me it was the stupidest thing that I had ever done and maybe even a record for the town. He told me that I should come home immediately and plan to stay there for years.
Anger. In Christianity, throughout history, we have been led to believe that anger is inappropriate. That it is not o.k. The question we are looking at this morning said: “anger. To me, anger is a petty human emotion, yet there are a number of places in the Bible that tell stories of God's anger. I prefer to envision the concept that “God is love.” Thus how is it possible that God can be angry?”
This morning we want to look at a few things. Is anger bad? If so, why does God get angry? If anger is not bad, then why does the Bible discourage it? When it is o.k. to be angry and when not?
As we should always do, our first task in understanding life is to turn to the Bible and see what we can find. Here is a sampling of the multitude of verses we find on anger.
Psalm 78:49-50, “He unleashed against them his hot anger, his wrath, indignation and hostility — a band of destroying angels. He prepared a path for his anger; he did not spare them from death but gave them over to the plague.”
Jeremiah 7:20, “Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: My anger and my wrath will be poured out on this place, on man and beast, on the trees of the field and on the fruit of the ground, and it will burn and not be quenched.”
Then we get verses that speak differently about anger.
Ecclesiastes 7:9, “Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools.”
Psalm 37:8-9, “Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil.”
Colossians 3:8, “you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.”
So you can see that the Bible presents what appears to be a mixed message.
At some point in our understanding of the Bible we have come to the conclusion “being nice” means that we should never feel anger. We have convinced ourselves that Christian equals smiling, saying “hello,” and being friendly. And that if anger, and various other emotions are in us, then we must not be godly.
Often people believe that anger plays no role in the life of the Christian. We believe that we are to be emotionally neutral . . . and we generally imagine God this way too. In many ways we want God to be like this. Harmless, and working tirelessly to give us a good life full of blessings.
But the Bible makes clear that God gets angry so anger itself must not be wrong. In fact it must be essential to what it means to be godly and wholly consistent with our understanding of God as love.
In the book The Brothers Karamazov (kar-uh-mah-zawf), Fyodor (Fyoh-dor) Dostoevsky (Dos-tuh-yef-skee) introduces us to the Grand Inquisitor. In the novel, Ivan Karamazov tells a story in which Christ “decided to show Himself, if only for a moment, to His people, long suffering, tormented, sinful people who loved Him with a child-like love.” People recognize him and are drawn to Him. But a cardinal of the church, the “Grand Inquisitor,” realizes that the presence of Jesus is dangerous. So he has Jesus arrested.
The ninety-year-old Grand Inquisitor says to Jesus, “You? Is it really you? . . . You need not answer me. Say nothing. I know only too well what you could tell me now. Besides, You have no right to add anything to what You said before. Did You come here to interfere and make things difficult for us?” The Grand Inquisitor then renders judgment on Jesus. He condemns Jesus for not fulfilling the people's needs – for not doing what the devil asked Jesus to do in the desert. The devil tried to offer the people bread, but Jesus “came empty-handed.” The Grand Inquisitor tells Jesus, “You know that for the sake of that earthly bread, the spirit of the earth will rise up against You, will confront and conquer You, and they will all follow him shouting, 'Who is there to match the beast who has brought us fire from heaven?” In other words, the Grand Inquisitor is condemning Jesus for refusing to do – then and now – the miracles that make people happy.
Because the Grand Inquisitor wants the people to be happy, because he wants to meet the people's needs, and because he has grown weary of the ways of the Christian God, he tells Jesus: “We shall tell them that we are loyal to You and that we rule over them in Your name. We shall be lying, because we do not intend to allow You to come back.”
There is a sense that we often deny what the Bible really says about God’s character because we don’t like it. We like to think of a Jesus that smiles at us and repeatedly says, “that’s o.k.” as He watches us ignore Him. That would make us feel better about ourselves. But the Bible makes clear repeatedly that God does not like our sin. In the Old Testament, we hear repeatedly that God’s anger and wrath pours out on those that are disobedient to Him. And Jesus calls his lukewarm followers “fools” and overturns the tables of those making a mockery of God’s house.
God gets angry. And we do too.
All of us, no matter how mild your personality may be has experienced feelings of anger. It is an emotional reaction. Perhaps you put a dollar in a coke machine and no pop was produced. Maybe someone swerved in front of you without looking in their car. Maybe you watched a television program about hungry people around the world and people ignoring them. Maybe your spouse forgot to tell you that you were supposed to pick up a friend's kid from preschool . . . that was me this week.
The feeling of anger isn't exactly something that we can fully control. It swells up inside of us at various times and various reasons, some stupid, but some very serious.
We then express these emotions in a range of ways. Some of us act out in overt ways and become hostile, we yell, or hit something, or talk about someone behind their back . . . others of us keep it in and put on a smile, we suppress our anger and pretend it never existed.
Alastair Campbell defines anger as “a state of emotional arousal, with specific physiological attributes such as increased pulse rate and heightened blood pressure. It may be regarded as a normal response to frustration or threat.”
Author Rebecca Luhn says that anger is composed of a mixture of reactions that trigger us to be irritated, annoyed, furious, frustrated, enraged, and hurt. Luhn writes, “Our response to anger involves our body, our behaviors and thought process. The events that cause us to feel angry have no emotional value in themselves – it is how we appraise these events that causes a shift in our psychological arousal. It is the way we view the provocation that causes us to respond in a certain way.”
We see anger naturally in our children. Everyday there are a whole host of things that Adelaide and Miriam try to do that make them angry. Whether it is trying to put on their shoes or socks, or getting water out of the refrigerator by themselves or getting their arms through their sleeves . . . they get frustrated and angry. In fact, much of our parenting is trying to get them to deal appropriately with their frustration . . . trying to get them to not allow it to overtake them.
There are two passages that I think will help us understand biblical anger rightly. They are both printed in your bulletin.
These passages reveal the key to understanding anger. It is not wrong to feel angry, but our moral choice is made with what we choose to do with that anger. Anger can lead to destruction of other people and relationships or it can be a path towards renewal.
Ephesians 4 articulates a middle ground for us. Verse 26 says, “In your anger, do not sin.” I like the Message translation of the whole paragraph too, it says, “Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry—but don't use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don't stay angry. Don't go to bed angry. Don't give the Devil that kind of foothold in your life.”
James adds that we are to be “slow to become angry.”
The issue is not our anger, but how quickly it is to swell up in us or how quickly we are to act upon it. Anger is not sin, but very often what we do with it is.
Anger is not inconsistent with love either. In fact good anger comes from our love. In 1 John we learn that “God is love.” And we have seen verses where this God who is love, also gets angry and shows it at times. The Bible reveals that an important dimension of God's love is that it gets angry at injustice. To be angry at various forms of injustice is a permitted expression of love.
If I witnessed the abuse of someone, it would be unnatural for me not to get angry. When someone lies to us or cheats or our kids do stupid stuff that is dangerous with their motorcycles . . . we get angry out of love.
Beverly Harrison a professor at Union Seminary has said, “we Christians have come very close to killing love precisely because anger has been understood as a deadly sin. Anger is not the opposite of love. It is better understood as a feeling-signal that all is not well in our relation to other persons or groups or to the world around us. Anger is a mode of connectedness to others and it is always a vivid form of caring.”
An anger, which is not destructive in its effect, can be a positive ally of love. God's anger is an instrument of his love.
So what are we to do with anger. The Bible seems to give us several principles for considering our anger and what to do with it.
First, Proverbs 15:18 says, “A hot-tempered man stirs up dissension, but a patient man calms a quarrel.” This verse highlights the emphasis on the swiftness of our response to feelings of anger. Do we feel it and then it pours out of us? The presumption is that we will all feel angry, but the danger is its impulsive release. Patience is the key. Nahum 1:3 even says that “the Lord is slow to anger.” Proverbs 29:11 adds, “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.” Our passage in James calls us to be “slow to become angry.” Anger should not come easily, but to be a response to vital injustice.
Second, we are not to deny our anger, but to act or reflect it in order to be in control of it. Psalm 4:4 offers suggestions on how to manager anger. “In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent.” The appeal to reason is basic in controlling anger. It follows that one of the greatest dangers that uncontrolled anger can pose is that it overrides clear thinking. Proverbs 14:29 says, “A patient man has great understanding, but a quick-tempered man displays folly.” Hebrew wisdom did not seem to have great confidence in impulsive, unchecked passions.
We should not be people that feel anger and immediately act. We must process our anger and know when action is essential and when it would do harm.
Verbalizing one's frustrations and angers helps to avoid acting in anger. This strategy does not imply the suppression of anger. The Psalms again reveal that we need to verbalize and communicate our deep feelings with trusted others and God. This strategy engages our own reasoning power and helps us proceed in a fair way.
Third, avoiding certain situations that could facilitate anger is also biblically noted. A person is not to agitate others or press them to continue in their anger. Proverbs 30:33 says, “For as churning the milk produces butter, and as twisting the nose produces blood, so stirring up anger produces strife.”
Ultimately we cannot learn to handle anger unless we are willing to release old behaviors and replace them with new and helpful ones. Let me give you three other practical steps to take to manage misplaced anger:
1) Learn to relax. Get in control of breathing; such as four count elongated breathing. Practice techniques to relieve stress, including the use of laughter. One cannot be stressed and laugh at the same time.
2) Believe that the old anger ways must change. One author says, “having been angry in the past is not the problem, but choosing to remain angry is.” Be assertive and not aggressive. Acknowledge the Holy Spirit as your companion.
3) Take emotional, physical, spiritual time outs. We all need space to renew our energies so that we can come back replenished. Jesus even retreated to be refueled at times. He went to the dessert and prayed in the garden. The “try harder” syndrome gets us into a diminished state, not a refreshed one.
Anger is a universal, God-given emotion that is good and healthy when expressed against real injustices and losses and that is harmful when expressed for self-centered motives.
Some of you have misplaced anger bubbling out all the time. You need to learn to control it and to filter righteous anger from arrogant anger. But others of you need to delete the idea of the “ultra-nice smiley Christian” from your brain . . . and permit yourselves to feel God’s good anger towards injustice and sin.
Campbell, Alastair V. “The Anger of a Loving God.” Modern Churchman 25, no. 3, 2-11 (1983).
Laytham, Brent D., ed. God Is Not . . . Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2004.
Meigs, J. Thomas. “Maintaining a Good and Healthy Anger.” Review and Expositor 98 (Fall 2001).