The Easiest Commandment?
I’ve been thinking a lot about anger lately… Because I feel myself getting angry WAY more often than I used to. Things that used to kinda roll off my back, so-to-speak, don’t always roll so easily anymore! Of course, nowadays it seems every time you turn on the news, you get angry. There seems to be so much corruption… so much wrongdoing… so much of life is politically driven, politically motivated... it just makes me angry!
Then... in my day job... I get calls, and reports from social workers (in Chambers and Troup Counties) - about different cases of child abuse… or children being removed from their homes because of neglect - and I get angry.
Other times: some jerk pulls out in front of you when you’re just trying to mind your own business, almost causing you to wreck! It makes you wonder about anger, and how we should properly respond to the anger that we feel in our lives in our hearts, and our thoughts.
God’s word says, “In your anger do not sin.” Some translations read, “be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.”
Of course, Paul’s letter to the Ephesians was a circular letter… Which means it was meant to be passed around to various churches in the region around Ephesus… Churches that were a lot like our church… Small churches… that had to decide the direction of ministry they would take… what kind of church they wanted to be! They were churches with conflicts and struggles, both inside and out, and they were churches that had to deal with anger… Just like us today.
The good news is our scripture begins, with what’s basically a commandment… “Be angry…” - which might, just be the easiest commandment in the whole of the Bible!
But we know, as followers of Christ, that all of our anger is not righteous anger - it’s not productive. It’s not justified anger. I get mad sometimes when my favorite team loses… Particularly if they blow the game after leading it! I sometimes overreact to kids being kids, and get angry. I find the older I get, the more angry I become every time I have to pick up empty beer cans, and trash out of the front yard of my house… Where people can’t use basic decency, and dispose of their trash the right way.
It’s not that I choose to become angry necessarily… anger just happens! Anger is an emotion... and feeling angry is natural... we were created by God to be emotional! And it’s something that we all have to deal with.
So I suppose the first thing we need to do… is affirm the fact - that we do - get angry at times! I know that may not sound like much of a revelation, but sometimes we don’t hear that message in church! Most of the time in church we’re told we shouldn’t get mad… or we shouldn’t get angry… that Christian should never express anger!
But anyone who’s ever been to Sunday school should be able to tell you… that God gets angry! Jesus got angry at injustice… corruption… sin, especially sin directed at others! Jesus got angry when he saw the money changers at work in the temple! He got angry with the Pharisees and their self righteousness, and he even got put out with his own disciples at times.
All of that’s to say that, anger’s not always okay... but it’s not always bad, either! Sometimes anger’s even necessary. It’s been said, “he who is not angry when he has cause to be angry, sins.” (John Chrysostom). In other words, there are things in life that should make us angry. Seeing people mistreated, seeing religion use for personal gain, seeing the powerful oppress the weak, seeing people who are uncaring, should make us angry.
If anger motivates us to stand up for “the least of these” or to “fight the good fight” by speaking out against evil in our world… And motivating us to get actively involved, it can be a good thing. Anger’s an emotion that was placed within us by God himself, and as a gift of God, it should be used constructively.
Notice that our scripture does not say “do not become angry.” It does tell us, “don’t let your anger lead to sin.” Anger becomes sin when we allow our anger to control us, or if our anger causes harm to others. Proverbs 15:18 tells us, “those who are hot tempered stir up strife, but those who are slow to anger calm contention.”
Anger can certainly be dangerous. Long, long ago, the church listed the “seven deadly sins” - and anger made the list! Anger in itself is not a sin! Again... Jesus got angry, and Jesus never sinned. But the way you and I deal with our anger can certainly be sinful. When anger controls us, it leads us to sin because of its explosive potential for making things worse! That’s why anger deserves its place as one of the seven deadly sins.
And it’s also why Paul’s advice on how to deal with anger, is very wise, and very much needed. In fact, I think it’s about the best advice you’re going to find anywhere: “be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.“
When you and I, as followers of Jesus Christ, fail to deal with our anger… It causes us to get out of step with Christ. Because one of the best and easiest ways that evil works in our world... is through angry, vengeful people, who are so blinded by anger, that they can’t see clearly, or think rationally. When we’re blinded by our anger we say and we do things that we would not ordinarily say or do. And the vast majority of the time those words and actions are not pleasing to God! We sin!
The revised English Bible translates the verse, “do not let sunset find you nursing your anger.” I don’t know about you, but I like the way the English Bible puts it… Because that’s exactly what we tend to do at times… we nurse our anger! The fact of the matter is we don’t really want to get over it! But God‘s Word says we need to deal with it… We need to get over it… And that’s very good advice!
Of course, I’ll be the very first to admit that’s easier said than done! I know how life is. I’ll live it every day just like you. You’ve had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. It’s 97° in the shade, and you feel like soggy wet toast! The kids (or grandkids) are fighting. There’s no food in the house… So you run to get some fast food - and the line’s backed out to the highway. When you finally make it to the to the window you realize you’ve left your wallet at home… You have no drivers license… You have no money… You have no debit card… so you go home hot, hungry, frustrated... and angry! And the very next person you see, or talk to it’s bound to get it! Both barrels!
Of course, sometimes… instead of turning anger outwardly on others, we let it build up, and build up, and build up… Until we turn it inwardly on ourselves. And when that happens we may get physically ill... or depressed. Events and circumstances that we can’t control... hurt us, and make us angry, but if we’re not careful to positively deal with our anger… it can certainly turn into depression… or self-loathing.
I had a classmate in high school… His name was Tim. He was a good looking guy, popular… a member of student council - played football. He was good guy... active in his church. He seemed to have everything going for him. But one evening, back in 1987, Tim took a vacuum hose… and ran it from the exhaust pipe of his car… into the cabin… and took his own life.
Apparently, my friend was very depressed… very unhappy… and surely loathed his own life to the point, that he was willing to do the unthinkable to himself. Maybe it was anger that built up on the inside… anger that he couldn’t, or wouldn’t express… and it became destructive.
Paul was correct. When you and I refuse to deal with our anger… when sunset finds us still nursing our anger, we leave the door wide open for more hurt. So what can we do? How can we deal constructively with our anger?
Well… Our scripture says that we should deal with our anger right away! Before going to bed! We need to tell the person who’s made us angry how we feel… We need to talk about it… And if you can’t do that, you need to talk to someone! Sometimes just getting the anger out… Get it off your chest, so to speak, can be a huge relief! And if talking with friends or family doesn’t help… You may need to seek professional help! There’s nothing wrong with that! Talk to a minister, talk to a counselor.
I have a pastor friend, who says it when he gets angry… He walks. He takes a walk to go cool down… and that’s probably a very good idea. I guess physical activity can certainly help. Go ride your bike… Run, go for a walk, hit some tennis balls! There’s a lot of things we can do, but we need to do something, instead of nursing or anger! One of the best things we can do in our day and age is turn off the TV! If you find yourself getting upset politically, write a letter… send a letter to your congressman… Contact your senator. Do whatever you need to do to positively express your concern and your frustration.
But personally… The place I think we should begin… Is turning to Christ. God is big enough to handle our anger, even when it is directed at him! Isn’t that great to know! Jesus said, “come on to me, you who are weary and heavy burdened, and I will give you rest.” Anger can be such a heavy burden… and sharing our feelings with God lightens the load! Knowing, that God hears us… that he hears our prayers, is a vital part of our Christian faith… and it’s an essential part of dealing with anger. Take it to the Lord in prayer, as the old hymn says.
Brothers and sisters, those of us who follow Christ, need to understand and promote the idea that anger’s a natural response, at times, to the world around us. And how we handle our anger appropriately matters. Gods words still speak to us vividly today: “be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not leave room for the devil.”