Anger & Self-control
Anger can quickly lead to other sins. If controlled, we can avoid a falling-out.
If you are 50 year of age or older, you know this guy:
the “Skipper” character from the TV series “Gilligan’s Island. Do you remember the character’s real name? Jonas Grumby. Do you remember the actor’s name? Alan Hale Jr.
Do you remember we identified the Skipper as a symbol of GLUTTONY in a previous message? Perhaps you’re wondering why we’re picking on the Skipper twice.
We needed a symbol for WRATH or anger, and who was the guy that when he lost his temper hit Gilligan on the head with his hat? That must have happened at least once an episode. As often as it happened, you’d think I could find a picture of it on the internet, but I could only find this one. Remembering what I can of the episode pictured on your notes, I recall the Skipper was only pretending that he was going to hit Gilligan. His anger never broiled over into really harmful violence.
Of course, that doesn’t make anger right. Physical abuse is only one kind of abuse, and anger can cause all kinds of harm without leaving any physical marks as evidence.
1. The vicious vice of uncontrolled anger (Matthew 5:21-26).
Anger is a feeling of opposition and the emotions/actions it motivates. (I was careful to use the word “motivates” in that sentence to counter the excuse that someone “makes” us angry. We always have a choice whether to be angry or not and therefore always bear responsibility for our choices. No excuses allowed; angry reactions can be avoided.) The classic word for this sin is “wrath.”
Anger can be a deadly sin. It says “can be” because we need to understand that the one word, ANGER, can refer to two situations. One situation is a flash of anger and the second is a settled and lengthy decision to remain angry and act upon it.
Initial anger (the “flash” of anger”) is most typically a morally neutral experience. Like temptation, it can come out of nowhere to surprise us. We are not morally responsible if a sudden feeling of anger hits us that way.
That said, if we predispose ourselves to feel anger by being characteristically unhappy, negative, overly sensitive, grudge-holding, or a drama queen, then even flashes of anger can be immoral; they are our responsibility because we’ve made anger a greater part of our character. Anger isn’t as likely to come as a surprise to a person who makes it a way of life. Character is always a factor in determining moral guilt.
A decision to be angry or sustain anger is more common than a flash of sudden anger. It’s what we do with our feelings of anger that makes us guilty. Words and actions are other factors in determining moral guilt or innocence. What we choose to say and/or do in response to anger is where our responsibility clearly lies.
Motive is a third aspect in judging moral guilt; of the three motives for anger, only one of them is good.
FRUSTRATION is a motive for anger where the person says, “I didn’t get my way.” We typically get frustrated over little things. Frustration is founded on self-centeredness and immaturity.
FEAR is a motive for anger that says, “I might not get my way.” Fear and anger are the two most basic human emotions. We respond more quickly to these stimuli because a quick response might be necessary to survive a life-ending threat. However, at least 90% of the things we fear never happen and when they do, they rarely threaten our survival. This is a survival mechanism that God hard-wired into our brains; it can make us overreact to fear, causing nervousness that is unhealthy and too often immoral. If fear is ongoing, we call it “stress.”
RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION is a spiritual motive that declares, “It didn’t get done God’s way.” There is only one instance in the Gospels were Jesus is said to be angry. In Mark 3:5, Jesus is angry and distressed at the stubbornness of hypocritical hearts. People commonly cite Jesus’ chasing the moneychangers and sellers out of the temple as a time He got angry, but none of the Gospel writers explain it that way. Instead, zeal is the motive offered for that act (see John 2:17). Following Jesus’ example, we can say several things about RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION to distinguish it as the only godly motive for anger
ANGER is a sin when it is based on self-centeredness; it begins as a perceived threat to self-interest. RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION starts in love for God & addresses sin and/or disrespect of God. RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION is often a response to hypocrisy where ANGER is often a result of hypocrisy. Here are several observations about the difference between the virtue of RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION and the vice of ANGER.
RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION defends the truth while ANGER often tramples over it.
Like Jesus, persons expressing RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION are not characterized by aggressive words and deeds while people given to ANGER are often aggressive in what they say and do.
ANGER tends to be sudden, explosive, and frequently out of proportion to the actual offense suffered. RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION is measured because it is a considered response and never out of proportion.
RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION is never an act of revenge and would not consider “fighting fire with fire.” Unlike ANGER, it seeks reconciliation, repentance, and restoration.
ANGER is characterized as flaring up over trivialities while RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION upholds fundamental moral issues, encouraging obedience to God’s will.
Unlike ANGER, RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION is not about self-defense or even defending others or God’s reputation. Instead, it is about doing what is right and calling others to do the same.
We’ve looked at Jesus’ example regarding anger, now we’ll look at what Jesus taught about anger in Matthew 5. First, He proved the seriousness of anger; it can become a sin (vs. 21-22).
Were you to ask a stranger if they were a good person, what would be the most likely answer? “Well, I haven’t killed anybody.” Is that because we consider murder to be the most serious sin? Would that person be surprised to hear that Jesus considers ANGER to be as serious a sin as murder? That being angry is akin to murder?
“YOU HAVE HEARD THAT IT WAS SAID…BUT I TELL YOU” is the expression of contrast we read throughout the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is introducing a newer, better, deeper, and more true understanding of spiritual and moral life.
Under the old way, anger that did not result in murder was more or less OK. But under Jesus’ way, anger is a sin, without regard to whether violence occurs or not.
Second, to avoid being guilty of serious sin, Jesus commanded swift and righteous resolution of anger (vs. 23-26) by giving two examples, one set in a religious context and the other in a secular context.
In the context of temple, Jesus taught that resolution must precede worship. Consider: ANGER is sin. Sin disrupts our relationship with God. Worship is impossible under that circumstance. In this predicament, it is essential to pause BEFORE worship to reconcile with other person, (your BROTHER or sister). By way of another example, 2 Peter 3:7 implies that a disrespectful husband risks having his prayers “hindered” by the way he treats his wife. Here is an overlap of relational and spiritual that merits a deeper examination. (I can personally vouch that Peter’s warning is true.)
In the context of the legal system of the day, Jesus appealed to a practical and wise side of the issue. Jesus advised that it is easier to settle a lawsuit out of court than it is after the judge has arrived. That is probably still true today! Just as an issue should be settled before worship, so should an issue be solved before appearing before a judge. The person who fails to resolve in a timely way risks losing everything.
In this teaching Jesus underscores the foolishness of giving into anger. Whether it’s a quick fuse or a slow burn, anger has destructive consequences. Wise people will consider the consequences and exert the self-control necessary to squelch anger, reconcile relationships, and honor God instead of disobeying His will.
2. The vital virtue of self-control (James 1:19-27).
As James presents it, self-control is a matter of timing. We write this because he makes three references to time as central to his teaching about self-control in communications.
The first reference to timing is QUICK TO LISTEN; which means to get all the facts before reacting. Begin by checking your perceptions.
- Do you have all the facts straight or are you overreacting to a misunderstanding?
- Are you really angry at that person or are you angry because something going on in your mind or heart that does not involve them? If there is not a cause and effect relationship, then your anger is more likely to be a sin.
- Ask yourself, “What is my motive?” If it is to “get even” or anything other than giving God glory and reconciling people, there’s a good chance your anger is just selfishness, no matter how self-righteous or reasonable you can make it sound. Cancel the “spin” in your head!
- Ask yourself, “Is this any of my business?” Previously in this series we’ve learned that godly ambition includes living a quiet life, minding our own business.
Next, since you can’t read minds, look at the situation from the other person’s perspective.
- Try to think of extenuating circumstances or other meanings to their words and deeds.
- In conversation with that person, check your perceptions and their intention. Tell them how you see things and ask them if they see them differently. Try to forge a common understanding of what is causing anger in your relationship.
Finally, by faith, try to see the situation from God’s perspective.
- If there is not a command of God being violated or a good deed left undone, is there really any reason to take offense?
- Can you be certain you are in the right on the matter and how you intend to resolve it?
- We have been warned that on Judgment Day, all “careless words” will be judged by God (see Matthew 12:36). How will you feel when petty and hurtful words are repeated before Jesus?
The second reference to timing is SLOW TO SPEAK, which means to prefer silence and to carefully guard your words. As we’ve been learning on Wednesday Bible Studies, the Bible has a lot to say on the subject of words. One piece of wisdom is that the best away we can avoid speaking rashly is to avoid speaking. Silence may not always be the best choice, but taking time to think is always good.
The amount of time we need to take before giving a comment or answer depends on how long it takes you to do the aforementioned three steps of homework prior to answering. Besides, if you take your time, you will find that a good deal of hurtful speech and miscommunication can be avoided. Taking time may give you an opportunity to recognize bad speech and its effects.
The final reference to time is to be SLOW TO BECOME ANGRY. This means to carefully and prayerfully guard your actions.
Obviously, words aren’t the only way we give in to anger. But they are the most common way and I believe that’s part of the reason why the Bible has so much to say on this subject.
It takes time to be certain an offense is truly intended, who is at fault, and decide what, if anything, needs to be done to reconcile the parties involved. If you practice this, you will find that simply because you waited to react, the situation resolves itself. God will always do a better job than we can hope to do.
Modern scientific studies of emotional intelligence show that our brain structures are set up to respond most quickly to anger and fear. There is literally another set of brain parts that are used for reason, love, and self-control.
This is evidence of what we have learned by experience: it is not in our natural self to be self-controlled. Doing right requires that we take more time and use the parts of our brain that work more slowly than the mouthy, angry, and evil parts. James’ double use of the word SLOW reflects the findings of modern science!
Our best motive for self-control is to achieve the RIGHTEOUS LIFE GOD DESIRES (v. 20). Stated briefly, the RIGHTEOUS LIFE GOD DESIRES is becoming more like Jesus. James is also clear about the details of what a RIGHTEOUS LIFE looks like.
V. 26 says that a RIGHTEOUS person has a TIGHT REIGN ON HIS TONGUE. V. 27 says that a RIGHTEOUS person looks after the needy and keeps themselves from being morally POLLUTED BY THE WORLD.
Elsewhere in James we develop a broad view of a RIGHTEOUS LIFE:
2:10 = Keep the entirety of God’s commands, not just your favorite parts.
4:7 = Become submissive to God, resistant to the devil.
5:13-16 = Rely on prayer.
James instructs us that self-control is a mark of maturing faith. Writing plainly, verse 26 warns that uncontrolled speech betrays a RELIGION that is WORTHLESS. We need our faith to be true in order to be saved and to persevere in this life. When trials and death come, a false faith will be WORTHLESS to us.
One way to cure self-deception about our status before God is to look at what we are doing. James gave three examples:
A person who says what they think reveals they are self-deceived and they will find, on Judgment Day, that their RELIGION is WORTHLESS in regard to getting into heaven.
Anyone can claim faith, but God-approved religion is proven by two actions: keeping from following the WORLD so closely that your moral status becomes as dirty as theirs. God approves service and protection for the neediest members of the community, not the wealthiest.
In James 3:2 we understand moral perfection is proved by control of what one says: WE ALL STUMBLE IN MANY WAYS. IF A MAN IS NEVER AT FAULT IN WHAT HE SAYS, HE IS A PERFECT MAN, ABLE TO KEEP HIS WHOLE BODY IN CHECK.
Ideally, self-control is achieved by surrendering to the Holy Spirit and thereby being Spirit-controlled. GLS 5:22-23 = self-control is one of the Fruits of the Spirit.
Anger can quickly lead to other sins. If controlled, we can avoid a falling-out.
If you are younger than 50, you know all about:
Twitter as a place where angry exchanges can easily take place. Twitter is an app and website that aims at providing news and social networking by allowing users to post and interact with messages called "tweets". Originally, tweets were restricted to 140 characters, but late last year, the limit was doubled to 280 for most languages. On this basis, it may be argued that Twitter’s greatest virtue is brevity.
Twitter was launched in July, 2006. In ten years Twitter grew to more than 319 million active users. Another gauge of the influence of Twitter occurred on the day of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, when 40 million election-related tweets sent by 10 p.m.
The gentleman who may have benefitted most from all that election day activity was President Trump, who has also become one of Twitter’s most famous/infamous users. I have a Twitter account with a whopping THIRTY followers. This means 30 people get notified when I tweet. Nine out of ten times my tweet is simply an announcement that I have posted my sermon notes on the internet.
Because of the relative anonymity (you can use a net name - pseudonym) and the brevity of the messages, Twitter has become a place where social interactions take on the form of angry opposition. The word “Tweets” sounds like a happy thing, but the fact is, these brief messages too often take on hateful, condemning, and argumentative tones. Occasionally you will hear about a celebrity who has closed their Twitter account because the messages left were so hurtful.
In fact, in February of this year the company announced that they were responding to constant criticism of the wrathful aspect of tweets by providing help for those who tweeted about self-harm or suicide, and restricting the access of users who encourage others to harm themselves or commit suicide. This ought to come as no surprise to anyone: human nature is such that if we make it easy to hurt others, more people will engage in that behavior.
One of the things that is supposed to distinguish followers of Jesus from the rest of the world is the presence of peace and the absence of anger. We will show the world we are different if we don’t tweet or talk in anger. We will demonstrate we truly belong to Jesus if we take the time needed to act in love, not anger. That will take pursuit of self-control and avoidance of the deadly sin of wrath.