David Jeremiah - Slaying the Giant of Anger
Early in the 1970s, a promising young American pianist gave a concert in the chamber music room of the Erawan Hotel in Bangkok. The recital was only a few minutes old when the artist discovered that due to the climate's excessive humidity, the D key on the treble clef began to stick repeatedly. As it turned out, his program comprised box D-Minor Toccata and Fugue and his Prelude and Fugue in D major. The reviewer in the Bangkok Post reported that there was also a problem with the piano stool, which had been so enthusiastically greased that during one of the more vigorous sections, the pianist suddenly found himself swiveling around to face the audience.
Realizing he wasn't going to be able to play anything in D Minor or D Major, he moved on to, Fantasia in G Minor, at which point the G key of the bass clef also stuck. To try to free the notes, the virtuoso started kicking the lower section of the piano, and the result was that the piano's right leg soon gave way and the whole instrument began to list 35 degrees. At this point in the story, which is a true account, the musician arose, bowed before the audience, and left the stage to the audience's applause, but they had not seen the last of this man, for in a moment he returned, and in his hand there was a fire axe with which he began to demolish the piano.
On hearing the resounding crash which followed, the ushers came rushing in, and with the help of the hotel manager, two watchmen, and a passing policeman, they finally succeeded in disarming the man and dragging him off the stage. I don't know if you've ever seen a temper tantrum, but that was a major temper tantrum and, you know, we still have a lot of anger in our culture today. I saw that in a classified ad section of a paper recently, there was this ad: "Wedding dress for sale; never worn. Will trade for .38 caliber pistol".
Calvin Miller observes that anger is our towering Goliath that most of us never conquer, and with maddening consistency, anger dodges the little pebbles that we put in our slingshot to slay it. Somebody said that anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than on the person on which it is poured. And we all know that while anger may do some harm to those who are the object of the wrath, ultimately anger hurts the person who is filled with anger more than anyone else.
Now, in the Bible, to which we have opened in the book of Ephesians and the fourth chapter, we have a very interesting statement in the 26th verse, and that statement, given the fact that anger is such a difficult emotion to deal with, is quite surprising, for here in the 26th verse, we read from the words of Paul, "Be angry, and sin not". And the word be angry is a command. So if anger's all that bad, why are we commanded to be angry? It says here, "Be angry, and sin not". Later on in the passage it says, "Put all anger away from you", but here it says to be angry.
So there must be some way in which anger can be looked upon as a positive emotion. Is there such a thing as righteous indignation? Is there such a thing as sinless anger? Well, there must be because here we are told that there is a kind of anger that is without sin, and the only place we have to go to appeal to this is to the Lord Jesus Christ himself, which we shall do in just a moment. But before we do that, I want to clear up one thing that sometimes gets attributed to this passage of Scripture. Whatever else this passage is saying, it is not giving us a proof text for venting our anger so that we can get rid of it. James adds this instruction in the New Testament. "So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God". And Psalm 37:8 says, "Cease from anger, and forsake wrath".
So then what in the world does Paul mean when he says, "Be angry, and sin not"? How can we be angry without sin? And I told you the key to it was in the life of the Lord Jesus. On a number of occasions, if we read the gospels carefully, we discover that the Lord Jesus expressed anger. On one such occasion, he expressed anger and it was not a spirit of temper or hostility, it wasn't a momentary explosion from a volatile spirit, but it was a steadied and carefully thought-through anger at something which Jesus witnessed; and that something that he witnessed happened to be in the temple.
It's recorded for us in the second chapter of John's Gospel where we are told that, "He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers doing business. And when he had made a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers money and overturned the tables".
Now, I have to tell you, I've always secretly liked this passage of Scripture because I'm tired of people talking about Jesus like he was some sort of a wimp. The Lord Jesus was a man's man, and he walked into the temple that day by himself and got rid of everybody there. Turned over the tables, drove all the animals out, and they knew he had been there. They knew Jesus had been in the temple that day.
Now, what was different about Jesus's anger and the anger that we often express in our lives? Here it is, and this is the key. Jesus's anger was never about his own stuff. His anger was always at the abuses and the wrongdoings and the lack of justice that was going on in the world which he witnessed. And you know, men and women, we need to go back to that kind of righteous anger in our own hearts, don't we? We seem to have become so mellow about life that injustice can go on in our culture without any anger being expressed.
There is a righteous anger, but here's the key. If you're angry because of something that's been done to you, that's not righteous anger. But if you're angry because of that which is going on, that is abusing others and hurting others, then that is the kind of righteous anger that we ought to feel free to express. On another occasion, the Lord Jesus was ministering on the Sabbath day and they brought to him somebody who had a withered hand. And Jesus, feeling compassion for that man, healed him, and everybody got upset with him because they said he had broken the Sabbath, and it says right in Mark that Jesus was angry. He was angry because they didn't understand the spirit of the law. They didn't understand the importance of compassion. Jesus got angry at the right things.
And once in a while, we need to express a little bit of that anger in our own lives. It's gone out of our culture. John Stott once remarked that there's room for Christian righteous anger. "Be angry with evil, not tolerant of it. Be angry with sin, not indifferent to it. It's right to be angry". Aristotle, a long time ago said it this way: "A man who is angry on the right grounds against the right person in the right manner at the right moment for the right length of time deserves to be praised". And he was right.
So, we have to recognize that there is a kind of anger that is sinless, but don't confuse it with venting. Don't confuse it with ventilating your own anger because that's not supported in the Scripture. There's also a kind of anger that is sinful, and in the same text to which we have opened, we are given some very clear instructions. It says, "Be angry and sin not. Don't let the sun go down on your wrath or on your anger, and don't give the devil an opportunity in your life". Later on in the text it says, "Put away from yourself all anger and wrath and clamor and malice and evil speaking".
Sinful anger is what most of us have to deal with. Most of us have to deal with the things that somehow get in our spirit and begin to make us angry, and I want to give you some help in dealing with sinful anger because all of us have to deal with it at one time or another. First of all, let me suggest to you that when you face the urge to be angry over something someone has done or failed to do in your interest, you need to make up your mind you're not going to nurse that anger. Here's what the Bible says: "Let not the sun go down on your anger". What does that mean? That means that you should never be angry about anything more than 24 hours. At the end of that period, when the sun goes down, you better get rid of it.
Now, Phyllis Diller thought a little differently about this. Phyllis Diller said, "Never go to bed mad. Stay up and fight". That's what she thought it meant. And before you know it, you're beginning to enjoy your anger. You're beginning to coddle it and nurse it and think you know, and there's something about being angry at another person that gives you a feeling of superiority over them; and oftentimes, it's very difficult for us to let it go. You know, let nighttime be the reminder to us that if we have an angry spirit with anyone, let's do our best to resolve it before the night is over because when anger is allowed to be nursed in our spirit, when we allow it to be coddled within our soul; it never gets better, it always gets worse.
Secondly, let me suggest to you that we should not rehearse our anger. Have you been around people that love to tell you how angry they are? I mean, you can't get in their presence before, you don't even have to ask them, "What's going on with you"? They're going to tell you how angry they are. I remember hearing Henry Brandt years ago, when I was just getting started in the ministry, give a speech on anger, and he gave a speech. It went something like this, he said, "People are always saying, 'You make me so angry.'" And then he said, "You know, nobody can make you angry. You are angry. They just bring it out of you".
And when we rehearse our anger, when we allow anger to become the subject of our conversation, all we're doing is digging the grooves deeper in our minds and in our spirit, making that thing that has caused us to be angry in the first place bigger than life until it begins to dominate us to such an extent that we cannot live without that being a part of our daily conversation. Don't rehearse your anger. And thirdly, don't converse about it. It's almost the same thing, but this means don't let your mouth be the source of promoting anger.
Here in the text, we're told that we are not to let any corrupt word proceed out of our mouth. Do you know what the word corrupt means? In the language in which the New Testament was written, the word corrupt is the word for cutting. It means don't let any cutting remark come out of your mouth. You know, we live in a culture where that's almost a favorite indoor sport, isn't it? Cutting one another, and we've all done it where somebody says something that cuts you, and then you have to make a little more cutting remark against them, and so you can spend a lot of time just cutting one another down.
And I've said this before at Shadow Mountain, I'm becoming more convinced of it all the time that I'm not really sure there is a place for sarcasm in a Christian's vocabulary because cutting remarks, according to the Word of God, often are the source of long-term problems. What is it that the proverb says in Proverbs 15:1? "A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger". And then there's one other thought here under this point that I need to leave with you.
How many of you know that when you hang out with angry people, before long, you pick up some of their symptoms? In fact, the proverb says that in such a very forceful way. Listen to what this verse says. "Make no friendship with an angry man, and with a furious man do not go lest you learn his ways and set a snare for your own soul". I don't like to be around angry people. You never know when they're just going to go off. You don't know what's going to set them off, and it's very difficult to be with such a person without picking up some of their habits.
Now, you say, "Pastor Jeremiah, what if I'm married to him"? I will pray for you, and you need to pray a lot too. Fourth, don't disperse your anger. This is kind of going back to where we started. "Let all bitterness, wrath, clamor, evil speaking be put away from you with all malice". It tells us that we're not to just...express our anger whenever we feel like it. Proverbs 19:11 says, "The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, and his glory is to overlook a discretion". Sinful anger is not a rebuke, sinful anger is a tantrum.
How many of you know that anger in an adult is simply the full-grown, more sophisticated kind of a child's temper tantrum? The Bible says that the way you deal with anger is you don't nurse it, you don't rehearse it, you don't converse about it.
What you do with it is you don't disperse it, you reverse it. How do you reverse anger? Well, right here in the text, it says you do it with forgiveness and loving kindness and tenderness. You go to the person who's made you angry and you try to minister to them. In fact, it says in Romans, "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire upon his head". We reverse what has been done to us by doing good to the one who has hurt us, and I know that's a hard assignment, very hard assignment.
I've told some of you about my experience at McDonald's. I don't eat there often, but I go there on occasion. I went to turn in to the McDonald's restaurant and apparently, I didn't mean to do this, but apparently the lady who was coming the other way thought I had cut her off. Now, I know in my heart I didn't do that, but she thought I did, and she was furious. She rolled her window down and gave me a piece of her mind she couldn't afford to do without, you know? She said some words I hadn't heard in a long time. She shouted obscenities at me, used a few hand signs I hadn't seen a woman do in a long time, screamed at me, and began to honk her horn.
And now I'm in line to order, and she's in the line behind me. I confess to you, I locked my doors. She was having a temper tantrum, and it was directed at me. So I got up to the window and I got this wonderful thought. After I got my food and paid for it, I asked the lady, "How much is her food in the car behind me"? She said, "Is that one of your relatives"? I said, "No". Well, they told me how much the food was, and I said, "I want to pay for her dinner". "Well, that's very nice". I said, "Just tell me how much it is and I'll pay for it". I said, "Don't charge her again when she comes through".
So she came up to the window, I have to tell you, my carnal spirit, I had to hang around to see what happened, you know? I kind of put my rearview mirror so I could check this out, you know, looking out the back window, and I could tell she was dumbfounded. She didn't know what to do. The guy she was so mad at just bought her lunch, and she probably went home and talked about that for days. Probably still talking about it, yeah. You know, that's a very interesting thing, isn't it?
You see, when we're angry, this is the interesting thing about it. When we're angry, oftentimes the person that we're angry with doesn't even know we're angry. They're not being affected at all. We're walking around all chewed up inside and the person we want to hurt doesn't even know it. So how do you reverse it? The Scripture says with loving kindness and tenderness and forgiveness, you go and forgive the person for what they've done. If you can figure out some nice thing to do to encourage them, do it. But release the anger and reverse it by doing what God tells you to do.
You say, "That's not natural". You're absolutely right. It's supernatural. It's the thing that God enables you to do when you know him and you love him. But I promise you if you do that, you will discover that the anger in your spirit begins to drain away. And I know some of you say, "Well, you know, I wouldn't know how to live without my anger". And that's probably true. A lot of people, they just hang on to their anger because it gives them a reason for getting up in the morning.
Some of you have read the book or seen the film, "Hurricane". I have the book at home, and work through the story of Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, a black boxer wrongly convicted of three murders. After two decades in prison for murders he didn't commit, Rubin Carter finally won his freedom, and that's what "Hurricane" is all about. If any man had a right to be filled with hate and anger, surely it was Hurricane Carter, but here's an excerpt from the speech that he gave recorded in the back of the book after he was released.
He said, "The question invariably arises, it has before and it will again, 'Rubin, are you bitter?' And an answer to that I will say, 'After all that's been said and done, the fact that the most productive years of my life, between the ages of 29 and 50, have been stolen, the fact that I was deprived of seeing my children grow up, wouldn't you think I'd have the right to be bitter? Wouldn't anyone under those circumstances have a right to be bitter?'"
In fact, he said, "It would be very easy to be bitter, but that has never been my nature. It's never been my lot to do things the easy way. If I've learned anything else in my life, I've learned that bitterness only consumes the vessel that contains it. And for me to permit bitterness to control or infect my life in any way whatsoever would be to allow those who imprisoned me to take even more than the 22 years they've already taken, and now that would make me an accomplice to their crime, wouldn't it"?
That is an amazing statement of forgiveness and dealing with anger. You know what I can tell you? He walked out of that prison not just free of the bars, but free of the people who put him there unjustly. You deal with anger by reversing it and releasing it to God. One man told me, he said, "I'll never get justice on this earth, but I'm going to sue that man in the courts of heaven and I'm going to let God take care of it". And when you do, you can walk away and the anger will be gone and you will be free. I want to encourage you that God has an answer for the pain in your life and for the giants that face you.
There is a defense from the Word of God. So let me ask you to think about doing this today. If you have a bitter spirit in your heart towards someone, why don't you release it? Why don't you give it up to God? Why don't you just say, "Lord, I'm tired of being bitter at this person, and I'm not going to be bitter anymore. I will forgive them and, Lord, you forgive me for my bitterness". And God will do that, and you will never know the kind of peace that can come across your soul like the peace that comes from knowing you're not angry anymore.