Anger Is Not a Gift of the Spirit (column submitted to Greenfield Vedette 3/22/2009)

I’m not angry. Well, maybe sometimes I am. Well, maybe often. Okay, there are quite a few things that make me angry. But I’m trying to keep that to a minimum. The key word here is “trying.”

Cruising through the TV channels, I see shootings, stabbings, torchings, fights, murders; you name it. The common thread? Anger. It isn’t limited to any one age group, race, nationality, or economic level. Unfortunately, the anger epidemic isn’t limited to the “world,” either; the church has been affected, too.

“Wait,” you might ask, “hasn’t anger always been a problem since Cain killed his brother?” Since the beginning of time we have seen even broader results of anger, most notably wars between brothers and wars between cousins, wars over borders and boundaries, world wars, local wars, and wars over insults.

Anger. It’s a problem. But we in the church have an out, an excuse for being angry. We call it “righteous anger,” being angry at sin and how it affects us and our community. But the spiral of anger that causes us to sin is deceptive and can pull anyone into its vortex.

Psalm 4:4 says, “In your anger do not sin.” Paul continues in Ephesians, “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold” (4:26,27). Can we really sin by being angry at evil? I believe we can and we do, on a regular basis, adding ourselves to the category of those who have sinned.

Jesus talked about anger in the fourth chapter of Matthew. “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ [a term of contempt] is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell” (vv. 21,22).

According to Jesus, using a derogatory name for someone else equates to murder in the spiritual realm. Have I murdered someone simply by ridiculing them? Perhaps not, but I may have started something in motion that will destroy both that person and myself, as well as others who hear my words. My comments are then repeated by the people who hear them, and they participate in my anger and/or hatred, and on the cycle continues. By one senseless, thoughtless rage, lives can be changed.

So what do we do? How can we be angry and not sin? First of all, we need to recognize that speaking in anger can be part of the sinful nature. “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:22-24).

Second, we need to speak the truth when necessary, even to correct another. “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body” (v. 25). But we must do so in a spirit of humility, knowing that we were forgiven first. First Corinthians 13:6 insists, “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” And earlier in chapter 4, Paul tells the Ephesians to not get involved in every wind and wave of argument, but to speak the truth in love, thereby growing mature in Christ (v. 15).

Finally, Paul instructs us, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (v. 29). Whatever we think, especially when we are angry, we must weigh our words on a spiritual scale. What effect will my words have on others? Is my attitude one that will help others or tear them down? And in the case of unbelievers, will my words bring them closer or further away from the claims of the gospel?

Hatred grows from unbridled anger. Forgiveness and grace defuses anger and hatred. Changing our attitudes may not bring world peace, but it definitely will bring peace to our own hearts and lives and, just maybe, to those around us.

To quote Jesus, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him, should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16,17). Change the world, not with anger, but with love and truth. That’s what Jesus did!

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