Psychology Today has called our generation “The Age of Rage.” It seems that everywhere we turn, we see an increase in anger. It’s unusual to read the newspaper without reading of hostage takings, road rage, air rage, and not just high school but public school shootings. New web sites are appearing to rage against ex-husbands and ex-wives.
What is alarming is that many of these acts of violence occur not with strangers, but with people they know. It appears that they just weren’t able to control their anger in their personal relationships.
The statistics are mind-boggling. Nearly sixty percent of all the murders in America are between people who know each other and don’t know how to manage their anger. In 1998 four million women were beaten by their husbands who would supposedly profess to love these women more than anybody else. More than ten million children were abused by parents who didn’t know how to control their anger.
Closer to home is the damage that we see in our own relationships caused by anger. Many of us were raised by parents who didn’t know how to control their anger. As I meet with married couples, I learn that anger is one of those issues that are breaking marriages apart. We were never taught how to manage our anger. It’s certainly not being taught in most schools. The entertainment industry or the media is not teaching it. It’s not even being taught in most churches. Somebody has to teach us how to handle our anger before we destroy our relationships and ourselves.
Today we’re going to learn how to be good and mad. Anyone can be mad. In fact, we all do a pretty good job of being mad from time to time. But it takes skill to be good and mad at the same time. The Bible has a lot to say about the subject of how to handle your anger. This week you are going to be provoked to anger. How can you handle your anger in a God-honoring way?
This subject is important for a number of reasons. If you don’t know how to handle your anger, you will hurt others and destroy your relationships. You will damage your family, your friends, your co-workers, and even your church. If you choose to bottle up your anger, you will do great damage within yourself. You will become a bitter and unattractive person. If you nurse your anger, you will give Satan a foothold in your life.
Not only that, but you are influencing others in how they handle their anger. Parents, you need to hear these Biblical principles because your children are learning anger management from you. If you don’t teach them, who will? Even if you don’t have children, you are influencing those around you by how you handle your anger. It affects not only you but also everyone about you.
Before we begin, I want to tell you that anger isn’t always wrong. Psalm 7:11 says that God himself gets angry. Anger is a God-given emotion. If you’re not angry, you’re probably not alive. Aristotle once said, “Anybody can become angry – that is easy; but to be angry with the right person, and to the right degree, and at the right time, and for the right purpose, and in the right way-that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.” If it’s going to happen, it’s going to be because we follow Biblical principles on how to manage our anger.
Proverbs 14:29 says, “Those who control their anger have great understanding.” There are four keys that we need to understand in order to be both good and mad:
1. RECOGNIZE ANGER AS A DANGER SIGN
The first step in controlling our anger is to recognize anger as a danger sign. God gave us the emotion of anger. It’s an emotion that he designed us to experience. But anger is a danger sign that things are going on in our soul that aren’t healthy to ourselves or to others.
Why is anger a warning sign? In Matthew 5:21, Jesus said, “You have heard that the law of Moses says, ‘Do not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ But I say, if you are angry with someone, you are subject to judgment!”
In Jesus’ day people thought of anger as being no big deal. They understood that murder was a big deal, but they didn’t think of anger as being too important. They couldn’t see the connection between anger and murder. Jesus said that anger is just as dangerous as murder. Once we begin to get angry, we’re already partway down the road to destructive behavior.
A boy once asked his dad, “Dad, how do wars begin?” His dad replied, “Well, take the First World War. That got started when Germany invaded Belgium.”
Immediately his wife interrupted him. “Tell the boy the truth. It began because somebody was murdered.”
The husband drew himself up with an air of superiority and snapped back, “Are you answering the question or am I?” The wife got up, walked out of the room, and slammed the door as hard as she could.
The boy and the father sat there in silence until the boy finally said, “Dad, you don’t have to tell me any more. I now know how wars begin.”
Jesus said that God isn’t just concerned with murders and wars. He’s concerned with our anger. He’s concerned about the way that we view other people. In fact, Jesus is so concerned about it that he says, “If you are angry with someone, you are subject to judgment!” He makes our anger as much as a spiritual issue as murder. We’ve got to change the way that we think about anger.
What should we believe about anger? We need to see anger as a danger sign. Sociologists and psychiatrists report that hatred brings a person closer to murder than any other emotion. And hatred is an extension of anger. Anger leads to hatred, and hatred leads to murder – if not in action, at least in the heart.
Every time we are angry, we are partway down the road to escalating our sins. We’re partway down the road to hatred, murder, divorce, or bitterness. We’re on the way to violence, emotional hurt, increased mental stress, and spiritual damage. Anger keeps us from developing a spirit pleasing to God. Ephesians 4:31-32 says, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of malicious behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.”
I know that some of you might be saying, “Wait. Didn’t you just say that anger isn’t always wrong? Wasn’t Jesus himself angry?” The major difference between righteous anger and unrighteous anger is the cause of the anger. One should be angry over sin that offends God, harms others, or harms the person sinning. When we read of children being abused or murdered, we should be angry. But most of our anger isn’t about that. Most of our anger is sinful because it’s for the wrong reason and it results in wrong action. We’re often passive about these important issues and instead get angry over personal insults and petty irritations.
I find as a parent that it’s very hard to distinguish between righteous anger and selfish anger. I might be angry at my child for disobeying me. But am I really? Or am I angry because my child embarrassed me or because I’m tired and impatient? Because it’s so difficult for us to be angry in a righteous sense, the Bible over and over tells us not to get angry. James 1:20 says, “Man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.”
So we need to recognize that anger is a danger signal. Every time that you get angry, you’re partway down the road to even worse things. Jesus says you’re already subject to judgment. Anger is a warning.
The second key to controlling our anger is this:
2. REFLECT ON THE COST OF ANGER
Anger always has a cost – to ourselves and to those around us. And the more that we think about the cost of our anger, the less likely we are to be angry with those around us.
Jesus said in Matthew 5:22, “But I say, if you are angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the high council. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.”
Anger has consequences. When we are angry, we become subject to judgment. This might be judgment in our relationships. It may mean more than that. Our anger may cause us to get fired or even in trouble with the law. It ultimately will get us in trouble with God. Ephesians 4:26-27 says, “Don’t sin by letting anger gain control over you….for anger gives a mighty foothold to the Devil.”
You always lose when you lose your temper. You lose the respect of other people. You may lose the love of people you love most. You may lose the love of your children if you get angry at them too often. You may lose the love of your husband or your wife. You may lose your job due to an uncontrolled temper. Certainly if you mishandle anger, you can lose your health. When you say, “That person is a pain,” you’re probably right. When you stuff your anger it can cause headaches, stomach aches, backaches, neck aches, and all kinds and variety of problems. You always lose when you lose your temper.
Nothing destroys a relationship faster than unrestrained anger. Listen to what the Proverbs say about anger. Proverbs 29:22 says, “A hot tempered man gets into all kinds of trouble.” I’m sure we could hear some pretty funny stories about how we get into trouble with our anger.
How many of you would say, “I can say honestly that I know from experience the truth of Proverbs 15:18, ‘Hot tempers cause arguments.'”
How many of you know this is true: “Anger causes mistakes.” (Proverbs 14:29)
How about this – Proverbs 14:7: “People with hot tempers do foolish things.” We’re not going to ask what foolish things you have done but I’m sure they’d be quite humorous if you shared them with us. I’ll never forget the time that I broke down our bathroom door in anger at our house. Fortunately, we found that so funny that the anger disappeared and we cracked up laughing. But a broken doorframe was there for a while to remind us that people with hot tempers do foolish things.
Thomas Jefferson wrote a book called “Rules for Living,” in which he described how adults should live. He wrote, “When angry, count ten before you speak; If very angry, a hundred.” Author Mark Twain, seventy-five years later, revised his word to say, “When angry, count four; When very angry, swear.” I think Thomas Jefferson was right. Pause and consider the cost of your anger – to yourself and to others.
Recognize anger as a danger signal. Reflect on the cost of anger. The third key to controlling your anger is this:
3. RESPOND TO ANGER PROPERLY
You might be saying, “Okay, this is good. I will recognize anger as a danger signal. I will also reflect on the cost of anger. But what am I supposed to do when I get angry? Tell me what to do then. I can’t seem to control my anger.”
The truth is that all of us have a great deal of control over our anger. Anger, like every other emotion, is a choice. Have you ever been in an argument with a friend or your children or husband or wife and it’s getting very intense? You may even be raising your voice. You may even be yelling at each other and all of a sudden the phone rings. You pick up the phone and say, “Hello? He’s right here. It’s for you, honey!” What did you do? You chose to control your anger. You likely didn’t want to be embarrassed, and you really didn’t feel that it was anyone’s business that you were fighting. But it shows that you can control your anger.
The Bible gives us some steps to take to deal with our anger. The first step is this: STOP HANGING AROUND ANGRY PEOPLE. The Bible is serious about this. Proverbs 22:24-25 says, “Keep away from angry, short-tempered people, or you will learn to be like them and endanger your soul.” Did you know that anger is contagious? If you get around angry people you will tend to become an angry person. It’s modeled. You learn the behavior from other people. If you’re friends with gripers and complainers, you need to change your friends. Their influence may endanger your soul.
By the way, this applies to what you take in from the media as well. Stop watching the wrong movies and shows. The entertainment world says, “You got anger? Pull a gun. Blow up a building. Stab a guy in the back. Shout and swear and kick them!” As a result we have people doing these copycat crimes. Keep away from angry people and angry influences. Unlearn that unhealthy behavior. Be prepared to even change friends if need be.
The second step is: LISTEN INSTEAD OF SPEAKING. James 1:19 says, “Dear brothers and sisters, be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.” I’ve found that I can actually control my reactions. In fact, if you follow James’ advice and be quick to listen and slow to speak, the slow to angry comes automatically. A lot of times we get angry because we’re too quick to speak. We’re too slow to listen. We don’t understand where the other person is coming from. We prejudge them and then we lash out. The result is always bad. As someone has said, “Speak when you’re angry and you’ll make the best speech you’ll ever regret.”
The third step is simple: DON’T LET IT BURN. Ephesians 4:26 says, “Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry.” No matter how angry you are, and no matter how justified that anger may be, don’t let it simmer or burn overnight. Why? Talk to a firefighter about smoldering fires. Talk to a doctor about toxins which are left in one’s body. We weren’t designed to carry around anger. Deal with it immediately.
Jesus said, “So if you are standing before the altar in the Temple, offering a sacrifice to God, and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there beside the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God” (Matthew 5:23-24).
I wonder what would happen if we took this seriously. What if we got up in the middle of church, went out to the foyer, made a phone call, and said, “Listen, I need to apologize. I messed up.” Or, “Listen, we need to talk. There’s tension in our relationship. When can we get together?” The longer we let it sit, the harder it will be to resolve.
The fourth step is this: CULTIVATE HONESTY. We looked at Proverbs 27:5-6 last week. It says, “An open rebuke is better than hidden love! Wounds from a friend are better than many kisses from an enemy.” It’s better to for friends to be honest than for enemies to be flattering. One of the benefits of having honest relationships is that you don’t have to get angry as much. You can deal with issues without having to blow your stack.
All of us tend to get angry in one of two ways. We blow up or we clam up. We externalize or we internalize. Both of these are inappropriate expressions of your anger. Both of them hurt your body. Both of them hurt other people. Don’t just think if you’re not a volcano that you don’t have an anger problem. Most all of us express anger in inappropriate ways. Everybody tends to be either a skunk or a turtle. You just spray it all out or you pull yourself back into a shell. It is in God’s humor that skunks always marry turtles.
However you need to react, you need to learn to express your anger appropriately. You need to stop hanging around angry people. Then you need to listen instead of speak, deal with tension immediately, and you need to cultivate honesty.
So far we’ve looked at three keys to dealing with anger. There’s one more key I want to look at this morning:
4. RELY ON GOD’S POWER
Let’s face it. You’re not going to be able to handle your anger without God’s help. You need divine power if you’re going to have success in this area of your life.
Colossians 3:15 says, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” This is the real secret. God’s power to change is when you get the peace of Christ in your heart to replace the anger in your heart. Your relationship to Christ will determine how patient you are in life. If you have a very close relationship with Christ and he carries his power into every area of your life, then you will be a very patient pe rson. If you just kind of have a casual relationship to Christ – you’re a fringe Christian – Christ is in your life but he just has a part of your life, then that leaves all the rest of your life open to anger and impatience. The more he controls your life, the more patient you’re going to be. You can change if you want to. You can change with God’s help.
I said last week that the best way to improve your relationships is to get your relationship with God straightened out. We are naturally at war with God. Jesus came to settle that relationship. He came to pay the price for our sins so that our relationship with God is settled. The best news that I can give you this morning is that you can accept the free gift of forgiveness by receiving it. All you have to do is come to God and say, “I need you. I’ve tried living life my own way. I’m coming to you as a sinner, asking for your forgiveness, through what Jesus did on the cross.”
Once you have your relationship with God straightened out, it will affect every other relationship. God will give you the fruit of the Spirit – which includes love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Do you think that will help your anger? That’s the best way to improve your relationships.
Matthew 12:34 says, “For whatever is in your heart determines what you say.” The best way to change what you say is to change your heart. And the best way to change your heart is to come to Christ. He will deal with the root issues of your heart.
Jesus Christ can deal with the root issues of your anger. He can replace your frustrated heart with one filled with love. He’s in control and you’re not. But when you place him in control of your life, then you have this peace that passes all understanding. He can replace your hurting heart with his love. You may have been rejected as a child or as an adult. You may have been abandoned. You may have been abused. You may have felt unloved. And you may have felt lonely. God sees your pain and no one in the whole world cares more about it than Jesus Christ. Your pain matters to God and you matter to God. He can replace the hurt in your heart, the stuff that you’ve been denying and pushing down with genuine love and you will find your anger going down and down. Jesus can replace your insecurity and your fears and your anxieties with his peace and his power.
When you pick up a little baby that’s crying, if you show that crying baby love and warmth and acceptance and security the baby stops crying. You will stop crying on the inside when you realize how much you matter to God and when you open your life to His love and acceptance and security and purpose and power and forgiveness.
Father, we need your help. Left to ourselves we can easily drift into unhealthy patterns of relating to others. Thank you for the freedom you give us to experience healing in our relationships. Thank you for the alternatives that you give us to anger.
Would you pray this silently:
“Father, I open up every area, every crevice of my life to you today. Please come into every part of my life and save me and change me and make the changes that only you can make. I need you to rescue me. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.”