We moved to Augusta, GA in October, just after my last quarter at Trevecca Nazarene University to be youth pastors for a great little church. Doris had never lived very far from her family in Gallatin, TN so it was a big deal to go back home for that first Christmas. We left Sunday night after church on Christmas Eve to make the eight hour drive and be with the family for the traditional Christmas breakfast. (Young kids can drive all night like that. Today we need a Holiday Inn to get across the county.)
Doris was so excited she drove the first shift, three hours from Augusta to Atlanta. We got to Atlanta about 1AM and she said, “I’m so sleepy. Can you drive for a while?” Now, in my defense, who knows exactly how long “a while” is? She went to sleep on the passenger side and I, like a great husband, drove dutifully…for about forty minutes just to the other side of Atlanta. Still five hours from home, but with plenty of time I thought, “I will ease into this rest area and rest (hence the name) for just a few minutes.” We both woke up at 6AM with the sun streaming in on us. And my sweet, mild mannered, soft spoken wife turned into the Incredible Hulk complete with green muscles and a raging bull kind of growl. She was ANGRY.
So, what does Jesus say about anger? In Matthew 5:21-22 Jesus says, 21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.” (NKJV) The Mosaic Law said, “If you murder someone, you will be put to death.” But the Jews had reinterpreted that to say, “If you actually do that with your own hands you will be put to death but if you hire someone else to commit murder, well, that was between you and God.” Jesus says, “Don’t water down the Law. If you just get ANGRY you are guilty of murder.”
Wow, surely not Jesus. Are you saying that I can’t even get mad? As a Christian there is no place for even a little righteous indignation? What about Paul who says, “Be angry but do not sin?” (Eph. 4:26) or James, who says, “Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry?” (James 1:19) Are you saying Jesus that I cannot get mad, even a little bit, when the dog tears open the trash bag all over the driveway, or Doris backs the car into the garage door for the third time, or the Tennessee Volunteers allow a hail Mary pass over the top for the winning score? No anger at all? Ever?
Well, I don’t think so. Scripture tells us that God was often angry. Moses said in Deuteronomy 4:21, “Furthermore the Lord was angry with me for your sakes, and swore that I would not cross over the Jordan, and that I would not enter the good land.” Jesus was angry more than once. Remember the money changers in the temple in Mark 11 and the fig tree that didn’t have any fruit in Matthew 21. The Bible is full of stories of good “saints” that were angry at one time or another for good reason. Maybe that’s why some manuscripts added the phrase “without cause” in Matthew 5:21. It seems that there is a right, even healthy way, to be angry, and there is a wrong way that Jesus says is as bad as murder.
Here’s my working definition of anger. Anger is a natural response to a real or perceived hurt, attack, betrayal, or injustice. In other words, as long as we are human there will be things that just naturally trigger anger in us. That anger needs to be expressed in an appropriate way. And that is not a bad thing.
I spoke on this at church last night. (Ha! Killing two birds with one stone. I bet that makes you mad!) Here are five things that I think help me to express my anger in a healthy, holy way. Maybe they will be helpful for you. They are all taken from examples of Jesus in situations that could, and should make us angry.
- PAUSE—The old adage of, “Take a deep breath and count to ten” is not a bad idea. In John 18 Jesus is betrayed by Judas and arrested by the Roman soldiers. Good old Peter whips out his sword and cuts a guy’s ear off. Verse 11,“So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into the sheath. Shall I not drink the cup which My Father has given Me?” “Whoa Peter, cool your jets. Just pause a minute. This is not the time for an angry response.”
- PRAY—The tomb of Lazarus. Jesus is emotionally spent. The sisters are in full blown accusing mode. The disciples are questioning. And the crowd is already mocking. Anybody would get angry. Jesus prays. John 11:41-43 “Then they took away the stone from the placewhere the dead man was lying. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. 42 And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.” 43 Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!”
- STAY CALM—In Matthew 12:24-25 Jesus has just cast the demons out of the demoniac. The religious rulers are all over that, accusing Him of being in cahoots with the devil. Jesus has been angry at them before and He will be angry at them again. But this time He calmly explains the deal. “But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.”
- ASK QUESTIONS—Remember in the Temple when Jesus has been doing really good stuff. The Pharisees came to Him to try and trap Him into the wrong sound bite. (President Trump could learn a lesson here.) Jesus refuses to take the bait but instead asks them some questions to see where they are coming from. Matthew 21:23-25, “Now when He came into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people confronted Him as He was teaching, and said, “By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority?” 24 But Jesus answered and said to them, “I also will ask you one thing, which if you tell Me, I likewise will tell you by what authority I do these things: 25 The baptism of John—where was it from? From heaven or from men?”
Before you pop your cork, you might ask either out loud or to yourself, “Are they hurt? Are they frightened? Are they frustrated?” It may change your reaction.
- Finally, TELL A STORY—Okay, I confess, I’m a story teller. But taking the time to diffuse the angry moment by telling a story that you both can relate to, step back and observe objectively, see yourself in without feeling accused, will help you to express your displeasure in a way that brings understanding instead of division. Jesus has just finished supper. It is close to the end, the Cross is in His headlights, and a woman of “not a good reputation,” overwhelmed by His grace, anoints His feet and wipes them off with her hair. Simon is incensed. That just doesn’t look good. Jesus takes a deep breath, breathes a brief prayer, gets real calm, and tells a quick little story. “There was a certain creditor that had two debtors…” (Luke 7:41)
Look, anger is going to happen. But we can handle it in a way that is healthy for us, beneficial for others, and pleasing to God. Eugene Petersen says it this way in translating Psalm 37:8-9 in the Message:
“Bridle your anger, trash your wrath, cool your pipes—it only makes things worse. Before long the crooks will be bankrupt; God-investors will soon own the store.”
Come on Doris. Chill. God has got this.
If you want to hear the talk from church here’s the link: http://familywc.com/sermons/with-friends-like-this-who-needs-jesus-part-2/