Last night Will Smith lost his temper when Chris Rock made a joke, at the Oscar’s, at the expense of Will Smith’s wife. What he did, live, and the profanity he yelled, on live-TV, is something the fans will judge. But anger we seem to be seeing a lot more lately. I lost a lot of respect for Mr. Smith today. But I would also confess that I am no better when it comes to controlling my anger—I just don’t go around hitting people in the face and cursing on live TV.
But let me offer you the very things that Jesus said, as well as what the Holy Spirit inspired the apostles and prophets to teach us about anger. And let me acknowledge that we can all quote passages about “God’s anger” and the anger Jesus showed about the money changers. Many folks also point out that there is a place for “righteous anger”—-and we will address this at the end of this devotion. But I am trying to deal with the more common anger….the dangerous wrath.. that we fight against 99% of the time, and then try to dress up as “zeal for God” or “righteous indignation”.
Being angry all the time is not the ideal way to live a life; it might be okay to get angry from time to time, if (1) it’s about the right things, (2) as long as it’s not a constant state of existence for you, (3) you don’t let the anger turn into hate, and (4) provided you are respecting the one with whom you are angry. But some of us throw all four of these conditions out the window when someone pulls his car in front of us while we’re driving our car, or to a surly waiter, or when someone else shows anger towards us! Sadly, some of us walk around like the Hulk——always in a grumpy or cantankerous mood. You know them——but are you one of them? Some of us have reputations for anger and violence. Ask your family and friends. But hear this: Jesus did not have that reputation… and He is able to give you His Spirit if you desire to be remade and acquire His reputation for gentleness and self-control.
Not too long ago I got really bent out of shape over something that happened at the camp. I had a. right to be “unhappy” with what had happened, but what made me a sick to my stomach was how I allowed the stupid action of someone else to rouse my anger, ignite my fury and then cause me to explode. People could see it in my face and in my verbal response to what that staff did. It’s not the first time I have lost my temper, but I never, ever am proud of losing my temper when these things are over. And to be honest, I feel pretty good about the fact that it makes me sick! I feel nauceous about anger because the Spirit reminds me that it does not belong in the life of a man that has dedicated his life to Jesus Christ and has entered into the Kingdom of God.
It’s not a matter of the thing that got me angry, but rather of how I allow that irritation to take control of my emotions and my mouth. I did not act like Jesus or one His followers. And therein lies the key to figuring out how to determine if your anger or explosions are proper or not. Is my anger consistent with the attitude and example of Jesus. And yes, yes, there is a time to be the John Wayne or Batman and get angry about bad things, but most of the time my anger seems to be out of place once I walk away from the setting. Rarely have I lost my temper over the “the greedy people changing money in the temple.” And rarely do I see people getting angry about the right things and handling it in a Godly way.
I want to keep getting that the sick feeling I get when I lose my temper, because the process of becoming more like Jesus leaves no room for violent words and actions in my life. There simply is no place for the “old” me—the one that would get angry and say unkind things. And when the old in me dies, I am the first to shout, “good riddance”. The only way to be sure that there is no room for the old me is to be filled up with the new me. Are you filled up?
And yet, as I struggle with the disgust I feel when I lose my temper, I realize that frankly, I am powerless to not get angry sometimes. The only thing I can do when someone does something that really ticks me off is to leave the room—-ie.. get out of the setting, take some long breathes, hold my tongue, and ask God to help me!
On days like these I realize how very far I must still travel. The thing I want to be, I am not—at least not yet. And the things I don’t want to be, I still am—but only presently I hope. But praise be to God that I am more and more disgusted of what I know does not belong within me, even if it still raises its ugly head from time to time. And that, in my opinion, is the way to get control of your temper—-hate it. See it for what it is: an aberration and perversion of what a man in love with God should be.
But there’s hope for you and me….Let me share what our Creator has told us about our anger:
1. You’re going to get angry from time to time——but don’t go the bed angry and don’t explode in front of millions of people! Here’s what Paul said: “In your anger do not sin” : Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need. 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. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” (Ephesians 4:26-31, NIV) Holding onto anger results in grudges, and grudges lead to hate. Satan wants to get a hold on us by convincing us that we have a right to be anger. But when he says this, remind him that your rights were forfeited when you received the blood of Christ to cover your sins. You and I are no longer our own—-you belong to God. He will take care of you.
So let go of the anger! It does no good and ruins your health and distorts your face! So other people hurt you today? That’s their problem. Decide that you are not going to let their character or senseless actions define yours. Their character and actions are not yours.
2. We often get angry because we jump to conclusions, don’t know what we’re talking about or we’re hearing things wrong. I am convinced that if I listened more, rather than raced to make judgment, I would not get angry nearly as often as I do. James said: “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.’ James 1:19-20
Did you hear that? Human anger does not bring about what God desires! If you’re not a good listener, you’re probably also a hot head.
3. Sadly, the world often celebrates people with irate tempers. Right now a lot of folks think that Will Smith had every reason to slap Chris Rock. But explosive anger and violent outbursts result in catastrophes all over our world. Right now one little man in the Kremlin, who would be an emperor, is having a fit because he is losing a war that he never should have started. But instead of looking within his own soul, he is lashing out at his most trusted confidants. The Bible says that “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Proverbs 15:18. “A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict, but the one who is patient calms a quarrel.” Colossians 3:8. Which are you? A man of God or a man like Mr. Putin? Angry people ruin lives and destroy civility in human existence—-don’t be a part of that group.
4. Think about why the thing that happens gets you angry. You might be embarrassed about how petty and immature you are! Churchill once said that, “A man is about as big as the things that make him angry.” Is “it” really that important? As Marcus Aurelius quipped, “What happened doesn’t hurt me unless I interpret it’s happening as harmful to me. I can choose not to.” Choose to be above silly insults or slights. Ignore the Chris Rocks. Choose to not be angry!
5. Finally, think about this: “Revenge is mine says the Lord…”. When you think about it, most of our anger revolves around our sense of self preservation; our honor, status, position or material possessions have been challenged….we feel somehow ill-respected, slurred, slandered or insulted…..and it makes us mad! But if we pause, we might ask ourselves: “Doesn’t God know about this? Are we not the “apple of His eye”? Is His arm to short or power to taxed make things right?” The best counsel I ever received from my earthly father, after a friend had attempted to hurt me, was to “leave it alone and let God sort it out.” And God did—-the friendship was restored and I was blessed beyond what I could ever have hoped had I taken matters into my own hands. Every now and then I listened to good counsel and my life is richer because of it.
Now, let me state paradoxically that controlling your rage or not getting angry is not the same as pacifism. Bonhoeffer once said that: "If I sit next to a madman as he drives a car into a group of innocent bystanders, I can't, as a Christian, simply wait for the catastrophe, then comfort the wounded and bury the dead. I must try to wrestle the steering wheel out of the hands of the driver." Sometimes we have to take action and do something—-as in Eastern Europe right now.
“Being free from human anger is not to be silent in the face of evil is evil itself. On the contrary, my life as a Christian should make non believers question their disbelief in God. I should be free from hate and anger, but a catalyst for change where there is cruelty but a stalwart for bravery where a bully is found. We are living in a time when to “not to speak… is to speak. Not to act… is to act.” Bonhoeffer. Being a Christan is less about cautiously avoiding sin than about courageously and actively doing God's will.
But let me conclude with one final suggestion to those who still they have a right to simmer and steam about all the times they’ve been “wronged”. Many years ago, as a man very innocent was being beat up, stripped naked, spat upon, slandered, lied about, robbed, tortured, judged and sentenced illegally and wrongly executed in the most humiliating means imaginable, He did not get angry. He let His Father sort things out. So should you and I.