Lose It or Keep Calm?

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This morning in our series on The Big Temptations or The Seven Deadly Sins we come to Anger or Wrath under the title – Lose It or Keep Calm? Which if I can gently suggest is perhaps not a wholly inappropriate theme on this Mothering Sunday! If you google ‘angry mothers’ the search engine comes up with over half a million results! However it has to be said that if you google ‘angry fathers’ it comes up with 600,000 results! And, of course, mothers and fathers are not the only ones who are tempted to be angry in the wrong way. For example, if you google ‘angry children’ it comes up with 10.5 million results!
But before we go any further we need to be clear about two questions:

1. What kind of anger is sinful and why is it so deadly?

Well not

(a) Righteous Anger

You see the Bible talks about two kinds of anger – righteous anger and unrighteous anger – and this morning we’re looking chiefly at unrighteous anger, anger which is wrong and sinful and which the Bible tells us we’re to get rid of (that’s Ephesians 4:31 which is on your sermon outline on the back of your service sheet). But it can be right to be angry. Jesus Christ himself showed a righteous anger in clearing the temple courts of men selling animals and birds and exchanging money. In John 2:15-16 we read that Jesus

15…made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the moneychangers and overturned their tables. 16To those who sold doves he said, ‘Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!’

One church minister once said: “The world needs this kind of anger. The world often continues to allow evil because it isn't angry enough.” But we must be careful. Ephesians 4:26 says this:

In your anger do not sin.

As someone has said: “He that would be angry and not sin must be angry at nothing but sin.”

Tiger Woods’ mother has said that she is angry and disappointed at his infidelity. She wanted to know how he could do this to his family. But she loves him and will help him through anything.

Three years ago Gayle Williams, a Christian from Middlesbrough, was murdered by the Taliban in Afghanistan as she served the people there. The Taliban said in a statement that they had executed Gayle because she was preaching Christianity among Afghan Muslims. Her friends, and her colleagues at the UK-registered charity Serve Afghanistan, said that, in reality, she was an aid worker working with children who had lost limbs to the landmines and bombs, and that she was victim of the insurgents' strategy to drive foreigners out of Afghanistan. Her mother said: I just feel so angry at this tragic loss of life. If I ever met them I would just ask, 'What have you achieved by doing this?' "

I’ll never forget the tragic death of a literally just married woman. She and her husband had just set off from their wedding reception for their honeymoon when a car travelling in the opposite direction suddenly swerved across the road and smashed into their car killing the newly married bride instantly. The driver who caused the crash was jailed for drink driving. The husband was angry at the sin but later went to visit the convicted driver in jail and forgave him to his face. He was a believer and took seriously Ephesians 4:31-32:

31Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

How could he put that into practice in such difficult times? How can we? He said to me at the time even though what he was going through was very painful - Jonathan ‘because of Jesus, because of what Jesus did for me on the cross, because of Jesus living in me’. He knew that in Christ God had forgiven him even though he didn’t deserve it. And he also knew the power of the Holy Spirit working in him producing the fruit of the Spirit in his life – patience, self-control, love, kindness etc. Is there someone we need to forgive?

So the kind of anger according to the Bible which is sinful and deadly is
(b) Unrighteous Anger

Recently ‘The Times’ reported the following statistics about the growth of the wrong kind of anger in the UK. Apparently
• 45% of the UK’s working population regularly lose their temper at work.
• 64% of Britons working in an office have had office rage.
• 33% of Britons are not on speaking terms with their neighbours.
• 1 in 20 Britons have had a fight with the person living next door.
• UK airlines reported 1,500 significant or serious acts of air rage in a year, a 60% increase over the previous year.
• The UK has the second-worst road rage in the world, after South Africa. I know I sometimes struggle with that.
• 71% of internet users admit to having suffered net rage.
• 50% of UK workers have reacted to computer problems by hitting their PC, hurling parts of it around, screaming or abusing their colleagues.

And as well as not being good for our relationships, all this is not good for our health the report goes on to say as it appears to be linked to increased anxiety, stress and depression, which are now the top causes of time off work. And there are even further serious consequences for the sin of anger. Jesus says (Matthew 5:21-22):

21"You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' 22But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.”

Unrighteous anger is serious and destructive – in our own lives and relationships, in our family life and as Ephesians 4 & James 1 make clear in our church family life too. And sometimes we can stir up anger with harsh words. Proverbs 15:1:

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Who needs to put the first half of the proverb into practice? In our relationships with our spouses, children, parents, friends, colleagues, housemates, course mates, with the church family etc. a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. It’s so easy to stir up anger isn’t it? Harsh words come so easily sometimes when we’re out to get what we want or when we feel hard done by or when we’re tired. And harsh words lead to more harsh words, anger is well and truly stirred and the situation escalates. But a gentle (if firm) answer, for example, to our children when they’re testing the boundaries or to our parents when they’re restricting them turns away wrath.

Later on in Ephesians, in Ephesians 6:4 the Apostle Paul puts it this way, especially to fathers:

Fathers do not exasperate your children instead bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

Now on this Mothering Sunday we do thank God for mums. The vast majority show love, care and patience. But as I hinted earlier even mums can sometimes struggle with wrong anger. On the internet there are an increasing number of blogs written by angry mothers. One is called ‘Angry Mother Hits Back’ and is subtitled – ‘Not another cutesy mother-baby blog, this is an angry voice from someone who’s had enough of motherhood.’ In another the blogger asks: I'm becoming an angry mother and I often find myself yelling at my kids. Can I change?

Well whether you’re an angry mother or father or anyone else, the good news is that through faith in Jesus Christ there is forgiveness and real and lasting change and hope. Romans 6:23:

The wages of sin is eternal death but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Who this morning needs to turn from their unrighteous anger and put their faith in Jesus Christ for the first time? You see on the cross God’s righteous anger or wrath against our sin fell on Jesus Christ. Jesus took our sin and the punishment we deserve for it by dying in our place on the cross so that we can escape God’s wrath if we put our faith in him. That’s why it says in Ephesians 4:32 that ‘in Christ God forgave you’. And when we trust Christ the Holy Spirit then begins to change us and help us get rid of unrighteous anger etc.

Or perhaps you’ve already put your trust in Jesus Christ and you know there’s forgiveness but you’re still struggling with anger and rage, anger and rage that’s perhaps stemming from bitterness and leading to malice as we read in Ephesians 4. You’re grieving the Holy Spirit, you’ve allowed the devil to get a foothold and you need instead to resist the devil and put God’s Word into practice in the power of the Spirit. James 1:22:

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.

So what does it say we are to do with regard to unrighteous anger? Well Ephesians 4:30-31 says very clearly


30And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.

Colossians 3:8 says the same even more emphatically:

But now you must [note it’s not optional - you must] rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.

As Paul tells the Christians at Colossae and Ephesus – this is evidence of genuine faith in Christ:

You’ve been raised with Christ…Don’t walk in the ways you used to walk…Live a new life in Christ…Put off your old self…Be made new in the attitude of your minds and put on the new self created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

James also says the same – James 1:20-21:

20…man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. 21Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

So what does getting rid of unrighteous anger mean practically, say, in our fellowship together as a church on Sundays, in our small groups, and on the football or hockey pitch? One thing it means is Ephesians 4:29:

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.

What does getting rid of unrighteous anger mean in marriage? Well have a look at Ephesians 4:26. Somebody once said about marriage: “Never go to bed mad. Stay up and fight.” But the Apostle Paul says:

Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27and do not give the devil a foothold.

In other words sort it out and pray together before you go to sleep. In Colossians 3:19 Paul writes:

Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.

When I was growing up I witnessed a husband being harsh with his wife over many years. It was appalling and it was appalling for the children too. As I’ve said before – what’s the best thing a father can do for his children? The best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother and together bring them to Jesus. What else does getting rid of unrighteous anger mean in parenting? It’s clearly important to do so. You see if we consistently react in anger, rather than eagerly listening, our children will often turn a deaf ear to our words of wisdom - even those spoken during calmer moments. If the anger is sufficiently violent or intense, children may even become frightened of their angry mother or father and withdraw. In Colossians 3:21 we read:

Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.

But some of you may be thinking what about discipline? Does this mean, as someone quipped, that we should always be nice to our children because they’re the ones who will choose our nursing home?! What about Proverbs 13:24?

He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.

Often today there’s an absence of right and consistent discipline and sometimes it can be replaced with uncontrolled anger but this verse does not justify excessively stern and cruel discipline. Rather it calls for balanced, consistent and controlled discipline. One writer says, "Parents must be clear about their motives when disciplining. It is always dangerous for them to discipline their children when they are annoyed, when their pride has been injured, or when they have lost their temper". As Martin Lloyd-Jones put it: "When you are disciplining a child, you should have first controlled yourself…What right have you to say to your child that he needs discipline when you obviously need it yourself? Self-control, the control of temper, is an essential pre-requisite in the control of others".

So as Paul goes on to say in Ephesians 5, “Keep on being filled with the Spirit”. Our marriages, parenting and fellowship with one another are to be Spirit filled and therefore not marked by anger or harshness but rather by submission, love and respect. So, vv30-32:

30do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

All of which brings us to my third and final point:


What is the opposite of being angry? Well in the Book of Proverbs being patient is seen as the opposite of being angry. In Proverbs the original word for ‘patience’ literally means ‘slow to anger’. Listen to these two proverbs from chapters 14:29& 15:18.

A patient man has great understanding, but a quick tempered man displays folly. A hot-tempered man stirs up dissension, but a patient man calms a quarrel.

And James 1:19-20 says

19My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.

As we heard from Psalm 103 God is slow to anger, abounding in love. He is patient with us. The Apostle Peter says that’s one reason why Jesus’ return seems to be slow in coming. He doesn’t want anyone to perish, but rather wants everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9) And we are to be imitators of God (Ephesians 5:1). And as such we’re also to be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

21Therefore [James goes on], get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word [of God, the gospel] planted in you, which can save you. [So] 22Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror 24and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does. [As Jesus says in John 13 now that you know these things you’ll be blessed if you do them but not if you just keep reading them and not doing them.]

This is evidence of genuine faith in Christ and therefore of the Holy Spirit living in us. And James gives us some examples related to what he’s been saying about unrighteous anger.

26If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. 27Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

Looking after orphans and widows, which Christians should be involved in and taking a lead in whether through fostering, adoption, caring for parents and seniors or through giving to the poor overseas, involves patience, love and sacrifice. And of course it reflects God’s love for us. Unrighteous anger involves selfishness, hurting others and worldliness. So what does that mean for us? Jesus said (Mark 3:33-35):

Who are my mother and my brothers? Whoever does God’s will is my brother, sister and mother?
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