(31) Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.
(32) Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Last summer, Beth and I were on vacation in Colorado. We were visiting Mesa Verde National Park, and the park was packed with people that day. Finding a parking place was a major chore, so I was circling slowly around the parking lot and, LO, about half a dozen cars in front of me a car started backing out of one of those precious parking places. I thought I found it. God is good. I stopped to let the car out, but then a woman ran past me and stood in the middle of the parking place arms outstretched blocking me from turning in.
Now, I am not a person who likes confrontations. I think of myself as a mild-mannered, gentle type of person who will go to great lengths to avoid any kind of angry dispute. I like to think of myself that way, but everyone has their breaking point.
That woman’s action struck me as just wrong, and I was not going to stand for it. I told her, “You cannot do that. You cannot run to the front of a line of cars and ‘save’ a parking place.” She said, “You can find another parking place further down.” I said, “No I am not going to do that.” So we argued, and the argument got pretty loud. She said she wanted the parking place for her 57-year-old mother. I said I am over 57 years old. She said she was not going to move. I said I would just sit there and let the traffic back up until the rangers came, and we would let them settle it. I do not know how long we would have argued but another car backed out of another parking place a few yards further down, so I said, “It is not worth it,” and went down there and got that place.
But that is not all. As I was getting out of the car, I saw the next car in line come up to the same woman, and he just edged his car in and the woman took a step back and he continued to edge in and literally pushed her out of the parking place. The last I saw of that woman she was walking off looking angry and disgruntled, and I felt some satisfaction about that. I guess I should be ashamed for feeling that way. But we all have our boiling point. We tend to blow up and regret it later. Maybe we should remember that ANGER is one letter short of DANGER.
The story is told that in the latter 1800’s, Alfred Lord Tennyson invited a Russian nobleman to his estate. Early one morning this nobleman took off with dogs, guns, and servants to go hunting. At mid-day, he returned and Lord Tennyson asked him how he did. He answered, "Not very well. I shot two peasants." Lord Tennyson thought for a moment and then said, “No, we pronounce it with a ‘ph’ here. It is ‘pheasants.’ You shot two pheasants." "No," the nobleman replied, "I shot two peasants. They were insolent towards me, so I shot them."
Now we smile in disbelief at a story like that, but last year a driver in Philadelphia shot another driver on the highway. The road was blocked for construction; traffic narrowed down to one lane, creating long backups as cars from each direction took turns getting past the blockage.
This driver patiently waited his turn, but just as he was about to get past the blockage, a car came up fast on the shoulder, passing all the waiting cars, and crowded in front of him. Then, after doing that, the driver of that car turned around with a smirk on his face and made an obscene gesture. That infuriated the first driver. When traffic was stopped at the next construction bottleneck, he got out of his car, took out a gun, walked up to the offending driver and shot and killed him. That happened in Philadelphia, “the city of brotherly love,” but stories like that have popped up all over the country.
Now, of course, you would not do anything like that, but have you ever lost your temper? Do you ever do things you wish you had not done, or say things you wish you had never said? Of course, you have.
Well, the Bible has something to say about overcoming anger. Proverbs 19:11: “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense” (ESV). This is secret wisdom that you need to know. If someone offends you and if you have “good sense,” then you will ignore it. You will not allow the situation become a major event that overwhelms you. In other words, you say, “It is not a big deal. Move on.”
Proverbs 14:17 says, “A man of quick temper acts foolishly” (ESV). When we lose our temper, we will say insensitive things we should not say, and do dumb things that we will be sorry for later on. If you anger easily, if you are walking around with a chip on your shoulder, if you are just looking for somebody to say something that will irritate you, then you are going to leave a trail of hurt feelings and unhappiness behind you.
Proverbs 18:13 says, “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame” (ESV). Don’t fly off the handle, we say; do not jump to conclusions. Have you heard about the dog named "August" who chased a mule named "Conclusion?" One day the dog was so excited that he leaped close to Conclusion and bit him, and Conclusion kicked like the mule he was, and that was the last day of August, the Conclusion of August. Think about that for a moment. Sometimes we jump to conclusions, and get angry about nothing, and Proverbs says that it is to our folly and our shame.
Proverbs 19:19 says, “A man of great wrath will pay the penalty” (ESV). A person who is always angry will literally and physically pay. Doctors tell us that losing our temper raises our heart rate and our blood pressure and could even bring on a heart attack or stroke.
So we need to control our temper, but how do we do that? Some people say it cannot be done. They say if we have a hasty temper we are just stuck with it, but it is not so. I have seen a mother angrily correcting child, then she answers the telephone by calmly saying, “Hello.”
If we have a problem with a short fuse, or a quick temper, we should stop blaming it on heritage or red hair or whatever, and admit that we have a problem, and start doing something about it.
In Galatians, the Apostle Paul says that when the Holy Spirit guides our lives, one fruits of the spirit is self-control. The spirit enables us to be in control of our lives, of every aspect of our lives, so that we become the generous and tenderhearted people that Jesus has called us to be.
In Matthew 5:21, Jesus says, "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." We are all brothers and sisters, we ought to be lifting each other up, supporting and helping each other. We should not spend our time being angry at one another, lest God be angry at us.
In Romans 12:19 Paul says, "Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord." What is the motive for our anger? Are we trying to get even? Romans tells us vengeance belongs to God. We do not need payback. We do not need revenge. Turn that over to God.
Remember what Jesus said to the man who was by the pool, waiting to be healed, and he could not get to the water soon enough? Jesus asked him, "Do you want to be healed?" Important question! Some people enjoy being sick because of the attention it gets them, and some people enjoy being angry, because that generates lots of attention, but it is still not worth it.
The classic NT passage on anger begins in Ephesians 4:26. The KJV says, "Be ye angry, and sin not. Let not the sun go down on your wrath." The next verse says, "And do not give the devil a foothold." One day you go home and you are angry. You are carrying a chip on your shoulder, just waiting for someone to knock it off. Then your wife says something you do not like, and soon heated words are exchanged. It really does not amount to much, but you are determined to get your way, and she is determined to get her way, so the argument continues. The sun goes down and nighttime comes. Then in bed, she faces that way and you face this way, and you do not touch each other. Do you realize what has happened? Ephesians says, in effect, that you opened the door, and said, "Mr. Devil, come right on in."
In vs. 31, Paul mentions what happens when Satan begins to do his dirty work. The first result is "bitterness." You begin to think about all the bad things people do to you and say to you, all the insults, all of the inconsiderate things. Then you start to bubble and boil with rage and anger, and then you begin to say all kinds of stuff, slandering and insulting others.
That, Paul says, is "malice." "Malice" means that you really desire to harm. That is why we sometimes read about people going berserk in a mall or school or at home and shooting innocent people--because the ultimate end of this evil way of thinking is Satanic.
Paul said, Here is the way to get rid of that way of thinking. Vs. 32 says be kind to one another, and forgive each other.
Do you remember the Marvel Comics hero, the Hulk? "The Incredible Hulk" was made into TV program and more recently made into a movie. The main character is a scientist named Dr. Bruce Banner, who is a gentle person, but when he gets angry, his eyes turn green, and he is transformed into this huge green monster, and he grabs up the bad guys and tosses them around like rag dolls. Bruce Banner does not like what anger does to him. In fact, the whole show is built around Banner’s desire to find a cure so that this will not happen to him anymore. The message I get from the movie is that if you do not learn to deal with your temper, it could turn you into a monster. It could change you into someone you do not want to be.
Sometimes when we get angry, all we can think about is how we have been wronged, or how our rights have been violated, or how this person was not nice to me, or how I did not get what I deserved.
In biblical book of Genesis, I suppose that Cain was thinking that same way. His bother Abel was the chosen one, and that was just not right, and that made Cain so mad. In fact, the Hebrew word for Cain’s anger is the same word used to describe the burning of a fire. Therefore, Cain was not just mildly exasperated. He was burning with anger, so much so that he killed his brother. That is the satanic malice Paul was talking about in Ephesians.
People usually deal with anger in one of two ways. Some repress it. They bottle it up for as long as they can. On the outside, they look calm, cool, and collected, but on the inside, they are churning with emotion, and it is a just a matter of time before the accumulated pressures of life become too much. Suddenly, they explode with an unexpected temper tantrum.
King Saul was like that. In 1 Samuel 20, he’s eating dinner with his son Jonathan, and he calmly asks Jonathan, "Where’s David? He wasn’t here for dinner last night or today?" And when Jonathan said that David went home, the king shouted, "You son of a perverse, rebellious woman, do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to your own shame, and to the shame of your mother's nakedness?” (30, ESV). And Jonathan must have thought, "Whoa! Where did THAT come from?"
So you have people like Saul who repress their anger as long as possible, but also you have people who freely express their anger at every opportunity. They are always ready to be angry, and you have to walk on eggshells when you are around them because they are ready to go to war over the most piddly little things.
Will Rogers once said that "people who fly into a rage seldom make a good landing." When you get irritated, you need to ask yourself a question: "Is this really a big deal? Is it worth getting all worked up over? Every minute that you are angry, you lose 60 seconds of happiness. You need to ask yourself, "Is this little thing worth giving up my happiness for?” Most of the time, the answer is no, it’s not worth it.
In Ephesians 4:31, Paul uses the word “thumos.” This word is translated "wrath.” It literally describes a blazing fire or wildfire, but wildfires begin in dry places. When our lives are dry and empty of the HS, we easily explode in rage. But when we have a shower of the spirit or a rain of redemption, then we become the sort of people Paul says Christians ought to be: kind and merciful and forgiving.
There is an old saying: "The emptier the pot, the quicker it boils." The less water in the pot, the quicker you reach a boiling point. You may know that water in the Bible is a symbol of the Holy Spirit. In John 7:38 Jesus speaks of “rivers of living water” flowing in the life of the spirit-filled believer. In other words, the less of the water of Holy Spirit we have, the more likely we are to boil over. Seek the Spirit.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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