April 12, 2010

To Live is Christ — following His example concerning anger

Jesus is always concerned about attitude and the state of one’s heart. He talks about the heart being the source of sin and stresses that the actions of things like adultery began with the attitude of lust. For that reason, this verse is talking first about attitude:
“Be angry, and do not sin”: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil. (Ephesians 4:26–27)
Several years ago I attended a seminar on anger. The teacher said that anger begins with the feelings of annoyance that happens when someone stops me from having my own way. He said at that point I have a choice: I can let the issue go, or I can let my emotions boil. He added that even a full rolling boil can stay concealed, at least for a while. But eventually it comes out, either in an explosive action, or something like a headache, or an ulcer, or worse.

Anger can also be the human way of dealing with pain. When someone has deeply hurt me, instead of bearing the pain, I might get mad at them. What do I do with anger when this is its source? This may sound odd, but bearing pain is actually the way of Christ. Instead of lashing out at the offenses of sinners toward God, He bore the pain of it at Calvary.

On occasion, when anger would have been destructive and nothing else would help, I’ve done the same thing. I’ve isolated myself and let the full pain of what happened wash over me. Doing so feels like an emotional crucifixion, but after awhile, the ordeal ends. The pain is gone and even the memory of the incident hurts me no longer. It is as if I have died to that injury.

Life is full of situations where someone thwarts my plans. God knows anger will happen. He does not condemn it. Instead, He offers a way out — deal with it before the end of the day. This might mean taking the offense on the chin and saying nothing. It might mean deciding the offense is too minor to be upset over. It might mean going to the other person involved and saying, “You have sinned against me. We need to come to terms with this issue.”

The latter action can also be compared to what happens with Christ. When He goes to someone with the same declaration of sinning against Him, the response might be, “Yes, Lord. I agree and confess my sin. Will you forgive me?” When that happens, He is faithful to forgive and wipe that sin from His record and the guilt from the sinner’s heart. Peace is restored.

However, the sinful person can also reject the truth. Their response could be anything from “You deserved it” to “Who cares?” When there is no admission or regret or apology from someone who sins against me, what can I do with my pain and anger? Again, I have to ask, what did God do?

A verse in the Old Testament says, “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; and I will not remember your sins.” (Isaiah 43:25). God does not carry grudges or stay angry like we do. Yet even though He is not like us, He does ask His people to be like Him. That means when someone hurts me will not acknowledge what they have done or are not willing to make amends, then for my own sake I can still offer forgiveness. They haven’t accepted the offer so they do not experience that forgiveness, but I have put the ball in their court by doing my part. This is a Godlike response and by doing it, God gives me peace. Even more amazing, my anger is replaced by a concern for that person’s sinful state before God.

These are heavy-duty applications for this verse. I share them because I know that life offers heavy-duty situations, and because anger concealed or anger revealed is totally destructive. God gives good advice because He wants His people to know peace and joy, and from personal experience, I know that both of them disappear when I am angry.

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