Lord's Day Liturgy

The Anger Trap

This is the seventh (and last) exhortation to put off anger. Anger is a work of the flesh, and when anger is selfish, which it usually is, it is always sinful. If you are angry, put off anger before it kills your joy and every relationship you claim you care about.

What if you are friends with an angry man? What if you are married to an angry woman, or man? What if your mom/dad is regularly mad?

I won’t be able to give a complete or convenient set of “tips,” and not everything applies in every relationship. But the Bible gives some general help.

Avoid becoming friends with the angry. If possible, don’t associate with those who won’t control their temper. It’s not just that you’ll have to bear the brunt, it’s that you will join in. Anger is a snare.

Make no friendship with a man given to anger,
nor go with a wrathful man,
lest you learn his ways
and entangle yourself in a snare.
(Proverbs 22:24–25 ESV)

You may have overlooked that when you made marriage vows. Now you are covenanted to an angry spouse. Anger by itself is not a reason for divorce, even if it is likely to lead to other sins of division. What can you do?

Pray. God grants repentance and softened hearts, yes, and pray that you will not get caught up in the snare of anger. Pray that God will not remove the burning desire for true fellowship from you.

Be patient. Put on patience (Colossians 3:12). You have sins, you know often sanctification is slow. Be thankful for signs of grace, small as they may be along the way.

Show compassion. You know that an angry man isn’t actually feeling good even if he thinks venting will feel better. That’s a fool’s hope. While your responsibility isn’t really to “absorb” it, by God’s Spirit you can show a better way. Let your supernatural patience and joy be evident. At first that will probably make the other person more mad, and watch for such signs.

At some point you may need to get help. Talk to a pastor. While it can be humbling to expose a mess, that is better than letting the mess get worse.

And don’t put on anger; don’t fight anger fights with anger.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Advanced Level Indignation

It’s one thing for smart people to parse definitions and wrestle over rankings in order to argue that their anger isn’t as bad as it could be. It’s another thing for people, usually those with a Bible-background, to defend their anger as virtue. I’m talking about “righteous anger.”

Is there such a thing? I think yes. Paul quotes Psalm 4:4 in Ephesians 4:26. “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” That’s a command with a couple qualifications.

Jesus was angry, at least in one verse. “He looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart” (Mark 3:5). If we are to be Christlike, perhaps there is a way to be angry like Jesus.

But, here are two helps. First, righteous anger is not selfish, not when someone criticizes you, gets in your way, or disobeys you. Righteous anger is not wrapped up in your ego, but is anger directed out toward corruption, cruelty, tyranny, gross deceit, and destructive wickedness.

Second, righteous anger is a good work. You should be able to say, “Jesus planned this for me to be angry and show His righteousness” (see Ephesians 2:10). You should be able to say, “It would be a sin if I was not angry about this.”

Beloved, that’s advanced level indignation.

A third thing, if you have it, you can’t keep it, certainly not overnight; otherwise you’ll be doing devil’s work (Ephesians 4:27). And then, don’t miss the exhortations that following the same paragraph:

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:31–32 ESV)

Lord's Day Liturgy

Killing Without Contact

I’ve been urging you to put off anger for four exhortations, and there will be a few more, Lord willing.

When we read God’s Word we try to pay attention to order and proportion. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus started with the Beatitudes, moved to how the blessed are the salt of the earth and the light of the world, and then He taught about how He fulfilled the law. The ones who thought they were the law-informed, the law-instructors, the law-keepers were not. Jesus said, “I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).

Then under the longest heading in His sermon Jesus gives six examples of “you have heard that it was said…but I say to you.” He addresses lust, divorce, covenant-breaking, retaliation, and low-level love. But do you remember His first correction?

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder: and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment. (Matthew 5:21-22)

Here are three surprises to the “righteous” guys:

  • anger is a heart issue
  • anger is like killing
  • anger is enough to make a man guilty

Anger is the first one on the list, the worst one. Anger is like murder. Anger KILLS without a weapon. Anger will keep a man out of the kingdom of heaven. And unlike murder, you don’t necessarily even have to come in contact with the other person. In that case the victim is one’s self, one’s own soul. Give anger no place in your heart.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Anger by Another Name

It’s an urban legend that Eskimos have fifty words for different types of snow. Even so, that’s nothing compared to how many different words a man will use to claim he’s not angry.

Can you be annoyed, irritated, frustrated, aggravated, upset, and not be mad/angry? Can you be any of those and not be sinning? Maybe. It’s not impossible, it is highly improbable.

Rather than parse feelings and draw thin lines between nuanced definitions, let’s ask some questions.

Is your increasing fellowship with your people? If your vibe is creating distance, doing damage, does it matter how you’re defining it?

Is your accomplishing the righteousness of God? The anger of man does not according to James 1:20, and while you can not be righteous of lot of ways other than being angry, is your response setting the room right?

Is your a good work? In Ephesians 2:8-10 we know we’re saved by grace through faith as God’s workmanship for good works that He’s prepared beforehand for us to walk in. So is your a beauty spot in God’s painting of your life? Can you honestly say, “This was written by God for me to perform as a glory for His gracious salvation”?

We want to save face by making sure that the person we’ve sinned against knows what we only sinned at Anger Level One instead of Nine, like it could have been, and maybe they should be a bit more appreciative. We weren’t angry, just frustrated. Well, yeah, good, but ones add up, and joy breaks down, no matter what you call it. Beloved, stop pleading the dictionary. Put away anger.

Lord's Day Liturgy

What It Really Means to Be Right

Put off anger. That’s a command (Colossians 3:8). The imperative follows a perspective adjustment, seeking the things above (Colossians 3:1), and those “things above” certainly include fellowship. Want true fellowship. Like reverse and forward, so anger and fellowship work in opposite directions.

Desire true communion more than a quiet room. Among other anger “hacks,” desire the better control. Raise your standard of what it means to be right.

We get mad when something happens that we don’t like. We get irritated when someone doesn’t do what we wanted them to do. It helps to see how our responses of anger, wrath, and malice reveal that we want to be in control.

Such a desire would be silly if it weren’t so destructive. And also, it is a foolish want because it’s lesser.

A man without self-control
is like a city broken into and left without walls.
(Proverbs 25:28 ESV)

One of my favorite illustrations EVAR is from Doug Wilson on this passage.

“self-control is a wall, a bulwark, and you should want walls like Babylon had, where four chariots could drive abreast around the top of them. Now that’s a wall.”

What’s the standard? What is truly glorious? My self-control. My acting right. My repentance. My example. Self-control is not selfish; self-control is true and better control.

How many rounds can you go with your spouse, your kid, your boss, before you blow up? That is the measure of thickness of your “wall.” Is it stronger than the butcher paper held up by the cheerleaders that the team runs right through?

Identify your triggers, and ask yourself not only what response would strengthen the relationship, but also what response would make me really right?

Lord's Day Liturgy

Burning Desire

Why is anger so hard to put off? It’s as if someone mistook us for an escape artist like David Copperfield, knotted us up in a straight-jacket of irritation, locked heavy chains of hostility around us, nailed us shut into a box of exasperation, and then dumped us into class 5 rapids of rage, stood back and said, “Get out of that!” We feel trapped (see also Proverbs 22:24-25).

As Christians we know anger is a sin. We know it’s foolish. We know it’s destructive. We know we shouldn’t.

But “brute force” attempts to stop anger usually only succeed temporarily. Any time “off” is better than always on, and also, “I’m not going to get angry (this time)” needs more support.

As usual in the Christian life, an imperative (Colossians 3:8) depends on the indicative. We really need to remember that we’ve died with Christ (Colossians 2:20) and we’ve been raised with Him (Colossians 3:1). We have a new identity, a new life in Christ. Then we’re to “put to death what is earthly” (Colossians 3:5), and we “put off” more of the earthly (Colossians 3:8), starting with anger, wrath, and malice.

I bring this up to say that what is “earthly” here is not steak, but sexual immorality. What is earthly is not art, but anger.

With that in mind, by contrast we’re supposed to seek “things that are above,” we’re to “set our minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:1-2). The “things that are above” are what? It’s not angels. It’s not pearly gates or wispy clouds, not big harps or wings on our backs. What characterizes things above? What’s above includes presence not isolation or division, joyful peace not distress and conflict, harmony not tension and cacophony.

And this is the vital paradigm shift. Putting off anger is a habit, a discipline, an obedience, all of that, yes. But men will struggle to put off anger without a burning desire for fellowship on earth as it is in heaven. Yes, give up wanting to make others pay for what you don’t like, and even more cultivate your great liking for the “bond of perfection” (Colossians 3:14). More to say.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Put Off Anger

There is a wicked triplet introduced in Colossians 3:8. It begins the “put off” part of the paragraph; put these things away, don’t leave these clothes on or pick them up. “But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice.” The list continues, but these are like the three-headed dog, Cerberus (sərbərəs), who prevents men from leaving the underworld. There’s probably an analogy here, as in anger keeps men from really living.

I didn’t know how prophetic my favorite book as a kid would be for when I became a man: Boy, Was I Mad. And while I still enjoy the story, it took me decades to learn the lesson. If I had one sin in my vice wardrobe that I seemed to be wearing all the time, it would be anger.

Those of you who’ve known me longest have had opportunity to see much God-given progress; by grace I wear kindness, patience, and love more often. No one has been more burned by the brunt of my anger than my wife, kids next of course. Even when others outside our house couldn’t see it, it was affecting them. We’re all one body, and if one member is blowing up all the time, the body’s health is broken.

I’ve been trying to think about what helped me most grow in this sanctification. I had serious paradigm remodeling to do, and over the next couple exhortations I plan to share some of those truths.

But for now, know that anger often has the nuance of feeling like others should pay for something you don’t like. Wrath is anger intensified with feelings into rage and fury, and malice grows with feelings of hatred that even lead to plans to dish out your anger, not mere responses. None of those are righteous. Brothers, put away your anger.