January 28th, 2023 - Don't Let Anger Control You

Don't Let Anger Control You

Today we consider how anger is handled within ourselves and within Christian community. The scripture focus is Ephesians 4:25-27.

Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 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.

Earlier this week we reflected on the first portion of Ephesians chapter four. Paul charges the church of Ephesus to lead lives worthy of their calling in Christ, binding themselves together with peace (Eph 4:1-3). In the preceding verses, Paul instructs all believers to remember that they have been made new (4:22-23). We must put on our new self, putting off our old self, or old man, with its old ways of falsehood and anger.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said “If you are at the altar and remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and give your gift.” (Matt 5:23-24) Think about the gravity of that statement. What should come before your offering to God or your worship of Him? The Sunday school answer would be “Nothing!” Well, according to Jesus, reconciliation should. It’s not that reconciliation and brotherly love are required chronologically before worship; brotherly love and reconciliation are a part of worship. We love God by loving each other. If a brother or sister is angry with you, or you are angry with them, there is a sickness of spirit.

We’ve all heard, and likely scoffed, at the command to not let the sun go down on our anger. Anger is held on to as if it were something earned. We feel entitled to it. The world tells us what goes around comes around (for our enemies, yes, but hopefully not us). Jesus tells us something very different: turn the other cheek, give more than is taken, do not resist an evil person (Matt 5:39-42). And before you think your anger is a unique or justified exception, remember that our Lord practiced what he preached, all the way to crucifixion.
It is not a sin to be angry. It is a sin to act in anger. Paul clarifies this: In your anger, do not sin. We are going to get angry. The command is to not do anything in anger. Don’t make decisions in anger. Don’t stay angry. The Message translation states it bluntly: Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry—but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don’t stay angry. Don’t give the devil a foothold in your life. (Eph 4:26-27) Holding on to our anger and frustration provides an opportunity to the enemy. While you forsake the promises of the world and abstain from pleasures of the flesh, the devil will gladly nourish your quiet, seething anger into prideful resentment.

A note of clarity: Jesus felt anger in the Gospels. At this moment, Jesus feels anger toward the evil in our world. As a Jesus follower, there are things on this side of heaven that should make you angry. We cannot love one another while also being indifferent to the suffering of one another. Jesus’s anger was rooted in loving compassion for the suffering, not hateful vengeance for the oppressor. The difference is a matter of ultimate importance.

If you’re currently struggling with anger toward a person or situation, be honest and ask yourself:
Were you truly wronged or are you being prideful? Looking at eternity, does it matter? Considering the commands of Jesus, should you just let it go?
Examine the role you may have played, your expectations and responsibilities. If your anger is indeed justified, don’t let it turn to resentment. Leave your gift at the altar; go, offer forgiveness, and seek reconciliation.
So, we yield. We yield to the commands of Jesus. We yield to the way of Jesus. We yield to the love of Jesus.
Once again, Lord Jesus Christ, I face the power of anger.
When I am harmed by another, or think myself to have been, give me patience to go to that person with a humble spirit, seeking to be reconciled.
When I am outraged by injustice, show me clearly how I too must repent of complicity in this world's broken systems, and cover me in your mercy.
When I can neither rest nor work because of the indignation that stirs my spirit, teach me the power of forgiveness and the freedom of love.
Deliver me from anger, that I might not be consumed by its fire but turn the great energy of my soul toward a desire to serve you and your little ones.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
(From the Book of Common Prayer)