#9 - Anger

By Mike Mazzalongo     Posted: Wed. Jan 13th 2016
In this lesson Mike profiles 3 Biblical characters and described how each dealt with the problem of anger.

Last week we started the countdown based on a church survey that measured this congregation's top 10 sins and struggles.

  • #10: Laziness
  • # 9: Anger

So tonight's lesson will deal with this very common experience and potential sin.

What is Anger?

Let us begin by defining what anger is.

  • The feeling people get when something unfair, painful or bad happens to them (Cambridge Dictionary Online)
  • A strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure or hostility (Google Online)
  • Emotional arousal (Vocabulary.com)

I could go on with more sources but all the definitions essentially say the following about anger:

  1. It is an emotion, like happiness, surprise or sadness.
  2. It is usually provoked by some negative event, for example, unfair treatment, humiliation, surprise, inconvenience, aggression, etc. towards ourselves or people and things we care about.
  3. It is a strong emotion that can easily lead to other more destructive emotion and behavior, for example, resentment, hatred, revenge, or violence.

It is a common emotion. Everyone gets angry at one time or another. It is the way that we react to negative things, for many it is the "go to" emotion whenever things big or small do not go their way. All by itself anger is not a bad thing, it is what anger leads to us to do that turns an emotion into a sin.

There are three types of anger recognized by psychologists:

  1. Hasty and Sudden Anger: The impulse when one is threatened or harmed physically or psychologically. Reaction of self preservation.
  2. Settled and Deliberate Anger: Reaction to unfair treatment or deliberate harm by another. Righteous indignation. Desire for justice.
  3. Dispositional Anger: Character traits. Irritability, grouchy, bad tempter.

The first two are episodic, happen from time to time in response to outside stimuli. The third is always present as part of one's character (not a response to outside events, but how a person is despite events). No matter what type of anger or how anger is triggered in you, anger is sinful when it becomes the fuel to say and do things which are wrong.

Biblical Examples of Anger Fueling Sin

Cain

1 Now the man had relations with his wife Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain, and she said, "I have gotten a manchild with the help of the Lord." 2 Again, she gave birth to his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of flocks, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. 3 So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the Lord of the fruit of the ground. 4 Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and for his offering; 5 but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell. 6 Then the Lord said to Cain, "Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? 7 If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it." 8 Cain told Abel his brother. And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.
- Genesis 4:1-8

Note that the anger flared up as a result of rejection. God let Cain know that his sacrifice was not acceptable. Anger is a legitimate first response to rejection, we are surprised, hurt, offended. The problem for Cain was how he would respond to this rejection beyond his legitimate moment of anger.

In verses 6-7 God tries to help Cain sort out his feelings by pointing our the reason for the rejection, he has not done well, there is a sin(s) in his life that render his sacrifice unacceptable. God even warns him of the danger awaiting him if he ignores dealing with his sin. In his case the anger he felt was a sign that there was something wrong in his life, something he needed to deal with. We are never told what that was. I John 3:12 tells us that Cain's actions were evil, but not what they were.

What we do know is that his anger festered and grew into hatred and resentment of his brother, Abel, whose sacrifice and conduct was acceptable. Unconfined anger left to boil will soon look for and find a scapegoat upon whom to act out. It is usually the one perceived to be the cause of the anger. In Cain's case God tells him that Cain himself is the cause of the rejection and subsequent anger in his heart. Unable to accept or acknowledge this, Cain targets his brother as the cause of his rejection (denial) and ultimately murders him.

In Cain's case: rejection/discipline led to anger, to jealousy, to resentment, to murder. Cains experience with anger shows us to what degree anger can move a person to act out to the worst sin against another man: Murder.

Moses

1 Then the sons of Israel, the whole congregation, came to the wilderness of Zin in the first month; and the people stayed at Kadesh. Now Miriam died there and was buried there. 2 There was no water for the congregation, and they assembled themselves against Moses and Aaron. 3 The people thus contended with Moses and spoke, saying, "If only we had perished when our brothers perished before the Lord!
- Numbers 20:1-3

Here we see another example of anger and what it can lead to. In this story the cause of the anger was frustration. Moses led the people out of Egypt as God performed miracles among and through Moses and Aaron, his brother. The Pharaoh, who was hardhearted, eventually let the people go because the miraculous plagues that God sent were crippling the country financially and demoralizing his Egyptians population. Moses, despite their fear, complaining, rebellion and lack of faith or gratitude continued leading these people for decades, at one time even asking God to take him in order to save the Israelites from God's wrath because of their complaints and disobedience.

In this episode the people once again complain because of a lack of water and they give in to self pity asking why God has saved them if it is only to bring them into the desert to die of thirst. Moses goes to God in prayer to ask for help and the Lord tells Moses to take the rod of Aaron and go speak to the rock and water will come forth to provide for the people. In verses 9-11 we see Moses take the rod but out of anger caused by his frustration, he scolds the people and then strikes the rock twice with the rod. The water came out of the rock but in doing this he sinned:

  1. He acknowledged the people in anger when God gave him no message for the people.
  2. He struck the rock instead of speaking to the rock which showed his lack of faith. In Exodus 17:6 in a similar situation Moses is told to strike a rock once with a rod and water came forth miraculously. In this instance he was told to simply speak to the rock. The fact that he ignores this command and goes back to an earlier method to draw water (striking the rock) shows his doubt. The fact that he then struck the rock twice shows his further doubt and lack of trust in God's word, which as a great leader was a great disrespect of God before the people (i.e. when the preacher or elder is caught cheating).

I do not want to belabor the meanings of how Moses sinned but rather point out to you the ultimate price paid for his sin: After nearly 38 years of leading the people in the wilderness, he himself would not enter into the promised land. Soon after this Aaron would die and Moses would spend the next two years preparing the people and Joshua for their entrance into the promised land without him.

In his case frustration led to anger, to loss of faith, to disobedience, to punishment.

David - I Samuel 25:2-42

This passage is too long to read, so I will summarize the story. It is another example of a person experiencing great anger, but in this story we see David avoiding the negative results of his anger and how this happened. This episode takes place before David is crowned king while he and his ragtag army are on the run from Saul (Paul was anointed, but not crowned by the people). One way he has building trust with the people is providing protection from roving bands of thieves and foreign solders who attack the helpless farmers and people who live in the country side, far from the larger cities protected by Saul's troops.

One such person was Nabal, a rich business man who owned livestock. Throughout the year David's men had protected his shepherds and herders and at the end of the season sent some of his men to collect a portion of the flock in return for his services. Notice Nabal's response:

9 When David's young men came, they spoke to Nabal according to all these words in David's name; then they waited. 10 But Nabal answered David's servants and said, "Who is David? And who is the son of Jesse? There are many servants today who are each breaking away from his master. 11 Shall I then take my bread and my water and my meat that I have slaughtered for my shearers, and give it to men whose origin I do not know?" 12 So David's young men retraced their way and went back; and they came and told him according to all these words. 13 David said to his men, "Each of you gird on his sword." So each man girded on his sword. And David also girded on his sword, and about four hundred men went up behind David while two hundred stayed with the baggage.
- I Samuel 25:9-13
May God do so to the enemies of David, and more also, if by morning I leave as much as one male of any who belong to him."
- I Samuel 25:22

So here we see David's anger kindled by a number of things all at once:

  • Injustice: He was being denied what was his due.
  • Frustration: His work and effort would not yield anything. where was he to get the supplies he had anticipated for this work?
  • Insult: Nabal dismissed his claim to the throne and treated him like a slave without respect.

Note that he is immediately consumed by his anger and it leads him to seek revenge right now. The story moves along to show us Abigail, Nabal's wife. She learns of the situation, prepares the supplies, and races to meet David before he arrives. Let us read part of her appeal to him:

28 Please forgive the transgression of your maidservant; for the Lord will certainly make for my lord an enduring house, because my lord is fighting the battles of the Lord, and evil will not be found in you all your days. 29 Should anyone rise up to pursue you and to seek your life, then the life of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of the living with the Lord your God; but the lives of your enemies He will sling out as from the hollow of a sling. 30 And when the Lord does for my lord according to all the good that He has spoken concerning you, and appoints you ruler over Israel, 31 this will not cause grief or a troubled heart to my lord, both by having shed blood without cause and by my lord having avenged himself. When the Lord deals well with my lord, then remember your maidservant."
- I Samuel 25:28-31

Note how Abigail diffuses the situation. She apologizes and takes responsibility. She brings the supplies in an attempt to make things right. She acknowledges the insult but warns David about the consequences that would result in his hasty revenge (as king he would have innocent blood on his hands, i.e. Nabal's workers). By asking him to remember her when he becomes king, she acknowledges his true position and submits to it.

We know the end of the story: David accepts her gifts and turns away from his plan, she tells her husband what she did and he dies of a heart attack, David marries the rich widow and his food supply problem is taken care of. The story of David and Abigail shows how quickly sudden anger and an immediate response to it can lead to disaster. I think "road rage" works this way. One minute you are driving to work, next minute you are screaming death threats to a stranger who insulted you with his driving manner. Heaven help you if you or the other guy has a gun in the vehicle.

Actually, this story provides some good lessons about what to de when provided to anger, because we cannot eliminate anger from our lives. there will always be situations that cause anger in us, but when that happens:

  1. Pray: Note that David, the nam of God, did not pray or seek God's counsel before strapping on his sword. And our prayer should not be to ask God to take away our anger, it should be to seek wisdom and understanding as to why am I angry? What is going on here? Help me Lord to avoid a foolish or sinful response to my anger. Sometimes God is using your anger (like Cain) to get your attention about something; sometimes it is a sign of fatigue, weakness, misunderstanding (Moses); or sometimes a temptation to lead you into sin (David). Prayer helps us to see past the emotion to the cause. asking "why am I angry?" often takes the fuel out of the fire.
  2. Slow Down: Anger usually causes us to act or react quickly to say and/or do things we often regret. Slowing down helps us to get control of ourselves. I.e: It was a good thing David had a long ride to get to Nabal's, time to cool off. I have found that when possible I will give something that angered me 24 hours to cool off, I usually see things more clearly. You cannot avoid anger, but you can avoid allowing it to create problems if you put a day between the beginning or your anger and the beginning of your response.
  3. Stop "Churning": If you have prayed, not about the anger but about the cause, and basically have asked God to help you deal with he offense/frustration/injustice/insult, then let it go, stop churning. Churning butter, or ice cream, etc. means to stir, to mix and to continually mix. Once you have identified the issue, person, thing that has caused the anger and decided to respond with kindness, or not at all, or with an explanation etc. stop churning the situation over and over in your mind. I know this is difficult, but churning is what keeps the fire of anger burning inside of us. Anger is an emotional prison and the only way out is to let the fire die out by stopping to churn the details in our minds. Paul says, "Be angry and sin not, do not let the sun go down on your anger." (Ephesians 4:26). Paul says that you can be angry without sinning of you do not prolong your anger beyond its time. Not letting the sun go down means "for a specific time or season". It is normal to be angry at times, but do not let it go beyond its normal time. To do so will lead to hatred, violence, revenge, resentment, etc. My favorite passage to deal with offense and unkindness/unfairness that stirs anger is Proverbs 19:11, "A man's discretion make him slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook a transgression."
  4. Be Your Best Christian Self (BYBCS): The hard part about dealing with anger is how do I react to the thing that made me angry in the first place? We could spend a long time on this but the short answer is to be your best Christian self. Reaction to insult? BYBCS Reaction to unfairness? BYBCS. Reaction to frustration, waste, incompetence, etc.? BYBCS. I have found that whatever sin that is at my door, revealed or prompted by anger, I never have gotten into trouble and often have resolved the issue when I tried to respond by being my best Christian self.

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Barry Day,
Pulpit Minister,
San Diego - Canyon View Church of Christ