A few weeks ago I pulled onto a side street out of the parking lot of a local grocery store, and suddenly, a horn was blaring at me. When I looked in my rear-view mirror there was a person behind me gesturing obscenely and apoplectically (I hope you’re impressed at my vocabulary) and yelling at me, though I couldn’t hear what he was saying. I hadn’t seen him and I’d made him hit his brakes and slow down for a few seconds.
Now, I don’t live in New York City, where this would probably be normal behavior. I live in a small town where you can be anywhere in 7 minutes. So I’m sure I didn’t make this guy late for any appointments. But he was sure angry. I thought, “Man, you must be really annoyed all day long if you got this upset because I pulled in front of you.”
Most people would not consider anger a sin. Hey, it’s not my fault. It’s YOUR fault. YOU made me angry by pulling in front of me. You made me angry, wife, by not buying toilet paper when I told you we were running low. You made me angry, kids, by goofing around and wrestling when I told you to get in bed. YOU, YOU, YOU….”
How can anger be a sin when others cause me to be angry? Hey, it’s their fault, right?
We’ll look at that in a minute. But the first thing we need to remember is that God commands us not to give in to anger. Anger is a sin (most of the time). So how do we overcome anger? Here are 6 powerful keys:
1. We can overcome anger by remembering that anger is a sin
Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil. Psalm 37:8
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Ephesians 4:31
Usually, anger is a sin. There are exceptions. For example God himself exercises righteous anger at sin and actions that dishonor him:
In Matthew 21:12-13 Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers in the temple…
And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.”
In Mark 3:5, Jesus feels righteous anger toward the Pharisees for their hardness of heart:
And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.
Jesus was not only angry but he was grieved at the same time by their sinful condition. He was righteous in his anger at them, but saddened by how lost they were. What a lesson for us!
2. We can overcome anger by understanding the roots of our anger
God’s word tells us that our anger is not caused by other people, but springs out of flesh and its sinful desires.
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. James 4:1-2
James doesn’t say the cause of our quarrels and fights is those idiots who sin against us. No, he says that our “passions” and desires within us are the roots of our anger. He says we “covet and cannot obtain,” so we fight and quarrel. In other words, we want something and can’t get it, so we get angry and fight and quarrel to try to get what we want.
Here is the most helpful question to ask ourselves when we are feeling angry:
What is it that I want right now that I’m not getting?
This question has changed my life. This question has helped me again and again to overcome the temptation to anger in my life. I try to ask myself this question when I’m tempted to be angry. What is it I want right now that I’m not getting? Well, I want that person to respect me. I want them to see things my way. I want that person to think well of me.
When someone pulls in front of you and you need to slam on your brakes, before you get all apoplectic, ask yourself what is it you want that you’re not getting? Well, I want to go where I want to without any delays. I want all traffic to clear out before me so I can get there fast. I don’t want to slow down. I want every light to turn green just before I get to it.. I want all things in this world to serve me.
3. We can overcome anger by remembering the results of anger
Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil. Ps 37.8
Anger “tends only to evil.” In other words, it leads to more sin. It makes things worse.
Anger does not good. It will not make others do the right thing:
For the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. James 1:20
We often think that our anger will make others do what we want them to. Parents think that their anger will intimidate their children to doing what they should. I once heard that parents’ anger may move their children to obey, but will actually produce little Pharisees, who obey outwardly, out of fear, but not inwardly from the heart.
Anger opens the door for the devil.
Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Ephesians 4:26-27
Anger gives the devil the opportunity to lead us to bitterness and division, and broken relationships.
So when we are tempted to vent our anger on someone, or just pound our fist on the seat of our car or grumble under our breath, remember, it’s not going to do any good; it will only make things worse.
4. We can overcome anger by taking the log out of our own eye
“Owwww! Owwww! Now you’re getting too close to home, Mark. It’s not me it’s them.” Well, Jesus has news for us. He tells us that we probably have much bigger faults than the things that anger us about others. In Matthew 7, Jesus says:
Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. Matthew 7:1-5
Now the thing about “eye logs” is that we aren’t aware of them. We have a huge log sticking out of our own eye and we are so focused on the speck in our brother’s eye. We judge them. Often anger is a form of judgment. We get angry at our children when they are goofing off and wrestling with each other instead of going to bed like the little soldiers they should be. But do we always instantaneously obey the Lord? We lay on our horn when someone pulls out in front of us, but have we never done that? Ok, maybe someone has really hurt us, so we are really angry at them. And maybe with “righteous” anger. But we need to remember how we have sinned against the Lord, and he forgave us. Which brings me to the next point:
5. We can overcome anger by forgiving others
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:32
And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” Mark 11:25
Forgiveness is so critical in overcoming anger toward others. If anyone had the right to not forgive others, it was Jesus. Though he was perfectly sinless, he was unjustly arrested, accused, beaten and scourged, crowned with thorns, mocked, and crucified like a criminal on a Roman cross. Yet he cried out from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:24).
God has forgiven us of all our sins. Every single one. How can we not forgive others for their sins against us?
People will sin against us. People will wound us and hurt us deeply. They may never ask our forgiveness. They may never see how devastatingly they have hurt us. It is not easy to forgive someone who has betrayed us or stolen from us or brought horrific pain into our lives. I’m not saying it is easy. I’m not saying that we will have a relationship with them if we forgive them or that we must be friends with them or trust them. But we must forgive them. And only Jesus can help us do that. Which brings us to the next point.
6. We can overcome anger by praying for those who sin against us
“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. Luke 6:27-28
We can’t hold on to anger when we are asking God to bless someone who has offended us. Anger won’t change anyone’s heart, but prayer can. And with Jesus’ mighty help we can not only overcome our anger toward someone, but we can love them and even do good to them. Jesus can not only change the hearts of those who sin against us, but he can change our heart. Anger will rob us of joy and lead us into further sin. But when we pray and forgive and do good to others, it will bring peace and joy into our hearts, and we will experience more of God’s love.
Forgiveness is an act of God.
And we need his supernatural power to do that. We cannot overcome anger in our own strength. But we can in Jesus’ strength. When we believe in Jesus, we are new creations. We are one with Jesus. We have the Holy Spirit of God dwelling within us, who will give us the power to obey our Father. We have access to the throne of grace, where Jesus is interceding for us, and waiting to pour out his grace upon us.
Jesus is greater than our anger.
And God is transforming us each day to become more and more like Jesus. When we forgive others, when we put our anger to death, when we love and bless and do good to others we bring glory to God. And that’s what it’s all about. It’s not about our vindication or getting what we want or having others treat us the way we think we deserve, but it is about bringing glory to God.
So when tempted to anger, we can not only ask, “What is it that I want right now that I’m not getting” but “How can I respond right now in a way that will bring glory to God?”
That’s what it’s all about isn’t it? Let’s make that our goal today and every day. To bring glory to God.