CHRISTADELPHIAN BIBLE POSTAL COURSE No. 51
THE USE AND CONTROL OF ANGER
Reading : Genesis 34
Anger is a very strange emotion in mankind. It is probably even stronger in the world of beasts, birds and fishes. In the Bible, there is some good advice about how to control anger and some clear warnings about what will happen if it gets out of control.
Anger was with mankind from the beginning of our history, it not just a modern problem. If you look at Genesis chapter 4 verse 5, you will find a very clear description of the terrible things anger can do to a man or woman. “Cain was very angry and his countenance fell”. Modern versions of the Bible translate this as “his face was downcast”. It is usually possible to recognise when a person is angry by this change of face. Often there is a change in skin colour also. From this reading in Genesis we need to remember that Cain was the first son of Adam and Eve and therefore the third person to live on the earth. If he had only been angry all would have been well but the fact that God had honoured the offering made by his younger brother Abel whilst rejecting his own offering raised his anger to such an extent that he murdered his brother.
So it was that, at the start of our history, murder was committed because of jealousy and anger. The lesson is powerful – anger is dangerous. In this instance it brought disaster for the whole family.
Abel lost his life, Cain was banished by God and Adam and Eve effectively lost both their sons.
The next example comes to us from words of prophecy spoken by the patriarch Jacob. Nearing his death he called his family together and predicted the future for all of them. Let us look at Genesis chapter 49 verses 5 to 7 which concerns just two of the sons Simeon and Levi. These two men had already shown that they were capable of fierce and unreasonable anger, just turn to Genesis chapter 34 and read the account for yourself. These were dark and shameful deeds in the early days of Israel’s history. Broken promises and deliberate deceit. The emotion behind this terrible event was anger.
The worrying thing about all this is that we all get angry from time to time. If we did not we would be quite exceptional people. Anger comes from disappointment, frustration, jealousy, hurt and sometimes just boredom. We can feel it for other people as well as against them. If we feel that another person has had a raw deal in life, we may take up their cause. Here the driving force may well be anger. It is so easy to convince ourselves that the cause is a just one and that our anger is somehow also just.
Undoubtedly some people are born with a quick temper whilst others are more easy- going. Clearly those who rapidly become angry have to work harder to overcome this characteristic. Hasty words spoken in anger cannot be easily taken back. Turn with me now to the book of Proverbs chapter 15 verses 1 to 3. In this reference, there is some valuable advice. We are warned to avoid confrontation, we discover that wisdom and foolishness have an important part to play. In other words, if we think carefully before we speak it is possible to avoid trouble. This is not an easy thing to do but worthwhile if we are able to cultivate the habit. In verse 3 the matter is given even greater importance for we are told that God is aware of what we do and say. This is especially true for those who have already reached out to him in their hearts, for God cares deeply for those who love him.
The link between anger and foolishness appears again in the book of Ecclesiastes chapter 7 verse 9. How do you feel about these words? Is this good advice?
I would like to turn now to the New Testament and to the letter of Paul to the Colossians chapter 3.
Paul is writing to baptised followers of Jesus, people who have promised to follow Jesus’ example in their lives. In this chapter, the readers of this letter are reminded of the significance of baptism verse 1. “If ye be risen with Christ seek those things which are above where Christ sits on the right hand of God”. Risen means coming up out of the waters of baptism just as being plunged temporarily under water represents death with Christ. Look at chapter 2 verse 12 where Paul uses this example. When a believer is baptised, they must then seek spiritual values not the emotions of those who do not follow Jesus Christ in their lives. Paul then sets out a list of things that must be swept out of the mind. These things he says, can bring upon us the wrath of God, chapter 3 verse 6.
I want to look now at verse 8 where anger and other evils are to be put away out of one’s life. Paul is warning the Colossians that these are bad emotions and should not be found in the disciple of Jesus. He explains this more clearly in his letter to Ephesians chapter 4 verses 17 to 24. The picture he presents is of the new disciple getting rid of the old ways of life and putting on the new man of righteousness and true holiness. This is the effect baptism should have on the believer.
Paul realised that the inner personality of a new disciple would take time to change so in verse 26 he spoke about anger. He accepted that there would be times when the strongest of Jesus’ followers would be angry and in certain circumstances it would be better for that individual to give way to anger rather than to sin. By mentioning sin he is not talking about angry action but instead that form of anger that is in the mind.
He left us to work out for ourselves when those occasions might occur and it would be a useful exercise for you to think about this and see this instruction against the pattern of your own life.
The essential part of the instruction is that this anger when it occurs must be short-lived, gone by sundown. This is such an important piece of advice especially in the sometimes stressful relationship between husbands and wives. Anger must not continue into the next day, someone must be the peacemaker.
We have already thought about those people who are born with a quick temper or little self-control. Come with me to the letter Paul wrote to Titus, a young Christian given the task of setting up churches in the island of Crete. In chapter 1 verse 7 he gave guidance in the choice of who should become the church elders and you will see that one of the characteristics to look for was ‘not being soon angry’.
It was Jesus himself who gave most of the rules for the life of the disciple. In his Sermon on the Mount, recorded by Matthew in his gospel chapter 5, anger was one of the important things spoken about by Jesus. Look at verses 21 and 22 where you can read for yourself what he said. If we look at his words carefully, we realise that there are a number of questions we need to answer. We may describe other people as fools in our every-day language but often these words are spoken in jest and are accepted that way by the person we are speaking to. It is when the words are spoken in anger and we really mean to say them that they hurt the other person and should never have been used.
In verses 23 to 26 Jesus allows for those occasions when we will have done or said something wrong and his advice is clear, “Be reconciled to your brother” and “Agree with your adversary quickly”. This works in the other direction also for there is another important word that Jesus used in instructing his disciples, forgive. Look at Luke’s gospel chapter 17 verses 3 and 4. When someone comes to you and says sorry, accept that apology and do not make things worse by being unforgiving. The lesson of the gospels is consistent, if you expect God to forgive you then you also must forgive others.
I want to end this lesson by talking briefly about righteous anger. This is a form of anger that appears in the Bible and is there for a good reason. Anger that is deserved because of our foolishness, our disobedience or our sin is reserved for God our creator. He alone has the perfect right to be angry and we read much about this especially in the Old Testament. God created mankind for a unique existence among other living creatures on the planet. We are sensitive but cunning, capable of love but wilful and implacably violent at times. Since Adam and Eve were driven out of Eden because of disobedience, mankind has constantly disappointed him. The Old Testament speaks of God’s anger with his people Israel. This does not mean that he ignores the wickedness of mankind today, far from it. God gave his own son as sacrifice for the sins of men and because of that requires more of us. We also have the advantage of having all of God’s purpose set out for us in the Bible.
Look now at the prophecy of Hosea chapter 13 verses 9 to 11, this sums-up the history of the Israelite nation. The most terrible thing they did was to reject God and chose to worship idols of wood and stone. They then demanded the death of the Son of God. No wonder God was angry with his people. However, even here there is a valuable lesson for us today because if you now look at chapter 14 verses 1 to 4 you will see the love of God for his people Israel, the way in which he will bless them in the future. In a later lesson, we will come back to this subject of the love of God because it is important.