Anger and Forgiveness – Ephesians 4:31-32

GTAimageAnger is something that impacts all of us, all ages, every week. There are some obvious ways that people show anger, but there are lots of other ways it can impact us. As we move to a second passage in Ephesians 4 that addresses anger, I’d like us to consider 4 questions about anger, two ‘what’ questions, a ‘why’ question, and a ‘how’ question. Let’s turn to the first question:

1. What is anger?

A lot of people think of anger mostly as a feeling or an emotion, they say it’s neither good or bad, it’s just an emotion we all have. I think the Bible has a more comprehensive and more nuanced view of anger. Many would see love as just a feeling, but the Bible sees it as  much more, the same is true of anger, the Bible sees anger as much more than just an emotion.

Here’s one persons attempt to define anger in the Bible: Anger is our whole-person active response of moral judgment against perceived wrong. (Robert Jones)

Do you notice there, that anger is more than just a feeling, it’s a whole person active response, there’s an emotional aspect of anger, but there’s also a physical aspect, and a spiritual aspect.

When you are angry you are making a response, a moral judgement about something you see as wrong, it may be a person who you think has done wrong, it might be an object like your computer that you think has let you down again, but the essence of anger is a response, a moral judgement about someone or something.

A few years ago, someone sent me an email which contained what I thought were some very unhelpful comments. I found myself getting quite angry at what he said. I wanted to fire back an angry email telling him how wrong some of his statements were. At the time I got the email I was unwell, so I sent him back an email to say: I’d like to talk about this, but I don’t think email is the best way to do it. I’m not feeling well, how about we talk over the phone in a few days. A few days later I was feeling better. I’d also prayed about it, and when I reread his email being in a better position both physically and spiritually I saw some of it in a different light. I rang him and clarified things with him. I realised I was wrong in some of my initial anger, some of my moral judgements about what he had said were wrong. We both felt we needed to apologise for some things, and we had a great conversation.

That’s a small example to show how anger is more complex than just a neutral emotion. There is an emotional dimension, but also a physical dimension – our anger can be impacted by how tired we are, or how and a spiritual dimension. Anger is a whole person active response.

As we said last week, anger can be righteous, there is good anger. Like Moses anger at the golden calf or Jesus anger at the religious leaders when he healed the man’s hand in the synagogue.) We want to encourage good anger, not suppress it, but there is also sinful anger. v31 focuses on that….

2. What are some anger-related actions we must get rid of?

There are six anger related actions in v31, and Paul uses very strong language about them. He says get rid of them…

a) Bitterness–smouldering resentment, brooding, holding a grudge, a sour attitude, unforgiving spirit. Last week we looked at this diagram…

Anger - Jay AdamsAnger often shows itself in these two extremes, we either blow up or we clam up. Either you blow up at someone and release the energy of your anger on them, or you clam up and hold onto that energy and it eats away at you. I’ve seen some medical claims that both can be bad for your health, I’m no an expert on that, you’ll have to ask your doctor, but what is true is that either way the problem isn’t being dealt with. When anger isn’t dealt with, one of the results over time is bitterness. You keep replaying over and over in your mind the wrong that was done to you. You might have revenge fantasies, you imagine getting even or something bad happening to the person who’s wronged you. When you hold onto resentment or bitterness, the reality is that bitterness is holding on to you. God says get rid of all bitterness, put it off.

b) Rage –or wild fury. I remember visiting a Christian couple once, and as I got to the door, I could hear yelling and screaming coming from inside the house as this couple argued. They were expecting me, but it was hard to know whether I should ring the door bell right at that moment, or wait a little bit. I thought they might feel embarrassed if I rang the doorbell, because they didn’t usually behave that way in front of everyone at church. Isn’t it ironic that the humans often save for the people closest to them, the sort of rage they may be too embarrassed to show in public. Rage can too easily be tolerated or excused by Christians, but God says, get rid of it.

c) Anger – There is good anger, as we’ve said. God gets angry because God is love. If you never get angry it means you don’t love. However, human anger is often self-centred, concerned about ourselves. We don’t get what we want, or our pride is hurt and we get angry.

We said last week that anger provides a great opportunity to search our hearts: In your anger, do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent. (Psalm 4:4). Anger can be an opportunity for us to grow, our extreme emotions or reactions, tell us there is something deeper going on in our hearts that we need to look at. Often our anger can point us to our idols – things we are craving more than God.

We can learn from our anger, but we need to get rid of sinful anger. That doesn’t mean we just get rid of yelling, screaming and punching. I think you could actually break, almost of the ten commandments, in anger. In anger, you can dishonour your parents, in anger you can lie, in anger you can steal, in anger you can commit adultery, in fact anger and lust are more closely intertwined than we often realise, in anger you can murder, like Cain did. God says get rid of anger, put it off.

d) Brawling –violent outbursts. Sadly this can happen even in churches. A pastor I know said he was amazed when he went to his first members meeting at his new church. Instead of calmly debating the pros and cons of various ideas, members would get up and tear shreds off each other. He said they acted as though being in a members meeting gave them some sort of parliamentary privilege, to say whatever they liked.

There’s nothing wrong with passionately expressing viewpoints, or even disagreeing with others, but brawling – when it becomes personal, public or even violent is wrong. God says get rid of it, put it off.

e) Slander – speaking wrongly about others, or making false statements about others that damage their reputation. Slander is one of the ways we may try to make ourselves feel better when we’re angry. Instead of doing what Jesus says and going to our brother or sister when they sin against us, we go to someone else we tell them about it, we place ourselves in the best possible light, and exaggerate and misrepresent the other person. It’s so easy when they’re not there to give their side of the story.

Slandering is like losing a pile of paper in a strong wind. You’ll never get all the paper back. You can never fully take back the words you’ve used to slander someone. Slander can spread faster than ever today, when you slander someone on social media or sms or email, it can just take off. God says get rid of slander.

f) Malice – hatred or ill will towards someone, wishing evil of others. It begins with an attitude of the heart. It’s an extension of anger, as your resentment grows, it can show itself in hateful words or attitudes or actions. God says get rid of malice put it off.

3. Why must we get rid of sinful anger?

a) Anger can enslave us

In Genesis 4:7 God warns Cain: Sin is crouching at your door, it desires to have you, but you must rule over it. Cain was angry at his brother. He failed to listen to God’s warning. He was enslaved to his anger. Tragically it led to him killing his brother. I’m sure if you can think of times, where you’ve hurt people in anger, and later regret it. We all know what it’s like to be enslaved to anger.

In Acts, Peter says to Simon the sorcerer…I see that your heart is full of bitterness and captive to sin (Acts 8:32). Simon had just been baptised, but he obviously still had significant issues in his heart that he needed to repent of.

We need to get rid of anger and bitterness because they enslave us.

b) Anger grieves and dishonours God

Paul says in v30, do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Chapter 4 of Ephesians begins with a call, to Christians, to live a life worthy of the calling we have received. Anger, rage, and bitterness, can enslave you, but worse they grieve and dishonour God.

4. How do we get rid of sinful anger?

a) Be kind, compassionate and forgiving

v32 shows us the opposite of sinful anger is not silence. We don’t get rid of anger, by just stopping it. We get rid of anger, by replacing it with kindness compassion and forgiveness.

God is kind, God is compassionate, God is forgiving. He calls his children to be the same.

In 2 Kings 5 we read of an Israelite girl who become a slave in Syria. She’d been taken from her parents – that means her parents were either taken slaves, or more likely killed by the Syrians when they raided Israel. Now she’s far from her family, far from her homeland, forced to be a slave girl for the wife of the person responsible for the raid – Syria’s general Naaman. You might expect she would be full of  bitterness, anger or malice, towards Naaman. Yet when Naaman has a disease, this slave girl doesn’t say, good I’m going to watch him suffer now, she shows him kindness, compassion, even forgiveness, she tells his wife where he can get help – from the prophet Elisha in Israel.

She did what the entire Bible tells us to do. She did not seek revenge, she trusted God to be the judge of all. She suffered, and forgave him and became the vehicle for his healing and salvation (Tim Keller)[1]

It’s costly to forgive, there are all sorts of issues to be worked through. Forgiveness, does not mean you don’t take sin seriously, or you don’t work to bring justice. Forgiveness is not the same as forgetting. Forgiveness does involve making three promises: i) you promise to not keep bringing something up and using it against the person who has wronged you, ii) you promise not to bring it up with others, and iii) you promise not to keep bringing it up to yourself and dwelling on it.[2]

None of those are easy. In forgiveness there is a cost that has to be absorbed. Where does the power come from to show kindness, compassion and forgiveness?

b) Grow in your grasp of how God has treated us

v32 shows where the power to forgive comes from – forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Jesus tells a great parable in Matthew 18 of a man who is forgiven a huge debt by his king, then turns around a refuses to forgive a comparatively smaller debt owed to him by a fellow servant. The amount of the debt owed to him is significant, yet it is small compared to the debt he has been forgiven by the king. We think what’s wrong with this guy, why is he so harsh about this smaller debt, when he has been forgiven so much? Then we realise that’s exactly what we are all like when it comes to forgiving others. If we are Christians we have been forgiven an unbelievable amount by God, we’ve been self-centred, we’ve ignored him, we’ve lived for ourselves, yet he offers us forgiveness at a great cost to him. Still we find it so hard to forgive others. Jesus wants us to forgive others, each day, from our heart.

Anger comes from the heart, and true forgiveness, also comes from the heart. The power for forgiveness comes in realising how much we have been forgiven by God, in seeing how great our sin against God is and seeing the great cost at which God brought forgiveness for us, through the death of his Son.

In 1984 a woman called Jennifer Thompson was attacked.  She later identified the man she thought was responsible. There was some uncertainty, the man, Ronald Cotton, maintained he was innocent but was sent to prison because of her testimony. He remained there for 11 years, until DNA evidence proved he was innocent, and another man was convicted of the crime. For two years after Ronald Cotton was released, Jennifer Thompson felt anxious and ashamed. She thought, How could I have made such an error? This man must hate me now I’ve taken away 11 years of this man’s life. In the 11 years since he had gone to Jail, she had married, graduated, worked and become a parent. Ronald Cotton had not been able to do any of these. For two years she felt weighed down, until she finally she arranged to speak with him and ask for his forgiveness.

Amazingly Ronald Cotton did forgive her. He told her that in prison he’d found out the man who had really attacked her, and he hated that man, he made a plan to kill him, until someone shared with him the gospel of Jesus. R0nald Cotton realised that though he was innocent of the crime for which he had been imprisoned, he was guilty of sinning against God in many other ways. In Jesus Ronald Cotton found the one who could release the burden of anger and bitterness pressing down on him. Having received in Jesus the gift of forgiveness he needed, Ronald Cotton  was able to give Jennifer Thompson the gift of forgiveness when she asked him.

The newspaper that reported this story carried a picture of the two of them sitting on a bench together, at peace with each other, free from the burdens of anger and bitterness that had weighed them down.[3]

God wants you to get rid of the angry actions in your life that are weighing you down, enslaving you. He wants you instead to show kindness, compassion and forgiveness to others. That sounds impossible, and it is impossible on your own, but God has made it possible for you through the forgiveness he offers you in Jesus.

(Edited transcript of sermon preached at MEC 21 April 2013. You can listen to or download the sermon here )


[1] Tim Keller, Counterfeit Gods, 91.

[2] Tim Lane, Forgiving Others, 7.

[3] The above story is from Unpacking Forgiveness, Chris Brauns. It is also told in Picking Cotton by Jennifer Thompson and Ronald Cotton.

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3 responses to “Anger and Forgiveness – Ephesians 4:31-32

  1. Thank you!

  2. Pingback: Genesis 4 | Apples O Gold

  3. Yes, thank you.

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