Some years ago when our children were much younger, one of them was getting frustrated at something and got so angry that they picked up their cup of milk and tossed it down, spilling milk all over the floor. I helped them to clean up the mess, and even though they were very young, I had a talk with them about learning to control yourself when you are angry.
Later than night I was trying to get that same child to finish their dinner and they weren’t participating. This time I was the one starting to feel frustrated. They just weren’t cooperating, instead of eating they started rolling up the place mat to make a trumpet. It was getting late, I was tired a, and in my frustration I eventually took the place mat off them and threw it on the ground and said: I’ve had enough of this!
What should have been obvious to me at the time, but wasn’t until my wife kindly helped me see it, is that while I had tried to help one of my children deal with their anger earlier, my actions later showed I had the same battle with anger going on inside of me.
We’ve seen over the last few weeks how anger affects us all, no matter what age, no matter whether we are a Christians or not. The passage we’re looking at this morning is addressed to parents, but what it has to say is relevant for all of us. Let’s take this verse in two halves today and consider 1. Anger Provoking 2. Anger Training
1. Anger Provoking
V4 in the NIV says to Fathers: do not exasperate your children. The word translated exasperate has ‘anger’ as part of its root, so more literal versions like the ESV translate this – do not provoke your children to anger. It’s vital for parents not to provoke their children to anger, but it’s important for all of us not to provoke others to anger.
The Bible constantly encourages Christians with commands like encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace.(2 Corinthians 13:11) Provoking people to anger opposes that, it isn’t encouraging them, or spurring them onto love and good deeds is it?
If someone gets angry, it is their sin, they are responsible for it, but we are responsible for our behaviour that provokes others to anger. What are some ways we might provoke others to anger?
a) Selfish teasing
In Australia there’s definitely a place for friendly teasing, it’s important to have a good sense of humour and be able to laugh at yourself. One thing I’ve enjoyed about working at MEC is that I get to tease Steve and Rog about things like their Anglican background, and they get to tease me about my Baptist background. Here’s a great Spurgeon quote for Rog and Steve: “I recollect my mother saying to me, ‘I prayed that you might be a Christian, but I never prayed that you might be a Baptist;’ but, nevertheless, I became a Baptist, for, as I reminded her, the Lord was able to do for her exceeding abundantly above what she asked or thought, and He did it.” (Charles Spurgeon)
That’s a great quote isn’t it? It’s true of course, but Spurgeon’s also having some fun teasing his mother. It’s great to have a sense of humour, but there is teasing that goes too far. Teasing that’s vindictive or selfish, where you’re not really thinking about what’s best for the other person, where your trying to put them down, and make yourself look good. Such teasing can provoke others to anger.
b) Harsh words
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (Proverbs 15:1). Harsh words are hurtful or painful words. If you say to someone: I can’t believe you did that, you’re such a _______! (fill in the blank) that’s not exactly encouraging them is it? Harsh words can provoke others to anger.
When I was in primary school, we did the musical Mary Poppins. There’s a scene where Mrs Banks refers to Mr Banks as being obviously out of sorts that morning. Mr Banks says, in a very cranky tone of voice, I am not out of sorts! The tone of his voice, communicates something very different to what he thinks. Sometimes it’s not so much our words, that are harsh, but the tone. Harsh words or tone can provoke others to anger.
c) Modelling sinful anger
Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn their ways and get yourself ensnared. (Proverbs 22:24-25).
If you hang around with angry people, you can pick up the same hot-tempered habits. What if you are the angry person your children or family or c0-workers are with? They’ll learn your angry ways.
I remember a Scripture class I used to teach, the teacher was supposed to be there in the class room, and one teacher, used to scream at the kids if they misbehaved. Obviously it’s important to be firm in a classroom situation, and this was a difficult class, but the way this teacher screamed at the kids was so harsh. Imagine what it’s like being regularly screamed at like that whether you’re a child or an adult? Children or adults who have sinful anger modelled to them are often provoked to anger. Anger they either vent or bottle up.
d) Hypocritical example
Jesus was rightly angry at the hypocrisy of the religious leaders of his day. Outwardly, in front of others, they were very righteous, but inwardly it was a different story. If you’re a parent who consistently tells your children to behave one way, while you behave another way, or you behave differently at home to how you act in church, you’ll provoke your children to anger. Children can tell if you are genuine about what you say you believe.
If we’re honest, we’re all hypocrites to some extent, none of us perfectly live out what we believe, we’re all fallen, we’re all broken, only Jesus was perfect. The issue is, are we admitting our failures and using them to show how much we too need Christ? Can our children see that our Christian life is genuine, and there’s progress there, or is it just acting?
e) Never admitting you are wrong
…confess your sins to each other (James 5:16). Each time we wrong someone. Whether it’s our children, or someone else, we have a choice. You can try to justify your wrong to yourself, hold onto your pride, not admit you are wrong. Or we can admit our sin, ask the forgiveness of those we’ve wronged, and so model the gospel to them by showing how much we all need Jesus’ grace.
When was the last time you admitted to someone close to you that you wronged them and asked them for forgiveness? Never admitting that you are wrong will provoke others to anger.
f) Not setting boundaries, or being too legalistic
Ephesians 6:4 is in two halves – don’t provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. In one sense, those two halves are opposites, if we don’t bring our children up in the training and instruction of the Lord, we will provoke them to anger. Unless we bring them up in God’s ways, we’ll most likely default to the two extremes of either setting no boundaries, or being too harsh and legalistic. Both of those extremes can provoke to anger.
To bring children up in the training and instruction of the Lord, means helping them understand the gospel of Jesus, helping them to see how the gospel sets us free from legalism – we don’t have to prove ourselves to God, we can’t earn his love, he gives it to us in Jesus. Yet the gospel shows us there is great joy in submitting to Jesus and living by his word.
Some time ago I was sitting on the lounge with wife, and I asked her: What are some of the ways, that I provoke you to anger? It lead to a helpful conversation, but I’m not going to tell you what she said, because there is a much more important question you need to think about. In what ways do you provoke those around you to anger? If you’re not sure, and you’re willing to learn, ask someone close to you.
2. Anger Teaching and Training
The second half of v4 as we’ve seen refers to bringing children up in the training and instruction of the Lord. That includes, obviously teaching them and training them about anger. Anger is there at every stage of life. Toddlers get angry, primary school children get angry, teenagers get angry, adults get angry, at each age, there is a great opportunity to teach how the gospel applies to anger.
Again though it’s not just our children we need to teach and train. Paul tells Timothy – train yourself to be godly. (I Timothy 4:7) There’s no use trying to train others, if we’re not first training ourselves. Some of you love physical training, the idea of getting out regularly and exercising excites you, some of you can’t think of anything worse. But when it comes to anger we all have lots of opportunities to regularly train, as we experience anger day after day, at home, at work, on the sporting field, in the supermarket, at school. So let’s think of some ways we can train ourselves to be godly with anger.
a) Train yourself to be slow to anger.
Most of you kids have seen the game, angry birds. Some people have tried to use it to teach about anger. Here’s one attempt I saw on the internet, to show some of the different ways we may act in our anger:
The first bird shows angry facial expressions, the second yellow triangular bird cuts through wood we could say it represents cutting or hurtful words, the third white bird drops small bombs so it could represent throwing objects’, the fourth bird is the deadly black explosive one, it could represent when you lose control with your body in anger. So these birds could all model wrong ways to respond in anger.
Yet there’s something likeable about these ‘angry birds’ when you play the game. We’ve been saying all along, that though anger is often sinful there can actually be an underlying goodness to anger, there is good anger, we get angry because we’re made in the image of a just God, who is angry at injustice. We can display good anger.
In the Bible righteous anger is not explosive anger, or no anger, righteous anger is being ‘slow to anger’. That’s what God is. When Moses asked God to show himself, God reveals himself to Moses saying, the LORD , the LORD, the gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger…(Exodus 34:6)
Look at these three proverbs. Notice that in each of them the word the NIV translates as patient, the ESV translates as ‘slow to anger’.
Whoever is patient (slow to anger) has great understanding, but one who is quick-tempered displays folly. (Proverbs 14:29)
A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict, but the one who is patient (slow to anger) calms a quarrel. (Proverbs 15:18)
A person’s wisdom yields patience (makes him slow to anger); it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.(Proverbs 19:11)
Do you remember this verse from our first week? Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry (James 1:19). Being slow to anger means at least being thoughtful about our anger. Not jumping to quick conclusions, but listening carefully first. How do you train yourself to be slow to angry?
b) Train yourself to see how anger points to your heart
If you only remember one point from these three weeks of looking at anger, I hope it is this point: when you are angry, it is a great opportunity to look at your heart. In your anger, do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent. (Psalm 4:4).
We’ve been looking at this diagram – two common ways of dealing with anger are blowing up or clamming up – venting or internalising. If you think about the home you were brought up in, which of those two would you say is the most common way anger was handled in that home, was it mostly a blowing up home, or a clamming up home? Neither is helpful is it? One danger for churches is that we can default to ‘clamming up’ places where we see any explosive anger as wrong, yet we don’t really deal with issues, we just internalise our anger.
As you think about how you want to train yourself or your family to handle anger, make it your goal to not just clam up or blow up but let your anger point you to your heart. When anger arises, take the opportunity to look at your heart: is your anger pointing you to pride, or selfishness? Is it pointing you to idols? Things that you love, perhaps good things in themselves, but for you they have become an idol, more important to you than God.
c) Train yourself to seek change through Jesus
Last night at our Open Air Cinema, we saw Despicable Me. The big question I think that movie asks is: Is change possible? Can this despicable, selfish, yet kind of likeable master criminal, change into a man who’ll care for these three orphan girls who so much want a father to love them. I don’t think I’ll be spoiling the movie for you if I tell you the movie’s answer is yes, even a hardened criminal can change.
It all seems nice in a movie, yet we know that in real life, it often doesn’t work like that. Real change seems hard, even impossible, we want to see change in areas like our anger ,or want others to change, yet sometimes it seems like, there’s no real change.
I think that in every story, even in a movie like Despicable me, there is a glimpse and a longing for the ultimate story that is true. The Bible gives us the true story of a love that is greater than the love of three orphan girls. Jesus’ selfless love, willingly sacrificing himself for the sake of others. The love of God shown in Jesus’ death, satisfies justice, so that wrong is punished. It displays amazing love as forgiveness is offered to all who turn to him. That love if we can begin to grasp how wide and long and high and deep it is, provides the power for real change.
Very often what underlies our anger, is anger towards God. We blame him, for how we’ve been treated, or how things have worked out. Grasping the depth of God’s love for us in Jesus, is what will melt and transform our anger towards God, and our anger towards others.
(Edited transcript of sermon preached at MEC 28 April 2013. You can listen to or download the sermon here)