Fatal Distractions – The Seven DEADLY SINS
February 9, 1997
“I’m chapped. That really hacks me off. I am so mad, I could….” Or as my uncle from Laurel so beautifully puts it, “That gives me the reds, son.” These expressions, and others I will not mention from this platform, describe an emotion that is central, far-reaching, and complex. This emotion I am talking about is known as anger. Anger is everywhere. It is a guest in our homes. It is with us in marriage and child-rearing. It rides in our car, especially on 635. It sits right beside us at work. It plays in our foursome. It even stands close to us while we are waiting at the grocery store in that express check-out line.
The Bible has two words for anger. The first word is rendered, “to grow hot.” The second word means “pregnant nostrils.” Isn’t that classic? When someone gets angry, their nostrils flare.
Anger is an enjoyable sin. It is one of the most common of the seven deadly sins. It is fun to get angry, to lick your wounds, to think how you will get someone back for hurting you. We love anger. Many social commentators describe this era as the Age of Rage and I wholeheartedly agree with them. We live in a world with drive-by shootings, battered women, and pipe bombs. We live in a world where our movie heroes are Lethal Weapons and they Die Hard. A lot of us think, maybe, I should just move away and go off to a very remote section of the world where I won’t have to deal with all this anger. Yet the Bible says that we should influence others for the kingdom of God within the Age of Rage.
Anger is also a physical emotion. When you get angry, when I get angry, our adrenalin starts pumping, our blood pressure increases, our mouths get dry, our palms get sweaty, and our muscles tense. We are ready to go. Have you ever watched and noticed how people deal with feelings of anger. I think it is interesting. Some people handle anger like toxic waste. Toxic waste is buried and we are assured that everything is A-okay and then years later it begins to leak underground and shows up in the water system. Then people get sick. When I bury anger, when I think that it is done with, over with, no problem, it begins to leak internally and it affects my attitude, my relationships, and ultimately my faith. Do we have any toxic waste people in the house this morning?
Others of us deal with anger like a volcano. We rumble and rumble. We say to ourselves, “I’ve been taking this from my boss for five years. Today I am going to tell him off.” We boldly walk into his or her office and we give them a piece of our mind. We spew hot lava over the entire situation and volcanic ash. The only thing that is left is charred remains. Volcanic people have never reconciled relationships. Volcanic people have never apologized for being angry. That is why they are volcanoes.
Others of us deal with anger like a snow cone. Someone makes us upset and we give them the cold shoulder. “Oh, nothing is wrong. Nothing. I’m OK.” Yet we are angry, icing people out.
Others of us are short fuse people. And others—this is one of my favorites—I am talking about the microwave people. Have you ever talked to a microwave person? You are in a conversation, no big deal. You will say one little sentence and you see them push Time, Cook, 5 Seconds. Boom.
I think that is why the Bible says in 1 Timothy 4:16, “Pay close attention to yourself.” The Apostle Paul told young Timothy this. He told Timothy to pay close attention to himself. In other words, he said study yourself, unravel your complex emotions.
Today in this session on anger, we are going to attempt to unravel the complex emotion of anger. The Bible says these two words in Ephesians 4: 26, “Be angry.” Don’t you like that? When was the last time you obeyed the scripture and went out and lost your temper. Be angry. Anger is not necessarily a sin, ladies and gentlemen. Anger is neutral. It is kind of like a crowbar. You can use a crowbar for good if your window is stuck. It will help you open the window. Or you can use a crowbar to bash someone in the head or to break in someone’s home.
Anger is the same. I can use anger in a negative way or a positive way. Constructive anger would be like this. During my sophomore year at Florida State University, I took a biology test and I made a 68 on the test. I was not happy. I said to myself, “This makes me so angry. I am going to ace the next test.” And sure enough, with the help of my girlfriend who is now my wife, Lisa, I aced that next biology test. You know why? I focused my anger in a positive way. Maybe you are a salesperson and you are setting records, getting this account and that account; and then some young buck comes in and takes your major account because you are a little bit lackadaisical. You get angry at yourself. You acknowledge that you have been lazy and you focus your anger and it helps you to work harder. That is constructive anger. That is good.
Christians sometimes think that they should never get angry. They think that to be a believer, they need love, joy, peace, and forgiveness; and kum ba ya, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Those are traits of a believer. However, the Bible says, we are also to get angry. God got angry. The phrase “the anger of the Lord” is mentioned 18 times in the Old Testament. It is mentioned countless times in the New Testament. Jesus got angry in a perfect way.
Do you remember when the men and women were turning the temple into an outlet mall? Jesus didn’t walk up to them and say, “Hey, guys and gals, you ought not do what you are doing. It is not a good idea because, after all, this is My Father’s house.” The Bible says that Jesus made a whip and drove them from the temple. In Matthew 23, Jesus called the Pharisees, “You hypocrites, you white-washed tombs, you serpents.” He modeled anger in a perfect way.
What angers God? The Bible says that any time that God’s will and God’s word is maligned, God gets angry. And that should make us angry. When we see someone who knows Christ personally, thumbing their nose in God’s face, spinning on their heals, and doing their own thing—living in sin when they know better—that should make us angry. It angers the heart of God. God also gets angry when we treat other people differently because of their looks, the color of their skin, their socio-economic level, because of where they went to college or where they live. The Bible says that God gets angry at that. The Bible also says that God gets angry when fathers exasperate their children. So the things that anger God should anger me.
Anger is a complex emotion. I think we need to start by briefly looking at Ephesians, Chapter 4, because it gives us four analogies of anger. We need to know the four analogies of anger because anger is something that is going to come up every day of our lives. Ephesians 4:26, I read the first two words, I will read the rest. “Be angry and yet do not sin.” Anger is neutral, yet when we get angry we have the temptation to fall into sin. It says be angry, yet do not sin.
Here is the first analogy. Anger is like a trapeze. You see anger is not the first emotion that most of us feel. It is the second emotion. Before I show you what I am talking about, I want to discuss Jacob. Jacob is identified in the Bible as having 12 sons. He loved his sons, but there was one son who was the apple of his eye. He showed favoritism to Joseph. He brought Joseph this designer robe. His others brothers hated this and they felt hurt. Their self-esteem took a hit. They were jealous. And instead of feeling those feelings of jealousy and hurt, instead of feeling that feeling of damaged self-esteem, let me tell you what they did. They jumped on the trapeze and leaped over those first emotions and they fell into the arms of the secondary emotion, anger. Anger is always waiting for me. Anger is always waiting for you. Anger says, “Jump over the first emotion. Trapeze over it. I will help you because it is easier to be angry.” And the Bible says that those 11 brothers got so angry, they took Joseph, this gifted young man, and tossed him into a pit.
I think about the husband who calls the wife from work and says, “Honey, I will be home at six.” Six-thirty, he is not there. Seven o’clock, he still is not there. No call. He even has a cell phone. And the wife is upset. She is hurt. She feels so disappointed that she jumps on the trapeze and leaps over those feelings because they are too painful to feel and she jumps into the arms of anger. Her husband walks through the door late and instead of expressing her feelings to him, she hits him with an Uzi round of shots. “You are always late. I cooked a special meal for you. Bam. Bam. Bam.” It is the second emotion.
I ask you. What in your life are you afraid of? What in your life are you leaping over? What in your life are you doing the trapeze thing over, and why are you falling into the arms of anger? Anger is like a trapeze.
Notice the second analogy found also in Ephesians 4:26. It continues. “Do not let the sun go down on your anger.” Anger is also like a bed. Do not let the sun go down on your anger. Don’t sleep on anger. Have you ever been angry at someone and said to yourself, “Self, if I just get myself some shuteye, just go to sleep, when I wake up in the morning everything will be A-okay. I won’t feel these feelings of anger anymore.” The alarm goes off and we don’t wake up singing. Anger intensified because we turn anger over and over and over. We turn it over on the rotisserie grill of our heart and mind. Anger is a bad bed mate. It will poison you. It will intensify. There are many spouses who have gone to bed angry, day after day, week after week, month after month, and little problems have grown into big problems.
Years ago when I used to do a lot of weddings, I would tell the bride and groom to always live by the sunset principle. I would tell them that every time they would see the beautiful Texas sunset, they should think about their relational world and if they had any problem with each other, settle it before going to bed. You see, when the Apostle Paul penned Ephesians 4, the setting of the sun meant the ending of the day and the beginning of a new day. How many times have I slept on anger? How many times have I put distance in my relationship with Lisa because of my pride and because of my hostility. There have been times when Lisa and I have had to stay up to 3:00AM obeying this verse. And I challenge you to do the same.
I think about Jonah when I think about going to bed with anger. Jonah is the quintessential pouting prophet. He walked out of his residence one day and God spoke to his heart and said, “Jonah, go to Nineveh, that wicked, fortified city and preach my forgiveness and love. The Ninevites matter to me.” What did Jonah do? He said, “No way. I am not going through the desert. I am not dealing with those people. God, you should nuke them. They are bad.” And you know the story. He took a Mediterranean cruise. God caused a giant fish to swallow this pouting prophet and while Jonah was in the belly of the fish where the digestive juices were beginning to eat away at him, he had a change of heart. He began to get right with God. The fish vomited him onto dry land. Then Jonah told God that he would go to Nineveh and preach His word. He did and a million Ninevites repented and turned to God. God is happy. The Ninevites are high-fiving each other. Jonah is pouting. Jonah went to bed with anger. He said he couldn’t believe that God saved the Ninevites. He turned it over and over and over again on the rotisserie grill of his mind. We end the story with Jonah saying, “God, just take my life, I can’t believe you saved those evil people.” Anger is like a bed.
Notice the third analogy found in Verse 27 of Ephesians 24, “Do not give the devil an opportunity.” Anger is like a door. When I see a door I think about growing up. My father is paranoid about mosquitoes. It could be warm or cool outside, but if I came home from school and had the door open for 5 seconds, he would be immediately after me to close the door. That is true to this day. We open the door to anger, don’t we? Anger runs with a rough crowd. You talk about some running buddies that are bad. They run with anger.
I think about the first homicide ever recorded in the Bible. Cain and Abel were brothers. Cain and Abel gave offerings to God and God accepted Abel’s offering but rejected Cain’s offering because of Cain’s attitude. Here is what Cain did. Instead of feeling those feelings of jealousy and animosity toward his brother, he jumped on the trapeze and skipped over those to the waiting arms of anger. Then Cain went to bed with anger and slept for a while. Listen to this classic verse. God is speaking to Cain. Genesis 6:7, “Cain, sin is crouching at your door.” Here is Cain. He did the trapeze thing, the bed thing. Sin was knocking at his door. Cain had a choice. Cain could either experience those feelings, confess them to God, get right, or he could open up the door to anger and invite it in. And anger came in and anger led to murder.
Anger also runs with a friend that maybe you have dealt with before. I have dealt with him: revenge. If I open the door to anger and invite anger in, then revenge will come in. A lot of us waste so much time, energy, and effort trying to get back at someone who hurt us. “I’ll get back at that coach. I’ll get back at my Mom. I’ll get back at my ex-spouse. I’ll get back….” And we spend so much time doing that.
The Bible says revenge is useless. If I am vengeful, I am elbowing God out of what He wants to do and what He says He will take care of. Romans 12:19 explains it, “Never take your own revenge. We should leave room for the wrath of God for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine I will repay,’ says the Lord.”
The fourth analogy of anger is found in Verse 29 of Ephesians 4. “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth.” Then in Proverbs 12:18 it says, “Reckless words pierce like a sword.” Anger is like a sword. Have you ever said some things that you wish you could take back when you were angry? Man, I have. I will say, “Oh, I didn’t mean those words, I was just angry.” Nevertheless, I have wounded the person, scarred them. Anger is like a sword, or in the 90s, a lightsaber. I lifted this from my five-year-old son, EJ. Have you seen Star Wars yet? These lightsabers are wicked. They can catch you up. Darth Vader and Luke. Lightsabers are bad, but lightsabers pale in comparison to the tongue. The Bible says that the tongue is like a sword.
In the book of James, the tongue is compared to a fire. About a year ago when we had smaller babies than we do now, Lisa had taken all of their pacifiers and put them in a pot. She was going to sterilize them. Our little girls called the pacifiers “binkeys.” She forgot that the binkeys were in the boiling water. They caught on fire when the water boiled out. You have never in your life smelled anything as bad as binkey smoke. The smoke permeated our house. We had to stay away from our kitchen for at least 48 hours. The tongue is like that. The tongue is like a sword, it is like a fire. It will leave a wound worse than a lightsaber and stench worse than binkey smoke.
We have understood some things today about anger, haven’t we? Anger is like a trapeze, like a bed, like a door, like a sword. That’s good, that is fine. What now do we do about it? I know about it, now what do I do? The Bible says this continuing in Ephesians 4:31, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you.” Well, doesn’t that sound nice. Just put away anger. It is not that easy. Anger is a complex emotion. Look at Verse 32, “…and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other.” Forgiveness is not instantaneous. The forgiveness of God is the source of our forgiveness. It says, ”..forgiving each other just as God, in Christ, has also forgiven you.” God has forgiven me; I should forgive others.
Here are some quick, practical words that we can take home with us as we deal with the feelings of anger. I want you to think about that person in your life that you are prone to get angry at. It could be a spouse. It could be a boyfriend, a girlfriend, a parent, a boss. Who in your life do you really have a problem with? I am going to give you five quick suggestions on how to handle anger with that person:
- Make sure that when you talk to that person, you affirm the relationship. If it is a work situation say, “I value my job. I enjoy working here. This position means a lot to me.” If an interpersonal relationship, “You mean a lot to me and this relationship means even more to a Holy God.” Affirm the relationship.
- Negotiate with “I feel” statements. Don’t do like the wife who jumped to anger and hit her husband with a round of Uzi shots. Negotiate with “I feel” statements. Here is what we do when we are angry. “You never…” “You are always…” Instead say, “I feel hurt. I feel jealous. I feel….”
- Guard the volume level. If our volume level is real loud, the other person will talk louder. The Bible says in Proverbs 15:1 that there is a direct correlation between the volume level and the anger quotient.
- Establish resolve. Go into the relationship and say, “What can we do so that this will not happen again? Can we schedule? Can we call? Can we budget?” And if the person does not want to deal with you, make an attempt. But if they still don’t want to deal with you, shake the dust off your shoes, your Doc Martins, and go the other way. You have at least tried. But try as hard as you can a couple of times before you go your merry way.
- Release the person. Release him. Release her. It is a continual thing for many of us. Some of us for the next six weeks will have to pray, “God, release that young man, release that young woman, release my father, release my former teacher, release them.” We need to do this because we have been damaged, have been seared, and have been hurt due to anger.
Next week I am talking about envy. The third deadly sin. If you are not back, I am going to get angry.