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Welcome back, my friends. I am Aaron Michael Brewster, the creator of The Year Long Celebration of God discipleship experience. And we are here for one reason only — to mature in our worship of Yahweh.
And this series is all about growing in our mercy — being merciful to others as God is to us.
Now, mercy — at its core — is about not giving people what they deserve. So this series is all about the responses God expects us to withhold from people.
Sure, the person standing in front of us may deserve for something bad to happen to them, but the more bad they deserve, the more mercy a merciful person will pour on them.
In order to mature in your Christlikeness, be sure to check out CelebrationOfGod.com for today’s free episode notes, transcript, and mercy resources.
And now let’s do a quick review and then discuss withholding anger.
In order to be merciful as God is merciful, we need to start by recognizing Who He is and who we are. God is the one who punishes, God is the one who gets vengeance, we don’t. He is perfectly able to mete out wrath and judgement in a holy and right way, but we too often fail to exercise divine anger without allowing it to be tainted by or completely overtaken by sinful anger.
Therefore, we recognize that it’s never appropriate to be malicious. Malice is when we intentionally set out to hurt someone, and we don’t care if they know we did it. It can be done to their face, it can be done behind their back, but — in the end — we want them to feel the pain and to know we were the ones who caused it.
And the reality is that we all are far more malicious than we like to think. As long as we’re not getting into fist-fights we assume that we’re not malicious people, but even saying words designed to hurt someone is malicious.
Second, it’s a sin to slander someone. Slander is different from malice because it’s designed to hurt someone else’s opinion of the person at whom we’re angry. At its core, slander is manipulative and controlling, and it often involves gossip and lying.
And then we looked at clamor. Clamor is basically noise-making designed to intimidate, overpower, and thereby control the person at whom we’re yelling. Like everything else we’re discussed, clamor is a result of a self-worshipping desire to control the person with whom we’re fighting.
And, by now, you know that we’re working backwards through the list in Ephesians 4:31, and this brings us to anger.
Now, during our first episode I mentioned that we weren’t really going to take the time to talk about Christ-honoring anger because this series isn’t about Christ-honoring anger, it’s about withholding sin and being merciful.
Therefore, we want to make sure we truly understand what sinful anger is and focus our attention on putting it off in our lives.
However . . . the difference between divine anger and diabolical anger is really important, and I’ve reconsidered talking about it, because if we don’t at least understand the basic differences, we may be deluded into thinking that the sinful anger we need to put off is actually appropriate and good.
To that end, I plan to end today’s episode by making a handful of important observations about the difference between sinful anger and sanctified anger so that we can rightly judge ourselves as to whether or not the anger we’re experiencing is something that needs to be put off or not.
But first, we need to start with . . .
1. Sinful Anger
A. The Definition of Sinful Anger
The anger which Paul is commanding us to put away from us can best be defined as a smoldering, under-the-surface thought process where we dwell on the perceived source of our anger.
The word is contrasted with a concept we’ll discuss next time called “wrath.” Wrath is an explosive, quick-flaming, often unmeditated response.
But anger is meditated; it’s premeditated. It’s described as an agitation of the soul, and it’s the word from which we get our English word “ogre.”
An ogre is depicted as being consistently ill-tempered. He doesn’t just struggle with wrathful outbursts balanced by times of sweetness, he’s always angry.
Anger is the Incredible Hulk — a continual rage even when he’s not smashing things.
B. The Nature of Sinful Anger
First, sinful anger can be camouflaged.
This Incredible Hulk idea should be insightful for us because when the wrathful green monster disappears, he’s not replaced by the happy scientist, he’s replaced by the perpetually angry scientist. That’s because anger can exist internally with very little external indication.
Have you ever been seething about something but managed to maintain what you thought was a casual exterior? This makes sinful anger far more dangerous that anything else we’ve discussed to this point. Malice and slander and clamor are always observable and — generally speaking — easily identified as being wrong.
But sinful anger isn’t as easily observable by our fellow disciples.
Second, sinful anger is the mother of clamor, slander, and malice.
Every form of anger later in the Ephesians 4:31 list almost always grows from the items earlier in the list. Wrath will spring from bitterness; as will anger. And anger is usually a more “mature” form of wrath. Wrath lacks self-control. It’s brainless. And sometimes we view seething anger as being a more gown up response because it appears to have a facade of self-control. But it’s not really more mature, it’s actually more toxic.
The toddler may have screamed until he got his toy back, but at least he has no concept of holding a grudge and mulling over that former injustice and imagining how it will probably happen again next time and how he’d better prepare himself, and so on.
So, it’s important to be able to tell if our explosion was a quick result of mindless wrath or the slow build-up of broiling anger.
The slow-burn version of rage is far more dangerous because it engages the mind in a way that wrath doesn’t. Wrath is a mindless exhibition of our futile hearts, but anger dwells, it interprets, it considers, it thinks, it plans, it premeditates — and it creates excuses and opportunities for clamor, slander, and malice.
This leads to . . .
Third, sinful anger is self-perpetuating.
If you have ogre tendencies, if others perceive you as being perpetually angry, you can be sure you’re not merely reacting instinctually from an immature foundation, you’re actually justifying your sinful, merciless responses.
I know it’s uncomfortable to hear, but you’re actually putting thought into maintaining your sinful anger. You’re legitimizing in your mind how your sinful response is actually good and right and acceptable and deserved.
You’re actually persuading yourself to remain and continue functioning in your bitter, darkened state. For this reason, we could say your anger is more delusional than wrathful outbursts because you’re actually convincing yourself that it’s a right response.
This is one reason Jesus compares anger to murder. Matthew 5:21-22 we read, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”
First, notice that the judgment for anger is identical to the judgment for murder, but also recognize that Jesus illustrates the very next step in that anger being clamorous slander and malice. Those insults may be slanderously aimed at onlookers, or they can be maliciously hurled at the target of our anger.
And the judgement for those sins is greater than the judgment for murder.
In the same way that murder is premeditated in act or intention, anger is premeditated as well, and — according to Jesus — is just as wicked. And God puts a finer point in the premeditated nature of anger in Romans 12:19, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the [anger] of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’”
Our intentioned anger justifies taking our anger out on the person who’s brought discomfort into our lives. That’s called taking God’s job, and it never works.
Now, again, this is different from the non-intellectual explosion of raw emotion we see in wrathful responses. Sinful anger involves reasoning and mulling.
I keep coming back to this in order to help us set up an alarm system in our souls. If you find yourself repeatedly or perpetually stewing about something or someone, you need to recognize that you are seething in sinful, merciless anger.
Fourth, sinful anger is the result of delusion.
You might think that the more you reflect on your anger, the easier it would be to realize that it’s wrong, ill-founded, and sinful. But regardless of how much thought you’ve put into it, despite how many hours you’ve simmered, instead of coming to clarity about our anger, we usually dive deeper into our delusion.
We may be believing a lie or our logic could be very fallacious, but either way, all of our dwelling on on our anger does nothing more than to perpetuate our wrong thinking.
And we all know what this is like. We’ve all done this. We’ve all been obsessed and consumed with a situation we just wouldn’t let go because “we were so angry.” Well, we’re going to see that this is another easy way for us to recognize that God is not glorified by our anger. We may want to call it righteous indignation, but God has given us clear ways to pull the sheep’s clothing from our anger.
Okay, so we’ve looked at the definition of sinful anger and the nature of sinful anger. We learned that sinful anger can be camouflaged, is the mother of worse sins, is self-perpetuating, and delusional.
Now, let’s consider . . .
C. The Exercise of Sinful Anger
I could dream up any number of illustrations through which to work. Maybe someone broke your toy train, crashed your bike, or keyed your car.
Perhaps someone at school told the teacher you cheated just to get you in trouble, or a co-worker slandered you, or your spouse is incredibly contentious.
The illustration doesn’t really matter, because the exercise of our anger will be nearly identical in every case.
So, imagine whatever scenario you want, just make sure it’s valid for you. It’s too easy to look at the way our political opponents wrongly respond to the things we say, but it’s far better for our spiritual maturity to use a real-life example of our own sinful anger.
And — for the sake of consistency — let’s all remember a time that someone did or said something to us that we didn’t like.
This is the moment to be merciful, to show the love of God in Christ-honoring ways. It will involve speaking the truth in love, and there may be legitimate consequences, but our goal is to mercifully pour compassion on them as the Father does for us.
But instead of responding mercifully, we make a decision.
Are you going to give the situation over to God by trusting Him and responding as He would have you respond, or are you going to try to be god.
If you’re willing to trust God, you’re going to submit yourself to His commands for how you respond to the situation. However, if you view yourself as the only person who can “make this right,” then you’ll either likely respond sinfully in the moment, or even if you manage to control your outward responses in the moment, you’ll likely fall asleep dwelling on how unfair it is and how you’ll respond the next time it happens.
That is sinful anger. That’s what we’re discussing today. And I hope you can see that dwelling on how you’ll respond next time is what can easily give way to clamor and slander and malice. You are going to be hardcore tempted to lose your cool the next time that person says or does the same thing.
So . . .
D. The Cure for Sinful Anger
Before we deal with the biblical cure for sinful anger, I need to explain something to you. This series is going to be six episodes long. But there is so much information here, and there’s so little time to talk about it all.
As I study the Word, I can’t justify trying to handle these very real unmerciful sins in just a few episodes, but I also have to make this huge task accessible, helpful, and concise.
I’m trying hard, and I pray it’s been helpful for you. But what complicates this even more is the fact that each of these manifestations of anger are like concentric circles with bitterness at the center. To rightly deal with any of them is to eventually strike at the bitter heart.
But I couldn’t just do an episode about that and leave it there because — as we’ve observed many times — most of the time we have to work through every layer of our Angry Onion until we’re lucid enough to see and respond to our sinful hearts.
Until we recognize how unmerciful malice and slander and clamor are, we’ll be blind to address the anger that gave birth to them.
And — in the same way — if were angry, we have convinced ourselves that the other person is the problem. In our eyes, anyone who can’t see that the other person is to blame is blind to justice. How could anyone confront you about your anger when it’s clearly the other person who’s the real issue? In fact, you might be able to easily argue that if it were not for that person in your life, you wouldn’t be angry in the first place!
So, it often takes far more than we can really unpack in a podcast series to truly work through our personal delusions and submit to the truth of God. That why I want to — once again — encourage you to get help and accountability. Whether it’s writing us at counselor@CelebrationOfGod.com or getting together of team of mature disciplers from your church, please get some help.
It can be very difficult to work yourself through the stages necessary to come to grips with the fact that even though the other person probably really did sin (and shouldn’t sin against you), that person and their sin is not your problem. You are your problem.
Our bitter heart is the issue every single time.
Okay, so, when it came to our malicious tendencies, we focused primarily on managing the physical violence. The same was true for our slander and our verbal violence. And our focus for our clamorous responses included learning to communicate in biblical ways.
Today, though, we’re going to focus on the centrality of Christlike thinking.
1. Our sinful anger needs to be understood.
Proverbs 20:5 says “The purpose in a man's heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.”
The word translated “purpose” refers to a plan, advice, and counsel. It’s something that is thought out, mulled over, and reasoned. This word perfectly refers to the process we undertake when we’re angry.
This smoldering happens below the surface. It’s a mental exercise to replay and replay the offense and reimagine and reimagine what you’ll say when you see them next. It’s in our dreams both waking and sleeping. It’s in our hearts.
But . . . a man of understanding will draw it out.
The word translated “understanding” refers to someone with discretion, someone who’s skilled, someone with wisdom.
To “draw out” is exactly what you may imagine if you picture a bucket being lifted from a well. This is what we must do if we hope to prevent ourselves from becoming angry or to grapple with our current anger.
We need to be able to see what’s going on for what it really is. We need to fight the delusion by really looking at what we have in our hearts.
If I focus on the person in front of me and how they deserve my anger, I won’t be looking at my anger for what it is. Because if I turn my eyes inward for a moment and really look at my anger for what it is, I — as a mature Christian — should be able to easily see how unjustifiable my sinful anger really is.
Once we see our anger for what it is . . .
2. Our sinful anger needs to be compared to truth.
The single best way to prevent yourself from becoming angry is to have a continual internal dialogue consumed with truth.
What is true? How would God have me deal with any potential issues that may arise today? What does God’s mercy in me practically look like?
By the way, this is not a mental exercise for the faint of heart. Transparently and openly viewing my life from the perspective of God and His Word is uncomfortable, tedious, and even a little painful.
I’m likely going to have my sin thrown into sharp relief, and that should cause grief that leads to humble submission to God.
3. Our sinful anger needs others to understand our sin and compare it to truth.
And we’re back to the importance of corporate sanctification.
Angry people need observant friends.
Remember that anger is often under the surface. It’s like a shark or crocodile sliding under the water. But if you have friends who pay close attention, they’ll likely see ripples and color changes and movements that aren’t quite right, and they will lovingly confront you.
I once spoke with an elderly man about what appeared to be clear-cut case of bitterness toward another individual, but he just didn’t see it that way. He had all his reasons his feelings were justified, and with every reason he gave, he further justified in my mind that he was very bitter toward this other individual. But he didn’t get it.
The same will happen to us if we’re not careful.
So, we need to purposefully invite people into our lives and give them permission to confront us with God’s Word. When we do that, we set ourselves up to listen better.
My sister told me about a conversation she had with a dear friend who was discipling her. This lady confronted my sister about something in her life and called her to make a change, but my sister — not wholly buying in to the counsel — dismissed it. But the woman persisted and said, “Did you ask me to disciple you or not?”
We need mature, biblically-minded friends who will listen to our word choices, but also pay close attention to our tone of voice and even our silence. They also need to consider our body language.
We need friends who will become masters of interpretation. They have to be able to detect anomalous behavior and then investigate that in order to draw out our heart.
This is James 5 in action.
James 5:13-18 is the experience of a Christian who recognizes they have a problem and need help. They proactively invite God’s people to speak truth into their lives, and it accomplishes great things in them.
Of course, verses 19-20 also speak to the fact that if we are too spiritually weak to recognize we’re wrong, we needs friends who will turn us back from the error of our ways even when we don’t ask for it.
So, I invite you to share this series with your fellow disciples and share concrete examples from your life of how you respond unmercifully to others.
And one of the most powerful things they can do for you — in addition to everything else I’ve shared — is provide what I call “low-level accountability.”
I love the English language. I love all of our synonyms. I love that we can choose from a panoply of ideas to give our thoughts and emotions life.
But, we often get ourselves in trouble with our linguistic gymnastics.
“I’m not angry, I’m just annoyed.”
“I’m not angry, I’m agitated, aggravated, irritated, frustrated.”
But if our disciplers only confront us when we talk about being angry, and they don’t confront us when we admit to being frustrated, we’ll just keep finding new words to describe our sin.
I’m not suggesting we oversimplify our language so that we’re only ever using the word angry. I’m the guy who wishes we all still talked like Shakespeare, and I believe those other words do allow us shades of meaning that help communicate better.
But I also know that it’s too easy to use those other words as a smokescreen for a different issue.
So, if we're going to use words like annoyed, irritated, frustrated, bothered, or aggravated, our friends need to handle those situations the exact same way they would if we flat-out admitted to being sinfully angry.
What starts as a sliver in our minds can quickly and easily fester and become infected by anger. The longer we don’t deal with it, the bigger the problem will become.
So, when I say that we need low-level accountability, I’m suggesting that our accountability partners deal with things for what they really are. They shouldn’t wait for our hearts to give in to full-blown anger. They should keep us accountable for the seeds that may become anger later on.
And — just like every episode before this — all of these observations point to the fact that . . .
4. Our sinful anger needs to be submitted to the Bible, not pragmatism.
It doesn’t matter that Benjamin Franklin said “A man in a passion, rides a mad horse.” And it doesn’t matter that Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Anger is one letter short of danger.” What matters is what God says.
What matters is that in James 1:19-21 the Lord tells us that every person must “be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”
And then He tells us how to do this. He says, “Put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.”
Sinful anger is a filthy, bitter creature that does not produce the righteousness of God. Instead of getting angry, we must humbly submit to and accept God’s inscripturated Word. That is the only thing that will help us.
We need to see our lives through God’s eyes. We need to truly believe what He says about the people and situations that tempt us to anger, and we need to faithfully mature in humble, submissive obedience.
Okay, so we’ve looked at the definition, nature, exercise, and cure for Sinful Anger. With the little bit of time we have left, let’s briefly consider . . .
2. Sanctified Anger
I have been working as a biblical counselor for over 15 years, so you can imagine how many people with whom I’ve worked had anger issues.
And —as I’ve already admitted — I’ve had to work through my own sinful anger for most of my life.
So, anger is something I’ve studied a lot from the Bible.
And the real issue is not that diabolical anger exists, the catch is that divine anger exists. If divine anger didn’t exist, we would know that all anger is wrong. But the reality that divine anger is something to which God has called us can complicate things.
If we don’t understand the difference between them, our sinful flesh will conveniently interpret everyone else’s anger as being sinful and our own as being sanctified.
So, what is divine anger?
We don’t have time to look at all the biblical passages, but — never fear — I plan to dedicate a short series to this in the future.
For now, let’s recognize that . . .
A. Divine Anger is rooted in truth.
This anger is going to respond obediently and consistently to God’s revelation about Himself, us, and the other person.
Sinful anger cannot stand before the consistently applied Scriptures.
Sure, we may be able to point an accusative finger and proclaim, “They have sinned!” But if our accountability partner can just as easy point at us and say, “You’re sinning too,” our anger has no justification.
B. Divine Anger is motivated by God’s glory.
Sinful anger is motivated entirely by our discomfort, our feelings, our desires. But righteous indignation is all about God.
Divine anger isn’t about how someone treated us. It’s not about how we feel, how we’ve been affected, or what we think about the issue.
Divine Anger is motivated by God’s glory and His glory alone.
It was John Calvin who said, “A dog barks when his master is attacked. I would be a coward if I saw that God's truth is attacked and yet would remain silent.”
Consider I Peter 3:13-17, “Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, 15 but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; 16 and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. 17 For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.”
We must zealously and unintimidatedly defend what is right by speaking truth in love. We must consistently glorify God no matter what comes our way, but even if our sufferings and persecutions don’t cease, we are to recognize God’s will through it all and respond accordingly.
So, if our anger is rooted in truth and therefore motivated by God’s glory . . .
C. Divine Anger has a time limit.
Psalm 4 and Ephesians 4 both speak about righteous anger that meditates on our beds and doesn’t allow the sun to set on it. These passages and others have led me to conclude that Divine Anger is unsustainable in the human heart.
God can be perpetually and yet righteously angry at sin. And the whole of the Scriptures reveal Him to be just that.
But we can’t. We’re finite, limited, impotent, and given to sin. For these reasons and more, there has to be a time limit to our anger.
1. Our Sanctified Anger will cease when the object of our anger submits to truth.
There is no reason to continue simmering when the individual has recognized their sin, confessed, and repented.
It’s resentment and sinful anger that continues to hold that against them.
2. Our Sanctified Anger will cease when God judges the person.
God is the judge, and when the individual receives the just consequences of their choices, we have no more reason to be angry. God has gotten His divine vengeance. He is satiated, and so must we.
However, if the individual doesn’t submit to truth and/or God doesn’t judge the person right away . . .
3. Our Sanctified Anger will cease when we leave the person’s presence.
I hope you can see how this flies in the face of sinful anger. Sinful Anger seethes and simmers most often when the object of the anger isn’t even around.
We rehearse the conversation, we re-experience what they did to us, we replay the confrontation . . . but Sanctified Anger has no need to do that.
God has more important things for us to be doing than wasting emotional energy on being angry at someone who isn’t even in our presence. We can’t influence them for right. We can’t speak truth in love. We can’t one-another them . . . so why are we angry?
That response betrays the fact that our anger is about our glory, and not God’s.
But what if the person doesn’t submit to truth, but also hasn’t received the divine consequences of their choices, and when the evening comes, they’re right next to us in bed?
Yes, there is an important caveat for Sanctified Anger in regard to our spouses, siblings, and other roommates who share our sleeping spaces.
4. Our Sanctified Anger will cease when the evening comes even if the person is still in our presence.
Whether therefore we eat or drink or go to sleep, we must do so all to the glory of God. Anger is not going to help me sleep. Therefore, Sanctified Anger will be replaced by whatever Christ-honoring task God has for me. And when it comes time to sleep, that is the task God has appointed for me.
It’s not time to continue speaking truth in love. It’s time to sleep. No kind of anger is going to help me sleep to the glory of God.
Divine Anger is unsustainable in a human. Therefore, if it really is Divine, it will cease at the appropriate times. However, if our anger continues beyond any of these boundaries, we can know our anger is sin.
Thank you for your patience today.
I’m going to close with my former admonishment. There is so much more that needs to be said. It’s not easy to rightly understand our hearts, and sometimes that’s even easier than knowing what to do once we’ve drawn it out.
Please, seek counsel. Get help from people who know God’s Word. No matter how hard it is, the answer is simple — to control our anger we need to know, understand, and believe what God says about trials and tribulations.
Okay, so please continue sharing this series because we all need to be merciful as God is merciful.
And join us next time as we seek to better know, love, and worship God and help the people in our lives do the same.
To that end, we’ll be peeling back yet another layer and discussing the emotional facet of our wrath.
I love you guys, and I pray the Lord would be glorified in your merciful lives.
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The Year Long Celebration of God is a discipleship experience designed to equip followers of Christ to better know, love, and worship Him as they help others in their lives do the same. We exalt God, teach His people how to practically worship Him every day of the year, and train them to disciple others.
Whether it's a small group, church, classroom, one-on-one, or community relationship, this resource is guaranteed to draw people closer together as they draw closer to God.
AMBrewster is the creator of The Year Long Celebration of God and host of its podcast.