Have you ever thought about how much we are influenced by our emotions? Now, we (particularly men) would like to think that we live our lives in a logical or orderly way based on good sound reasoning, but often that is not the case. Most of the time, we live our lives, governed and controlled by our emotions. For instance, let’s think about how we buy automobiles. Most of the time, the dominant factor in the automotive buying decision is an emotional one. Now, we would like to think it is the price or some other practical aspect, but most of the time it is not! It’s not the price because even when the asking price might be a bit more than we would like, our emotions overrule our logic to justify the purchase. And what emotion is that? In the final analysis, we purchase the automobile because of how it makes us “feel,” whether that feeling be a sense of pride in ownership, experiencing the thrill of a new car, or the feeling of having arrive at the status level the automobile symbolizes. That is why some people buy certain automotive brands. When the small-talk at the dinner party is about what automobile people drive, there is a different emotion projected and felt when people say they drive a Mercedes or a BMW as opposed to them saying they drive a Hyundai or a Mazda. I’ve heard it said that people will: “Buy what they cannot afford, with money they don’t have, to impress people they don’t even like!” Why would they do such a foolish thing? It is a vain attempt to satisfy the emotions fostered by pride and showmanship!
Why do most people who drink alcoholic beverages or take drugs do it? They indulge in such behavior because of the way these substances make them “feel.” They want to feel a buzz or a high or maybe they just want to forget about how their problems make them feel. But when or if they become addicted, they are caught in a vicious cycle within which the feeling is no longer a want, but rather a need! It’s all about the emotive sensation! I even read a news story recently in which the suspect admitted to killing someone because of the excitement they wanted to feel in committing a murder! Can you image that? They killed somebody to satisfy an emotional feeling! Now, most murders are not committed because of the excitement, but emotions still play a major role! People get angry, jealous, resentful, feel disrespected, frighten or afraid. All of these emotions have played major roles in justifying murder or a killing in the minds of the ones who committed the act.
But it’s not only negative things that are driven by emotions, positive things are driven by emotions also! Why, after all these years, did you decide to go back to school and earn that degree? Because you wanted feel the pride that comes from a sense of accomplishment! At least that’s the answer I got from a 68-year-old grandmother who sat next to me in a college class several years ago! Why are you so nice to help people you don’t even know when they need help? Because it’s just the right thing to do and you feel good, knowing that you are making a difference in someone else’s life!
We are all motivated by our emotions much more than we realize or are willing to admit. The key is to be aware of the role emotions play in our lives and then work to make sure our emotions are serving us as opposed to us being slaves and serving our emotions.
Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath:
Ephesians 4:26 KJV
And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry,
Ephesians 4:26 NLT
Of all of the emotions we experience, anger is perhaps the most volatile and dangerous! Someone has said that anger is like a wild horse that must be tamed! Yes! I’m sure all of us can testify of people who have gone to an early grave because of uncontrolled anger! We all know of someone in prison because of uncontrolled anger! Over and over again, we have heard of people who have said things they shouldn’t have said and done things they shouldn’t have done because of uncontrolled anger! It was uncontrolled anger that caused the first murder! Cain killed Abel because he did not control his anger! Yes! Of all the emotions, anger has the potential of causing the most harm! And so, my brothers and sisters, it is imperative that we learn how to master the emotion of anger!
Now before we learn how to master the emotion of anger, we must understand that anger is natural part of our humanity. In other words, anger is not an abnormal or an aberrant emotion. However, Christianity has traditionally discounted anger, describing it as part of our “carnal nature” and representative of human depravity. By the Middle Ages, anger had become one of the Seven Deadly Sins. Sermons have traced anger back to the Fall and many preachers have suggested that were it not for original sin, human beings would not be plagued by anger at all! Therefore, many Christians believe that anger is rooted in our sinful nature and has no place in the life of a mature Christian. But if anger is sin, then God is a sinner! The OT is full of statements that refer to God’s anger. In Exodus 4:14, the Lord became angry with Moses. Numbers 11:1 tell us that the Lord’s anger was kindled against the Children of Israel in the wilderness. Psalm 7:11 tells us that God is angry with the wicked everyday! If anger is a sin, then Jesus was a sinner! Mark 3:5 says that Jesus was angry because of the hardness of the religious leaders’ hearts when he healed the man with the withered hand on the Sabbath day. Jesus was angry when he whipped the money-changers out of the Temple! No! Anger is not sin: Anger is a universal emotion that all of us experience! Even God experiences anger!
Therefore the emotion of anger is not in itself sinful; it is our response to the emotion of anger that is often sin. No! It is not so much the anger that is sin; it is what is done in response to the anger! Anger becomes sin when anger is in control. Let me show you what I’m talking about: The first instance of anger recorded in the Bible is in the story of Cain and Abel. The Bible says that in the process of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground. Abel also brought an offering of the firstborn of his flock and the fat portions thereof. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering, he had no regard. In other words, the Lord accepted Abel and his offering, but He rejected Cain and his offering. Because of this, the Bible says that Cain was very angry and depressed. And the Lord said to Cain: “Why are you angry and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it!” Now, we don’t have time now, so I’m not going to get into the particulars as to why Abel and his offering was accepted while Cain and his offering was rejected. What I want to point out is that the Lord told Cain his anger would lead him into sin, but it didn’t have to be that way! If Cain had just gained the mastery over his anger and done the right thing, everything would have been all right! Of course, we know the story! Cain did not exercise dominion over his anger and he killed his brother!
I brought us to this text because it presents an interesting possibility that has been traditionally overlooked by most Biblical scholars, commentators, and the Church! Notice that this incident is after the Fall but before Pentecost! Yet according to the text, Cain had the capacity to control and master his anger! In other words, although Cain had a depraved nature and did not have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the Lord said that he still could have controlled and mastered his anger! Cain killed Abel because he refused to exercise control and master his anger. He allowed anger to master and gain control over him! There is no neutral ground, whether it’s anger or any other emotion; you either control your emotions or your emotions will control you!
The KJV rendition of our text says: “Be angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down on your wrath.” Some have interpreted this as a command to be angry. But a careful analysis of the syntax of the Greek text suggests that Paul was saying: “If you become angry.” Or “Even if you are angry.” Or “In your anger.” “Do not sin!” And don’t let your anger roll over into the next day! Deal with your anger appropriately and in a timely manner. Therefore, I favor the New Living Translation which says: “Don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry.” The sin is not in getting angry; the sin is in letting your anger control you!
By now you might be saying: “Well preacher, we know how anger can and often does gain control over us, now tell us how we can gain control over our anger.” The first step in mastering the emotion of anger is to recognize and acknowledge it for what it is! You must first recognize the fact that you are angry! Sometimes anger can disguise itself behind other feelings. Most people don’t recognize them as such, but jealousy and resentment are really forms of anger! When you are jealous of what someone else has; you are really just angry that you don’t have what they have! And then, we need to acknowledge we are angry when we are angry. Many times, because of embarrassment and guilt, we try to deny our anger by calling it something else. I’ve heard religious people say: “I’m not angry! I’m just filled with righteousness indignation!” Shakespeare said: “A rose by any other name is just as sweet.” So, no matter how you try to dress it up, anger by any other name is still anger! Unless you recognize and acknowledge your anger; you will never deal with anger appropriately.
The second step is to take responsibility for your anger. Don’t try to shift the responsibility for your anger to someone or something else. I’ve heard people say it, and I have even said it myself: “He or she made me mad!” Or “That made me mad!” But the truth of the matter is: Nobody and nothing can “make” us mad! We have a choice! If we become angry, our anger is really not because of the actions of the other person or the situation; it is because of how we perceived and chose to respond. Mark Cosgrove, author of “Counseling for Anger,” says: “Nothing makes people angry. . . People make themselves angry. . . At their most fundamental level, they have chosen to be angry.” Andrew Lester, author of “The Angry Christian” says: “Because we can normally choose which narratives threaten us and which do not, we have a significant amount of freedom to decide not only what we do with our anger, but also what we allow to trigger our anger in the first place. The freedom to choose makes it inappropriate to place responsibility for experiences and expressions of anger on anyone or anything beyond ourselves.” One definition of anger is: “An emotion related to one’s psychological interpretation of having been offended, wronged or denied and a tendency to undo that by retaliation.” Notice, the definition says that anger is an emotion related to one’s psychological interpretation of having been offended, wronged or denied.” In other words, our anger is a reaction, not necessarily to what is, but more so to what we perceive in our mind to be! That’s why often we get angry over things and situations that often turn out to be things and situations in which our anger is not justified. So in taking responsibility for our anger, we must understand and acknowledge that when we get angry it is because we choose to do so! And we must understand and acknowledge that sometimes we choose to get angry, not because of what really is, but more so because of our perception of what is!
The third step in mastering anger is to figure out the why. OK, so we acknowledge that we are angry. We take responsibility for our anger: It’s not somebody else fault, we decided to become angry! But the question is why? Why are we angry? Find out whether feeling threaten and thereby feeling angry is necessary and appropriate. Sometimes we get angry over something that is really not worth getting angry about! And once we discover that our response is indeed inappropriate and unjustified, we must learn how to interrupt and change our response. We can do this by just taking the time to stop and think! Most of the time, our anger is really just a habitual reaction! We get angry, not because it’s appropriate and justified, but we get angry because, in similar circumstances we have always gotten angry! Our anger response has become a habit!
Well there is whole lot more I could say about mastering the emotion of anger, but let me just close by saying that it is imperative that we do so! Uncontrolled and unresolved anger is a cancer to the soul and the body! Not only does it affect our walk with the Lord and our relationships with one another, it also affects the health of the body! Chronic internal unresolved anger will cause headaches, high blood pressure, nervous stomach and irritable bowel syndrome!
Remember, the spirit controls the mind. The mind controls the emotions. And the emotions control the body! We can master the emotion of anger when we let the Spirit of God have His way in our lives! We can master the emotion of anger when our minds are renewed by the Word of God and we think the thoughts that God would have us to think! We must master the emotion of anger because if we don’t, it not only will master us, it will destroy us as well!
A few years ago, I preached a series of sermons on “Mastering the Emotions.” The gist of the series was to highlight just how much our emotions affect our lives and to highlight the fact that if we don’t master our emotions, our emotions will master us!
The following is the text of the introductory sermon of that series and I will post the rest of the sermons of that series in the next posts:
“Mastering the Emotions”
“Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.”
Proverbs 16:32 ESV
“He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls.”
Proverbs 25:28 KJV
In Genesis 1:26-28, the record states: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” This passage has been labeled as the Dominion Mandate because from it we learn God’s original intent was for humanity to have dominion over the earth! In addition to the broken fellowship and the lost relationship with the Creator, another consequence of man’s rebellion was the loss of dominion! For you see, Adam did not lose Heaven in Garden of Eden; he lost dominion! But thank God today! The Last Adam was sent restore everything the first Adam lost! We often preach and teach that Jesus came to restore man’s relationship with God and that is true, but he also came to restore man’s dominion. However, this relationship can’t be restored and the dominion cannot be realized except through faith in Jesus! One of the things that so distresses me about the modern church today, is that we really don’t know how blessed we are! We don’t know how great our salvation really is! We settle for a ticket to Heaven when we die, but our salvation is so much greater than that! Now, just like anybody else, I want to go to Heaven when I die! But I discovered that eternal life is a present possession of the believer and that eternal life provides power for victory in this life as well as an eternal dwelling in the next! Through Jesus, in addition to going to Heaven when we die, we also regain the dominion that Adam lost while we live!
Now this dominion, this power, this authority and ability to master and rule is needed in every aspect of our lives! But nowhere is it more needed than in our personal development. Of the many things that seek to hinder us from being all that God created us to be, the greatest threat to personal growth and maturity is the person in the mirror! We try to put the blame on other people, on things and even on the devil, but our main problem is our self! Most of the pain and misery we experienced in life is self-inflicted because we fail to exercise self-control.
Our text words say that the one who rules his spirit (that is his emotions) is better or greater than the one who captures a city! On the other hand, the one who has no rule over his spirit is like a city with broken walls! Taken together, these proverbs illustrate our need to master the emotions! We must master our emotions because if we don’t control our emotions, our emotions will control us!
Now before you take issue with that statement, permit me to show you just how much our lives are influenced by our emotions. First of all, we must understand that emotions are a natural part of our make-up! The LORD GOD did not create us as machines with no feelings or emotions. And our feelings or emotions work like a closed-circuit. Our emotions dictate our actions, while at the same time our actions influence our emotions. There are some people who like to think that their actions are dictated directly and only by their reasoning or their will. But that is not how the human psyche works! It is our emotions or feelings that directly dictate our actions! Let me show you what I’m talking about! Our nation, yes, even the world is facing an epidemic of alcohol and substance abuse. But why do people take drugs and drink alcohol? They do it to make themselves “feel” a certain way! Why does a person buy a luxury automobile or a sports car? They do it because owning and driving those vehicles make them feel a certain way! Some people get depressed about their bills. So, to make themselves feel better, they eat or go shopping! They don’t eat because they are hungry; they eat because eating makes them feel better! They go shopping, often buying clothes or items they really don’t need and in many cases, can’t afford, but they do it to make themselves feel better! Some people even come to church, not to find solutions for their issues, but merely for an emotional experience to make them feel better! These people come to church with what I call, “a night-club mentality!” They don’t come to gain strength or to find answers to their problems; they come just to have a “good time!” All of these actions are dictated, not directly by the reason or the will, but rather, by the emotions! Our emotions cannot and should not be denied, however they should be dealt with in the appropriate manner! The emotions will make you or they will break you! If you don’t master and control your emotions; your emotions will surely master and control you!
So how does one master and control the emotions? The first key is in learning how our emotions work in the dynamics of the human experience. As I said earlier, our actions are not directly dictated by our reason or our will, but rather by our emotions. In other words, we do what we do because of what and how we feel. Our actions are either in response to emotions or we act to stimulate or evoke emotions. In other words, we do what we do because we feel a certain way or we do what we do to feel a certain way! In either case, the direct dictating factor is the emotions! But the Bible says that we shouldn’t live at the mercy of our emotions! The Bible says we should rule our spirit! We should master our emotions! But the question remains: How? How do emotions work and how and where do they fit in the human equation? Well, if we are to believe the Bible, we were created as spiritual beings wrapped in human flesh. Therefore our essential core is spirit! It is through our spirit that we commune with God because God is Spirit. It is the spirit that governs our mind and it is our mind that governs our emotions. It is our emotions that govern our actions and it is our actions that produce the results or the circumstances in our lives. Therefore, if we want to change the circumstances or the results we get in our lives, we must start with our spirit and our mind. Now, without the help of the Holy Spirit, the human spirit does not have the capacity to access the power and wisdom needed to successfully master the emotions! The only way for man to successfully “rule over” or have dominion is to first submit to the authority and dominion of God. Once we are in right relationship with God, the human spirit is energized by the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit empowers and teaches Divine Wisdom. It is through the power of the Holy Spirit and the wisdom of the Word of God that our spirits are made alive and our minds are renewed. Now, our minds need to be renewed because it is the mind that governs our emotions and it is our emotions that govern our actions and it is our actions that create the circumstances of our lives. The Bible has always said it, but now psychologists, physicians and clinicians of many disciplines, all testify that how and what we think has a direct bearing on how and what we feel. Thinking “happy thoughts” produces happy feelings. Thinking sad or depressing thoughts produce feelings of sadness and depression. The key to the equation is that we have absolute control over our thoughts. However, most people don’t exercise this control and thereby allow their minds to be easily influence to think counter-productive thoughts, which in turn produce counter-productive emotions, which in turn produce counter-productive actions, which in turn produces counter-productive circumstances in their lives! Now remember, it is our thoughts that govern our emotions! Therefore if we are feeling a certain way, we can change the way we feel by simply changing our thoughts! That’s why the Bible says we should only think on certain things! Paul said: “Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”
Yes! When our spirit is correctly aligned with the Spirit of God, in Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, we can master our emotions! We can exercise the dominion that God created us to have! We can master the emotions! It can be done! That’s why it’s repeated over and over again in the Bible: “Fear not!” We can master the emotion of fear! Jesus said: “Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid!” By implications he was saying: You are in control! Jesus also said: “Don’t be anxious! Don’t be angry at your brother without a cause! We can master anger, anxiety, depression and fear! God wouldn’t command us to do something if it was not possible for us to do it! We can master our emotions! And master them we must, because if we don’t, we will be mastered by them! And if we live, mastered by our emotions, then we are living under the dominion of the flesh! And the Bible says that those who are living in the flesh cannot please God! It is within the dominion of the flesh that the devil operates and exercises dominion over our lives! Therefore, we must master our emotions by living in the Spirit! Yes! We can master the emotions and master them we must if we are to achieve the victory and dominion our salvation provides!