Just in a matter of hours before writing this post, I read of a young man who was killed in an argument with a group of five other individuals. This occurred only days after the tragic and senseless killing of rapper; Nipsey Hussle. It’s the same old story repeated and multiplied across the country: Someone is involved in an argument or a personal dispute, but their pride and the need to be respected will not allow them to just walk away! There must be some type of retaliation! After all, they don’t want to be perceived as being ‘soft’ or being a ‘doormat.’ And so, they retaliate! It is at that point that the situation escalates because usually the force of the retaliation is much greater than the initial perceived wrong!
There was an Old Testament biblical ruling that stipulated an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth! The purpose of that law was to maintain an equal and even level of retaliation. In other words, it was designed to prevent much of what we are seeing today! Jesus would come along later and say: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Matthew 5:38-39 ESV) But not only have we gotten to the point that it is seemingly impossible for most people today to ‘turn the other cheek,’ most people today cannot even abide by the old ‘eye for an eye’ standard! Instead of an eye for an eye, it seems that many have sunk to the standard of ‘a life for an eye! I can’t tell you the number of cases I have heard of people killed or shot, simply because the shooter ‘felt’ disrespected or wronged in some way! It seems as though, now-days; pride and respect are more important to some people than life itself! This attitude is utterly senseless and ridiculous! But what can we do?
When I was in school, I learned Math, Science, English, and some other subjects. But, the one thing I was not taught in school was conflict resolution! Whether it is taught in the schools or made a requirement before people can have children, we must find a way to re-instill the proper respect for the sanctity of human life within our culture and society! Too many of our young men and women are dying too soon! Too many mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, and children are crying at the graves of the victims of senseless violence! It’s not the wall at the Mexican border! It’s not even health-care or any of the other political ‘hot-potatoes’ most politicians are talking about! The epidemic of violence and senseless death is the American national emergency!
But the politicians are too busy trying to get reelected! Many of the churches are too busy preaching prosperity and running after blessings! Dads are too busy trying to close the deal at the office or playing golf at the club! Moms are too busy, trying to be like Stella and get their grooves back! But in the words of the late Marvin Gaye; “There’s got to be a way, to get some unity here today! What’s going on?”
There is no use in waiting for the politicians to pass new laws! There is something all of us can do right now! Quit looking for others to start a new initiative! It has to start with you! It has to start with me! If we, that is, just you and I, resolve within ourselves that we are going to be part of the solution we seek; the resolution will not be far away! We must stop pointing the finger and blaming others and do what we can to be part of the solution and not part of the problem!
What can we do? The next time we are offended or wronged, count to ten before any type of response! Take a deep breath and ask questions: Is the response justified in light of the offense? In other words; ‘Am I about to shoot a fly with a shotgun?’ What will be the consequence of my response when the dust settles? In other words; If I shoot the fly with the shotgun, I may or may not kill the fly, but who’s going to fix the wall? Is my pride and need for respect causing me to write a check that I cannot afford to be cashed? Is it really worth it?
There is an old ancient proverb that says: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step!” Will you join me in taking a step today? Will you join me in doing whatever can be done to be a positive influence on those around us? It seems a bit overwhelming! The negativity and the violence seem enormous and gigantic! But it’s really no different than the journey of a thousand miles! The journey will only be completed and the senseless violence and death that has engulfed our culture will only subside to the light of life and sanity, one step and one person at a time!
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!
Do you the difference between a thermostat and a thermometer? A thermostat is a device that is used to set the temperature, but a thermometer is a device that is used to register the temperature. When it comes to life situations, most people are thermometers. For the most part, most people do not set the temperatures of their lives; they just merely react to the temperatures that life sets for them! They are like bubbles on the water and waves on a storm-tossed sea. To them, life is a series of events of which they feel that they have no control. They specialize in singing the Doris Day theme song: “Kai Sari, Sari! The future is not ours to see! Whatever will be will be! Kai, sari, sari!”
But I want you to know today that you don’t have to live your life just being a thermometer, merely registering the temperatures set by people and circumstances beyond your control! You don’t have to be merely reactive; you can be proactive! You need to realize that there is a certain amount of control you can have over what happens in your life; if you would just take that control! Let me give you a simple example of what I am talking about. Have you ever heard the expression, or perhaps you have used it yourself: “He/she made me mad!” Let’s analyze that statement for a second. If that person indeed made you mad, then that means that the person in question had an undue amount of control and influence over you at that time! But the fact of the matter is this: (Read my lips!) No one can really “make” you mad! You become angry because that is how you choose to respond to stimulus provided by other people. You can choose not to get upset! You get upset and angry because that’s the way you choose to respond to the situation! But no one can “make” you mad! Now while we, in many cases, cannot control how people may treat us, we can control how we respond to the way they treat us! When we respond to inflammatory situations with heated responses, we are just thermometers registering the temperature. But, when we choose to respond with kindness, we take control of the situation and set the temperature to a level we choose to operate in.
Even if you have been a thermometer up to this point and you would like to be a thermostat; all it takes is for you to realize and act upon the knowledge that you have a certain amount of control! As long as you are content to remain a thermometer, other people will use you to serve their own ends and will always control your life. If you don’t have a plan for your life, you can bet that someone else does and chances are, their plans for you will not serve your best interest! You say that the temperature in your life is too hot or too cold? Quit grumbling and complaining because you have the power to change the temperature! The choice is up to you: Either you live the rest of your life, being a thermometer, merely registering the temperature or you decide that, from this day forward, you are going to be the thermostat and change the temperature of your life to a setting that is more comfortable for you!