A sermon by Howard Batson, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Amarillo, Tx.
August 11, 2013
Proverbs 15:1 “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
Proverbs 16:32 “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city.”
Proverbs 17:27 “He who restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding,”
Proverbs 19:11 “A man’s discretion makes him slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook a transgression.”
Proverbs 19:19 “A man of great anger shall bear the penalty, for if you rescue him, you will only have to do it again.”
Proverbs 22:24 “Do not associate with a man given to anger, or go with a hot-tempered man.”
The book is so old, and yet so relevant. Every time I read Proverbs, I’m amazed. It seems like the wise sage already knew everything that we think we’re discovering today.
I came across an article written May 2013, just a few months ago, in the health and science section of the Washington Post, entitled “Angry Outbursts Are Linked to Increased Risk of Heart Attack.” The old adage goes, it is better to let your anger out, or you’ll suffer from repressed anger.
Not so, says the Washington Post. They actually studied 4,000 heart attack patients and discovered that those who had “flown into a rage” during the previous year were more than twice as likely to have had their heart attack within two hours of that episode compared to other times.
The study was conducted by Elizabeth Mostofsky, a post-doctoral fellow with a cardio-vascular epidemiology research unit at Harvard Medical School. The greater the fury, she concluded, the higher the risk. The report can also be found in the American Journal of Cardiology.
Let’s see what Proverbs says about our anger. Proverbs 14:29: “He who is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who is quick-tempered exalts folly. A tranquil heart is life to the body, but passion is rottenness to the bones.” I tell you what angry outbursts really amount to. Scripture tells us they are:
(1) giving place to the devil (Ephesians 4:26-27)
(2) grieving the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30)
(3) contrary to the mind and example of Christ
(Matthew 11:29; Philippians 2:3-5; 1 Peter 2:23)
(4) inconsistent with professing the gospel (Colossians
(5) degrading to human nature (Proverbs 25:8;
(6) a work of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21)
(7) condemning to hell (Matthew 5:22)
Hard words, a tough list, I know. That list will be online; you can check it out and make sure I’m being true to both the context and meaning of scripture.
The proverbial sage is advising us to be slow to anger, to make more resourceful responses to the very angry world around us. “He who is slow to anger has great understanding.” Sometimes, unfortunately, the spirit is hasty, and we find a very short path to explosion. Someone says something that offends; we feel misunderstood; we feel belittled … it’s like a spark on hot hay on an August day.
We have that moment when we feel anger washing over us. In my own case, it’s a feeling of a boiling water inside that must surely explode to the outside. Inside, our flesh is shouting, “You won’t talk to me that way! You won’t treat me this way!” There’s another voice inside of us telling us not to let go, not to give in. But, before we know it, the genie is out of the bottle, and all the world is destroyed, at least the world we live in. In cooler moments, we look back, and if we’re honest with ourselves, we’re ashamed…ashamed that so small a thing caused such a big flame.
The proverbial sage is calling us to be slow to anger because, he says, when we are quick-tempered, we fall into foolishness. Hey, “a tranquil heart is life to the body, but our anger is rotten to the bones.” He’s right, you know; our anger does destroy us.
The American Psychological Association says when we become angry, our heart rate and blood pressure go up, our energy hormones go up, adrenaline kicks in, and there is a whole host of physiological responses to our emotional impulse. One person who was prone to outrage told his therapist, “I’m afraid if I ever let go and just really feel it, I’ll blow up the whole world.”
I know most of us are not going to be so foolish as to blow up the world with bombs and machine guns, but, on the other hand, I do know that many of us, myself included, have blown up the world in which we live by our bombastic explosions of anger.
Now I want to tell you a lie: Anger is an emotion that we can’t help. Anger is a feeling we cannot overcome. If we are angry at someone, it’s because we just can’t help ourselves. We are human. We have no choice except to be angry. That’s a lie. Unfortunately, it’s a lie that many people believe; they believe this lie in order to excuse their anger. After all, if we can’t help but be angry, then our rage is never our fault, is it? But if anger is a choice…
(Phillip Gulley, For Everything a Season, p. 204, “Anger Substituted for Hatred”)
If I were to ask everybody in this room who had ever committed an act of anger which you later regretted to raise your hand, I can truly say that most of the hands in this room would go up. And if I said, “If you have ever said something out of the impulse of anger that you later regretted, raise your hand.” Indeed, it should be a unanimous vote. So I’m guilty; you’re guilty; let’s be honest; let’s work on it together. Let’s listen to the proverbial sage.
I found a story of an Australian woman who had her lifelong dream of a fairy tale wedding end abruptly when her fiance dumped her to marry someone else. But she had her day of revenge masquerading as a man, wearing a mustache and a beard. She carried a bucket of manure to her boyfriend’s wedding; as the wedding party strolled through the park, she poured the cow manure all over the bride who took her place. She told the court she had intended to tip the bucket on her former fiance but was unable to get near him at the time, so she hurled the stinky stuff all over the bride instead. She pled guilty; she said she became so depressed and angry after her fiance called off their two-year engagement. The bride is seeking $1,923 for compensation for damage to her wedding dress. (U.S.A. Today, Nov. 4, 1997)
Or, I actually found a story in Forbes Magazine all the way back to March 1, 1996; an anger management counselor lost his temper and punched a man who arrived drunk for a class. The man punched lapsed into a coma and was later declared brain dead, punched to death by an out of control “malice manager.” If the anger management counselor can let his temper get the best of him, I know the rest of us truly can. And indeed, it’s not always our fists; sometimes it’s our tongue.
Whatever I said in anger,
Whatever I said in spite,
I’m sorry I spoke so quickly.
I thought of some worse ones last night.
(Faith of the Second Mile, p. 27, Winfred Moore)
A few years ago, I was traveling to a graveside funeral when I believed an 18-wheeler was improperly pulling into my lane without checking for oncoming traffic. Sometimes these big-rigs think that their size gives them the right to use their might. I wouldn’t yield; he wouldn’t yield. He kept coming; I kept coming. His rig was 10 times bigger than my car, so I swerved and missed the truck as it crept onto the service road, and well OK, I did it; I slowed down just a bit after I swerved in front of him so I could make sure that he had time to stop and think about his bullying with that big monstrous machine. He had two choices: he had to either stop and let me correct him or run right into my “Come Join the Family at First Baptist Church” bumper sticker! Isn’t that awful? He chose to stop instead of getting written up for hitting me in the rear. I looked back in my rearview mirror, and he was waving at me with both hands, except for his third fingers seemed to be stuck in a most impolite position. Road rage! He had it. OK. OK. I did, too.
Anger can get the best of us. Psychology Today (1993) asked the question, “If you could secretly push a button and thereby eliminate any person with no repercussions to yourself, would you push that button?” 69% of males said they would, as well as 56% of females.
Let’s see how you respond to these questions. Let me give you the quiz.
Do you find it hard to forgive and forget past hurts or offenses? Do you try to get back at those who have mistreated you? Do you act cool and distant and unfriendly to those you believe have mistreated you? Do your feel any joy in your enemy’s suffering? Do you say biting and sarcastic things about your enemies? Do your overreact to little things because it taps into old hurts? Do you find it hard to compromise in such a way that everyone can walk away feeling like a winner? Do you sometimes feel bitter and intolerant? Resentful? Irate? Vindictive? Hateful? Belligerent? Mad? Agressive? Spiteful? Callous? Malicious? Antagonistic? Cold? Critical? Mean? Cruel? Rebellious? or Ruthless? Do you view different opinions and viewpoints as a personal challenge to you? Do you often become angry at others when you see a trait that you can’t stand in yourself? Do you often assume you know another’s motivation for an action or a word, thinking that he/she intentionally tried to upset you, ignored your wishes, or disrespected you? Do you find yourself sometimes looking for things to be upset about, blowing past everything that is positive and letting small irritations build until you reach the final straw? If so, you might be a candidate to listen to a sermon on anger.
Of course, at the onset, I want to say that not all anger is sinful; even Jesus was angry. But I must hasten to say that most of my anger is sinful and inappropriate. It is so difficult to be angry with the right person to the right degree at the right time for the right purpose and the right way. It’s not easy. In fact, few of us have godly, righteous anger. The problem is that each of us believe that, in our case, our anger is the exception. We think our own anger must be righteous because, well, simply because it’s ours. (Dr. William Baccus, “What Your Counselor Never Told You”, p. 100)
Your anger is not righteous if it has a desire for revenge. I’ll give you an example of righteous anger. In Dickens’s novel Nicholas Nickleby, Nicholas has right rage. He sees a monstrous school master, Squeers; in the scenario, Squeers is brutally beating a poor, vunerable, retarded child nearly to death for commiting no offense. And Nickleby, energized by his righteous anger at injustice, puts Squeers out of action with crippling blows, thereby saving the poor retarded child’s life. The righteous anger was in defense, not of himself, but a helpless, innocent other. Sometimes our anger can be righteous, but most of the time it’s not.
Let’s learn some things about anger today.
I. First of all, anger is a way of passing our psychological pain on to others. Often we hurt the people closest to us: spouses, parents, children, coworkers, and friends. The reality is that at the base of our anger are feelings of embarrassment, insecurity, hurt, shame, vunerability. All of these are inside of us, but boil over to hurt those around us.
II. Being slow to anger solves a pound of problems.Look at what the proverbial sage is saying. He says, “He who is slow to anger has great understanding. But he who is quick-tempered exalts folly.” You can peruse, read through, study all the therapists’, psychologists’, and psychiatrists’ words about anger, and well, your grandmother’s advice really is true … count to 10 backwards, pause before you open your mouth, think before you leap into a discussion you wish you had never entered, walk away and return to the topic on another day. The reality is that what may seem like a major offense toward you and your person today, after a good night’s sleep and time to reflect, may seem like nothing but than a minor frustration, inconvenience, or annoyance. Those who are most angry interpret the actions of others in regard to themselves, and they have a very low tolerance for frustration, inconvenience, and annoyance. Sometimes, just pausing to reflect, you realize later that what made you so angry at the time really wasn’t, after all, any big deal.
Or even when it is a big deal, stop to ensure that you do not irreparably damage yourself or others. Tom Foran, on our staff, does a great deal of prison ministry; he says it’s amazing how many of the guys who are incarcerated, their criminal record comes down to one moment of anger. And somewhere in their testimonies, over and over again, he hears phrases like, “Mr. T, I saw the off-ramp, meaning I saw a way out of my anger or my action, but I just blew right past it and went on with my anger.” Most of us will not find ourselves incarcerated because we blew past the off-ramp, but we might have crippled co-workers, damaged daughters, and bullied up boys in our family because we “kept on trucking” when we should have exited from our anger.
“He who is slow to anger,” says the sage, “has great understanding.” How many people do you know that you really like who are angry all the time? Short list, isn’t it? We like people who are mature and reflective, slow to anger. Like a deep-rooted tree, they are not blown to and fro by every act or emotion of others, but they are steady, tried and true. “He who is quick tempered exalts folly.” One moment, one outburst of anger, and life can change forever. Or conversely, lots of moments, lots of little outbursts of anger, and the damage seems to be the same.
III. The third thing he says is that a tranquil heart is life to the body, but our passions, our anger, will rot our bones. I want us to look at some ways to have a tranquil heart, to manage our anger.
First of all, forgiveness is a key to removing anger. “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other just as God in Christ has also forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:32) There is a frustration that leads us to reconcile with those around us, or there is an anger that can seek revenge, to hurt those who have hurt us. God has a reconciling anger, as should we. We didn’t deserve God’s forgiveness; we had truly wronged God with our disobedience, our rebellion. We have hurt Him, and yet, because of the death of Christ Jesus, God isn’t mad anymore. His wrath was poured out on Calvary’s cross toward His Son. God has forgiven us in Christ. Ephesians 4:32 says, “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other just as God in Christ has also forgiven you.” And because of the death of Christ Jesus, we are able, likewise, to forgive each other. Are you angry with the intent to destroy, or are you angry with the intent to reconcile? A key to dealing with our anger is to have a heart of forgiveness.
The proverbial sage is saying that when we are angry, we hurt ourselves all the way down to the bone. An old Chinese proverb says, “He who seeks revenge should remember to dig two graves.” In essence, as we destroy others, we are, indeed, destroying ourselves. More often than not, your anger will cause you to behave in such a way that you will embarrass yourself. Anger destroys the one who is perpetually angered. It is a death sentence to your peace of mind, your good health, and your ability to appreciate life. (Randy Roland, “The Sins We Love” p. 92)
Another way to handle anger is never say the first thought that enters your head; it’s probably not the best response. Notice what the proverbial sage says here. “If you are slow to anger, you have great understanding.” Angry people tend to jump to conclusions and act on conclusions, and some of their assumptions are inaccurate. When you’re in an angry discussion, take time to listen to what the other person is saying rather than building your own case. Before folks get married, I give them a survey. One of the things I try to teach them is “when you fight to win, you lose.” You must work in order to resolve conflicts, rather than to win. By nature we are competitive; by nature I want you to be wrong and me to be right. But in doing so, we actually lose. We lose a friend, a spouse, a brother, a colleague. Before you win, make sure you want the prize because the “prize” is a broken relationship.
A third way to manage your anger is “quit collecting straws.” Some people go around looking for things to be upset about. They think everything is about them and every wrong that is done is somehow a personal insult to them or their person. At some point, you have to realize that most of us don’t make our decisions based upon you. We’re not trying to hurt you, overlook you, or slight you. Quit looking to be wronged and get busy doing right for others.
A fourth way to deal with anger is to give yourself a reality check. Ask yourself these questions: How important is this issue in the grand scheme of things? Now there are some things worth fighting for, some things worth dying for, but is this one of those things? Is this a battle I really want to fight? Is this issue worth ruining the rest of my day, much less the rest of my week, or even more so the rest of my month? Ask yourself, is my response appropriate to the situation, or am I too much in the middle to actually see clearly? Is taking action worth my time? Is there anything I can do about it on my end to make it livable?
A fifth way to manage our anger is to fight fairly. In other words, always make the relationship your priority over the argument. Always show respect for the other person and his/her feelings or point of view. Focus on the present. What happens is, in the art of arguing, once we start delivering the blows, somebody reaches back and picks the atomic bomb from the past causing the final explosion.
Finally, I would say, know when to let it go. There are times just to let it go. Times to be, as the proverbial sage would say, slow to anger.
The writer of Proverbs says when you are slow to anger, you show you are wise; when you are quick-tempered, you show yourself to be a fool. If you want to have a vibrant body, then have a tranquil heart, but if you’re going to be a hothead, you’re going to have some rotten bones. Those aren’t my words; those are the words of a wise man written so many eons ago. And how you respond to those words, how I respond to those words, will determine a lot about the rest of our lives. Everybody in this room is going to have an opportunity to be inappropriately angry again. Everybody in this room is going to have an opportunity to explode or to be slow to anger. Listen to the words of the wise one. They will literally change your life and the lives of those around you.