ACCEPTABLE ANGER Based on Mark 3:1-7
By Pastor Glenn Pease
I had an awful temper as a child. When I was in first or second grade I broke a pool cue over the head of one of my brother's friends, and for years after I was reminded that I caused the scar on his forehead. My older brother came close to getting even worse. In one of our fights he picked me up and threw me down on the floor. In a rage of anger I grabbed the steel stove poker, and would have clobbered him had it not been for parental interference. Blood banks could triple their business if they could figure out how to prevent parents from preventing sibling violence.
I don't know how many doors my father had to fix because of my angry slamming of them, and yes, I was one of those kids who shouted at my parents in anger, "I hate you!" The point is, I didn't learn it all from TV, for it didn't exist then. I know from personal experience how anger can be filled with potential for evil and senseless destruction. In the process of maturing, and by growth as a Christian, I got over being a hot head, and gained control of my anger. This is the case with many, and even most Christians, but my question is, can we get so in control of our anger that we lose the value of being capable of anger?
Is it possible that we eliminate the vice of anger, but in so doing also eliminate the virtue of it? It is obviously not Christ like to be losing your temper and blasting people, and seeking revenge. But on the other hand, it is also not Christ like to never be angry at the forces of evil. Jesus was the perfect man yet He got angry at the Pharisees for their hardness of heart that made them more concerned about their Sabbath legalism then the life of a fellow worshipper. So what we have in this same context is perfect illustrations of the two sides of anger-the awful anger of men, and the awesome anger of God.
The worse kind and the best kind of anger are illustrated right here side by side in verses 5 and 6. We want to focus on each in order to see the clear distinction, and thus, be able to channel our own anger in the proper direction. Let's look first at-
I. THE AWFUL ANGER OF MEN. v. 6
This verse reveals the most wicked example of anger the world has ever seen. Here were good and godly men who were the religious and political leaders of God's people, and yet they let anger motivate them to plot the murder of the only perfect man who ever lived. This is depravity at its lowest depth. Anger is the worst emotion man is capable of, for it leads to the justifying of the murder of another human being. Cain in anger killed his brother Abel, and most murders every since have been motivated by anger. Every person in a state of anger is a potential killer, and, therefore, anger is the most dangerous of human emotions.
Anger is the emotion that led men to despise and reject Jesus, and then crucify Him. You look in vain to find a more dangerous emotion. But let me keep the paradox before you. Jesus was angry, and so we cannot loose sight of the fact that there can be value in this most dangerous of emotions. In 1899 a school teacher by the name of Billy Rankin was convinced that a certain hill in Idaho was filled with copper. He started to dig, and continued to do so for years. He left off from time to time to work in a saw mill to buy enough dynamite to keep blasting deeper into the earth. He dug for 50 years until he died. He poured his whole life into a hole in the ground, and found nothing of value.
It would seem equally futile to try and dig into the dark pit of this emotion of anger to find anything of value. But the fact is, there is treasure to mine from this pit that has produced so much evil. This emotion which can make us potentially among the worse of men is also a vital ingredient in the character of the best of men. This is a paradox if there ever was one. So as we look at the awfulness of anger I don't want you to forget it also has great potential for good.
The usual message about anger is that it is bad stuff, and so get rid of it. Paul in Eph. 4:31 says just that: "Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger...." In Col. 3:8 he says, "But now, you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips." There are a lot of things that are just not appropriate for the Christian, and among them is anger. The Greek word Paul used in these two texts is the same Greek word Mark uses to describe the anger of Jesus. So we can forget trying to make a case for two different emotions, and pretend that righteous indignation is some sort of sanctified version of anger. Anger is anger, and whatever the cause or the consequences, it is the same emotion in the saint and the sinner. Christians do not have a specialized anger. It is the same anger they had as non-Christians. The emotion that Jesus felt was the same as that felt by Cain when he killed Able.
Paul is negative about it because anger in Christians is almost always just as bad a source of evil as it is in non-Christians. It is just a high risk emotion anyway you look at it, and the primary goal of the Christian is to avoid it. You do not have to be a bad person to be a poor handler of the emotion of anger. Some of the best people in history have failed to control their anger. Moses made God mad because of his hot temper, and he was shut out of the promise land because of it. Jonah, one of the best known prophets in the Bible, was a temper-tantrum prophet, and has a terrible reputation because of it. James and John, two of the three closest disciples to Jesus, were such hot heads that Jesus had to rebuke them and calm them down or they would have been guilty of homicide against the Samaritans. The best of people as well as the worse of people can have a problem with anger control.
Paul wrote to Christians, "Be ye angry and sin not." It was also to Christians that Paul wrote in Eph. 4, "Never go to bed angry, don't give the devil that sort of foothold." The point is, Christians do this and let Satan trip them up all the time in the area of anger. It is the sin of the most morally upright and other wise outstanding Christians. Joyce Landorf in The Fragrance Of Beauty is one of the famous Christians who admitted her battle with anger.
She was a hot head who often lost her temper, and she was a mother-monster. Not as a non-Christian, but as a Christian. She was 5 foot 6 inches tall before she became a Christian, and 5 foot 6 inches tall after she became a Christian. She had the emotion of anger before she came to Christ, and she had it after she came to Christ. She was a Christian for 15 years and still had her inner fire. The problem was not in having the fire. The problem was that the fire had her. She was not using it, but it was using her.
She realized that a Christian woman should not be having temper tantrums, and so she worked at control and she grew. But the point I am making is that Christians have this battle. It is not won by coming to Christ. There is a lot to do in Christ to learn anger control. Paul Hauck in his book Overcoming Frustration And Anger says that the single greatest cause for divorce is anger. Yes, there is money, sex, in-laws, jealously, job stress, and dozens of other factors. It is anger over these things that destroys the marriage. If people did not get so angry, all of these things could be worked out. Awful anger multiplied by two equals disaster. The world and the church are both damaged by the awful anger of men.
Will Rogers said, "People who fly into a rage always make a bad landing." Anger is often far more hurtful than the injury that caused the anger. We could go on and on about the awful anger of men, but we need to shift gears and figure out how our Lord could have anything to do with an emotion that is so awful. So let's look at our second point which is-
II. THE AWESOME ANGER OF GOD.
The anger of Jesus here is the anger of the God-man. It is human anger, but it is Godlike, and thus, not a vice but a virtue. It is a part of the very holiness of God. C. S. Lewis in the Narnia tales says, "Aslan is not a tame lion." The lion, of course, represents Christ. For God not to be angry at sin, cruelty, and injustice would be to deny his very essence. It would be like a bride not being angry at one who threw mud pies at her wedding gown. It would be like a surgeon not being angry at one who put all his surgical equipment in a pail of bacteria infested slime. It would be like anybody not be being angry at one who deliberately violates their being and values.
The person who does not have the capacity to be angry at such evil has gone to the opposite extreme, and does not murder the evil one, but murders the Spirit of God. The Bible calls it quenching the Spirit, but it is a form of murder, for it kills the Spirit of God and eliminates the will of God from the conflict, and lets evil have the victory. For Jesus to have said, "I'm sorry fellas, I didn't mean to upset your traditions by healing this brother on the Sabbath," would have been to choose evil rather than good. That would have been sin for Jesus. He would have lost His state of perfection had He not gotten angry at these men. To be indifferent to the need, and to walk away saying, "I must conform to their hardness of heart," would have been to forsake the will and love of God. The only way Jesus could avoid sin was to become angry and to defy their evil attitude.
Some Christians worry that Jesus was bordering on sin by getting angry, when the fact is, He would have fallen into sin had He not become angry. So we see this emotion, which is the worst of human emotions, as the best emotion that is possible in certain settings. Jesus could not remain sinless without anger, just as God the Father could not remain holy without it. How does this awesome power of anger differ from the awful power of anger we considered first? It is really quite simple to grasp as we compare them in this text. Awful anger leads to evil, but awesome anger leads to good.
The anger of the Pharisees led them to plot murder. To do this they had to lie, deceive, bribe, and break the law, and who knows what other evils? The awful anger of men is known by its fruit, which is rotten fruit. In contrast, the awesome anger of God, which is seen in the righteous anger of those who walk in His Spirit, leads to good. Jesus did not ask Simon the Zelot to revert to his old ways and put a dagger in a couple of his enemies. Jesus did not do anything to His enemies. Good anger is not interested in revenge, but in doing what is right and just. The anger of Jesus compelled Him to heal the man, and to go on healing every chance He got. Henry Ward Beecher said, "A man that does not know how to be angry does not know how to be good."
Unrighteous anger is self-centered. It says, "I'm going to get him for doing this to me." Righteous anger is other-centered. It says, "I'm going to help this man even if it hurts me." The focus is altogether different. When Paul said, "Be ye angry and sin not," he was saying the emotion of anger is as natural as the feeling of hunger. Anger just is. It is not good or evil in itself. We make choices as to which way our anger goes. We decide if our anger is going to be evil or good. If we chose to let it motivate us to do harm, it becomes evil, and we sin. If we let it motivate us to do what is helpful, it becomes a force for good, and we sin not.
Anger then is like any other energy source. You can use it for good or evil just as is the case with fire. You can become an arsonist with it and destroy houses and forests, or you can become a furnace installer to warm the home and comfort people. Energy is just the power that is used to express love or hate. Anger is a power source that both love and hate can use. The Pharisees used anger to express hatred, and Jesus used anger to express love. Anger then is just energy, and you decide whether it will be used for good or evil-the worst or the best emotion.
Secker said, "He that would be angry and sin not, must not be angry with anything but sin." Jesus was angry with the sin of the Pharisees and nothing else. Anger at sin is always right, for it is Godlike. But it is possible for even this kind of just anger to lead us to make wrong choices. If Jesus would have said to His disciple Simon the Zelot, "I want you to follow these Pharisees and use your old skills and sink a dagger into a couple of them in a narrow alley. This will let the scoundrels know that I won't tolerate their opposition any longer," then Jesus would have been choosing to make His anger a force for evil, and He would have been as guilty as they were.
Jesus did not chose to let His anger go that direction. In fact, as you read this chapter of Mark, and come to verse 22, you see the teacher of the law accusing Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebub. Jesus could have been so angry, but instead He warns them so they could escape this eternally deadly trap they were so close to choosing. Jesus does not want revenge, but He wants them to be saved, and not to perish by committing the unforgivable sin. Evil anger would leave them in the dark, and let them stumble into the pit of eternal darkness. Righteous anger does everything possible to save the sinner even as it hates the sin. Evil anger says, "I'll make you pay forever for being rotten to me." Righteous anger says, "As rotten as you are I will not let evil have you forever, but make the way clear so you can escape its clutches."
The awesome anger of God is the power behind the whole plan of salvation. God will not let Satan win and drag the human race to hell with him. He provides a way of escape, and in love makes it possible for His enemies to become a part of His eternal family. The test of all anger is simple: Does it lead you to do the hateful and revengeful thing? If so, then it is evil. Does it lead you to do the loving and helpful thing? If so, then it is good. Anger is neither good nor evil. You determine that by the choices you make.
It is like lust, or sexual energy. It is a source of power to motivate you to action. You decide if you will use the power to do what is out of God's will or within His will. You choose to use this energy to do harm to the institution of marriage, or to help it be all God wants it to be. The energy just is; you choose to make it good or evil, and so it is with the energy generated by anger. Sometimes we can only be truly righteous, as Jesus was here, by getting angry. The absence of anger in some situations is not a sign of a good man, but rather of a hardened man.
David became very angry when the prophet Nathan told about the rich man with great flocks who took the poor man's one pet lamb and killed it, and his anger was just, for it was a great evil to be angry about. But Nathan was illustrating David's own sin of taking the one wife of Uriah when he had a harem of wives. Had David been angry at this evil, as he was of the stolen lamb, his anger would have kept him from the sin. Anger at what sin does to you as well as others will keep you from sinning. His lack of anger led him to adultery and murder. So we have come full circle. Anger can lead to murder, and lack of anger can lead to murder. The only solution to these two extremes is the Christ like anger that hates all evil, and keeps us motivated to a life of loving action that is perpetually counteracting the consequences of sin.
One of the highest degrees in the school of spirituality is the Master of Anger. Prov. 16:32 says, "Better is the man who controls his anger than one who takes a city." To master your own anger is to be a general and a hero in the army of the Lord's disciples. You master it, not by eliminating it, but by channeling it so that it is energy put to good use for the kingdom of God. If you are never angry, you will not have much energy for the kingdom, and so getting rid of anger is not the answer, but learning to channel it is. Get rid of anger when you feel it compelling you to acts that are not loving, and which will damage rather than heal relationships. But if you feel your anger compelling you to acts of love and helpfulness, then be angry and sin not. Let the fire burn and bring warmth to those around you.
Most anger is going to burn you and others, and is, therefore, to be dropped like a hot match about to reach your finger. But some anger will move you to give your energy to bring healing and blessing, and enable you to outwit the forces of evil. This anger is good, and ready to accomplish a task without risk of doing injury. Anger is a part of life, and all of us need to deal with it wisely, or it will become an enemy and never a friend. It was always a friend to Jesus because he never let it push him in a direction He did not want to go.
Many write of the anger that comes to them when they see a loved one have to endure long suffering. They get angry at God and the medical profession for not solving the problem. They get mad at the loved one who is dying for putting them through this ordeal, and because they didn't take care of themselves. They finally get angry at themselves for feeling so angry at everybody. The result of all this hostility is often a victory for evil over the person who goes through all this. If they survive, they may be bitter resentful people who become an added burden to their family and society. There is plenty of this going on all the time, and anger is doing its dirty work non-stop. But the other side is also alive and well, and the fact is, most of the good things done in this world to help the victims of sin and folly come from people who are angry, and use this energy for good.
Cindy Lightner was devastated by the loss of her 13 year old daughter who was killed by a drunken driver. Her grief became an intense flame of anger at a society that would tolerate drunk drivers on the road. She could have gotten a rifle, and gone to an overpass, and started to shoot drivers as they approached her. That is what anger does to some. But she formed the Mother's Against Drunk Drivers called MADD. This group has channeled their anger into constructive ways of changing the system to save other people. Their goal is not revenge for their loss, but prevention of the loss of others. Their anger has changed laws and saved lives. It is this kind of anger we see in Jesus, and we can thank God for this anger, and others like it, which change our world for the better. Thank God for acceptable anger.