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"Love is Not Easily Angered": 40 Days of Love #5

(adapted with permission from Rick Warren, Saddleback Church, originally Oct.4-5, 2008)

Oct. 15, 2017 1Cor.13:4-7

    Today in part 5 of our “40 Days of Love” we look at verse 5 of 1Corinthians 13:“Love is not easily angered.” Sounds easy enough, doesn’t it?! Anger is not necessarily a sin. Sometimes anger is a very appropriate response; it’s a capacity given to us by God. God gets angry; there are times that you should get angry. There was a lot of posting on social media this past week about sexual harassment and abuse under the hashtag #MeToo – sexual abuse SHOULD make you angry! Else you’d be apathetic, uncaring – the opposite of love.

    Managed anger, appropriately expressed, is actually a good thing. It produces good marriages and families; good leadership, good churches, good businesses. Know how to reserve anger for its proper place. Rather than exist with many in society in Theh Age of Rage.

    When people get angry, typically there are two sorts of response: to clam up or to blow up. Folks tend to be either a turtle or a skunk. The turtle, when conflict comes, pulls their head back in their shell and hides; while the skunk tends to spew all over and stink up the place. Often skunks and turtle marry each other!

    So, how do you tame your temper? “Love does not get easily angered...”What guidance does the Manufacturer’s Handbook, the Bible, offer in this department? Particularly in the book of Proverbs, God gives us helpful instruction about the proper use of anger.

1) The first thing God says to do if you want to tame your temper is you must resolve to manage it. Quit saying, “I can’t control it!” With the Holy Spirit’s help, you can: self-control is a fruit of the Spirit. Stop making excuses for your anger and realize that anger is a choice. Nobody can “make you mad” without your permission. Anger is a choice. When you’re arguing adamantly and suddenly the phone rings, somehow mentally you can turn on a dime and go, “Hello? Oh, it’s for you honey!” Anger is controllable. You can resolve to manage it. Proverbs 29:11 “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.” “Keeps” means it’s a choice, a responsibility. When we say, “resolve to manage your anger”, resolve means you make a determination, a wilful decision, a choice in advance. The time to decide to manage your anger is not when your blood pressure is rising: you’ve got to resolve to manage it in advance. Before you go into that meeting, or open the door to home. You decide, “Today, I’m just not going to get angry.I’m going to make the choices and I’m going to take evasive action, work on it before it happens – not in the heat of the moment. Realize anger is a choice; make the choice today to not let anything really upset you.

2) How you do this involves our next step: remember the cost. W hen you remember the cost of uncontrolled anger you will be more motivated to manage it. You’re less likely to get angry if you realize that there’s always a price tag to anger. Proverbs 29:22 “A hot tempered man… gets into all kinds of trouble.” You could go on quite a bit about the “all kinds.” Here are some examples. Proverbs 15:18 “hot tempers cause arguments.” Prov.14:29 “Anger causes mistakes.” Or how about Prov.14:17 “People with hot tempers do foolish things.” You do things that you would never do – silly, stupid, embarrassing things – if you weren’t angry. With the eventual outcome: Prov.11:29 “The fool who provokes his family to anger and resentment will finally have nothing worthwhile left.” You always lose when you lose your temper. You lose your reputation. You can lose the respect of others; your job; a sale; the love of your family. You could lose your health: when you swallow your anger, your stomach keeps score! There are all kinds of ailments people could get find release from if they weren’t carrying guilt, resentment, or anger. Even if you have the best possible diet, if you’re carrying anger inside you, it’ll eat you up.

    Parents can scare kids into doing something by getting angry at them. But the long term effects are devastating. There are at least three price tags for anger: more anger, apathy, alienation.

    When people get angry at you, you get angry back.

    Second, if they keep getting angry at you, pretty soon you just become apathetic and go, “I can’t please them.”     And if you keep getting angry, pretty soon to protect themselves, they run and hide: that’s alienation, the relationship is broken.

    So a parent may in the short term get the desired outcome - obedience - in return for their anger at their child; but in the long term, you destroy the relationship with your child. Remember the cost. Nothing destroys relationships faster than anger.

3) Reflect before reacting. Think before you speak. Make sure your mind is running before you put your mouth in gear! Anger control is largely a matter of mouth control. Watching your words goes a long way towards managing your anger. Prov.29:11 says “A stupid man gives free reign to his anger; a wise man waits and lets it grow cool.” Circle “waits.” Sit back and cool off first. Don’t write that email instantly when you read one that’s upsetting. Don’t respond back when somebody says something mean-spirited to you; wait.Count to ten - or 100 if you’re really ticked! Give yourself time to think and reflect. You can’t put your foot in your mouth when it’s closed! If you’re in an argument and you both start to get real vocal about it, it’s ok to say, “Time out! Let’s just take a five minute break.” Maybe walk around the next room or outside around the building. You let the physiological symptoms subside a bit: increased blood flow, increased heart rate, adrenaline rush – then come back and talk when you’re calmer and can think more rationally. Reflect before reacting.

    Proverbs 19:11 “A wise man [a man’s wisdom] gives him patience.” During the waiting, the cooling-off period, try to analyze and understand it. Examine yourself to get some wisdom: “What is ticking me off? What’s irritating me? What’s making me feel this way?” The more you understand your anger, the more understanding you’ll be. “A [person]’s wisdom gives [him/her] patience.” To help with the analysis, there are three questions you can ask when you’re reflecting before reacting:

    a) “Why am I angry?” The root problem is not your anger: anger is the warning light, an idiot bulb. What’s really the root issue?

    b) “What do I really want?” What is it that I’m not getting here; what’s the need that’s not being fulfilled in my life?

    c) “How can I get it?” How can I get what I want despite what’s irritating me right now? Going into a rage is certainly not the best way to do it.

    Typically there are three root causes to anger: hurt, frustration, fear.

    When you get angry because you hit your thumb with the hammer, don’t throw the hammer away: accept responsibility.

    Frustration occurs when you’re thwarted toward a goal. Perhaps you’re stuck in a traffic jam. Frustration results when you feel out of control, and you tend to get angry.

    Also, anger can come from fear, whenever you feel threatened, trapped, attacked, afraid – when there’s insecurity. When you base your feelings on what other people think about you, you’re going to get upset, because you’re looking to other people to meet needs in your life only God can meet. Nobody can consistently meet all your physical needs, your sexual / financial / mental / emotional / spiritual needs, because we’re all imperfect. Depending on others unrealistically sets you up for disappointment and anger.

    When somebody gets angry at you, try to look beyond the anger and ferret out the root cause – which of these things are they feeling: hurt, frustration, fear / insecurity? Then pray Psalm 141:3, “Lord, help me control my tongue; help me to be careful about what I say.”

    By the way, do you know what is the number one cause of reacting before reflecting? Of not thinking through what you’re going to say before you say it? What popular consumable is proven to lower inhibitions? The number one cause of reacting BEFORE reflecting is: ALCOHOL. It erodes all your inhibitions and you don’t think, and you do stuff that you’d never do if you weren’t drunk.

    The Bible says, Prov.20:1 “Drinking too much makes you loud and foolish.It’s stupid to get drunk.” Intoxicated people do things that they would never normally do in their right mind; they don’t reflect before reacting.

4) Release my anger appropriately. There is a right way and a wrong way to express anger; a sinful way and a right way. God gets angry when he sees a rape, or child abuse, when he sees poor people ignored by the rich people, when he sees racial prejudice, when he sees people ripping off each other or being unfaithful to their husband or their wife. You ought to get angry about evils in the world. Anger at legitimate causes is not a sin! But release your anger appropriately. Ephesians 4:26 “If you become angry, don’t let your anger lead you into sin.” Flying off the handle in uncontrolled fashion makes you more likely to do it the next time.

    Instead, do what the Bible says in Psalm 15:1, “A gentle answer quiets anger, but a harsh one stirs it up.” To de-escalate anger in your relationship, your marriage or friendship, talk low and slow – not loud and fast. “A gentle answer turns away wrath.”

    What is the best way to deal with anger? Don’t suppress it, don’t repress it, don’t express it: instead, confess it.

    First, you don’t suppress it. Don’t stuff it, store it up inside – that’s like taking a pop can and shaking it up: when you open it, it’s going to spew out uncontrollably all over the place and cause a mess. And as alluded to earlier, if you don’t talk it out, you take it out on your body. If you swallow your anger, your stomach keeps score: your body gets affected, your immune system is compromised by the overworked stress response hormones. So don’t suppress it.

    Don’t repress it. Don’t deny it, or pretend you’re not ticked off. Repressed anger or denial is the number one cause of depression. Depression is often frozen rage.

    Next, you don’t express it, at least not indiscriminately. When you express your anger in inappropriate ways it damages the relationship. Don’t express anger through sarcasm (words that slice to bits); or manipulation (as in, “Don’t get mad, get even!”); or the Mt.Vesuvius method, i.e.blowing up, hot lava cascading out all over; or by pouting, the genteel approach to manipulating. None of those ways of expressing anger are appropriate. Nor is crazy behavior, going out and having an affair because your husband did: that’s like shooting a rifle at yourself so you can hit him with the kick of the recoil! Nor turning to drugs or drowning it in alcohol.

    So what do you do with your anger? Don’t suppress it, repress it, or express it: God says the way to deal with your anger is to confess it. Name it, let it out to God. Admit it first to yourself: “I’m angry;” then you admit it to God: “God, I’m mad!” You talk to God about it. Confess not just the anger but the cause: “I’m hurt! I’m frustrated! I’m scared! I feel insecure! I feel this is out of control.” Allow Him to search your heart and show you what’s really at the root of it. Admit the cause behind the anger. Confess it: that’s how you deal effectively with anger.

    Now, this fifth step is the key to permanent long term change...

5) Re-pattern your mind. Rethink and change the way your mental pathways. Your defualt pattern of behavior is a learned response: somebody modeled it for you, so you have to let your thought patterns carve new channels. You can learn new patterns, new habits. Break the chain instead of just parroting your parents: re-pattern your mind. Romans 12:2 “Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world.” The behaviour of this world is “repress, express, suppress” – one of those three. Violence in media teaches: “You got a problem? Use a gun! Blow somebody away. You’re angry at somebody? Drop a bomb.”      By contrast, the Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul says here, “Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way that you think.” Circle “changing the way you think.” That’s the key to learning a new way to handle anger: change the way you think. Our actions spring from our thoughts. So if you want to change the way you act, you don’t focus on the behavior: you start by changing what you think. If you change that thought, that mental process, it’s going to change your feeling and it’s going to change your behavior. The Bible says here “Be changed, be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” God is the One who can change those thought patterns in your mind.

    Part of the solution involves getting away from things that make you angry as much as possible. Prov.22:24 “Keep away from angry, short tempered people, or you will learn to be like them…” Anger is contagious: other people who are constantly raging will affect you, infect you. If you’re dating somebody who has a problem with anger, stop dating them. The Bible says, “Don’t associate with people of an angry temper.”

    If you’re in a marriage that is abusive right now, God does not expect you just to keep accepting that physical abuse. Sometimes separation is necessary for the purpose of reconciliation.

    If you didn’t learn good patterns of anger management growing up, how do you avoid perpetuating the cycle: how do you learn anger management?

6) Rely on God’s help. The real secret is not a self-help book or seminar, but God’s power to change you on the inside. Romans 15:5 “Patience and encouragement come from God.I pray God will help you to agree with each other...[In other words so you’re not fighting all the time, agree with each other…] the way Christ Jesus wants.” The closeness of your relationship to Jesus Christ, your intimacy with Him, will determine the amount of patience you have in your life. Close to Jesus? You’ll have patience. If you’re kind of wishy-washy in your relationship to Christ, you’re going to be sometimes patient and sometimes not. If you’re kind of on the fringe regarding the Lord, you’re going to have problems and anger all your life: you’re still trying to be the one in control, rather than letting the Lord be in control. You’re going to have problems being patient because you don’t have the link, the love – HIS love in you by the Holy Spirit. Supernatural love.

    Whatever’s inside of you is going to come out when you’re squeezed. If you’re filled with anger on the inside, when you get jostled, almost anything can make you angry. On the other hand, if you’re filled with God’s love, submitted to His sovereignty, almost nothing can make you angry, lose your temper. His presence gives you peace. Gal.5:22, “The fruit of the Spirit is patience.” When God’s Spirit is in me, He fills me with love and joy and peace and patience. God addresses the problem of anger by going straight to the heart of the problem – not your behaviour or background, but your heart. Jesus said in Matthew 12:34, “Whatever is in your heart determines what you will say.” The problem is not my tongue: it’s my heart. Your mouth just betrays what’s really going on inside. The problem is not your mouth: it’s in your heart. If you’ve got bad water in a well, painting the pump isn’t going to do any good! You’ve still got bad water in the well.

    If you find somebody who’s always encouraging, they have a happy heart. If they’re always speaking in a gentle way, you know they’ve got a loving heart. If they’re always being loving and controlled in their words, you know they’ve got a peaceful heart.

    Beloved, what you need is a heart transplant – a new heart. David says in Psalm 51, “Create in me a clean heart, O God.” That’s what you need to say today: “God, I need a clean heart.I need a heart transplant.” Jesus can replace a hurting heart and all that pain with an awareness of, a wrapping with His love. Maybe you’ve been beaten and abused and rejected and unloved: God says, “I care about your pain.It matters to me.I will help you in the healing.” Maybe you’ve got a frustrated heart: God can fill it with his peace. Maybe you’ve got an insecure heart – fearful because it knows it’s out of control: He can fill it with his confidence. A little baby is quieted when its parent picks it up and holds it close; if your heart is crying out inside, it’s because you haven’t ever received, fully received, the warmth and security of Jesus Christ. Let’s pray.

    “Lord Jesus, I admit that I have a problem with my anger and I don’t want to stay that way. I need Your help. I need You to do a heart transplant in me, to fill my heart with Your love. Today with Your help I want to start practicing these steps. I’m very aware of how my anger has hurt other people including those that I love and I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Forgive me for the times I’ve tried to control things and then gotten angry when I couldn’t. Help me to reflect before reacting; to release my anger appropriately. Help me to re-pattern my mind. I confess to You that I need Your help. Sovereign Jesus, today I open up my life, every room of my heart completely to You. Come into my life and save me and change me. Make the changes only you can make. I want to be filled with You, with Your peace and joy. Thank You! Amen.”