April 27-28, 2019
Pastor Joe Wittwer
Let it Go!
#1—Get Rid of All Anger
Introduction and offering
ILL: One evening when my son Andy was in junior high, we were all hanging out in the family room and he was wrestling with his twin sisters. He was getting a little rough, so I told him to back off so he didn’t hurt his sisters. He didn’t. So I told him again. He still didn’t. And sure enough, he hurt Amy and she started crying. I came out of my chair like a rocket, screaming. Andy ran up the stairs to his room with me in hot pursuit. In his room, I lit into him. I was right in his face, angrily chewing him out. When I finally came up for breath, he calmly said, “Dad, you have an anger problem.” (Cheeky little bugger!)
Stunned, I sat on his bed and hung my head. I knew he was right. After a couple minutes, I said, “You’re right. I need to change. I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?”
I had an anger problem. I began to get some help and work on it. I wish I could tell you that I’ve never lost my temper since then—I wish. But I’ve gotten better—probably in part because I’ve gotten older, and I don’t have a prostate!
How many of you lose your temper? Would you like to lose it for good? I sure would. I don’t think that’s possible, but for the next several weeks, we’re going to work on it with God and make some progress. He will help us and I think that will make Him —and you—happy!
Recently I read this book, Unoffendable, by Brant Hansen. It’s so good, I asked my family to read it. Brant’s message is that giving up our “right” to be angry and take offense is one of the most healthy things we can do—and it’s what God wants for us. It’s worth reading—we have copies available at the Welcome Center for our cost: $10. Here’s the message of the book: Drop your anger, choose to be unoffendable, embrace forgiveness, let it go. Let it go! (This is where I break into song). That’s what we’re going to be talking about the next several weeks. It’s going to be very challenging—I promise that this will be hard. You’ll find yourself resisting, arguing with me. We’re pretty attached to our anger and offenses. Some of us have been packing them around for years, even decades. Letting go will be hard—but so worth it! Putting this into practice will change your life!
The Big Idea: God calls us to get rid of all anger. You’ll be a happier, healthier and smarter person if you do. Let it go!
2 Corinthians 8:7 But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.
- Get rid of all anger.
Really? Get rid of all anger? Seriously? All of it? Yep! That’s exactly what Paul wrote to the Ephesians.
Ephesians 4:31-32 (p. 1008) Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Get rid of how much? All of it. Not some of it—all of it. And to make his point, Paul does two things. First, in the Greek, he starts the sentence with the word “all”, making it emphatic. Literally, it reads, “ALL bitterness, rage, anger, brawling and slander put away from you, with all malice.” He emphasizes all. Second, he piles up the synonyms. All bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander and malice. Here’s what they mean:
Bitterness = angry animosity
Rage = sudden bursts of anger; explosive anger
Anger = settled and lasting anger; seething anger
Brawling = people shouting back and forth in a quarrel.
Slander = all abusive speech
Malice = mean-spirited or vicious attitude, ill-will.
Get rid of all of it. It seems that Paul thinks we should get rid of all anger. Let it go! Are you formulating your objections? Hang on. Paul says it again in:
Colossians 3:8 (p. 1016) But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.
Once again, Paul piles up the synonyms, telling us to get rid of all forms of anger. “Rid yourself” is the bGreek word for taking off clothes: take off your anger like you’d take off a winter coat in spring; lay it aside, get rid of it. Let it go. Anger can cling to us like ill-fitting clothes. What do you do with clothes you’ve outgrown? Take them off, let it go. Anger doesn’t fit you anymore. It’s not the new person you’re becoming in Christ. Get rid of all of it. Let it go.
Ok, first objection. “It’s impossible to get rid of all anger. Sometimes you’re going to get angry—it just happens.”
ILL: Awhile back, I pulled up to a four way stop the same time as another car on my right. I waited; he didn’t go, so I started, and just as I started, so did he. So I stopped and let him go. As he turned left in front of me, he rolled down his window and flipped me off. Suddenly I wanted to spin a u-turn, follow him, and give him a piece of my mind I can’t afford to lose. I didn’t do that…but I did spend the next few blocks playing out that scene in my mind. Then I realized what a stupid waste of time and energy it was being angry about that. I let it go.
Stuff happens. You’ll get angry. Our anger is often a reaction to things others do, things we can’t control. You’ll get angry—but you don’t have to act on it.
Ephesians 4:26–27 (p. 1008) “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold.
“In your anger do not sin.” You’re thinking, “See, not all anger is wrong. You can be angry without sinning.” Yes you can. But probably not if you act on your anger. As we’ll see in a moment, when we act out of anger, we almost always do the wrong thing. Anger doesn’t make us smarter or more rational or wise; in fact, the Bible says that it makes us foolish. When Paul said, “In your anger do not sin,” he most likely was saying, “Don’t act on your anger.”
You can be angry and not sin, but probably not if you act on it. And certainly not for very long. Paul clearly says not to hang on to your anger. Don’t let the sun go down while you’re still angry. In other words, let it go today. If you’re still angry about something that happened yesterday or last week or last year, that’s not good. Don’t hang on to your anger, even overnight. Let it go.
And then this final word in v. 27: “and do not give the devil a foothold.” Notice the context: When you hang on to anger, you are giving the devil a foothold. Anger is the devil’s playground. He loves to fan the flames of your anger, to keep it smoldering, because that gives him room to work in your life. Don’t do it! Don’t give the devil a foothold. Let it go!
So stuff happens. We get angry. But we don’t have to sin. We don’t have to act on it, and we don’t have to hang on to it. We can let it go. All of it. Get rid of all anger.
“But wait,” you protest. “Doesn’t God get angry? What about righteous anger?” Let’s talk about that.
- What about righteous anger?
Does God get angry? Yes. God’s anger is not like ours. God never loses His temper or flies off the handle. His anger is never arbitrary, capricious or selfish.
ILL: Some of you have heard the story of Farmer Brown. This poor guy had a string of bad luck. One year a drought wiped out his crop, but he borrowed money and planted again the next year. But that year a flood swept through the area and washed his crops away. So he borrowed money one more time, replanted and prayed. But just before harvest, a flash fire burned everything to a crisp.
Poor Farmer Brown went out in the middle of his smoldering field and knelt on the ground. He prayed, “Why God? Why me?” Suddenly the clouds parted, a shaft of light beamed down from heaven, and a voice boomed, “I don’t know, Brown. Something about you just ticks me off.”
God never does that. God’s anger is never capricious; it’s always righteous. God’s anger is His just, reasoned and righteous response to evil. There is nothing selfish or stupid about it. I say “stupid” meaning God knows everything. When I make judgments, I do it on very limited knowledge. I don’t know another person’s motives. I don’t know their back story. I don’t know all the extenuating circumstances. I don’t even know what I don’t know! Yet I make judgments and get angry. Stupid. God, on the other hand, knows everything, so His judgment is just, and His anger is righteous.
So yes, God gets angry, and His anger is righteous. Always. But I’m not God. Would you say that with me? “I’m not God.” My anger is usually not righteous—which is why we’re told to let it go.
“But,” you say, “we’re made in God’s image, so don’t we have the capacity for righteous anger?” Yes. We do have that capacity. I believe that I have felt righteous anger—and I’ll bet you have too. When we see evil or injustice and feel anger, that may be righteous. I said “may be” because, as I said earlier, there is so much we don’t know that we’re prone to make wrong judgments. But let’s give ourselves the benefit of the doubt and say that our anger is righteous. Then what? If your righteous anger motivated you to take righteous action, godly action, I suppose that would be good. The problem is that our anger doesn’t often result in righteous action. It’s often punitive or vengeful. Usually, we’d be better off to let go of our anger, and act out of love.
Bottom line: God’s anger is righteous, mine rarely is. I’m not God; I don’t trust my anger. Better to get rid of my anger and act from a more positive motivation.
James 1:19-20 (p. 1043) My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.
Notice two things.
First, be slow to become angry. Don’t be quick; be slow. Take your time and ask some questions. Don’t jump to conclusions. Don’t make negative attributions. You don’t know others’ motives. You don’t know all the facts. So slow down. Be slow to anger.
Did you know that this phrase is often used of God? God is slow to anger.
Exodus 34:5–7 Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. 6 And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.
This is God’s self-description to Moses and it is repeated 8 other times in the Old Testament (Numbers 14:18, Nehemiah 9:17, Psalm 86:15, 103:8, 145:8, Joel 2:13, Jonah 4:2, Nahum 1:3). If God is slow to anger, and He knows everything, then it behooves us who know so little to be slow to anger too.
Second, human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Is there righteous anger? Yes—God’s. But I’m not God. And my anger rarely produces righteousness in me or others. Human anger does not produce righteousness. It’s best to let it go—all of it.
In fact, to drive this home, Jesus made an interesting comment about anger, comparing it to murder.
- Anger is murder in the heart.
–– (p. 830) You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister, will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
This passage is the first of 6 sections that start with “You have heard that it was said.” Jesus quotes Old Testament law: don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t divorce, keep your oaths, eye for an eye, and love your neighbor and hate your enemy. “You have heard that it was said…but I tell you.” Jesus took each of these Old Testament commands and elevated them. “You’ve heard that it was said, don’t commit adultery. But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has committed adultery in his heart.” Jesus took it from the action to the desire, the idea in the heart. And here, it does that with murder. “You’ve heard that it was said, you shall not murder. But I tell you that anyone who is angry will be subject to judgment.” In other words, just as lust is adultery in the heart, so anger is murder in the heart.
Anger is the well-spring of murder. Anger leads to murdering people with our words: Raca, you fool! “Raca” was an Aramaic term of contempt that meant, “empty headed” or “numskull” or “idiot.” Raca! “You fool” was also a term of contempt but attacked a person’s morals or character.
James said that human anger doesn’t lead to the righteous life God desires. Jesus said that instead, it leads to murder. Anger leads to character assassination, to murdering another’s self-esteem, to killing relationships, and sometimes to physical murder.
Think your anger is righteous? Think again. James and Jesus both warn us that our human anger is bent and dangerous. One last thing, but first a story:
ILL: Several months ago, Jose Ceniceros took some teenagers to Coeur D’Alene for a church event. Afterwards they stopped at McDonalds for ice cream. There, an angry drunk man physically assaulted Jose, and verbally attacked the children, using racial and sexual slurs. It was all caught on camera, and the man was arrested and found guilty of assault.
I went to the sentencing, and the man apologized, saying that he had been drinking. I leaned over to a friend and said, “That will never make you smarter.” The man also said he was having a bad day and was angry. Two for two: anger won’t make you smarter either. Want to make a stupid decision? Drink first. Want to make a super-stupid decision? Drink and be angry—guaranteed disaster!
- Anger never makes you smarter.
There are so many stories in the Bible about this. I’m going to reference two real quick. First, the first mention of anger in the Bible—the story of Cain and Abel.
Genesis 4:1-12 (p. 3-4)
Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. 3 In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. 4 And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, 5 but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.
6 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”
8 Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.
9 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”
“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
10 The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.
Here is the first use of the word “angry” in the Bible—and it leads to murder. The Hebrew word means “to become hot, angry;” it was used of kindling a fire. We use the same imagery: an angry person is hot or hot-headed; someone burns with rage. Cain was very angry, hot with rage—and he murdered his brother. Super stupid! Anger never makes you smarter. I honestly cannot think of one time when anger made me smarter, when it led to a better decision. Let it go.
Let’s jump to the New Testament, to Jesus’ story of the prodigal son. Luke 15:25-32 (p. 898)
When lost son came home, the father threw a party to celebrate his safe return.
25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
31 “ ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ ”
What was the older brother’s reaction to his brother’s safe return and his father’s generous response? Anger. He was angry and refused to join the party. He stayed outside pouting. And the story ends there—the older son alienated from his father and brother by his anger. I’m sure he felt self-righteous—you can hear it in what he said to his father. But his “righteous anger” didn’t make him any smarter; in fact, it ruined his relationships. Anger never makes you smarter. Let it go.
Proverbs 29:11 Fools give full vent to their rage, but the wise bring calm in the end.
The Hebrew word for fool means stupid. Stupid people give vent to their rage—anger never makes you smarter.
Anger dwells inside fools—anger never makes you smarter.
ILL: Recently, a woodpecker, a northern flicker, has decided to beat its little brains out against our metal chimney post. I’ve had to go out and throw a tennis ball to chase him away. Next day, he’s back. I read that it’s a mating ritual—the noise attracts females. The louder the noise, the more ladies show up. Tuck that away men. It reminds me of this true story.
One morning Ralph Milton woke up at five o’clock to a noise that sounded like someone repairing boilers on his roof. Still in his pajamas, he went into the back yard to investigate. He found a woodpecker on the TV antenna, “pounding its little brains out on the metal pole.” Angry at the little creature who ruined his sleep, Ralph picked up a rock and threw it. The rock sailed over the house, and he heard a distant crash as it hit the car. In utter disgust, Ralph took a vicious kick at a clod of dirt, only to remember–too late–that he was still in his bare feet.
Anger never makes you smarter. Horace, a Roman poet who lived just before Jesus, defined anger as “a short madness.” Let it go.
So how do you let it go?
First, decide right now to never hold on to your anger, not even for a day. Staying angry at someone is like you drinking poison and hoping they die. You’re only killing yourself. Let it go. Decide right now, “I’m not hanging on to my anger any more.” Let it go.
But what if it comes back. It will. It’s like that annoying northern flicker who keeps pounding on my chimney. I throw the ball, it flies away…but it comes back and I have to go throw the ball again. Anger will come back, but just throw the ball again—let it go again. Sometimes we just have to keep letting go. When I catch myself feeling angry, I’ll open my hands, and say, “I’m letting go of this anger. Help me Lord.”
Remember: you can’t help getting angry sometimes. But you don’t have to stay angry. You don’t have to welcome it, and nurse it, and feed it. You can let it go. Martin Luther said about our thoughts: “You can’t stop a bird from flying over your head, but you can stop it from building a nest in your hair.” Like an unwelcome bird flying overhead, you’ll get angry sometimes. But don’t let it nest in your hair. Shoo it off. Let it go.
One of the keys to doing this is forgiveness, and we’re going to talk a lot about forgiveness in the weeks to come. And we’re going to learn to be unoffendable—to let go of offenses as soon as they happen.
Here’s how we’re going to finish. If you have been holding on to some anger, some bitterness, I want you to let it go. I want you to make a move. We’re going to sing one last chorus, and as soon as we start singing, come down front and stand here with your hands open. Imagine that you’ve been clutching that anger, and today, you’re opening your hands and letting it go. Come and we’ll pray together.
Closing song and prayer