Proverbs 7) Emotional Wisdom

7) Emotional Wisdom

 

We’re currently in the book of Proverbs and are looking at different kinds of wisdom. And today we’ll be looking at Emotional Wisdom, and more specifically, arguably one of the strongest emotions we have – which is anger! Before we begin though, I just want to point out that there are people in this room at the moment who are on two extremes of the pendulum, or somewhere in between, when it comes to emotions in general. So where do you sit? There are some of us here that are super emotional. You’re very in touch with your feelings and make most of your decisions based on feelings. Your emotional nature affects the way you worship. It affects the way that you do Valentine’s Day. It affects the way you do life. You see chick flicks and cry openly when you watch them. You trust feelings and go by feelings and lead your life often times by feelings. Then on the other side of the pendulum there are those of us that have a strong distrust of feelings. You tend to suppress your feelings and are probably more rational in the way that you make decisions. It comes out in the way you worship. It comes out in your marriage. It comes out in the way you express yourself. Anytime someone goes to hug you, it's like hugging a wooden board. So the question is, which is right? Should it be all feelings or should it be all brains? What’s the right way to operate our lives?

Well, I think that in order to find the answer, we have to go to Scripture and look at the way God originally designed us. And the Bible tells us that we were created in the image of God. The way that we're wired, the way that our emotions are wired, is after the Creator himself. God gets angry. Did you know that? God gets sad. God gets happy and excited. He gets impatient. All of those emotions that you and I feel are also a part of God because God is the author of emotions, he created those emotions, and we are created in his image. Therefore, God has given us emotions. Purposefully. So all the emotions that you feel right now and all the emotions that you've been through this week have been engineered by God. So emotions aren’t weird, they’re not just reserved for women, they’re not only seen in the sensitive; they’re normal. Everyone has emotions. And we were given our emotions by an emotional God. The emotions we have are designed by God and shared by God, because we’re made in his image. And God has given us our emotions for a purpose. But as I said earlier, we’ll be looking at one emotion in particular today which is anger and are going to see how we can wise up when experiencing this God-given emotion in our lives.

Jesus said a lot of controversial stuff during his life. One of the things he said was that anger is a form of murder. Jesus said, “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.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment." (Matthew 5:21-22). And you might be thinking, “well hang on Jeremy, you just said that God gets angry, and now you’ve brought us to this verse where Jesus is saying that it’s wrong, so what is it right or wrong?” And I’m going to give you that annoying answer and say it’s both. Anger can be the right response, but it can also be the wrong response, and it’s the wrong response that Jesus is talking about here. There are two different types of anger…a godly anger and an ungodly anger. We’ll be hearing more in a minute about how to wise up about our ungodly anger…but just quickly…godly anger is when we become angry about things which makes God angry and goes against his design and will.

And if you’re ever wondering whether the anger you’re feeling is godly or ungodly anger, just consider the following characteristics of godly anger: Godly people are angry when God is angry. Its anger which is consistent with the holy and righteous character of God. Godly anger is legal anger. Its anger which is based on mankind’s violation of God’s law, and its anger which is lawfully expressed. Sure, be angry about the abortion clinics around Australia, but don’t go and burn one down! Be angry about the push to legalise homosexual marriage, but don’t go and bash or hate on a person with homosexual tendencies. Next, Godly anger isn’t explosive, but is only slowly provoked. Exodus 34:6 says, “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.” You see, God’s anger doesn’t have a light trigger and neither do those who express godly anger. And finally, Godly anger is always under control. Godly anger doesn’t lose its temper. Godly anger is always under the control of the one expressing it, rather than anger taking control of them. So when you’re angry next time, and you’re wondering whether or not your anger is a godly anger, think of these things.

But the reason we’re focussing more on our expressions of ungodly anger today is because that’s the one we often experience, and that’s the one which often crops up in our own lives…and its this ungodly anger which leads to sin. So just to remind ourselves, Jesus said, “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.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry [and he means with an ungodly anger] with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment." (Matthew 5:21-22). You see, Jesus knew that murder was the fruit, but anger was the root. And although not all anger ends in violence, all violence grows out of the roots of anger. Jesus knew the only way to confront violence was to root it out where it starts, as anger. But it’s one thing to know that, and another thing to actually root anger out of our lives. Everyone experiences anger, so how can we deal with our anger in a way that honours God? How can we deal with our anger in a wise way? That’s what we’re going to talk about today. Today’s sermon is entitled ‘Wise up about Anger’, where we’ll see how to wise up about the anger that we often face in our lives. We’ll have a look at (1) what anger does, (2) and how to deal with it wisely, and we’ll be doing this by taking a look at what the Book of Proverbs says about anger.

 

1. Understanding What Anger Does

So we’re going to start by trying to understand what anger does to us. As I said earlier, anger, of course, is simply an emotion. To be human is to get angry at times. Even Jesus got angry. It’s what we do with that anger, how we express that anger, that determines whether we’re wise or not.

a) Anger leads to Sin

So let’s talk about what ungodly anger does. We start with Proverbs 29:22 which says, "An angry person stirs up conflict, and a hot-tempered person commits many sins." The Hebrew word translated "angry" here is a very graphic word. The Hebrew word literally pictures a person’s nostrils flaring. This word describes more than irritation - its red hot anger. This is white knuckled, wild eyed, sweating palms, bulging veins, clenched teeth kind of anger. This Hebrew word is very descriptive here. And going on from this, the word for "hot tempered" in the Hebrew literally means "full of poison" or "full of venom." Like a snake with fangs full of lethal venom, the hot tempered person is full of poisonous venom just waiting to spill out on someone. This kind of person commits lots of different kinds of sins, because anger blinds them with rage. They don’t know what they’ve done until it’s already over. You see, anger escalates situations. It not only often results in conflict, but it also creates more conflict. So Proverbs 29:22 gives us a really good insight into what anger does to us. Ungodly anger opens the door to sin in our lives. Let me ask, do you have ungodly anger in your life? Do you often go into fits on uncontrolled rage? Do you sometimes not realise that you’re scaring people by the way that you’re acting? Are you often hot tempered? And all it will take is for someone to trigger you off. Just the smallest, slightest trigger. When we don’t learn wise ways of dealing with our anger, it bubbles up in ways we don’t like. And once it starts to bubble up, it’s like a boiling pot of water that keeps pushing the lid off. Once the lid bursts off, suddenly we find ourselves doing things and saying things we never imagined possible. We hear words coming out of our mouths that in other circumstances would make us feel ashamed. We strike with our fists, throw things, scream and yell. Have you been here before in your life? And this of course was Jesus’ point, that unresolved, uncontrolled anger eventually produces violence. Ungodly anger opens the door to sin.

b) Anger leads to strife

Now, moving on, let’s look at Proverbs 30:33 which says, "For as churning cream produces butter, and as twisting the nose produces blood, so stirring up anger produces strife." You need to know that the words "churn," "twist," and "stir up" in this verse are all the same Hebrew verb. Proverbs gives us two images, the first of the churning of milk to produce butter. The second is a person who walks up to another person and twists their nose until it bleeds. Some of you grew up with brothers or sisters who did that to you when you were young. Well in the same way, stirring up anger produces strife in our relationships. So what stirs up anger in our lives? Well often we can get angry when we feel hurt or helpless. We get angry when someone hurts our feelings and doesn’t seem to care about it. When a man flirts with the lady at the coffee shop right in front of his wife. That makes her angry because it’s hurtful. It makes us angry when we see it. A person steals the parking space we’ve been waiting for. That makes us angry. We also get angry when we feel helpless. We get angry when rich people engage in dishonest business to cheat people out of their hard earned cash. We get angry when we see poverty and injustice on TV. And on top of this idea, we also do things to stir up anger in our own hearts. You know, we’re not really helping the situation. When we dwell on what another person did to hurt us, we stir up anger like churning milk produces butter. When we hang out with people who tell us that we have every right to be mad at a certain person or situation – “You have EVERY right!”, when we rehearse revenge in our minds again and again, we’re stirring up anger in our own hearts. Now according to Proverbs 30:33, doing this produces strife. In the Hebrew, this word describes a quarrel or argument between people. And it’s here that we find a second insight into what anger does. Uncontrolled anger damages our relationships with people. Just talk to a parent who in a fit of rage kicked their teenager out of their house and hasn’t seen them in a long time. Or talk to a wife who lost her temper and called her husband a loser and ever since there’s been a distance in their marriage. Just as churning milk produces butter and a twisted nose produces blood, in the same way, ungodly anger produces strife in our relationships. When the anger is gone and we’re calm again, the relationship is still damaged! The effects of anger in our relationships can become very long term problems.

c) Anger leads to reckless words

And this brings us to Proverbs 12:18 which says, "The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing." This is a contrast between the words that are spoken by a person whose anger is ungodly, and the words spoken by a wise person. Reckless words are like a sword, slashing and stabbing the other person. Whoever said, "Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me" – I’m not sure they fully understood the power of words. My body can heal from being hit with a stick or a rock, but my heart doesn’t heal easily from reckless words spoken in a fit of rage. And it’s here we find another insight into what anger does. Ungodly anger leads us to say reckless things. These are just some of the things that ungodly anger does in our lives. These are all negative consequences, things we’d rather not have characterise our lives. I don’t know of many people who want to open the door to sin in their lives, who want to damage their relationships, and who want to say things that they’ll regret later. But I reckon I could put up an open mic up here, and have testimony after testimony from people in this building right now who have stories about this very thing happening. In fact, all of us have probably experienced these things to one extent or another.

 

2. Dealing with Anger Wisely

So now that we have a better understanding of what ungodly anger does, how can we deal with it wisely? How can we deal with anger in a way that honours God? Well we can start by looking at Proverbs 29:11 which says, "Fools give full vent to their rage, but a wise man keeps himself under control." This Proverb contrasts the foolish person with the wise person. The person who ignores God’s wisdom gives full vent to their rage it says. When this person gets mad, it comes gushing out. Think of the fan in your car. Now that winter is upon us, we’re turning the heat up a bit more. But when you turn on the fan in your car, and put the air on full blast, opening up the vents as far as they go, it comes blasting out. That’s what foolish people do with their anger. It comes gushing out full blast. Often fully vented anger comes out as yelling, shouting, profanity, outbursts, even violence as we’ve seen.

a) Wise people practise self-control

But notice the contrast here: It’s not that the wise person doesn’t vent his or her anger. If you notice, this proverb doesn’t say, "Fools give full vent to their rage, but the wise person never gets angry." The wise person still gets angry, but the difference is that they keep themselves under control when expressing their anger. The wise person opens the vent slowly, gradually, venting the anger in appropriate and God honouring ways. In this contrast we find the first way to deal with our anger wisely. We wise up about anger by expressing it without exploding. My best friends’ older brother drove his car while he was out-of-control angry. He and 4 of his friends were returning from a party after his girlfriend had just broken up with him after 5 years of being together. And he let his anger affect the way he drove the car (not to mention that he was under the influence). He continued speeding and swerving as a police car gave chase until he and his four friends went airborne off the road and smashed into the rock wall of an underpass. Three of them were killed instantly. His inability to express his anger without exploding had permanent and long term consequences for him, his family, but also the families of the other young men who were in the car with him. Intense anger and rage are like a bomb, and when we give full vent to our anger, we light the fuse. Once the fuse is lit, it’s really hard to put it out. In fact, it’s often impossible to put the fuse out once it’s lit. I’ve heard stories of people blacking out when they go into a rage, they don’t remember what they did. When they finally come back to their senses, they can’t believe what other people tell them that they did. Violence, destruction, hurtful words, profanity all come from angry explosions. But wise people express self-control. Just as Jesus remained self-controlled on the cross and didn’t get angry at the people who crucified him as he hung there for your sins, in the same way, we need to remain self-controlled, and don’t lose control on your anger when people hurt you.

b) Wise people talk about what’s going on in their heart

So how do we express our anger without exploding? Well probably the most important way is to talk about it without hurting people with our words. Remember, we get mad when we feel hurt or helpless, so if we can express the hurt and helplessness, our anger will fade. If our hurt and helplessness becomes less intense, our anger will diminish as well. So talking about it, probably with someone we’re not angry at, will help. Or even writing down what we’re thinking might help if there’s no one to talk to about it. Get it down, get it out there – defuse the situation. Just as Jesus prayed about what he was feeling, in the same way, we need to talk about what we’re feeling both with God and others around us.

c) Wise people exercise forgiveness

Another aspect of expressing our anger appropriately is to exercise forgiveness. I know that sounds a whole lot easier said than done, but following Jesus means learning to express forgiveness. If we find ourselves dwelling over and over again on an offense against us, bitterness and resentment will turn us into angry, bitter people. Have you met people like that before? People whose lives are poisoned by bitterness and anger, people who are negative and joyless, people who you can’t stand being around for any length of time. That comes by refusing to forgive offenses against us, allowing bitterness to poison our lives. So wise people need to exercise forgiveness. Just as Jesus forgave those who hurt him when he cried out ‘Father forgive them for they no not what they’re doing’, in the same way, we need to forgive those who hurt us instead of retaliating in anger.

d) Wise people repent of sinful expressions of anger

Next, we need to take ownership of our role in the problem. We need to look for areas where we were wrong and through repentance and confession, find forgiveness in Jesus. It’s extremely rare where we’re hurt and we’ve not contributed something to the problem. We need to find ways to vent our anger slowly, in control, without lighting the fuse. But we also need to repent of our own sinful expressions of anger. We need to continually be in a position of reflection and repentance. If we haven’t acted like Jesus, we need to repent.

e) Wise people defuse anger with gentleness

That brings us to Proverbs 15:1, which tells us, "A gentle answer turns away wrath but a harsh word stirs up anger." The word "gentle" in the Hebrew brings with it the meaning of “tender”, "soft", "delicate", and “calm.” When we get angry, our words turn harsh. We overstate the situation, using words like "always" and "never" to describe situations that are rarely "always" and "never" sort of situations. “You always do this!” or “You never do that!”. We might even use profanity, screaming and shouting words that we’d normally never use. So we’re told by this proverb, in the face of anger, we need to respond in a gentle way and with a gentle answer. But we need to understand that, a gentle answer doesn’t tell the other person what they want to hear, but a gentle word is a soft answer, an answer that is soft in tone and in content. There’s no sarcasm, no scorn, no hatred. A gentle answer is a sincere word, a caring word. And so here we find another way to deal with anger wisely. We wise up about anger by using gentle words to try and defuse anger. But let me remind you that a gentle answer doesn’t always defuse anger. Remember, as Josh said, that the sayings in Proverbs are generalisations, observations about what works most of the time in life. But we’re wise if we try and use gentle words to help defuse an angry situation. We need to remain gentle to others in response to how Jesus is toward us. Jesus was kind and gracious and gentle to us, even when we didn’t deserve it, even when we deserved death, so we should be kind and gracious and gentle toward others.

f) Wise people are patient

This brings us to another proverb in Proverbs 15:18 where it says, "A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict, but the one who is patient calms a quarrel." A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict, but it’s the patient person who brings a sense of calm to an unrestrained situation. The Hebrew word for "patience" means "long suffering." The Hebrew word literally means "long of nose." If anger and rage refers to a person’s nostrils flaring, the "long suffering" person is "long of nose" in the sense that it takes a lot to get their nostrils to flare out in rage. And if you remember, the apostle Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians talks about ‘not being easily angered in 1 Corinthians 13:5. So, like God has a ‘long fuse’, we too should have a long fuse, and not a short one. Just as God is patient with us, be patient with others! In the Bible, patience isn’t about giving into your circumstances. Patience is about active endurance, of bearing up under difficult circumstances. You could translate the New Testament word for "patience" as staying power. Here we find the next way to deal with anger wisely. We wise up about anger by being patient. Picture your relationships with people in your life. Picture your relationship with your spouse if you’re married, your relationship with your kids if you have them. Picture your relationship with your boss, your friends, your co-workers, your parents. Where do you need to be more patient in these relationships? Maybe it’s with your husband because he leaves his clothes on the floor. Maybe it’s with your daughter who keeps forgetting to turn in her homework. Maybe it’s with one of your employees at work who seems slower than everyone else. These situations are where God is working the most in your life right now.  This is where your ability to express your anger appropriately will be tested. We wise up about anger by being patient, just as God is patient with us.

g) Wise people avoid strife

This brings us to our final saying, Proverbs 20:3 " It is to one’s honour to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel." This proverb is not telling us to avoid conflict at all costs. But it’s telling us that sometimes it’s wise to avoid a conflict. A wise person knows when to avoid conflict, while a foolish person is quick to get in a conflict. So here we find our final way to deal with anger. We wise up about anger by knowing when to avoid conflict. When I took my motorbike safety class before receiving my licence, they talked about what to do when you have the right of way but someone else cuts you off. Now in that situation, technically the motorcyclist is in the right and the motorist is in the wrong, right? But there’s another law to consider, the law of physics. It’s no comfort being legally right but ending up in hospital. So even when you’re in the right on a motorbike, if someone cuts you off, they taught us to back off and let them have their way. It’s better to be wronged and alive than right and in hospital or worse. And this is true in life too. There are certain situations when it’s best to simply avoid an argument. This is especially true when a person isn’t open to correction. When a person is what Proverbs calls a "fool" you’re likely to get hurt by confronting that person. A person is wise when they learn when to avoid conflict. Just as Jesus went out of his way to bring peace, in the same way, we should be peace-makers, instead of argument starters.

 

So, just before we finish, how do we wise up about anger? Well we’ve seen today that ungodly anger opens the door to sin, it damages our relationships, and leads us to say reckless words. But now we also have an understanding about how to deal with anger wisely. By expressing it without exploding in a self-controlled way - just as Jesus remained self-controlled on the cross and didn’t get angry at the people who crucified him, we need to remain self-controlled. Another way we saw we can deal with anger wisely is by talking about our anger with someone close to us - Jesus prayed about what he was feeling, and so in the same way, we need to talk about what we’re feeling both with God and others around us. Another way we saw to deal with our anger wisely is by being ready to forgive those who hurt us - Jesus forgave those who crucified him, and so we need to forgive those who hurt us instead of retaliating in anger. Another way we saw is by continually repenting of our own sinful expressions of anger - if we haven’t acted like Jesus, we need to repent, and by doing this, we’ll be dealing with our anger wisely. Another way we saw to deal with anger wisely is by trying to defuse situations of anger that we may experience or face using gentle words - Jesus was gracious and gentle toward us, even when we didn’t deserve it, and so we should be gracious and gentle toward others. And another way we saw to deal with anger wisely is by being patient with others - just as God is patient with us, we need to be patient with others. And the last way we saw to deal with anger wisely is by knowing when to avoid conflict. Just as God decided not to treat us as our sins deserved, so we shouldn’t treat others as their sins deserve, as their anger deserves, as their rage deserves, and their ungodly actions deserve – but we need to spur them on toward repentance. And we ourselves need to remain in a place of repentance and thankfulness to God, because, though our sins are many, though our sins are thick, they’re not as thick as the blood of Jesus Christ which was spilt on the cross on our behalf; to make us pure, and holy and righteous before him. Forgive those who show ungodly anger toward you, and seek forgiveness for the times that you yourself display such acts. Amen.

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