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Pulling Together In A World Tearing Apart

Freed From Anger

Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer | November 1, 1992

Selected highlights from this sermon

Have you destroyed relationships? Has your spiritual life stopped growing? Has the enemy gotten a foot into the door of your life? Anger is probably involved. Through injustice and insecurity, our anger damages ourselves and others. 

By following an example given in Nehemiah, we can learn how to not only handle anger, but to get rid of it.

If you’ve been listening to the news, you know that recently a woman shot her husband and five children. I’d like to talk to that woman, and if I did, I would like to ask her a couple of questions. I’d like to say, “Tell me about your father. Tell me about your husband. What is it that happened in your life that could make you so very, very angry?”

Well, the topic this morning is anger in this series of messages, Pulling Together in a World Tearing Apart. I’d like to begin by giving you three reasons why it is what I have to say to you this morning is so incredibly important. First, because anger, uncontrolled anger, destroys personal relationships. It destroys personal relationships. I know that to be true first-hand. You know when I was growing up, I had a very hot temper. I was a hot-tempered little boy. One day I was supposed to be drying some dishes with my sister, and I lunged at her and took a piece of meat out of her arm. She still has the scar, and she believes it’s God’s will that one of the things she does is keep me humble. She’s a missionary but she says when she goes to conferences and people say, “Oh, is it your brother that writes those books?” If they say anything too nice, she says, “I just pull up my blouse and say, ‘Yeah, and look at what he did to me when he was nine years old.’” [laughter]

I took some of that hot temper into our marriage. I remember blowing up at issues because I didn’t have the right information, and I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had to go to my children and my wife and ask forgiveness for irrational, silly anger.

Anger destroys personal relationships. You know, I always say my wife and I decided when we got married we would not go to bed angry, and we kept that. Though I do recall one July when we didn’t go to bed for two weeks. [laughter] I can’t even imagine what anger does in the lives of those families where a man actually beats his wife, or beats his children in anger. And then maybe doesn’t even ask forgiveness. Anger uncontrolled destroys personal relationships. 

Secondly, uncontrolled anger destroys spiritual growth. It destroys spiritual growth. Do you realize it says in the book of Galatians that one of the works of the flesh is outbursts of anger? And those stand in contrast to the work of the Holy Spirit of God who is to produce love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, and goodness. No angry person experiences the fullness of the Holy Spirit.

Third, uncontrolled anger gives place to the devil. It says in Ephesians 4:26, “When angry do not sin. Do not let the sun go down upon your wrath.” Then it says, “Do not give the devil an opportunity.” Don’t give him a topos. Don’t give him a foothold.

One day a man called me and said, “I just simply cannot understand my wife.” He said, “Here we are shopping. We are having a good time. We’re enjoying each other, and then suddenly on the way home she begins to flare in irrational anger, and it almost seems as if she’s a different person.” He said, “She’s two people.” Well, maybe she is because if you give the devil a foothold, the devil will get in through that door and soon take up residence in your life. Do not give the devil a foothold.

What we need to do is to back up and to look at anger now. First of all, is anger always sin? No, not at all. That’s why Paul says, “When angry do not sin.” In other words, if you’re going to be angry, handle it biblically. Handle it correctly.

The Bible says in Psalm 7:11, God says, “I am angry with the wicked every day.” If you read the Old Testament God was often angry with people. There’s nothing wrong with anger in itself. Mark 3:5, “Jesus looked about at those who were in the synagogue, and He was livid with anger.” Look at Jesus going into the temple and overturning the tables. It wasn’t a temper tantrum, but He was very angry. In the Old Testament it says in 1 Samuel 11:6, “The Spirit of the Lord came upon Saul, and he became very angry.” Anger in itself is okay. What you do with it is the key. 

Well, what is it that makes us angry anyway? Why do we have this emotion of intense displeasure? Well, a couple of reasons. First of all, we become angry when we feel helpless. When there is that goal we want to reach, and suddenly we are blocked. It may be a traffic jam and you want to get to an appointment on time and suddenly there is work on the Kennedy Expressway. You become angry because you can’t accomplish what you wanted to do, and especially when it’s out of your control.

Sometimes we become angry because of injustice, and for some people it doesn’t take a whole lot of injustice. I’ve seen people kick the living daylights out of a pop machine because it swallowed a quarter it wouldn’t give back. [laughter] Ruin a hundred-dollar pair of shoes, banging it, clubbing it. Twenty-five cents.

Then there’s also anger because of the insecurity. If you were brought up in a home where emotions could not be expressed and there was no resolution of angry situations, you may marry and eventually want to control your mate through anger. And that’s why you get husbands who are absolutely controllers. They need their wives to simply toe the line in exact and precise ways. If the man is a Christian, he will not only club her with a bat, but he will club her with a bat that has verses of Scriptures painted onto it about submission, and yieldedness and authority. And what he doesn’t realize is all of those reactions are a way in which he’s trying to resolve unresolved anger.

Now, how do we deal with anger? Let me give you two ways, both of which are destructive, but the first is you just blow up. You blow up. The person says, “Well, I give them a piece of my mind.” Watch it. If you give somebody a piece of your mind, make sure you have enough left over after you’ve given away that piece.

But there are people who say, “Well, you know, I just tell them what I think, and I just get it over with.” Oh, isn’t that sweet? Have you ever thought of how much destruction those words bring? If we had time we could look into the book of Proverbs, and we would see verse after verse  talks about hot-tempered angry people being destructive. It says, for example, in Proverbs 22:24, “Do not associate with a man given to anger or with a hot-tempered man.”

Years ago, psychiatrists used to give this counsel. They’d say, “Well, you know, you have to get all this anger out.” And modern psychology is obsessed with the idea if you can get something out you can deal with, which is, of course, nonsense. There are all kinds of people who have got all kinds of things they have brought out and they can’t deal with it. But the idea was you should vent your anger, so we will give you a pillow, and you pretend this pillow is your mother-in-law. And you do all the things to the pillow you’d really like to do to her. You stomp it, you kick it, you throw it against the cement wall. You swear at it, and it’ll all come out.

For years I’ve known that people who do that only magnify their anger. Now they are learning a response they are going to continue to reinforce. The reason that doesn’t work is because your quest for justice is still unsatisfied. You can hit that pillow as much as you like, and it will never resolve the injustice that has caused the anger. That’s why it’s so important to bring God into the resolution of anger, as we shall see in a few moments.

So, first of all, you blow up. No, that’s not good. You do destruction. I know what it’s like to say things I shouldn’t say to people in anger, and even though I go back and apologize and say I’m sorry, something is lost.

There’s a second way. It is the more spiritual way. It’s the way you do it if you’re a member of The Moody Church. You don’t blow up. No, because somebody might hear about that. What you do is, because remember now you’re very spiritual, you clam up, and you say, “I’m not going to do anything. I’m just going to take it.” And what happens is all of the anger then turns into a stepchild that is far worse than the anger. That stepchild is resentment and hostility that begins to burn like a cauldron beneath the surface, and that will cloud everything you do. And you become a very angry person. Psychologists call it passive aggression because you’re not beating your wife. You’re not swearing, you’re not flaring up. No. You are passively aggressive, but you are filled with hostility. And the other troubling thing is you’re not willing to admit it.

For example, a wife who tells her husband not to buy a particular car, and he does it anyway because he’s asserting his masculinity, what’s she supposed to do? She can’t control the guy; she can’t talk sense into his head. She begins to secretly hope and pray he’ll be in an accident. Nothing would delight her more than to see that thing made into an accordion against the cement wall. She will actually ask God to be brought into the situation. You see, not being able to control it herself, she now punts the ball to fate and to God saying, “God, I can’t even the score. I can’t get this guy to have any sense. You do it.”

How does the husband react? Stubbornness. He won’t pay the bills. He knows what bothers her, and he will do whatever he possibly can to continue to make her more angry, and more angry. And when he finds out what those hot buttons are, he begins to play them. He’s not beating her up. He is passively aggressive and trusting his stubbornness is going to cause enough problems that nothing will go well in the home, and that’s his aggression.

I was thinking about it this week as I was preparing this message, and it dawned on me there are many people who are angry at God, and passively aggressive toward Him.

Now, nobody really wants to take God on. Nobody wants to shake his fist at God, though I recall many years ago as a teenager seeing a man do that. We were giving out tracts in a particular city in Canada, and there was a man who said, “I’ll prove that there is no God.” And he looked into the heavens, and he cursed God, and he said, “If you are there strike me dead.” And he said, “See, I am alive. There is no God.”

Now nobody wants to do that if you’re spiritual. So, what you do is you have your own little tricks you play in order to get back at God who is a lot stronger than you are. For example, for some people it may be deliberate sin. They’re going to say, “I’m just going to show God a thing or two. I’m going to go ahead and I’m going to disobey Him because I can do whatever I like.” It’s the adult version of the teenager who is told by his parents not to smoke. In response he sits on the couch, lights a cigarette, takes a breath that causes the drapes to move, and then blows a column of cigarette smoke all the way to the China cabinet. That’s his way of showing he needs space, and his parents can say whatever they like. So, there are people who take it out on God through disobedience.

Others don’t give. They withhold their money. They say, “You know, if God can’t give me a better job and if life is going to be this way, I’m not going to contribute. I’ll show him. I’ll just go ahead, and I’ll take care of myself and let God go have a nice day, but He’s going to do it without me.”

Then there are others who stop praying. They say, “You know, I prayed years ago that I would be healed, and God hasn’t healed me, and since He hasn’t healed me, see if I’ll ever talk to Him again.” And all that aggression is built up in the soul and the problem is the person who has it won’t admit it because they are also in denial.

Are you enjoying this? I am. Let me give you seven characteristics of an angry person. If you have two, I pray for the person with whom you live. 

Number one, stubbornness, obstinance. You have to understand an angry person does not want things to go well, and they will do all they possibly can to hinder communication. They will hinder progress because this is their protest.

Secondly, legalism. A person who wants to keep the lawn meticulously. Just so fussy because that gives them a good feeling, but woe to the person who does not do exactly as they do. He cannot stand anybody else who has a good time, and if he’s not going to have a good time, he’s going to make sure everyone with whom he lives does not have a good time.

Three would be rude and overbearing. 

Number four, argumentative. Have you met somebody and no matter what you say to them you can’t have a discussion. All you can have is an argument because the words are twisted, and the circumstances are changed in such a way that there’s no way— Well, you have to understand what’s happening is this angry person is trying desperately to create a crisis, and then they hope that in this crisis they will be able to win. So, if there is no crisis, they create one. Argumentative.

Critical, magnifying the faults of others. I shouldn’t say this, but this is just family talk today anyway. Nobody’s really listening. Some of you perfectionists, you are angry people. The reason you find it so difficult to affirm somebody else in what they are doing— And the reason an “A” is not good enough, it has to be an A plus, is because you are actually pretty angry. Particularly angry at your children and others who will not conform to your incredibly high standard. You are angry at yourself, and you’re angry to others who won’t conform to you. 

A mission leader told me one time the number one problem with missionaries on the mission field is perfectionism. They simply will find it impossible to accept other people’s faults. After all, if you’re going to do something, do it right for heaven’s sake. And remember right is defined according to their standard, and nobody does anything right in their books.

Number six, an unforgiving spirit. You have somebody who is angry. He will remember injustices that have been done years and years ago. All of the things that have been done will be very patiently rehearsed, memorized, rethought, turned around in the mind, embraced, hugged, irrigated, kept, and he cannot release anger, and he cannot respond to forgiveness. 

That actually is number seven. Jealousy. Next week’s message is on the topic of jealousy because it is so important.

Now, remember I’m not talking about people who are unsaved, though they may have those responses too. I’m talking about Sunday school teachers and elders and deacons and pastors and well-meaning people— Missionaries who are basically angry and who do not know it.

You know, to marry an angry person is something like building a house where there has been a land fill, where there have been some chemicals that have been dumped. You can go there every weekend. Everything seems alright, but when you pull into the house and you begin to live there, you discover the grass doesn’t grow. There’s no joy. The metal around the place begins to corrode and diseases begin to spring up that colors everything. Some of you know exactly what I’m talking about because you live with a person who is angry, who perceives himself as being very spiritual.

Now, what do we do about it? Take your Bibles and turn to the fifth chapter of the book of Nehemiah. Nehemiah, chapter 5, where we find this man who knew how to handle anger. Nehemiah, chapter 5.

Nehemiah has been building the walls, and there has been criticism because some of the people are exacting usury or interest from their brothers, and the people are being sold. It says in chapter 5, verse 2, “For there were those who said, ‘We, our sons, and our daughters, are many. Therefore, let us get grain that we may eat and live.’” Verse 4, “There were those who said, ‘We have borrowed money for the king’s tax on our field and our vineyards. And now our flesh is like the flesh of our brothers, our children like their children, yet behold we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters are forced into bondage already, and we are helpless because our fields and vineyards belong to others.’”

Understand there were some wealthy Jews who were exacting high rates of interest from their brothers and sisters who were in financial need and sinking them into debt to the point where they had to sell everything they had, including their children. 

How do we handle this kind of injustice? Nehemiah 5:6. Number one, admit you are angry. Nehemiah says, “I was very angry.” And I say, “Good for him. Good for him.” If you can hear about child abuse and not get angry, get on your knees, and ask God to give you your emotions back because you should be very angry.

Now, the problem is that oftentimes we can recognize that anger because it is directed toward an object, but the passive aggression I’ve been talking to you about this morning is a little less easy to define, and to admit that a person is angry is very difficult. I want you today to feel free to admit you are angry if you are angry, and you may well be. You see, admitting it is so important, and sometimes what it means is we simply open our lives to God and say, “God, am I angry?”  

You know, I’ve told you before that nobody benefits from my sermons as much as I do. I get a blessing even if you don’t. I’m really lucky. So, this week as I was preparing this message I said, “Lord, I need to ask myself ‘Am I angry?’” I just waited before the Lord and said, “Lord, show me if I am angry.” Interestingly one or two names came to mind that I thought I had forgotten about. But the Spirit of God was saying, “You are still angry.” You see, there are some things we can’t see. Your wife can tell you you’re angry, and you don’t see it. Or the other way around. You can tell your wife she’s angry, and she doesn’t see it. There are times when only God can take the soul and pull it apart and say, “Look in and see what’s there.” Nehemiah said, “I was very angry.” Admit you are angry.

Secondly, pause before you act. Pause before you act. He doesn’t say, “Now, I was very angry, and I really gave it to them.” No, that comes later. He says, “I was very angry when I heard their outcry and these words (Verse 7), and I consulted with myself.” He paused and said, “What should I do?” If you are angry count to ten before you speak. If you are very angry, count to one-hundred, and don’t speak at all.

You say, “Oh, but you know I can’t help myself. I can’t help my—” Ah nonsense, nonsense. Here’s an argument taking place in a very evangelical Christian home, and all these words are flying, and the decibels are beginning to rise, and suddenly the phone rings. What do you do? Do you go there and say, “What do you want? We’re having an argument.” No. “Hello.” You can’t control yourself. Why do you think God gave you the Holy Spirit? The fruit of the Spirit is control. You pause before you act.

Thirdly, you identify the cause of anger. You identify it and say, “Why am I angry?” Now, Nehemiah did that. He knew precisely why he was angry, because of this injustice that was being perpetrated among his own people. He knew he was angry and why. But here, once again, is where many of us need to get before God and we need to open our lives and say, “Oh Lord, why am I angry? Is it because I grew up with a father whom I could not please, whose affection and love I wanted to receive but didn’t? Am I angry because my marriage has failed and my life is filled with that cauldron of poison and resentment? As it says in Hebrews 12:15, ‘A root of bitterness that springs up and thereby many are defiled.’ Am I angry because of my lot in life? Am I angry because there are people who have less education and less ability than I do, and yet they have better positions? Am I angry because I don’t like where God has planted me? Am I angry because of circumstances because of the way in which I look because of the injustices that have been perpetrated upon me? God, show me why am I angry? Why am I angry?” Identify the cause. 

And then, number four, construct a solution. I won’t read the rest of this chapter, but it’s very neat. He contended with the nobles, and he worked out an agreement and said, “Look, I won’t receive any money, and I want you to use my life as an example, and let’s resolve this and let’s cut this out.” And the rest of the chapter indicates the nobles agreed with Nehemiah, and they said, “Okay, fine, we’ll work this out and we’ll stop what we’re doing.”

Now, let me talk to you heart to heart, pastor to pastor, spirit to spirit, mind to mind for just a few moments. There are many of you who are angry, and what you need to do is to construct a solution that may include confrontation. It may mean you go to the person with whom you are angry and resolve an issue that is burning in your soul that they may not even know about. In the ministry I’ve offended people and I didn’t even know about it. Those of us who live a rather public life can do that quite easily at times. So maybe what you need to do to siphon off that anger is to confront. In some instances, it may not be possible. A person against whom you have all this anger may have died, or maybe you have tried to confront them, and they won’t hear it because they’re heavily into denial remember, as we preached on last week.

But maybe your problem should begin with confrontation. Not at a bad moment, you see, here’s an argument in a home. The husband comes home, reads the newspaper, eats dinner, and then leaves to go somewhere, and as he’s leaving his wife shouts at him in anger. That’s a bad time to try to resolve a conflict. It would be much better to do it in a time when there is quietness and civility and peace, but confrontation is necessary.

There is confession. I’m talking about confession, now, to God. Why don’t you go away somewhere where you can be alone and just let it all hang out before the Lord. Speaking reverently, but very honestly, telling the Almighty all of the hurts that are in your life, and pouring out your soul before God. David did. You say, “Well, do you think God can take it?” Oh, I have no idea whether God can take it. [chuckles] Oh, listen, God’s handled a whole lot worse cases than you are. He can take it. 

One of the things David did as he poured out his soul before God— God ended up pouring grace into his heart, into his mind, and God gave him strength.

Next, choice. You’ll notice confrontation, confession, choice. I’m making this easy for you. Choice, what’s the choice? The choice is do you want to retain all that hostility and anger, or do you want to give it up? Now, it is impossible to shake hands with somebody as long as you have a clenched fist. You can’t do it. What you need to do if you’re going to shake hands, even with the Almighty, figuratively speaking, is to open your life. Just like I must open my fist to shake hands with you. What you need to do is to say, “God, I am opening my life before you, and in the name of Jesus, and through His strength I’m releasing all of this anger and hostility to You.” Listen very carefully. You can do that without surrendering justice. 

Now some of you have heard me say this before, but in case there is somebody who hasn’t, you know how for years I would counsel people, and a woman would say to me, “Yeah, yeah, you expect me to forgive my husband, and he has run off, and he’s left me and the kids, and he’s not paying us any support, and he’s gone to Florida, and he’s got a good business there, and I’m the one stuck with all this, and then you are telling me I have to forgive. Where is justice?”

I used to scratch my head and say, “Lady, you know you’ve got a point.” And then I came across that verse in 1 Peter 2:23, and suddenly the lights went on. Regarding Jesus, “Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again. When he suffered, he did not threaten, but he kept committing himself to his Father who judges righteously.” He says, “I want justice, too, but I’m not going to be the one to bring justice to this situation, but I’m going to commit myself to my Father, and trust He will eventually do right by me.” And two thousand years have passed, and Jesus has not yet been vindicated, and He’s still waiting.

There are times when all we can do is to say, “God, my desire for justice is so great, it is all-consuming, but I can’t bring justice to this situation. It is beyond me and therefore I commit it to you, oh God. It’s yours. I’m going to take my case to the highest court, not the Supreme Court in Washington, but the Supreme Court in heaven, and I’m going to trust You to straighten out this mess.” You’ve heard me say it. I think every court case has been tried in America is going to be retried by God.

Two illustrations of how this works.

There was a man who came into a room where men were on their knees in prayer, angry, angry, angry. He took his fist and he put it into his hand like this and said, “God, you’ll never get me.” Why would a man say that? Well, his kids had grown up, and they did not follow Christ. You know how embarrassing it can be if you are a Christian in a church, and your kids don’t love Jesus? 

About ten years ago, we had a little difficulty with one of our daughters here in a Sunday school class. Oh, I got angry. You know, as I analyzed it God showed me the reason was not because this violation in the Sunday school class was all that big a deal, but because of pride. Pastor’s daughters are supposed to be perfect. I mean do not perfect children come from perfect parents? [chuckles] If you knew me, you’d laugh even louder. Nobody is as angry as somebody whose pride has been wounded. You really want to get somebody angry, you wound their pride. 

He said, “God, you’ll never get me,” but because of the work of the Holy Spirit, God took that man apart, piece by piece. God got him and he stood in front of a congregation of hundreds of people, weeping, crying—it’s okay for men to cry— crying, telling how God showed him his sin and how he had to go to all of his children to make restitution and to ask forgiveness. It was because of his pride that he had so wounded their spirits. Pride prevented him from going back and asking their forgiveness, though God knows he was wrong a thousand times in the way in which he disciplined them when they were growing up. 

And then there are some of you who are really fundamentally angry with God. I mean really you just look at Him— and “Yeah, yeah, yeah, and He didn’t answer all those prayers, and there He is— Sure, it’s fine for Him to be in the heavens, and here I am.” And you’re mad at him.

Let me tell you a true story. There was a woman who was brought up as an atheist, had never prayed in her life, filled with resentment and anger. And then her daughter was in a car accident, and the accident was so severe that she thought perhaps her daughter would have to be in a coma for weeks, and the outcome was uncertain. This woman decided, “So that’s the way God runs His world, huh? Ha, I’ll show you a thing or two.” She went into a bar, got drunk, got into her car, began to drive. As she was driving the rain came against the windshield, and she decided she had the presence of mind to pull off on the side of the road in the car. She thought at last she was going to tell God what she thinks. She estimates she was there a half an hour cursing God. And she said, “Remember, I really knew how to curse.” When she was finished there was dead silence except the pitter patter of the rain against the windshield. And she said she heard a voice that said, “This is the first time you’ve ever talked to me, and I love you.” 

Some of you need to talk to God. You’ve got to let it all spill out because really, He does love you. He really does love you and you need to respond to that love.

Let’s pray.

Now Father, what can we do except to look to your grace and your power, to do in the hearts of all who are listening by radio, and all who are in this auditorium what no man can ever do. The resentment, the bitterness, the anger, years of hostility bound up in human souls. Father, come and set us free. I pray in the name of Jesus that you’ll open every closed heart, you will show every person who is in denial, people who thought this message was for somebody else. I pray, oh God, you will help them to see themselves in your holy presence. To be honest, to admit they are angry, to tell the truth and then say, “God, heal my soul.” Oh Father, do that we pray.

And now before I close this prayer, I want you to talk to God. You may even be angry when you are talking to Him. That’s okay. He can handle it. He’s taken it. He’s taken it. But talk to Him because He loves you. Say to Him whatever you need to say. Let it hang out. Spill it out. If you need to cry, cry. 

Father, heal thy people for we are needy. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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