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Posts Tagged ‘Ephesians 4:25-32; handling anger in the church; anger among Christians’

Over the years, I’ve witnessed some pretty volatile moments in the churches I’ve served.

*During my first pastorate, I was teaching on the resurrection of Christ at a midweek study.  When I mentioned that Christ’s resurrection couldn’t be scientifically proven, a board member stood up, barked, “Then we’re all wasting our time here,” walked out of the room, and slammed the door hard.

*In my next ministry, I threw some hymnbooks into the dumpster.  They were so old that even the Rescue Mission wouldn’t take them.  The greatest antagonist I’ve ever had in any church found them (I should have thrown them out at home) and told anyone who would listen that I was throwing out the old hymns and therefore should be tossed on the trash heap myself!

*Years later, in another church, a board member became visibly angry during three separate meetings.  He kept promising to accomplish certain tasks, but didn’t get anything done, and when another board member called him on it, he went ballistic.

In addition, I’ve seen a board member stand up and lash out at a woman during a congregational meeting … had staff members adamantly refuse what I asked them to do … been fiercely challenged about my theology seconds after preaching … and on and on and on.

And from what I’ve heard from other pastors, most of the churches I served were mild in the volatility department compared to theirs.

Let’s be honest: Christians don’t handle anger very well.

We know that anger is often sinful and is one of the more overt misbehaviors in Christ’s church … so much so that Paul devoted 8 key verses to anger in Ephesians 4:25-32 … among the greatest words ever written on the subject.

I’m particularly interested in verses 26 and 27:

“In your anger do not sin.  Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”

Let me share four thoughts about anger in the church from these verses:

First, every Christian, being human, feels angry at times.  We may not like admitting this, and may even try to hide our feelings, but there are times when each of us becomes very upset … even at church … and even with the best of God’s people.

In fact, Paul implies that this is normal behavior.

Just feeling angry isn’t sinful by itself.  If we can control how we feel, and express it constructively, our anger can do much good.

But unfortunately, many Christians don’t express their anger very well.  They suppress it until it explodes.  (I heard one pastor say that there was a psychologist in his congregation who claimed that the pastor had more suppressed anger than anyone he had ever known.)  Or they unleash it at the most inopportune times.

Second, it is possible to become angry without sinning.  Just because I feel angry doesn’t mean that I have to express that anger verbally.  I can choose to distract myself … pause before speaking … walk away … or deal with the source of my anger.

Put another way, I can control my anger rather than letting my anger control me.

Every time God issues a command in Scripture, He is saying to His people, “Not only do I want you to do this, I expect that you will do this.  You have the power to choose.”

For years, I became angry every time I was driving and another car came up behind me and tried to force me to change lanes.  If he kept pushing me, I’d finally get over, but then I’d yell at him and sometimes even chase him … both stupid, dumb, counterproductive actions.

I told myself, “This happens so often that I have to come up with a plan for dealing with my feelings.”  So with God’s help, I did.  Here’s what I do now:

If another car demonstrates road rage in my rear view mirror, I get in the next lane … let off the gas … and verbally say to the Lord, “May You send a Highway Patrol officer to arrest that driver.”

Works for me.

If someone at church keeps getting on your nerves, come up with a plan in advance on how you’re going to respond … and if possible, ask a friend or family member if you can be accountable to them for your behavior.  Sometimes that plan involves using several different phrases that you can pull out of a hat to defuse the situation … or better yet, just ask the other person a question, such as, “What do you mean by that?”

Worked for Jesus.

Third, resolve any lingering anger that very day.  If Christians took to heart Paul’s phrase, “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry,” we’d have far fewer divorces among Christian married couples … and almost no destructive conflicts in churches.

Paul encourages God’s people to resolve that day’s conflicts before sunset … or, in the case of family members, before bedtime.

This summer, my wife and I will be celebrating our fortieth wedding anniversary.  Since we both have strong personalities … even though our temperaments are exact opposites … we sometimes cross verbal swords with each other.

It’s okay for us to disagree with each other … to express how we really feel at the time … and even to show a little anger.  (I once heard evangelist Luis Palau say that if a husband and wife agree on everything, one of them is retarded.)

What isn’t okay is for us to go to bed angry with each other.

Early in our marriage, there were a lot of nights where we stayed up until midnight trying to iron out our latest disagreement.  We were determined to obey this verse and not “let the sun go down” while we were still angry.

My guess is that we’ve only gone to bed angry with each other a handful of times over those forty years, and in every case, we quickly resolved matters the following morning.

This concept is so important that I believe that every successful married couple practices it.  It’s unbearable to live in the same house day after day when you’re ticked off at your partner.

But the context in Ephesians 4 isn’t marriage, but the local church … and for some reason, when another Christian wrongs us … or we wrong someone else … we quickly become hurt … even angry … and rather than resolve matters by moving toward the other person, we move away from them, which creates distance.

And then we recite the hurt to others in hopes of seeking allies.

Most of the time, when someone in the church became visibly angry in my presence, I was able to listen … calm the person down … hear what they were upset about … and suggest a way to resolve matters.

But since most Christians believe they shouldn’t become angry … and should never express that anger … they just push their feelings underground, and it surfaces in the form of avoidance … sarcasm … gossip … slander … and even rage.  (Paul was cognizant of the phenomenon of unresolved anger, commanding us in verse 31 to “get rid of all bitterness … rage and anger … brawling and slander … with every form of malice.”)

I’ve heard that pastors on the whole are an angry bunch … probably because we have a lot of be angry about.  And sadly, I must confess that there have been times in my ministry when I overreacted … said something stupid … failed to restrain my emotions and language … and deeply hurt someone else in the process.

If and when that happens, I need to make things right with the target of my wrath as soon as possible because:

Finally, unresolved anger invites Satan’s influence into a church.  Paul says that when believers don’t resolve matters before sunset, we are giving the devil “a foothold” into our life … and into our church family.

In fact, bitterness (mentioned specifically by Paul in verse 31) is probably the leading cause of church conflict … church splits … and pastoral termination.

It’s okay to share with another believer that I am upset about something they said or did … as long as I “speak truthfully” to my neighbor and remember that “we are all members of one body” (verse 25).

In other words, it’s fine to be assertive as long as I’m not aggressive (being assertive + angry) in the process.

But when I’m aggressive instead of assertive … and when I fail to speak directly to the person I’m upset with … and when I involve others in my dispute … then I’m making a situation worse, not better.

And Satan rubs his hands with glee, because now he has an entry point into the congregation: my own bitterness.

But I don’t want the devil to roam free throughout my church family.  Instead, I want the Holy Spirit of God to have free rein (verse 30) and I want the devil chased away.

Paul concludes Ephesians 4 with one of the greatest statements in all of Scripture: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

Translation: you’ve been angry with God and others on many occasions, haven’t you?  And every time you’ve approached the Father and sought forgiveness, He’s forgiven you, correct?

Then when others are upset with you … even when their anger is unjustified … forgive them unilaterally.

And do everything possible to rectify matters with your brothers and sisters so you can reconcile with them … just as the Father reconciled Himself to us through His Son, Jesus Christ.

As I think back over my life and ministry, I find that I’m not upset about the people who came to me and bludgeoned me with their anger.  Sometimes these were good people who were hurting in another area of their life and sensed I was a safe person to unload on.

No, I’m much more upset that I said or did something that may have driven someone else away from the Lord or His people … and that, if I did sense their pain, I didn’t resolve matters as soon as possible.

What are your thoughts … and feelings … about anger in the church?

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