"Be ye angery and sin not"
The Greek philosopher Epictetus said many years ago that "any person capable of angering you becomes your master; he can anger you only when you permit yourself to be disturbed by him."
When talking to my staff at work over the years, I often used Epictetus’ observation after a client had really upset them. I would tell them that no one can make you angry without your permission. One day a gentlemen came into my office, and we had a discussion with my door open, and they heard his conversation with me. Later, after he left, I walked out and they all looked up at me smiling and reminded me that no one can make you angry without your permission. I replied, "That is true and I just gave him permission." We all had a good laugh.
We are in control of our emotions, and we must control them if we hope to please our heavenly Father. Anger itself is not a sin. We are told that "God judgeth the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day." We know that God cannot sin, so His anger is righteous, His judgments are just, and it is right for Him to feel indignation over the failings of mankind. Our anger is not always justified, and often we sin when we react while we are angry.
We know that what made the Lord Jesus angry on many occasions was the hardness of the hearts of those he had come to save. In one instance, a man with a severely deformed hand was brought before Jesus by the authorities who hoped to use the man’s deformity to discredit Jesus. Mark tells us, "And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other." Jesus was angry but he did not sin. We need to take care not to sin when we are angry.
What should we do when we begin to feel the flush that anger brings, when our heartbeat quickens and our temper rises? We must take immediate action to take control of ourselves, and many times the action to take is to retreat and not respond. Back away, turn around, bite the tongue, but do not react. It is when we respond too quickly to the anger that fills us that we use inappropriate words and excessive actions that are sinful.
We can do something in anger that cannot be undone. They tell the story of Alexander the Great who in a fit of anger grabbed his spear and threw it at his best friend. It hit a vital spot and the friend fell down dead. Overcome with grief, Alexander fell on the dead body weeping, bitterly regretting not having controlled his fit of anger. We know that King Saul many times cast his spear at David as he was playing the harp trying to soothe Saul’s feelings of depression. In a moment of anger, Saul even attacked his own son, Jonathan, with a javelin. Fortunately the LORD was protecting David and Jonathan and they were able to escape the fate of Alexander’s best friend.
When angry, we can say things that hurt, we can act in a very un-Christlike way, and sadly, we can do it towards those we love the most. We need to learn to be in control of our emotions. While anger is not a sin, we must be very careful that we do not react in anger and sin in the process. We must be in control of our emotions at all times. We need to plan how to bring our emotions under control when we feel anger.
There is a story about a time when Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of war, Edwin Stanton, was accused of inappropriate actions by a general. Lincoln suggested that Stanton respond by writing the general a letter. When Stanton finished the letter, he showed it to Lincoln who praised him for the strong, direct language he used in the letter. "What are you going to do with it?" Lincoln asked. "Send it," Stanton replied. Lincoln shook his head. "You don’t want to send that letter," he said. "Put it in the stove. That’s what I do when I have written a letter while I am angry. It’s a good letter and you had a good time writing it and feel better. Now, burn it, and write another."
Abraham Lincoln’s method for avoiding an angry knee-jerk reaction was to write a letter, which gives cooling off time and a chance to plan a more balanced response. It has been said, Speak when you are angry and you will give the best speech you will ever regret. Rather than blurting out our thoughts, we need to walk away from a situation when we’re angry, count to ten, take some deep breaths, and perhaps write a letter so that we don’t react hastily and sin. Usually, as Lincoln found, that letter written in anger should never be sent. We should rip it up and then rewrite it to soften our language, remembering as Solomon tells us, "A soft answer turneth away wrath." So often the actions we contemplate when angry are actions we would later regret if we acted on them.
We can read in the book of James how to control our emotions by listening more and slowing down our reactions: "My dear friends, you should be quick to listen and slow to speak or to get angry." Let us keep in mind this good advice, and remember the words of Paul who tells us, "Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath".
Robert J. Lloyd
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