Summary: Anger is a subtle emotion, yet it is one of the dominant human emotions. This message looks at bringing the emotion of anger into submission to Christ through the Holy Spirit.
Anger. We never quite know what to do with the emotion of anger. Yet, anger is one of the dominant emotions of the human condition, and it plays a dominant role in Riley Anderson’s life in the Disney Pixar film, Inside Out. In the film, Anger is a hot-head (literally- his head combusts off and on throughout the movie). He’s red, a color that research shows people associate with anger. Throughout the film, Anger yells, throws things, and blows-up, both literally and figuratively. It’s important to note that the character only really shows us one type of anger-expression, the outward, aggressive type. In reality, anger can be expressed in a lot of different ways. It's ok in the context of the movie, though, as Riley is an 11-year-old dealing with a recent move. She has a lot to be frustrated about and you wouldn't expect a young adolescent to exhibit the sort of impulse-control required to keep anger in check. We, however, as disciples of Jesus, are supposed to grow up. Unfortunately, too many of us are like Riley, and we don’t get past the way anger can control us and get us into trouble.
Anger is a subtle emotion. We hide it behind other emotions because we’re afraid to acknowledge it. We’ve been told it’s wrong to get angry. Maybe we feel justified with our anger, but don’t know what to do with it. Certainly we’re not supposed to confront the person who made us angry, are we? No! We’d rather keep our anger than do that. Most of us, when we’re full of anger get passive. Oh, inside, we’re like the little red character in the movie, but outside we repress the anger. It’s safer, or so we think. What happens, though, is we let that anger come out in more “acceptable” ways. We don’t always throw chairs or shout at the top of our voice, but we procrastinate, or show up late, or lower our performance. We might obstruct progress, or cut with humor. We might shut off, or criticize to our understanding friends. There are a multitude of ways we deal with anger. We feel much safer at home. Some of us might feel more free to explode there. We treat those we say we love with less respect than we would treat a stranger. Anger is one of the hardest emotions for Christians to deal with. We often don’t acknowledge we have it because we feel we are not supposed to have it in the first place. We call it something else, deceive ourselves, and tear apart the body of Christ with unloving responses or unloving actions.
Anger is one of the issues the Apostle Paul deals with in his letter to the church at Ephesus. Paul wrote this letter around 60 A. D., probably from a Roman prison cell. He wrote the letter as an encouragement to a primarily non-Jewish (translate that Gentile) audience. Paul wanted to make it clear that Jews and Gentiles have been brought together as part of one body in Christ. Because of Christianity’s strong roots in Jewish history and religion, it was natural for early Christians to wonder if Christ’s gospel was limited to Jews, or if Jewish Christians held a special status because of their ethnic heritage. Paul clearly wants his Gentile brothers and sisters to know that in God’s kingdom, they are first-class citizens alongside their Jewish brethren. To get this point across, he uses a number of phrases and metaphors that imply unity: the “body of Christ” as a description of God’s kingdom on earth, and marriage as a mirror of Jesus’ relationship with the church. Paul also reminds his audience that since they now belong to Christ, they must start living their lives differently. This “living life differently” is the context in which Paul is writing the passage we read today, and in which he gives counsel to Christians in dealing with anger. Perhaps that’s a good place for us to start growing up, too.
Paul begins this section by saying “throw off the old sinful nature,…and put on your new nature (v. 22 – 24).” He uses the imagery of taking off a coat, but when we take off a one coat, we must also put on another. We’re trading one coat for another. And, through the power of the Holy Spirit, the way we dealt with anger before is no longer appropriate for a disciple of Jesus Christ. What counsel does Paul give?
First, Paul says “be angry!” According to one researcher, “The average person feels some degree of anger or its cousin, frustration, ten to fourteen times a day.” Here’s what we need to note: Anger is not sin. In the film, Anger is shown motivating Riley in the hockey rink, and the Anger character’s introduction at the beginning of the movie describes anger as making sure things are fair. And surely, you must know God gets angry. 375 times in the Old Testament it says God got angry. There were times when Jesus was terribly angry. He was angry when the scribes and Pharisees were watching to see if he would heal the man with the withered hand on the Sabbath day (Mark 3:5). It was not their criticism of himself at which he was angry; he was angry that their religion desired to impose unnecessary suffering on a fellow creature. He was angry when he made a whip and drove the changers of money and the sellers of victims from the Temple courts (John 2:13-17). Jesus got angry—remember how he cleared the temple? It is not a sin to get angry. In fact, if we never get angry in a relationship it means we’re not in touch with reality. There are some things we ought to get angry about. Sometimes anger means “I care!” Sometimes anger is an expression of love. Sometimes anger says, “I’m not going to stand by and watch you waste your life.” It’s not how we get angry, it’s what we do with our anger that makes it a sin or not. Paul says “be angry, but don’t sin.”