Anger—sometimes it rises out of seemingly no place. Other times, it is an image, a comment, a situation—but the rage comes! It shows up and shows out! Sometimes it follows a slow boil, other times it is instantaneous flame! Today our culture seems to be simmering while covered in gasoline…just waiting to explode. There are lots of opinions, lots of voices—loud voices, angry voices. Two things are clear.
Who’s wrong—NOT ME! Very clear opinions about who is at fault.
Yes—Satan. We believe that he is real and would like nothing better than to ruin your life, your family, your community, and your country. Right now—he seems to be causing havoc. He is bringing great division as we yell at each other instead of talking to each other. We seem to have lost the skill of listening and the ability to be civil and have reasonable conversation and sharing of ideas. We are so busy trying to win an argument that we have no regard for the welfare of the person we are blistering. And by “welfare,” I mean the condition of their heart.
We are excelling at being critics, in fact, we are hyper critical of everyone and everything. We offer no room for mistakes and no margin for slip ups. Nope—we will use that to bash and lash out in an even more animated frenzy! Where does this come from? Where or why does it rise up? Is it even controllable? First, let me just say, anger is not necessary sinful. Jesus was angry.
Mark 3:5 (ESV)—And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.
Matthew 21:12 (ESV)—And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons.
Ephesians 4:26a (NIV)—"In your anger do not sin.”
But he is Jesus, so anger does not express itself in an unrighteous way. For us, it is almost always—SIN! In fact, according to Matthew Elliott: “The aim of Jesus’ anger was to set things right, it had a constructive purpose.”[i] He continues: “Our anger all too easily revolves around ourselves, even when it seems to be about injustice.”[ii] Elliott sums it up: “Jesus used anger to build God’s kingdom, not to tear down relationships.” But for us: “Anger is a dangerous emotion and is often destructive.”[iii]
The Bible gives warnings about anger.
Proverbs 15:18 (ESV)—A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention.
Proverbs 22:24-25 (ESV)—Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man, lest you learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare.
Proverbs 27:4 (ESV)—Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy?
Emotions are more than just anger. In Elliott’s opinion: “Everything we do, say and think is, in some sense, emotional. We enjoy it, we dislike it, or we just don’t care. We describe our experiences and ourselves by describing how we feel.”[iv] In fact, we tend to make our decision based on how we feel. Is that right? Is that wise? Can emotions be trusted? At the end of the day, “we are responsible for our emotions,” according to Elliott, “because they are based on beliefs and evaluations.”[v]
We are starting with anger. How should we prepare in advance for coming anger? How should we respond to circumstances or people that are sure to make us angry? Let’s go to a story about two brothers. If you have your Bible or electronic device, grab it and meet me at Genesis 33.
Jacob was the shady sort. His names mean “he takes by the heal” or “he cheats.” He was quick to look out for his own interests and happy to give anyone else the shaft, including his own brother. Two notable times:
He conned Esau out of his birthright.
He dressed up as Esau to trick his blind father, Isaac, into giving him his blessing.
Genesis 27:36 (ESV)—Esau said, “Is he not rightly named Jacob? For he has cheated me these two times. He took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing.” Then he said, “Have you not reserved a blessing for me?”
Imagine the rage.
Genesis 27:41 (ESV)—Now Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him, and Esau said to himself, “The days of mourning for my father are approaching; then I will kill my brother Jacob.”
So, Jacob at the prompting of his mother fled the area, away from his brother. As we pick up the story today, Jacob has been gone twenty years. Jacob has no idea of how he will be received by his brother. Is he bitter and looking for revenge, still desiring to murder him?
Esau has no idea if his brother has changed any or if he is still a swindler who cannot be trusted. With a reunion imminent, tensions are likely high. Nothing like an unavoidable family reunion to add a little stress to one’s life! God had been working in Jacob’s life, but Esau didn’t know that. God had been working in Jacob to remove all semblance of self-sufficiency. At the end of chapter 32, Jacob encounters God alone. He finds himself powerless and dependent.
During this encounter, Jacob gets a new name (Israel— “God fights”) and a new direction. But this does not occur without a cost. He leaves the experience with God dependent and blessed, but also with a limp.
Next stop, his brother.
The Meeting (1-4)
Genesis 33:1—And Jacob lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, Esau was coming, and four hundred men with him. So he divided the children among Leah and Rachel and the two female servants.
Approaching his brother, who is bringing an army! That can’t be good! Jacob organizes his family and sends them ahead of him in some kind of courtly greeting ceremony.
Genesis 33:3—He himself went on before them, bowing himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother.
With humility Jacob approaches his brother and bows. How will Esau respond? He had been done wrong greatly by his brother. Twenty years is a lot of time to plan and prepare for revenge. How would you respond? How would you react? How would you feel? Maybe time and distance can heal…but it can also grow great bitterness in a heart. Certainly, an anxious moment for Jacob. The day before he had prayed…
Genesis 32:11 (ESV)—Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, that he may come and attack me, the mothers with the children.
Genesis 33:4—But Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.
What?! Not what we would have expected. No payback? No justice? No revenge? This warm welcome shows that something has changed in Esau. He displays no grudge or bitterness towards his brother. He seems to have forgiven him and does not even bring up the past! Hurt, offense, and injustice usually results in anger. Why not with Esau? What about you? How do you respond when hurt, offended, or treated with injustice?
GOSPEL: You may be mad, offended, upset, maybe even rightly so. But there was another who’s anger was more justified, who was more grossly offended, and who should have been upset. Yet, He responded differently! Instead of rage, He brought love! Instead of anger, He brought grace! He was slow to anger and quick with grace.
1 Corinthians 13:4-5 (ESV)—Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;
1 Peter 4:8 (ESV)—Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.
Love leads with grace! What if we were slow to anger and quick to lead with grace? How would that impact our lives? How would that impact the lives of our family? How would that impact our community and our nation? Back to our story…
Introductions and Gifts (5-11)
In Genesis 33:5-8, Jacob introduces his family. Who continue with humility and respect— “they bowed down.”
In Genesis 33:9-11, Jacob presents gifts to Esau. Perhaps out of guilt or restitution for what he had previously taken. It seems clear—humility precedes reconciliation. It will take humility for you to be reconciled to your heavenly Father. It will take humility to admit that you need help. It will take humility to admit you are a sinner. It will take humility to admit that you cannot do it yourself.
Moving On (12-17)
In Genesis 33:12-14, Esau suggests that they travel together. Jacob suggests that they travel separately—for the sake of the children and the livestock. In Genesis 33:15-17, Esau offers to leave some people to help. Jacob says that isn’t necessary.
Jacob Settles (18-20)
In Genesis 33:18-20, Jacob settles in Shechem and builds and altar and calls it El-Elohe Israel (“the mighty God is the God of Israel”). So, the tension between the two brothers has moved from anger to reconciliation. One brother seemingly deserved pay back and punishment. The other would have been seemingly justified to be angry and bitter. Yet that is not how the story ended. How will your story end? How will you respond to circumstances that rouse anger deep within you? How will you deal with people that make you mad as fire? Consider responding like this: WE SHOULD BE SLOW TO ANGER AND QUICK TO SHOW GRACE.
James 1:19 (NIV)—My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.
Imagine the impact you could have if you worked to control your temper, but were quick to show grace? Matthew Elliott argues that: “Doing the right thing often leads to feeling the right thing.”[vi] At some point somebody will make you angry. They just will—people are sinful, selfish, stupid—they have quirks. The key is how will you respond? Will it be like the Incredible Hulk: “You won’t like me when I’m angry!”
Let me give you three cues to slow your anger:
Here are three ways to lead with grace:
Be a student not a critic.
Talk with others, not at others. Listen!
Aim to win hearts, not arguments. Are you trying to make a point or make a difference?
Applying this could change your life, your family, your community, your country, and ultimately your world! WE SHOULD BE SLOW TO ANGER AND QUICK TO SHOW GRACE. But—remember this. While we are confident somebody will make us angry, we seem less convinced that we would make somebody angry. We tend to think we are awesome and right, never annoying. But at some point, you will rub somebody up the wrong way because you are sinful, selfish, stupid, you have quirks.
Listen to how Eugene Peterson paraphrases the words of Jesus:
Matthew 7:12 (MSG)—"Here is a simple, rule-of-thumb guide for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them. Add up God's Law and Prophets and this is what you get.
BE SLOW TO ANGER AND QUICK TO SHOW GRACE!
This sermon was originally preached on 9/23/18 at Connect Church.
[i] Matthew A. Elliott, Faithful Feelings (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2006), 214. [ii] Ibid., 216.
[iii] Ibid., 219. [iv] Ibid., 13. [v] Ibid., 39. [vi] Ibid., 36.