Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Crash Course in Anger Management For Christians


Today I want to talk about something we all face from time to time.  We all offend people or have people offend us.  Of course being offensive to the world is par for the course for a Christian.  Not that we are to be purposely offensive to the world, but naturally as Christians there should be a rejection.  If we conform ourselves to the world to mask that offense, we are not living as Christ called us to live.  Today, though, I am not talking about disputes with the world, but disputes within the church.  We all have arguments, disputes, and even times of anger at other Christians.  Christ called us to love one another and so dragging out disputes or holding onto anger towards a brother or sister in the Lord is never right.  So today, I want to talk about how to handle conflicts you may have with other brothers or sisters.  It is of the utmost importance to resolve a conflict, as we see here.
But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, 'Raca!' shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, 'You fool!' shall be in danger of hell fire. Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.  Matthew 5:22-24 NKJV
Just to dispel something from the start, we need to address the issue of "without a cause."  Perhaps you are thinking this verse is not applicable as you have a cause to be angry.  We never have a cause to hold personal grudges.  The kind of anger spoken of here is righteous indignation.  Righteous indignation is anger against sin or unrighteousness and not personal anger over someone who may have wronged you.  If we feel personally wronged, we are never to hold onto that anger.  Jesus said as much.
Then Peter came to Him and said, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.  Matthew 18:21-22 NKJV
And now that we know that as Christians there remains no lingering anger-for-cause, we can address what Jesus is saying in Matthew.  We can not worship God as long as we are in a dispute with our brother.  If someone has something against us, we need to reconcile that.  If we are holding a grudge or anger against someone else, we need to resolve that.  There could be no anger among the brethren if the church is to function properly.  We are likened to one body, and we all know that when one part of the body is "angry", the whole body suffers, just think of the time you had a bad headache or an upset stomach.  Sometimes the body will attack the Pancreas, leading to diabetes.  Sometimes part of the body will begin to serve itself, and that is called cancer.  Sometimes people live in terrible pain and sickness with all sorts of what are called autoimmune diseases, which are diseases when the body attacks itself without any valid reason.  The body of Christ will remain unhealthy so long as it continues to attack itself without cause. 

Some think that this blog I write is an attack on the body of Christ.  Some take it very personally and think I am personally attacking them.  I am attacking no individual person.  Sometimes there is cause for the "body" to attack itself.  Those are the times when some part begins to exist for itself.  That is called cancer.  Cancer in the body of Christ is sin and just as in a human body, any small bit of cancer in any part of the body is a danger to the whole body.  There are also times when parts of the body fail to perform properly or fail altogether.  A failed organ is a danger to the whole body and must be addressed. 

So, that said, how are we to handle conflicts?  The Bible again has the answer.
Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. Matthew 18:15 NKJV
This passage is not only appropriate for church discipline, but also in our personal disputes.  The first step is to discuss this wrong person to person.  We are not to spread it around to other people or cause a ruckus.  We are to come person to person and privately.  The person who was actually offended needs to come to the person who offended him or her and attempt to settle the matter.  It is not supposed to be a public thing.  Now if the brother or sister who is offending you fails to repent, we should go to the next step.
But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that 'by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. Matthew 18:16 NKJV
Even now it is not a public thing.  You are to take a couple of brothers and again approach the one who is offending you.  This is also not about ganging up on someone, but about getting them to see the wrong they are causing.  Again, the goal is restoration of the relationship. We need to keep that in mind through all these steps.  The ultimate goal of handling a dispute with your brother or sister in the Lord is to restore that relationship.  Please keep that in mind in how you approach someone as the onus is on you to not escalate the situation by your actions. 
And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.  Matthew 18:17 NKJV
And, finally, we have the last two steps.  The first of these last two steps is to bring the matter to the church.  Again, this is to the church.  This is not to the public, this is not to the world, this is to bring it to the church.  Specifically, it should be taken to the church leadership and not spread it around like gossip.  If this meeting should have a positive outcome, that relationship needs to be restored.  If the church leadership fails to convince the brother of his error, only then can that relationship be severed.  Even at this point, it is with the hopes of future restoration. 

Now that we know the steps, I want to address a couple of issues that we should keep in mind whenever we  feel offended.  The first is whether or not we have actually been sinned against.  In other words, we need to check our own hearts to make sure we have any right to be offended.  Sometimes it is easier to lash out at someone who says something offensive or gives a hard message then it is to look within ourselves to see if there is any substance behind what is done.  We can not hear someone say something to us and automatically be offended.  We must first examine ourselves. 
The wise in heart will receive commands, But a prating fool will fall.  Proverbs 10:8 NKJV

Poverty and shame will come to him who disdains correction, But he who regards a rebuke will be honored.  Proverbs 13:18 NKJV

A fool's wrath is known at once, But a prudent man covers shame.  Proverbs 12:16 NKJV
I know that when we hear someone criticize us, it is hard to hear.  We like to grumble about planks and specks or throwing the first stone and feel that person has no right to bring up any accusation against us.  We take things personally and get way too defensive.  I have been guilty of that myself.  There have been times when someone has brought up something in my life and I feel anger well up inside me and have thoughts like "Who is he to say that, that person does this and that and such and such."   That is the wrong heart and I or anyone else who has feelings like that needs to cut them before they well up into saying or doing something we may regret.  That person coming to you may have a board sticking clear out of his eye, but that does not mean you don't have a speck in yours. That person may be drenched in sin, but that does not mean you do not also have sin.  That person may not even come at you in the spirit of love, but no matter how appropriately a message is delivered, it does not change the validity of the message itself.  Those admonitions are for the accuser and not the accused and whatever is wrong in their lives, that is between them of God.  What we need to do is evaluate whether or not what was said was true.  We need to check our hearts to see if there is an issue we need to deal with.   The wise will accept correction.  The wise will accept the rebuke.  The prudent will not respond in wrath. 

Another thing we should never do is to make our disputes public.  In this day and age of social networks, we seem to think that all our business is everyone's business.  Nothing can be further from the truth.  I have seen way to many family disputes put online for all the world to see, and this is especially tragic when it happens between Christians.  A dispute between Christians is supposed to remain between them and at most within the church, but it is never ever to be put in a position to be seen or judged by those outside the church. 
Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life? If then you have judgments concerning things pertaining to this life, do you appoint those who are least esteemed by the church to judge? I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren? But brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers! Now therefore, it is already an utter failure for you that you go to law against one another. Why do you not rather accept wrong? Why do you not rather let yourselves be cheated? 1 Corinthians 6:1-7 NKJV
We, as Christians, will be part of judging the world.  In that, who are we to allow the world to judge us?  Furthermore, are we not then qualified to judge between ourselves?  No one in the world is qualified to judge in matters between two Christians.  To bring our disputes into the public eye represents, as Paul says, an utter failure.  Paul even goes so far as to say that it is better to accept wrong then it is to allow unbelievers into our disputes.  Please understand what you are doing when you make disputes public or invite unbelievers into them.  You are lowering yourself to the world.  You are binding yourself to the opinions of the world you are called out from.   Unbelievers have no place in a dispute between Christians. 

Furthermore, personal offense is really a meaningless concept for a Christian.  We are called for forgive and love and not to lash out.  Responding to wrongs done to us with more wrongs makes us just as guilty in the eyes of God.  God does not buy the "He started it" argument but calls us to turn the other cheek.  We are called to love our enemies, not avenge the wrongs done to us.  We are called to love our brothers with the love of Christ, who died while we were yet sinners.  Even from the cross, Jesus called for the forgiveness of His executioners.  If Jesus, being pure and innocent and bearing every sin ever committed when he knew no sin himself, can forgive those who scourged him then nailed him to a cross, who are we to act any differently to anyone who wrongs us. 

Finally, how are we to respond when a brother or sister is angry at us.  First, check and see if you were in fact in the wrong.  If you were, then apologize.  If not, explain your position and apologize for any offense or misunderstanding.  If the other person refuses to reconcile, then you just need to let it go.  You have done your part and allowing it to continue to eat at you will only lead to bitterness and resentment on your part making you just as guilty.  In the end, if someone refuses to forgive you or restore that relationship then the problem is between them and God and not them and you.  Pray for them and if God should ever reach their hearts to a place where they are willing to restore that relationship be ready to welcome them back with open arms.  Do not let their unjust anger affect your walk, love them and forgive them for it.  Love them as Jesus loved the lost sheep or the father loved the prodigal son.  Await their return to fellowship and rejoice when it happens.  Just as God reconciled us to Him through Jesus, Jesus can work in their hearts to reconcile them to us. 
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. 1 John 4:6-13 NKJV

2 comments:

  1. Ben, I am teaching tomorrow on 1 John chapter 4. I was waiting for you to get to those verses. Glad you did. We can exhibit this love if we abide in Him. I pray that the body of Christ will live out this call that we might be effective ministers of the gospel.

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