For the past few weeks we set out on a journey attempting to explore this complicated thing called ANGER. In the first week the goal was to accomplish two things: establish everyone is angry, but God desires our anger to be an instrument for reconciliation. In week 2 we went a bit deeper into what anger actually is. Where learned two things: anger is a displeasure based on a perceived good, and there can be GOOD and BAD anger.
We will pick up this week where we left off last time. We are going to go deeper into this idea of GOOD anger. The focus of this week is on beginning to REDEEM our anger. Last week I mentioned FOUR basic attributes of good anger: CHARITY, PATIENCE FORGIVENESS, and CONSTRUCTIVE. All of these are taken from this common phrase that expresses God’s anger throughout the OT—READ Psalm 145.8-9.
Theme: Good anger is a constructive displeasure rooted in God’s grace and mercy.
1. Charitable Displeasure.
While anger is a response to displeasure based on a perceived good, so is MERCY. Anger calls out something as “WRONG,” but so does mercy. Bad anger will respond to the wrong with wrath and condemnation. Bad anger is reactionary or quick. It does not see or offer a pathway toward hope and reconciliation.
We can see this type of merciful displeasure in the life of Christ. So, let’s look at text that will help flesh out this concept for us—READ Luke 13.31-35. In this text we have Jesus in a very displeasurable situation. The primary enemies of His ministry (the Pharisees or religious leaders of His time) are telling him the political leader of his region wants to murder Him. Jesus expresses His frustration or anger with this by telling them, “How often would I have gathered your together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.” Jesus has been offering them help by offering them Himself, but they are “not willing”. When you study the rest of the context of this passage it is not hard to see Jesus angry displeasure, but in the midst of that is offering everyone (even His enemies) mercy through repentance. Essentially Jesus is mercifully offering these people His help, but they are responding with pride, arrogance, and violence. Listen once again to the language used here, “the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it.”
When we offer people CHARITY in the midst of our anger we are offering them grace and mercy. We are offering them something they do not deserve. We are not offering them something they have earned or are owed. This is what Jesus is doing here. Mercy offers peace in the midst of war. CHARITY or mercy can accept without approving. Charity is offering your enemy a relationship without approving of their actions. Jesus’ movement is toward His enemies NOT away. Listen to what He says in Matthew 5:
So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.—Matthew 5.23-24
The context of this passage is Jesus talking about ANGER. Jesus goes further by saying even if you know someone else has some anger toward you then go work it out before you come to worship at the throne of God. True Christian CHARITY moves toward and not away.
2. Patient Forgiving Displeasure.
As I just mentioned, when we set out on the course of charitable displeasure it will require patience. I put these two aspects together because of how they are coupled together in this OT creed—“abounding in STEADFAST LOVE.” And I have also coupled them together because of the way Jesus does in Matthew 18. In this passage Peter ask how often is he supposed to forgive someone. Jesus tells Peter and the rest of the disciples you will need to have an endless supply. After this He then proceeds to tell a parable about a man who had an enormous debt to the king. He went to the king and BEGGED for mercy—for charity. This man specifically said, “Have PATIENCE with me…” (Matt 18.26). The king granted His request, but the man went out from there, come across someone who owed him a debt, and showed him NO mercy. This man requested the same thing as the first man, “Have PATIENCE with me…” (Matt 18.29). But the first man had him thrown in jail for not being able to pay his debt. The king heard about this story and this is what happened—READ Matthew 18.32-35.
Jesus understands the weight of what Peter is asking. Forgiveness, true forgiveness, is not an easy burden to bear. True forgiveness is not easy to offer. In many cases it will require toughness, forbearance, a gritty-patience abounding steadfast love.
Therefore, how can this be done? I mean really done. If any of you have ever had REAL deep wounds I cannot just tell you just forgive, be patient, and it will heal in time. Many of us have tried that and we know it doesn’t work. To answer this question let me give you TWO main thoughts. First, we need to understand what Dr. David Powlison calls ATTITUDINAL forgiveness. Attitudinal forgiveness deals with transcendent or vertical forgiveness. The purpose of “attitudinal” forgiveness is it is working on changing me and NOT the other person. We cannot know what is happening in the other person, but we can deal with ourselves. The apostle Paul describes this in his letter to the Colossians:
Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.—Colossians 3.12-13
Friends, when we constantly remind ourselves of how much we have offended God, and yet He has forgiven us, this allows us to consistently have a attitude of forgiveness toward anyone.
Second, Dr. Powlison describes the second type of forgiveness, which he calls TRANSACTED forgiveness. This forgiveness deals with the forgiveness needed horizontally. Both parties will desires to repent of their sinful attitudes and actions. This does not always happen. Jesus implies this idea in earlier in Matthew 18.15 when He says if the other person repents to our outcries of sinful wrongs then we gained them. This becomes a gain and not a loss, which is transactional language. The challenge is we are not promised transacted forgiveness on this side of heaven. Trust me friends you can work really hard toward this end and it may never happen, but that does not mean you should not have an attitude of forgiveness in your own heart.
3. Constructive Displeasure.
Finally as we read the rest of Psalm 145 we can how much the author describes the grace and mercy God moves toward ACTION. We must not forget in Exodus 34.7 God tells He will not just clear away the guilty. For our anger, these deep seeded wrongs, to be made right it will require genuine HONESTY. Grace, mercy, charity, patience, and forgiveness are only helpful attributes in the midst of our anger if there are REAL wrongs. When both parties admit they both had a hand in this conflict, then we can begin to make real progress. When we recognize our sins God can use these displeasures to bring about something constructive.
During WWII Winston Churchill was working with the Soviets to fight the German forces from both sides. At one point Churchill received a report from a Soviet ambassador emphasizing the gravity of add the Soviets needed commanding sympathy. Churchill expressed his anger reminding them just 4 months earlier they were dragging their feet on whether or not they would join the fight against the Germans. Then Churchill continued to patiently and generously work with the Soviets. One author speaking on Churchill’s response was, “Churchill stood up to a bully without becoming one” (Powlison, p. 99).
Next week, we are going to explore more specific techniques we can apply in the midst of our anger so it will become constructive displeasure and not destructive displeasure. But friends I cannot stress enough how important it is that we all understand these motives are the logs we regular toss on the fire of good constructive anger. In fact it is these attributes we see put on display at the most constructive displeasure in history—the Cross of Christ. We see God’s grace and mercy allowed Him to be charitable, patient, forgiving, and constructive through the Cross of Jesus Christ. Friends, we must regularly go back to the wood of the Cross to find the fuel that will allow the flames of our good anger fire to keep blazing.