There was much to anticipate as we opened up Mad People Disease. I title a like, a promo video I love, a topic that hits close to home, and a series of messages that have felt very good in preparation.
And then for this week, I landed at a bottom line that wasn’t the initial bottom line.
And yet as I went over the message throughout the week, it was clear that the original bottom line lacked some ooomph compared with the rest of the sermon and that a line within the sermon in fact needed to be the destination and application of the message.
So here it is: an in context look at Paul’s anger words in Ephesians 4 that land at the bottom line “Your anger doesn’t need to be managed. Your soul needs to be delivered.”
As we begin Mad People Disease, can I give you my favorite statistic ever, of all time, in the world, in the universe? Can I? Here it is: (READY?) (AV) Every year an average of 14 people per year in the USA die as a result of interaction with vending machines. Isn’t that great? Wasn’t that worth coming to church for? Now, it’s ultimately sad, I know, but it is just the most fascinating statistic I have ever come across. And I know some of you are thinking right now: “I knew it! I just knew we’ve been giving robots too much power and they were getting ready to turn on us!” Uh, not. Fourteen ppl per year die at the hands of vending machines not because they have suddenly turned aggressive. It’s because the people have. The deaths happen because people, in a fit of rage that their Payday and Diet Mtn Dew ain’t forthcoming from the machine, start shaking, beating, assaulting the machine and it dips over and crushes them. It’s MPD and just as with the bovine variety, it can be lethal.
So yeah, we’re devoting several weeks together to looking at anger – its causes, its sources, its impact, its solutions. Because let’s face it: almost everyone here is involved in the drama of anger. Sometimes as a villain and other times as a victim. Some of you bear the scars of growing up in a home where anger was vented freely and openly and cruelly . . . and it shocks you when you find yourself repeating those same patterns in your own home now. Or growing up in that environment has made you so distrustful of people. And then there are others of you more like my friend who didn’t necessarily grow up in an anger fueled atmosphere but nevertheless showed up at an appointment with me with a bandaged hand. Why? Because in an act of frustration he had punched a hole in the wall at his house. And the wall punched back!
Some of you know what just what that is like. Man, I do. I wish I had kept all my broken tennis rackets from my misspent youth. There’d be a lot of them! Miss a shot BAM!! Miss two shots BAM BAM!! Lose a match – hurl it over the fence. I had my own versions of this: (YouTube McEnroe You CANNOT be serious!) I know that when it’s me and the Lord and there’s a replay of my life he’s going to be like, “You said THAT?” “You broke THAT?” These days, with tennis in the past, it comes out when I wait in lines, when traffic’s bad, when other folks cut me off. I’m not alone.
But can I tell you another type of anger that leads to MPD? The anger that’s NOT an outburst but that IS an attitude. I know there are people here who would NEVER lose their temper . . . and yet the anger is just percolating underneath. Your experience is sort of like that mom whose daughter described her this way: “my mom started off every conversation as if we were already in the middle of an argument.” You’re not breaking things … but you’re governed by forces of bitterness, rage, & anger. And that kind of anger, in which people never lose their temper, is almost as lethal at home, at church, and at work as the more vocal kind. Almost as deadly . . . but not quite as I’m convinced through observation that the vocal & even physical kind leads to trauma in villain & victim alike.
And what is our response to MPD? In ourselves and others? Just like the movie! Anger Management! As if it is a mismatched accessory to our otherwise perfect wardrobe and we just need to deal with it, to put it away from time to time, to not allow it to become too prominent. We treat anger & temper as if it is a separate issue, just one of the things in life we are trying to make better. And that’s why we learn coping skills, counting to ten, breathing deeply, exiting the scene, or, having pillow fights.
And all that is well and good, perhaps even necessary, but Paul has a different view. Dramatically different. In Eph 4, he gives advice that SEEMS so practical, so management-y in 4:26;27:
26 “In your anger do not sin”[a]: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold.
So, from all appearances there by looking at those two verses: some anger is OK, deal with it before sundown – which, can we all acknowledge raises a HUGE question: what if you live by the Arctic Circle? Are THEY just allowed to stay angry ALL SUMMER LONG and then can’t get mad at all during the winter? It is the land of the midnight sun after all! – and, finally, don’t let Satan in the gaps of your anger to establish grudges in your relationship. Seems straightforward, seems like you could do a class on anger mgmnt from a Xn perspective. It’s a difficult command but manageable. MPD and if it’s not eliminated it is at least medicated.
Except that’s not what Paul was saying. If we read Paul’s words in that way we miss out on the riches that come from bible exploration when you remember CIE! In this case, you’ve gotta see what Paul does before his advice. Look at 4:22:
22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires;
“Put off” there is stripping away. See, he is talking to Ephesians, most of whom had worshipped idols before coming to Christ, most of whom had a pre-Jesus life of self-centeredness totally committed to satisfying desires. So Paul compares the old self there to an old suit of clothing like . . . oh, I don’t know, wearing a full polyester leisure suit in 2015:
Then look at 4:23:
23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds;
Note: made new, meaning it’s passive; it’s something God does to you and in you.
And then finally look at 4:24:
24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
Put on new self, created for you. See that?! You strip away the leisure suit, WHICH FOR OBVIOUS REASONS MAKES YOU RESPOND IN ANGER!, you put on some 2015 clothes and then you live into that thing that was made for you to “put on.” The new you. Actually the language here is the way the early church talked about baptism. That baptismal candidates would literally wear one robe before and then put on an entirely new robe after as a living demonstration that the old person was dead and the new one alive. You put on something God has made for you. It’s totally the work of God in which you are totally involved.
And when you get the dramatic, decisive, comprehensive nature of Paul’s language there, you realize temper control is not the goal. It’s the result. It’s the result of being thoroughly, comprehensively saved. It’s the consequence of total yielding to God, of acknowledging On my own I deserve hell but you intervened and gave me a new identity. Listen: your anger does not need to be managed! Your soul needs to be delivered!
The reason so many of you are governed by anger – both the outburst variety and the attitude variety – is that you keep putting on the old clothes! You run back to the closet, pull out your leisure suit and put it on. And it fits so well because that’s the natural, sinful nature! You continue to be an OLD person even when you’ve said the words of being NEW! So a message about anger in which I don’t want you to deal with anger! I want you to deal with surrender! When you decisively & then daily take off the leisure suit and put on the your new wardrobe, ahhhh, the benefits flow – a healthy approach to anger being among. The harder you try to control your temper, the more it will control you.
Because here’s the truth deeply embedded in a full, in context reading of Ephesians 4: When you give up control of your life, you’re given control of your anger. That’s not all you’re given, but that’s one major thing you’re given. It is a natural by-product of a surrendered life, one where you have exchanged a self-centered identity for a Christ-centered one; a hell bound nature for a heaven-headed one. So many times we come to church simply for help with accessories and we fail to realize: we need to take the whole thing off so we can be reclothed with what God has made for us. Paul wants you to strip away the old and be reclothed with the new. Your anger does not need to be managed. Your soul needs to be delivered.
If you’re a Christian – or call yourself one – and wrestle with your anger, here’s what’s going on. You don’t have an anger problem. You have an anger solution! (Remember?) Anger is the solution you have found for a life in which Christ is at the margins and not in the center. That’s all. Anger is the solution you’ve located for a distracted spiritual life. A life where from time to time you feel like you have the freedom to go back to the closet, pick up your old clothes and walk around here like it’s 1975. Well it’s not and you got no business living contrary to the nature that’s been provided to you. Really, I just want you to be more of who you already are, who you really are. Your anger does not need to be managed. Your soul needs to be delivered.
You know, it’s funny: every STOP has an implied START in it. So Paul in Ephesians 4:26-27 has this STOP to sustained anger, allowing-the-devil-in rage, temper outbursts and anger attitudes and what’s the implied START? What’s the replacement? See, usually (and especially if you rip these verses out of context) your STOP is I won’t I won’t I won’t. Meaning your START is I will I will I will. I will control my temper, I will count to 10, I will breathe deeply, I will manage. But when you understand Ephesians 4:26 in context and see the healthy anger to which it refers is a consequence of the new clothing, the START becomes not “I will” but I AM. Become more of who you are! I AM blood bought. I AM water washed. I AM newly clothed. I AM one in whom Christ dwells. I AM wearing that which God created for me. I AM totally not in control of my life which means I am given control of my anger. It’s not trying harder; it’s trusting more.
And I am so aware that this will not happen without supernatural intervention. It would have a whole lot easier and a whole lot less scary to give you 3 suggestions for controlling your temper. It just wouldn’t have been biblical. It wouldn’t have been faithful. It wouldn’t have been true. And I’ll take true and risky over phony and safe anytime. So this takes no small amount of trust that God can enter this space, your life, and do something supernatural in you and then through. That he can so strip away the old and so clothe you in the new that living in your new clothing becomes as easy and natural as breathing. That losing your temper seems alien and foreign and inconceivable. Jesus did not come to make you better, more polite, nicer. He doesn’t want us nice. He wants us naked. So we can be reclothed in him. And what results AMONG OTHER THINGS is a life where anger is neither sustained nor selfish nor damaging and where Satan is a lot more scared of you than you are of him. Your anger does not need to be managed. Your soul needs to be delivered.
It’s a bit like the guy who I had known for years as kind and mellow and wise. And you could have knocked me over with a feather when his wife told me he used to be full of rage and alcohol. A hothead’s hothead. “And so what happened?” I asked.
“He got sober and he got Jesus. They sort of happened at the same. Jesus came in and the rage went out.” And that’s what I want for all of you. You anger doesn’t get minimized; it get Jesus-ized.
Your anger does not need to be managed. Your soul needs to be delivered.