Any talk about deep and true love will eventually bring to our mind images of our spouse, our parents and our kids. That’s because these are relationships that must move beyond superficial “niceness” to survive. In any household you are going to have to learn how to love people when they are in a good mood and when they are in a bad mood. Parents don’t always like what their kids do, but they love them all the same. Spouses have to learn how to overlook things and focus on the treasures.
Over the past few weeks we have been looking at what the Bible teaches us about love using the 13th chapter of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. His instruction calls us not only to a greater familial love (love within our families) but also to this same kind of love in the church and in our dealings with others. This is a love that needs to come from God. It is unnatural. We are naturally selfish. The Bible calls us to put aside self and love another with the kind of love that He has toward us.
This morning we are going to look at two more characteristics of love: it is slow to anger and doesn’t keep a record of wrongs.
Love is not Easily Angered
The Greek word translated easily angered means to arouse to anger and is the origin of the English word paroxysm, a convulsion or sudden outburst of emotion or action. In other words, love does not lose its temper. Solomon warned about those who lose their temper easily in the book of Proverbs,
- A hot-tempered man stirs up dissension, but a patient man calms a quarrel. (Pr. 15:18)
- Better a patient man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city. [Pr. 16:32]
- Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn his ways and get yourself ensnared. [Pr. 22:24-25]
- A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control. [Pr 29:11]
- An angry man stirs up dissension, and a hot-tempered one commits many sins. [Pr. 29:22]
The great eighteenth-century preacher and theologian Jonathan Edwards had a daughter with an uncontrollable temper. When a young man asked Dr. Edwards for his daughter’s hand in marriage, he said no. The young man was crushed. “But I love her, and she loves me,” he pleaded. “That makes no difference,” Edwards replied; “she isn’t worthy of you.” “But she is a Christian, isn’t she?” the young man argued. “Yes,” said Edwards, “but the grace of God can live with some people with whom no one else could ever live.” That seems harsh, but Jonathan Edwards knew what his would-be son-in-law hadn’t yet learned: the presence of selfish anger indicates the absence of genuine love.
Anger is not always bad. Notice that our text does not say that the loving person is never angered. It says we are not to be easily angered. Paul in Ephesians tell us “to be angry, but don’t sin.” In the Bible (especially the Old Testament) we read much about God’s righteous anger. Anger is as an emotion that can be good or bad depending on how it is used.
Feelings of anger alert us to a problem. That problem may be something wrong in the world or it may be alerting us to something wrong inside of us. Such anger can energize us to take action to right those wrongs. Some of the people who changed the world did so because they became angry about the injustice they witnessed. Abraham Lincoln and William Wilberforce became angry at the injustice and barbarity of slavery. That anger spurred them to action to abolish slavery. Anger is not always bad.
When is Anger sin? First, anger is sinful when it causes us to feel ill-will toward another person. When we wish to inflict harm on another person anger has become vindictive rather than productive. When I am so angry that I want to kill someone (even myself) my anger has ceased to be something good and has become something destructive. Please hear me: when anger leads someone to act abusively toward another person or another member of the family, that person is no longer trying to solve problems; they have lost control and have become a bully. They need to get help. . . immediately.
Second, anger is sinful when it is without cause. Have you ever had a frustrating day and taken it out on someone else? Perhaps you had car problems and when you arrived home you are in a foul mood. Maybe it was a struggle to get everyone ready for worship and when you arrived at the church you overreacted to something minor. Sometimes we are under stress and we take it out on an innocent bystander. That kind of anger is unjustified and sinful.
We may become angry because someone told us something we needed to hear. We might become angry with a Christian friend who out of love points to a weakness in our character or a sinful practice that threatens to destroy us. We don’t like to hear those things and we tend to strike back. However, instead of being angry, we should be grateful. It is the same with the employer who gives constructive criticism or the teacher who tries to get you to take your studies seriously. It is wrong to be angry with someone who is trying to help us.
We sometimes get angry over trivial things. Some things just happen. People get into accidents, children spill milk, wrenches sometimes slip, and plans sometimes change at the last minute. If we get angry at such things we will be angry all the time! Angry people find it hard to be soft before God (so their spiritual life is hampered) and they certainly aren’t fun for anyone else to be around (their social life is hampered).
One of the reasons I stopped watching a lot of sporting events on television is because I would get so involved in the game that when my team lost (which was often), I would be in a foul mood. It is ridiculous! I didn’t play the game. If the game had been won I would have gained nothing of lasting significance. It is not my occupation. It’s dumb to let such things provoke anger. My best defense was to limit the sports I watched.
Third, anger is sinful when it is disproportionate. Too often we react to a situation rather than respond to that situation. A response involves getting information, processing that information, weighing the options and then finding a solution to the problem.
Responding involves reflection and thought, reacting is immediate and impulsive. People react to a situation in different ways. First, we may explode. We scream, holler, throw a tantrum and may become physical. Our words could be angry, sarcastic, or critical. John MacArthur writes,
Telling our wives or husbands that we love them is not convincing if we continually get upset and angry at what they say and do. Telling our children that we love them is not convincing if we often yell at them for doing things that irritate us and interfere with our own plans. It does no good to protest, “I lose my temper a lot, but it’s all over in a few minutes.” So is a nuclear bomb. A great deal of damage can be done in a very short time. Temper is always destructive, and even small temper “bombs” can leave much hurt and damage, especially when they explode on a regular basis. Lovelessness is the cause of temper, and love is the only cure.
A second way of reacting rather than responding is to stuff our anger and stew. Some people actually say nothing at the time they get angry but they simmer about it for the rest of their lives. When you stuff your anger it will come out in other ways; often against other people. Anger that is not dealt with will turn in to bitterness and malice.
Neither reaction is a good option. Sometimes you will hear people say that they know it is wrong to hold anger in; so they blast away and they feel better. However, the damage they leave in their wake is irreparable. The key issue is not whether you stew or explode, the issue is whether you use your anger productively (to solve problems) or destructively (to multiply problems).
How do we overcome Sinful Anger? There are some simple principles we can apply to help us learn to love rather than fight.
1. We must take responsibility. We must stop blaming other people for our anger. Other people do not “make us angry”. We choose to respond with anger. It is not the only option we have for dealing with the situation. We are choosing to deal with that frustration with anger rather than with a more productive response.
2. We must recognize angry feelings early. We need to learn to sense our blood pressure rising, our faces getting red, the sense of irritation increasing, and perhaps even our fists clenching. The key is to step back before anger boils over. There is nothing wrong with saying, “This conversation (or situation) is upsetting me, I need time to think about things.”
3. We need to identify the root cause of our anger. Most of the time anger is caused by one of three things,
a. Hurt – someone did something to hurt our feelings. We are wounded.
b. Fear – when something scares us we tend to respond aggressively. You may fear the destruction of a relationship, or embarrassment, or a loss of some other kind. When we feel threatened we often become angry.
c. Frustration – Things are not going the way we expected them to go and we are frustrated. For example, you plan to leave for vacation at 7:00 a.m. and when you get ready to leave you notice you have a flat tire. You are frustrated that your plan and schedule is disrupted and your frustration (if not addressed as frustration) could erupt on others and spoil the first few days of vacation.
The challenge for us is to stop when angry and ask, “Am I upset because I feel hurt, afraid or frustrated.”
4. Once we have identified the real problem we need to work to solve the real problem. We need to address it as hurt, fear, or frustration. Identifying the problem accurately will often diffuse anger and helps us to work on solving the problem.
5. Determine to be kind even when angry. This involves slowing down and thinking before we speak. Words matter! What we say will stay with people for a long time. When we see a fire the goal is to put it out rather than to put gasoline on it. Anger out of control is to a relationship like gasoline is to a fire.
Love Doesn’t Keep Score….It Forgives
The word translated store up is an accountant’s word and it is used for entering up an item in a ledger so that it will not be forgotten. That is precisely what so many people do. One of the great arts in life is to learn what to forget.
There are many marriages and other relationships that are handicapped or destroyed because of the past. One man said to a counselor, “Every time we have a discussion my wife gets historical.” The counselor said, “Do you mean hysterical?” “No,” he said, “I mean historical! She brings up every thing I’ve ever done wrong, even though that’s not what we are talking about!”
Love understands that it takes time to get over hurt. However, love also understands that for relationships to flourish we need to learn to forgive. The Bible says,
- A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense. [Pr. 15:11]
- Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. [Eph 4:31-32]
Forgiveness isn’t easy. Hurts wound and wounds take time to heal. A person who has been in a horrible car crash may have trouble getting back into a car and when they do, they may be tense for a long time. A veteran who returns from war needs to work through the bad dreams and the memories of a violent time. A person who has been abused will have to really work to learn to trust anyone again. People who suffer these kinds of trauma have to work through what happened. In much the same way when we are wounded in a relationship we will need time to heal from the wounds. Forgiveness is learning to function normally again (in our relationship) in spite of the wounds of the past. And just like post traumatic stress disorder, sometimes we may require help from someone else to work through the pain.
When we forgive someone we don’t “forget” that something happened, we decide not to allow what has happened to affect us in the present. We work through the hurt and then “let it go.” We naturally resist this even though we know it is better for us and for our relationship to forgive. We don’t want to be weak. We don’t want the other person to “get away with what they did”. We want justice!
Jesus tells us that we should be willing to forgive because we have been forgiven. No matter what someone has done to us, we have done far worse to the Lord. He has forgiven us; we should extend forgiveness to each other. Forgiveness is an act of love and an expression of grace. Even though a person deserves to be punished, love says, “I will absorb the hurt” and seek to restore the relationship. Forgiveness is when we extend the love of Jesus to another person.
There are a host of petty things that unravel relationships. I have been helped a great deal by coming to understand what has often been called the “judgment of charity”. It is a natural human tendency to expect people to give us the benefit of the doubt when something happens.
- When we are late we want others to understand that we were unavoidably detained
- When we say something hurtful we want people to understand that we have had a bad day and we didn’t mean what we said
- When we do something that creates a problem for someone else we want people to give us a break because we “meant well”.
- When we strike out at someone we want people to take the time to understand why we reacted the way we did.
However, it is also a human tendency to assume the worst when we deal with the offense of others; we do not accord the same courtesy we desire for ourselves.
We believe they were late because they had no consideration for us
We believe someone snapped at us because they are insensitive
We assign the worst possible motives to a person and conclude that they meant to cause us pain.
We don’t think there is any reason to even consider the reason someone gets angry. They hurt us and that’s all that matters.
The challenge is to learn to treat others the same way we want them to treat us. In other words instead of choosing to attribute the worst motives to what another does, we should try to attribute to them the best motives. We should give the benefit of the doubt.
We do this with our children most of the time. Someone tells us that our child is attacking the other kids and we assume that something was done to provoke our child. If our child is having problems with their grades we naturally assume the teacher isn’t doing an effective job. If our child gets in trouble we conclude they are being unfairly singled out. We often show charity to the point of gullibility when defending those whom we love.
If we would extend the judgment of charity to others we would find ourselves offended less often. We would become positive rather than negative, loving rather than suspicious. We would stop taking it personally when another person was having a bad day.
Max Lucado writes, “To forgive someone is to display reverence. Forgiveness is not saying the one who hurt you was right. Forgiveness is stating that God is fair and he will do what is right.” (When God Whispers Your Name p. 95)
From Paul’s words it seems that one of the keys to being a loving person is learning to deal with the offences that take place against us. Hurt feelings happen. What we do when it happens indicates how we are doing in the area of love. So let’s take a little quiz,
1. When you become angry do you yell and scream? If so, you need to work on solving problems rather than escalating them.
2. Do you bury your anger? You need to recognize that anger that is held on to will destroy you and your relationship. Buried anger is like a toxic waste dump. It will eat away at you and eventually it will rise to the surface and do great damage. Either let it go, or address the issues that provoked the anger.
3. Are you guilty of operating by a double standard? Do you expect others to give you the benefit of the doubt while you assume the worst about the motives of others?
4. If you are angry right now, what is the true cause of that anger? Is it hurt, fear, or frustration? Identify the real cause and address that issue with the person you are angry at.
5. Do you need to forgive someone? If so, prayerfully work to extend to that person the grace that God has extended to you.
One of the best evidences of love is to be a person who works through difficult times. Forgiveness is a decision to relate to another person as if an offense never happened. Will you still remember the offense? You will, at least at first. Will it still hurt? Yes, for awhile. However, when we choose to forgive we set the other person free and we find that we also set ourselves free. And when we act with such grace we advance God’s kingdom. We bring a smile to the Father’s face and . . . we make our mothers proud.