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The Off Color series provides valuable insight to help us master our emotions and not allow emotions to master us. Pastor Philip calls believers to engage their emotions properly and to enjoy God’s goodness in all circumstances of life.
More From This Series
Let’s take our Bibles and turn to James chapter 4. We’re in a series called Off Color, where we’re dealing with unwelcome emotions, and we’ve color-coded those unwelcome emotions. We’ve looked at white with fear. We looked at blue with depression. And now we’re looking at red with anger. We’re going to begin a two-part sermon based on James 4:1–12. Let’s take some time to read God’s Word.
So, would you open your copy of God’s Word and stand in honor of God’s Word. We’re not here worshiping the Bible, but God has exalted His Word above His name. Our respect for God’s Word is a measure of our worship and love for God.
Listen to the half-brother of the Lord Jesus. This is a family member, in a sense, of the Lord Jesus, and he writes this:
“Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think the Scripture says in vain, ‘The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously’? But He gives him more grace. Therefore He says: ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’
“Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in this sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.
“Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?”
So reads God’s Word. You may be seated.
We’re going to begin a two-part sermon entitled “Losing Your Temper.” There’s kind of a double meaning to that. Losing your temper’s easy. Losing the temper you just lost—not easy. We’re going to help you from James 4:1–12.
I like the story of Billy Martin, who once was the coach of the New York Yankees. He was on a hunting trip with the famous Mickey Mantle. They’d gone down to Texas to a friend’s ranch to do some hunting. When they arrive, Mickey Mantle goes into his friend’s home, just to check that everything is good to go, that they have permission to hunt on this property.
His friend says, “Sure, you’ve got my permission.” But he says, “Mickey, I need you to do me a favor. Over in one of the barns there, I have an old mule. Its days are done. It needs to be put down, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. It’s been in the family for a while.” He says, “Would you do that for me before you go hunting?” Mantle says, “Sure.”
So, Mickey Mantle comes out, goes back to the car with Billy Martin. And he decides to play a prank on his friend Martin, to have a little bit of fun at his friend’s expense. He comes back into the car, a little mad, hot under the collar, slams the door. He says, “I can’t believe it.” Billy Martin says, “What’s up?” He says, “He’s not going to allow us to hunt. I can’t believe it.” He gets all worked up, and then Mantle says, “I’m mad at this guy.” Billy Martin is trying to calm him down. Mantle says, “You know what? I’m so mad. I’m going to go out to his barn and shoot his mule.”
Well, Billy Martin can’t believe it. He’s trying to talk him off the ledge. But sure enough, they drive the car down to the barn. Mickey Mantle gets out with his weapon. He goes into the barn, and a shot is heard. The mule has been put down. Mickey Mantle’s having a little bit of a laugh to himself, imagining what Billy Martin thinks.
Well, as he comes out of the barn, two more shots are heard. Mickey Mantle notices that Billy Martin’s been out of the car, rifle in hand, and now he comes back to the car. Mantle says, “What in the world are you doing?” To which Billy Martin replies, “You know what? We’re going to show that son a gun. I just killed two of his cows.”
Oh, anger is contagious, and anger is dangerous. It doesn’t take much to send any one of us into a rage. Let’s be honest. More people than we’d like to admit are living with an internal temperature of 211 degrees Fahrenheit. They are about one degree away from boiling point. This is an age of rage. Have you noticed it? This is an age of rage. Anger’s in fashion.
Look at the assaults that are going on in our cities. Look at the nastiness of our political discourse. Look at the rage on our roads. Look at the venting that happens on popular reality shows that pass for entertainment. Look at the bullying that goes on over the internet, leading to depression and, in some cases, suicide. Look at the rise in domestic violence. This is an age of rage.
Someone said that if we had a meter that measures the degree of anger we are experiencing in our society, the needle would be quivering in the extreme red zone. I think you’d agree with that. We’re very, very, very angry.
In fact, I don’t know if you knew this, but since 2002—I don’t know who keeps these statistics—four people a year on average have been killed by vending machines. You see, they put their money in, and they don’t get their soda drink out. In an act of anger, they start rocking the vending machine until it rocks so far that it falls over them and crushes them to death. Don’t do that. Can you imagine going to heaven after that? Bumping into Stephen, the first martyr, and him asking you, “How did you get here?” That’s not a good story to tell.
All jokes aside, ours is a culture increasingly marked by vulgarity, violence, and venting. In fact, in an article in Time Magazine a few years ago, writer Jeffrey Kluger said this: “Americans have made something of a fetish of our rage of late—a fact that’s even been leaking into our language. The base is never just ‘animated,’ it’s always ‘enraged.’ Health care debates are never ‘spirited,’ they’re always ‘furious.’ In the run-up to the 2016 election, a CNN/ORC poll found that 69% of Americans reported being either very or somewhat angry at the state of the nation.” It’s an age of rage. Our country and our culture and our citizens are at boiling point. We need some relief. There are dangerous levels of anger and animosity in modern life, and it’s not good for any one of us.
Can I remind you that “anger” is a word that is one letter short of the word “danger”? Anger is dangerous. When it is fleshly, selfish, uncontrolled, it’s bad for your physical health. It’s detrimental to your emotional wellbeing. It’s not good for our social cohesion. And it certainly undermines your spiritual vitality.
Proverbs 27:4 tells us that wrath is cruel and anger is a flood. Anger can be as destructive as a flood, and it carries everything before it. Human anger, according to James 1:20, does not produce the righteousness that God desires.
So, with that said, let’s come and look at James 4:1–12. We’re in a series called Off Color. We’re looking at dealing with unwelcome emotions, and we’ve color-coded them. We looked at white with fear. We looked at blue with depression. Now we’re looking at red with anger. And James addresses the issue of anger and conflict and wars and fights. Here he addresses the issue of anger and redresses the issue of anger.
As I just mentioned, in chapter 1:19–20, he’ll already engage that issue: “So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”
Now we’re parachuting into the book of James. James is the half-brother of the Lord Jesus Christ. He’s writing to Jews outside of Israel. They are scattered. And the focus of the book is the faith that works. The famous verse is James 2:26: “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”
We are saved by faith alone, but saving faith is never alone. If you and I profess to have faith in Jesus Christ, which means we have come into union with Jesus Christ and He has entered our life, the presence of Christ in our life will show up in our behavior. You can’t say you have faith and there be no works to prove it. That’s kind of the thesis of the book of James. He’s constantly dealing with behavior and thought, and he wants our behavior and thought to mirror the character and the calling of the Lord Jesus Christ.
This is a book that calls for action. In fact, there are 54 imperatives in 108 verses. Almost every second verse, James is calling us to do something or maybe to stop doing something. This a book that has a focus on faith that works. Here he addresses the issue of conflict and the anger that underwrites it and how that needs to be diffused and refused. He gives us the reasons for anger and the consequences of anger, and he gives us a path out of anger.
In fact, let me just put chapter 4 in its context. If you look at chapter 3:13–18, James is comparing heavenly wisdom to demonic wisdom. There’s the wisdom that’s from above, which is God’s will and God’s glory and God’s honor, or there’s the wisdom that you find in the surrounding culture, which is fallen and therefore marked by bitter, envy, self-seeking lies against the truth (Vs. 13–16).
But he says this in verse 17: “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure”—notice this—“then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits . . .” That’s the opposite of what anger produces. Look at verse 18: “Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”
But then word has been filtering back to James about the church that he’s addressing, the believers that he is corresponding with. They’re not at peace. They’re at war. They’re fighting. They’re slandering. They’re pointing fingers at each other. They’re mirroring the world in their behavior as a church. Kind of scary, isn’t it? And so James addresses that.
Now, we’re going to make a start on that in a moment or two. I’ve got an outline: the consequences of unjustified anger, the causes of unjustified anger, and the cures of unjustified anger. But, before we get there, I’ve got to give you a definition, and I’ve got to make a distinction.
Let’s just define anger. At this point, we’re defining anger in a good sense, not a bad sense. Robert Jeffress, in his book on forgiveness, says this: “Anger is a natural, physical and emotional reaction to perceived injustice.” It’s natural. It’s a God-given emotion. It’s a reaction to an injury or an injustice that you have encountered. So, you respond morally, and you respond emotionally.
A better, fuller definition is Robert Jones’ in a very, very good book, Uprooting Anger. He says this: “Our anger is our whole-personed active response of negative moral judgment against perceived evil.” There are echoes of Robert Jeffress’ language there. So, it’s a response. It’s a judgment you make against a perceived evil.
Now, a couple of things just to underscore, just to help you think through the issue of anger. Number one: Note that anger is directed towards a moral wrong—something like a violation of the Ten Commandments, a violation of the revealed and clear will and character of God. Anger’s not directed towards pet peeves, everyday failures, someone’s idiosyncrasies.
I like Colossians 3:13: “[B]earing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you all must do.”
So, there are times when someone has perpetrated a wrong that’s morally unjustified, what Paul here calls a “complaint.” If you go into the Greek, the word “complaint” here is a word that carries that idea of a moral wrong—something that has violated the revealable will of God. When that has been done, it must be addressed, and forgiveness must be offered. But, for most other things, you’re to bear with one another, right? There’s forbearance from all of that stuff, and there’s forgiveness for the other stuff.
I just want you to grasp that anger is a natural and emotional reaction to a perceived injustice. Anger must be directed to a clear moral wrong, as defined by the character and will of God. It’s not justified to get hot under the collar over some pet peeve or someone’s idiosyncrasies.
There’s a great story told by Vance Havner of Teddy Roosevelt. He had a little dog, and it kept getting into fights and losing them. When the president was told his dog wasn’t much of a scrapper, he said, “Oh, it’s a good little scrapper. It’s just a poor judge of dogs.” The point of the story is that you’ve got to pick your fights. And, in that sense, you’ve got to choose when to express anger and when not to express anger. Is my anger justified? Is it directed towards a moral wrong?
Number two: Anger is directed at a perceived injustice. That’s important. That phraseology comes up in both quotes, of perceived injustice or perceived evil. And you need to underscore that word “perceived.” That’s important. In the face of an injustice or an injury, you’ve got to make a moral judgment based on God’s word, God’s glory. You’ve got to judge if that injustice or injury rises up to the level where you can express anger and indignation against it.
And you’ve got to be very careful because your perception could be off, right? That’s the whole issue Jesus is addressing in Matthew 7:1–5, a text that is misused and abused, where Jesus says, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” Our present culture just reads that and stops. They run with that, and they just point fingers at Christians. “Well, you shouldn’t be so judgmental, and you shouldn’t be discriminating against people and making moral judgments and declarations of what’s right and wrong. Jesus said, ‘Judge not, that you be not judged.’”
Please continue, because Jesus said that the measure by which you judge others, you yourself will be judged. And then he goes on to say, “Hey, if you’re going to make a judgment . . .” And he’s not denying the possibility of that. He’s just saying that before you make a judgment, make sure your perception is square and straight. And remember, don’t be going around taking a toothpick out of your brother’s eye while there’s a two by four plank sticking out of your own. Make sure your perception is clear and just. And that’s very important.
When you and I are going to express anger, it’s got to be directed towards a moral wrong—something that is of significance and eternal weight. We’ve got to make sure that we have perceived that injustice or that injury correctly. That will require humility, and that will require holiness—because you and I have a propensity to self-deception, and we certainly have a propensity to self-righteousness. And when those things are at work, you can be sure your anger is not justified but is now unjustified and unholy. It’s important that we grasp those things. That’s the definition.
For a few minutes, let’s look at what I call a distinction. Because we’re addressing the issue of anger, we’re going to get into James 4 here momentarily and certainly all of next Sunday morning. James is addressing unhealthy, unholy, and unhelpful anger here in James 4. But we’ve got to distinguish between good anger and bad anger because, again, there’s this misperception that Christians are never meant to be angry ever. No, that’s not true. There is such a thing as being good and angry.
What about Ephesians 4:26? What does Paul say there? He says, “Be angry, and do not sin.” The Apostle Paul is saying that you and I can be angry. Be angry. But, make sure that in being angry, you’re not being sinful. Make sure that your anger is holy—that it’s a good moral judgment against a perceived and rightly understood evil or injustice. But you and I can be angry and not sin. I think it was one of the Puritans who said, “If you want to be angry and not sin, make sure you’re angry at sin.”
Back to our issue: moral judgment, clear perception. Inflammation of our emotions through anger has its place, right? We were created in the image of God. I don’t need to tell you, if you know your Bible, that God gets angry. Psalm 7:11 tells us that “God is angry with the wicked every day.” The rejection of His Son arouses His anger. Their evil thoughts arouse His anger. Their hurtful words arouse His anger. God is angry by what man thinks, what man does, and what man doesn’t do. Not to do good is sin. So God’s not only angry by the evil they perpetuate. He’s angry by the good they don’t pursue.
We are created in the image of a God whose holiness and righteousness is expressed in anger in Exodus 4:14, Deuteronomy 29:27–29. When God created us, He didn’t create us as Vulcans, all right? Now, if you’re a Star Trekkie, you understand what I just said. Dr. Spock has got no emotions, right? He’s just got a brain for a heart. God has not made us Vulcans. We’re passionate. We’re emotional, and in certain cases we can express a justified emotion of anger. It needs to be patterned after God, and it needs to be modeled after the Lord Jesus.
I want to go on a little excursion here just for a few moments. Given my fallenness, given your propensity to self-righteousness, given our hypocrisy, and given our self-centeredness, I’m always in danger of being angry at the wrong thing at the wrong time in the wrong manner. It’s not a moral judgment. It’s something being driven by my own comfort, my own selfishness. It’s worldly especially. It’s demonic. And yet, I’m being told there are times as a man, and you’re being told there are times as a woman, where you can get angry. You can get your dander up. And that can be godlike. That can be Christian.
Let’s go to John 2:13–17 just for a moment. That’s where we have a display of Jesus’ anger as He cleanses the temple. Now, we don’t have time to read this, but you may want to keep it open and just look at a couple of those verses while I’m talking. But let’s remember this: Jesus was deeply loving, widely merciful, and yet you’ll find him in the gospels angry.
Little note to self because we’ve got to fight the culture here and all this nonsense that we hear: love and anger are not exclusive.
Sometimes it’s a loving thing to be angry, and Jesus here displays a capacity for righteous indignation. You know the story. This is early on in His ministry. There may be a second cleansing in Matthew 24 later on in His ministry, but here in John 2:13–17, He comes in to the temple around the time of Passover. And what does He find? Them selling oxen and sheep and money changers doing business. They have turned God’s house into a Walmart. They have turned God’s house into a travel flacks. And Jesus is bothered by it. So, He makes a whip, and He drives them out of the temple and overturns the tables (vs. 15). The disciples look at this, and here’s what they say: “You know what? He’s driven by the zeal of God. That’s eating Him up. It’s His father’s house, and they’ve turned it into a house of merchandise.”
Now, for the sake of time, we’ve got to keep moving. Here’s a little list of things I’d love to develop but I’m going to throw your way. Write them down or listen to the message later on again, but do notice several things about Jesus’ anger here that you and I can mirror, that you and I can model.
Number one: Jesus allowed himself to have emotions. He expressed anger. There are times when you need to express anger. Don’t suppress it. Don’t repress it. Express it. And you’ll notice that Jesus communicated His anger clearly, all right? He didn’t let it simmer. He didn’t stuff it down. There comes a moment, I believe, in justified anger, where Jesus allows Himself to have emotions, and it communicates His anger clearly.
Here’s the third thing that’s very important: Jesus’ anger was God-centered. “This is My father’s house, and you have turned it into a house of merchandise.” This wasn’t about somebody standing on Jesus’ toe. This wasn’t about somebody not delivering Jesus’ lunch on time. This was about the glory of God. This was about the kingdom of God. This was about the proper ordering of life. And Jesus is offended. He makes a moral judgment about an evil that He has perceived correctly.
You’ll notice, too, that Jesus expressed His anger at the time of the abuse. He doesn’t let the sun go down on His wrath. It’s not like He goes away for three or four days, works Himself up into a red hot display of agitation, and comes back in. No, He expressed it at the time of abuse. He also solved a problem—didn’t create one.
And another thing: Jesus’ anger was measured and controlled. Did you notice that little phrase again? You’ve probably read it and run by it. It’s important. Verse 15: He “made a whip of cords.” That’ll take you a little bit of time, and that gives Jesus time to think. This wasn’t a temperamental outburst. This was an offense in the light of them falling short of God’s glory and abusing the sacred. And Jesus expresses His emotions. He expresses them clearly. They’re God-centered. They’re expressed at the time of the abuse, and they are measured and controlled.
Sometimes it’s godlike and Christian to be angry. You and I can be angry. In fact—I hope I’m not going too far—I would say this: You and I should be angry. You can’t claim to be good and not be angry over what is bad. Anger can be a positive force. It mobilizes us to charge the hill. It equips us to meet and beat obstacles that stand in the way of what’s right and wrong.
Aren’t you glad that William Wilberforce got angry over slavery throughout the British empire and set about removing it? Aren’t you glad that Martin Luther, the Protestant reformer, got mad at the commercializing of indulgences in the Catholic Church? Aren’t you glad that Elizabeth Fry got ticked off at the squalid, unsanitary conditions in British prisons, which was a double punishment upon the prisoners? Aren’t you glad that Candace Lightner got angry at drunk drivers who killed her 13-year-old daughter and did something about it by establishing Mad Mothers Against Drunk Drivers and seeking heavier sentences? Aren’t you glad that Martin Luther King was angry at the racism in the United States and the treating of fellow citizens as second-class citizens?
Aren’t you glad that William Booth got infuriated at the poverty and perversity that marked life in Britain’s inner cities? I love what he said when he was 82. There were several thousand Salvation Army personnel at the Royal Albert Hall in London. He was 82, almost blind, and he said this: “While women weep, as they do now, I’ll fight; while children go hungry, as they do now, I’ll fight; while men go to prison, in and out, in and out, as they do now, I’ll fight; while there is a drunkard left, while there is a poor lost girl upon the streets, while there remains one dark soul without the light of God, I’ll fight—I’ll fight to the very end!”
We need to be challenged by that. We need to be angry at those who abuse their wives. We should be angry at world hunger, drunk drivers, human traffickers, pornographers, abortion clinics. We need a baptism of holy anger—because it can be justified, and it can be just.
All right. Definition. Distinction. Let’s make an attempt at the first thought here as we come to James 4. We’ll look at what I call the consequences of unholy anger for a few minutes here, and then we’ll pick this up next Sunday morning. We’ll look at the consequences of unholy anger, and then we’ll look at the causes and the cures.
Can I just say this? Anger is a serious problem. If you get angry all the time—if you express anger that’s not a moral judgment against a perceived evil but just driven by your own selfishness, your irritation, your lack of patience, the things that you want—you need to recognize that as a serious problem. Whether you have a long fuse or a short fuse, any expression of unhealthy anger is explosive in nature, and the damage radius is widespread. Remember the word “anger” is one letter short of the word “danger.”
When I was in the RUC during the troubles in Northern Ireland, one of the things we had to warn families about was unexploded devices. Perhaps the IRA had attacked one of our patrols and a hand grenade hadn’t gone off or a nail bomb hadn’t detonated. It would be lying around, and someday some kid’s going to run over and find this thing. They don’t know the difference, and they start playing with unexploded devices. And there were a couple of tragedies that’d come out of that.
I just want to remind you, as you play with unexploded anger, that it’s dangerous and deadly. And James wants you to know that. In fact, he describes the effects of anger here in very dramatic terms. This is where we’ll stay and stop this morning. I wish I could get to a little bit more of a positive side of this message, but you know what? The fear of God is a good thing once in a while. I want to put the fear of God into you.
I want to wake and challenge myself and you to realize that anger is like playing with an unexploded device. You’re going to get hurt, and your family’s going to get hurt. People who know you are going to get hurt, your testimony’s going to get ruined, and the glory of God’s going to get besmirched.
Notice what James says: “Where do wars and fights come from among you?” Scroll down to verse 2: “You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war.”
That’s the first thing: Anger produces fights and quarrels. This church was imploding because anger was exploding. There may not be a great difference between the words “war” and “fight,” but if there is—and I don’t want to press it too far—perhaps the word “war” here means perpetual state of conflict, like a long-range campaign. And the second word carries the idea of separate conflicts within the campaign. Someone has said that it probably speaks to the fact that in any church, at any time, you might have long, drawn out resentments and sudden explosions in interpersonal conflict. But this is a sad thing. Their anger was producing fights and quarrels.
About three months ago, after being at the funeral of my wife’s father in Scotland, I had coffee in Belfast and just heard the heartache of a young pastor I know there. He’s in his first church and had to deal with a leader who was explosive with his anger. In the meeting where they asked this leader to step down, he literally lifted a chair and threw it at the pastor, proving the point. Imagine being a young guy straight out of seminary, and some professing Christian leader throws a chair at you. What in the world? But here we have it. Where do wars and fights come from among you? You fight and war.
It not only produces fights and quarrels. Number two: It perpetuates murder. What are we going to do with verse 2? “You lust and do not have. You murder.” Now remember, I’m kind of cherry picking phrases because, in the moment, I’m just establishing the consequences of anger: wars, quarrels, conflicts, murder. Do we need to take that in its most literal sense? Well, you could. Anger has led to murder. Anger often expresses itself in physical violence. Throwing chairs in leadership meetings. Hey, it isn’t the first time in a church and within church history that people have actually gone to blows.
But, more than likely, if you study James at all, you’re going to find that his language comes a lot from the Sermon on the Mount. The word “covet” is found there. The word “lust” is found there. Remember what Jesus taught in Matthew 5:21–22: You’ve been told not to murder. I want to take that to another level. You’ve got to also deal with the anger that leads to murder. Stop calling your friend or your family member a fool. God will judge that. And no doubt that’s what’s going on here. There were those who were very angry, and then they were verbalizing it in ways that were killing the unity of the church and murdering the peace of the church. It produces fights and quarrels. It perpetuates murder.
It provokes God. Look at what James says of these believers in verse 4: “Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”
Look at verse 6: “God resists the proud . . .” And anger and pride go together, by the way. But you see, if you look at chapter 3:13–18, there’s a wisdom that comes from the culture. And the wisdom from the culture is: You know what? You’ve got rights. Fight for them. Everybody else be damned. Be bitter, be envious, be self-seeking.
That’s what the world encourages. That’s what we’re seeing on the streets of New York, Los Angeles. We see it glorified in movies and on television. And God says: That’s the world. I don’t want to see the world in the church. If you bring the world into the church, the world that opposes Me, I’m going to oppose you.
I could say more, but I won’t. It produces fights, quarrels, perpetuates murder, provokes God, pleases the devil. Where would I get that thought? Scroll down to verse 7: “Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” Why would James mention the devil? Well, he’s already mentioned that wisdom that comes from the world is “earthly, sensual, demonic” (James 3:15). Self-seeking is demonic. Conflict, anger, division, slandering one another: demonic. The devil’s a liar and a murderer, and he likes to get in between people.
As we close, I just would remind you of that. Back in Ephesians 4:26, we’re told what? Be angry, but be careful; don’t sin. It’s going to take a lot of grace to be angry and not sin and to be like Jesus. And don’t let the sun go down on your wrath. What else? And give no place to the devil.
See, the devil loiters around angry situations. He loves those. He stirs them. He wants to make capital of them. That word “give no place” there is a word that means “beachhead.” Don’t give the devil a foot in the door. The Allied forces had to get a beachhead on the beaches of Normandy. I’ve been there. Blood and treasure was lost to get a beachhead from which to advance against Nazis and fascists all over Europe. And Paul is saying, don’t give the devil a foothold, a beachhead, in your life.
Listen to Adrian Rogers: “When a person has stubborn anger in his heart, he just says, ‘Devil, come on in. You are welcome. Here’s your place, devil.’ And that stubborn anger becomes the foul nest where the devil is going to hatch more eggs. That stubborn anger becomes the foxhole out of which the devil’s going to snipe at your life. That stubborn anger becomes the beachhead from which the devil is going to attack and take more and more ground.”
Give him no room. Walk in the Spirit. Don’t fulfill the works of the flesh. Learn what true anger is and how it’s displayed in the model of the Lord Jesus Christ. Don’t let the world set your emotional temperature. Let the Bible and the glory of God do that. Give no place to the devil. Resist him.
I’ll close with this. Some of you know. Some of you are new. Many of you know my wife’s phobia of vermin. That means her hatred of mice. There was a time when we were just married. The girls were all young. Two of them were babies; one was a little bit older. And a mouse got into our house. The mouse came in, and my wife went out. It’s true. She left the house, took the girls, and said, “I’m not coming back till you find it and kill it.” She sent me on a search and destroy mission.
She went over to my mother’s and stayed there. I think it lasted about two days, right, June? Or three days, whatever. And those little things are hard to find, right? In fact, after about a day, I’d been behind every wardrobe and cabinet and had the brush and had everything going. Then I said, if I don’t find this soon, I’m just going to go down to the pet shop, buy a mouse, summarily execute the thing, and take it over to my wife and say, “Here’s the mouse.” You know, I’d had enough of corn flakes and a cold bed. So, thankfully, I found the mouse, killed it, and June came back.
Now, you need to know, if you’re at our house at any point at four o’clock in the afternoon, as the sun starts to set on a particular season here in California—if the garage door is up, the sliding door in the back is open, and the front door’s open—you’re going to hear June go and close the door. See, she doesn’t want any of them getting in. Neither do I, so I close the door. Garage door comes down, front door’s locked, sliding door’s closed, right?
My friend, you need to close the door to anger. And James is going to help us do it. I hope you’ll come back next Sunday. But here we’re being challenged to close the door because the consequences are terrible. Moses didn’t enter the Promised Land because of a fit of anger. He forfeited the Promised Land because of an outburst of anger when he smacked the rock twice when God told him not to.
I wonder how many blessings you and I have forfeited because of our anger. Shut the door. Make no room for the devil. Don’t forfeit God’s benediction. Don’t lose a clean conscience. Don’t rob yourself of a happy marriage. Don’t provoke your children to wrath. Don’t lose your testimony. “Whatever begins in anger,” says Benjamin Franklins, “ends in shame.” We’re speaking about that anger that does not work the righteousness of God.
Let’s pray. Father, James 4 is challenging, and we pray that we might heed its counsel and heed its rebuke and live its truth. Lord, we thank you for the emotion of anger. When properly expressed, it has produced good things in this world. It has confronted evil. It has opposed dictators. It has rescued children. It has relieved women. It has ended slavery. Lord, help us to be angry without being sinful. Help us to make good moral judgments based on righteous perceptions, governed by the example of Christ.
But, oh God, we also realize that wrath is cruel and anger is a torrent. It destroys, and its consequences are ugly and evil: fights, quarrels, murders, worldliness. It sets the devil dancing. So help us to heed James 4. Help us indeed to reject the world. Help us to turn our laughter to mourning. Help us to repent. Help us to submit. Help us to fight the devil. Help us not to slander one another. Help us to remember that you alone are judge. And help us to remember there is grace. There is strength to do this for Your glory, and we pray it all in Jesus’ name. Amen.