Wrath: Deadly Sin #3

By now, you all know how I like to open my sermons with a story. I honestly couldn't think of anything. The nature and consequences of wrath are so obvious that an illustration is needless.

In the words of Doug Giles (whom I will be referring to often in this sermon) "Anger is a no-duh obvious and brutal vice." It's not one that lends itself to hiding like envy or lust. Wrath wants to express itself, and when it does, those in its way get the full force of it.

Perhaps the first thing we need to understand about wrath is that it's not the same as getting angry. It is possible o get mad without doing anything wrong. Indeed anger, in the proper context, is right and good. Jesus got angry. He was terrible to behold when he was angry. But he was also very selective about where and when he let his anger out, as well as for what reason.

It is good to be passionate when it comes to evil. hen someone beats up on a child, it's only right to get angry. When a dictator throws an innocent person in jail, that's something to get mad about. When a street gang smashes the local church's stained-glass window, it's natural and good to get steamed about it.

Wrath is not an emotion, like anger. Wrath is the action that results from anger. And it is not always sinful, either. Jesus demonstrated wrath when he cleared out the temple. Samson demonstrated wrath when he "brought the house down". God the Father has demonstrated wrath on numerous occasions.

So if it was okay for Jesus and Samson to display wrath, why isn't it okay for us?

Wrath is meant to be used for justice. Jesus is the high priest for all mankind. Samson was a judge- the equivalent of a king or president. Both were fighting for just causes. One to free the temple so that people could worship without impedence, the other to free his country from invaders.

When someone lets loose their wrath because someone took their favorite seat at the cafe, that's got nothing to do with justice.

Anger goes all wrong when "blows through the roadblocks of the love of God, the love of your neighbor and the good sense of your brain."

So how can we tell when this is what is happening?

A couple of sources list five skid marks that indicate when anger is going pear-shaped.

  1. The will joins the emotions in freaking out. When the will gives rise to the expression of emotion rather than acting as a restraining factor and marks the object of anger for destruction.
  2. The motive is wrong. When instead of justice, wrath is motivated by jealousy, self-pity or some feeling of unfulfilled entitlement.
  3. The anger is uncontrollable. To quote Henry Fairlie: "the reason why extremists and revolutionaries always corrupt and betray their own faith is 'the wrath they will not check.'"
  4. There is a desire for revenge. Instead of simply dissipating, anger fueled by a desire for revenge smolders. It starts as a perverted desire for justice, then grows into a prolonged rage and finally into a seething hatred.
  5. The degradation of anger into contempt. Contempt is a deliberate and systematic denial of another's worth. The active desire to hurt has been replaced with apathy so that the individual no longer cares whether his foe is hurt or not. Thus, it becomes much easier to hurt that individual again and again.

If you can recognize these signs in yourself, it's time for a change, unless you want your religion and any group you're affiliated with to become objects of derision and labelled as perverted by wrath. Trust me, I know what I'm talking about.

The cure, of course, is meekness.

There are tose who think that being meek means being weak. That in order to be meek, you must be a wuss and let people walk all over you. Not at all. Meekness does not mean weakness. Meekness is strength. It is a type of strength which for some only comes with a great deal of toil and hard work.

So how does one summon restraint out of nowhere when everything inside is screaming to unleash the beast? The first thing to do is look at your enemy through God's eyes. He or she is a living being, made in God's image. His soul is worth enough to God that Jesus' blood was considered a fair exchange to save it.

But I'm also going to give you some practical tips I have learned...

If you are on any medication that could potentially alter your mood, work with your doctor to find out if it's having a negative effect. A drug designed to fight depression might just be making you paranoid. You don't need chemicals making you weak.

When you find yourself ruminating over an old offense, say to yourself "I don't need to be thinking about that. That's only going to ruin my day." Say it out loud, if you can.

Anger doesn't always come from within. If you can't get rid of your anger, it's possible there's a demon inciting you to wrath. Verbally bid any demons in the vicinity to leave you in Jesus' name, then pray. Even if there are no demons, it's a good habit to get into.

This one is especially effective for men- think about something else. Numbers work especially well. Most men cannot think emotionally and logically at the same time. If that doesn't work, focus on something innocuous- some object which generates no emotional response.

Always think ahead to the consequences of your actions. Are you likely to be arrested for assault? Will this action cost you friends? Will you be spending the next six months unemployed?

Of course, if you REALLY want to master rage, there is only one power source that can really accomplish this for you. You need the Holy Spirit. And for that, you need to accept Jesus Christ as your savior.

As for this week's challenge, I think the body of the sermon is challenge enough, so I shall end with a prayer.

Father, help us each to master ourselves and be meek, like Jesus. Don't take away anger, but teach us when to be angry, when to fight and when to be at peace. Amen.

Pastor Oren Otter
August 5, 2006

Today's reading
James 1:18-21

18 Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
19 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath:
20 For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.
21 Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.