Paul said, “Be ye angry and sin not.” It is not a sin to be angry, but unfortunately, being angry can cause us to sin. Anger is only one letter removed from danger. Many great men have fallen as a result of anger. We need to learn how to control anger so that our anger does not control us.
There is a story about an angry nine-year-old boy who was being raised by his mother after his Dad abandoned the family. Not knowing how to handle the boy’s anger, his Mom sent him to live with his grandparents on a farm for the summer.
The first time the lad screamed at his grandmother, his granddad immediately pulled him outside where he showed him a two-by-four, a box of two-inch nails and a big hammer. He told him that every time he lost his temper he would be sent outside and that he couldn’t return until he had pounded a big two-inch nail all the way into the two-by-four.
After about a dozen trips to the “nail shed,” the young man began to control his temper more and pound less. After a solid week of self-control, he proudly announced that he had learned his lesson. His grandma said, “Not yet,” and took him back out to the two-by-four. She told him to pull out all the nails he had pounded in. After two hours, he told his grandma he was finished. She smiled and put her arm around him as they surveyed the bent nails and the holes in the two-by-four. Then she said, “Your temper may have helped you pound in those nails, but your temper didn’t change what made you mad in the first place, did it? Pulling out the nails didn’t do much good either. It’s like saying you’re sorry. Sorry doesn’t fix the holes.”
“Here’s the point: Angry outbursts don’t solve problems, and anger makes holes that sorry can’t fix. You can’t do much about old holes, but you can stop making new ones. Remember, every time you do something mean and nasty you’re putting a hole somewhere, in someone. That’s what your dad did to you. Please don’t do that to anyone else. You are better than that.”
God describes Moses by saying, “Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth.” As meek as he was, Moses became angry “because they provoked his spirit, so that he spoke unadvisedly with his lips.” As a result of Moses’ outburst of temper, God refused to allow him to enter the promised land. Moses had made a hole that being sorry did not fix. Moses regretted his mistake, we know that God forgave Moses, and we are thankful he will be in the kingdom, but there were consequences for saying the wrong thing that he had to live with for the rest of his natural life.
We need to learn this lesson well because we don’t want our temper to make holes that being sorry does not fix. Sometimes we may think that we can make excuses by saying what we said or did was done in anger — as if that makes it all right. The point of Paul’s exhortation is that it is not all right; and, even if we are angry, we must not sin; not anytime, not even while we are angry. We all know that self-control is easier said than done, but it is important.
When we feel that surge of anger welling up within us, immediately we need to take control of our words and our actions to avoid saying or doing something that will make a permanent hole. The wise advice to count to ten is more than just a suggestion. To delay action may prevent making that hole that will never be filled.
Sometimes the best thing to do is to do absolutely nothing while angry. A CYC counselor once told a group of campers caught in an infraction, “I want you to clean up this mess while I go for a walk and pray. I don’t want to talk to you about it until I have asked for God’s guidance in dealing with this problem.” The youths soberly put the room right and were sitting quietly, ready to listen when the counselor returned. Solomon tells us, “A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.” The words the counselor felt like saying at first in a knee-jerk reaction to the teens’ misbehavior would not have produced the sincere repentance that came from the discussion after the counselor returned to the group from prayer.
Let us avoid the danger of anger. We want to stop making those holes by pausing and praying before speaking or acting in times of stress. Remember, as Solomon has told us, “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty.” James sums it up for us by saying, “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.”
Robert J. Lloyd