I don’t know if you’ve tried calling BT (British Telecom) recently. It’s amazing how difficult it can be to phone a phone company! Well this is what happens when you try to quickly get a yes or no answer to a billing enquiry, as I discovered last week.
After dialling the number a recorded message says: “Thank You for calling BT. We’re very busy now. We’ll be much less busy late at night. Do visit our web site at www.bt.com or press zero to speak to an operator. (So thankful for the fact that this is a free phone number I pressed zero.) Another recorded message. Welcome to BT. Please be aware that your call may be recorded for training purposes. For billing enquiries press 1. (So I pressed 1.) For BT promotions or special offers press 1 if no press 2. (So I pressed 2) Billing enquiries. Did you know that you can pay your bill online and that you can check your bill online. To speak to an operator press 4. (So I pressed 4.) Press 1 for moving house. Press 2 to create a new account. For all other enquiries press 3. (So I pressed 3) At last a real live person came on the line. My hopes are raised and then dashed. A voice said, ‘Please hold’. I held. Then after a moment the voice returned. How can I help you? Can I first take your telephone number? And your BT account number. (I didn’t have it.) Then I will have to ask you some security questions. How is your bill paid? (By cheque, I replied.) Give me two numbers you phone regularly. (I gave him two numbers.) Now at last I could ask my one brief question! Yes, I just want to make sure I’m on the BT Together Option 1 tariff. Can you confirm that for me please? Yes you are on Option 1, he replied. Then he continued, “Before you go sir please can I ask – how did I handle your call! I replied rather wearily. “Thank you sir”, he answered, “and God bless you.”
Well as you can probably imagine inside my patience level dipped dramatically during that phone call and my anger level rose considerably! However his final reply was a good example of Proverbs 15:1 –
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
And I put the phone down thinking – God bless - did he mean it, was he a believer, how very un pc BT, well done, Lord thank you for teaching me through this call. Yes, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
Who needs to hear that proverb tonight and put the first half into practice? In our relationships with our spouses, children, parents, friends, colleagues, housemates, course mates, with the church family etc. a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. It’s so easy to stir up anger isn’t it? Harsh words come so easily sometimes when we’re out to get what we want or when we feel hard done by or when we’re tired. And harsh words lead to more harsh words, anger is well and truly stirred and the situation escalates. But a gentle (if firm) answer, for example, to our children when they’re testing the boundaries or to our parents when they’re restricting them turns away wrath. Perhaps some of us need to write out this verse and keep it where we can see it to remind us of its truth.
Now it can be right to be angry. Jesus showed a righteous anger in clearing the temple courts of men selling animals and birds and exchanging money. Jesus in John 2:15-16
made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the moneychangers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, ‘Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!’
One church minister once said:
The world needs this kind of anger. The world often continues to allow evil because it isn't angry enough.
But the book of Proverbs is concerned with the dangers of unrighteous anger. In Proverbs anger, being angry or stirring up anger is seen as foolish and leading to dissension and strife and many sins. Listen to these three proverbs from chapters 29 and 30:
A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control. (29:11)
An angry man stirs up dissension, and a hot tempered one commits many sins.(29:22)
For as churning the milk produces butter, and as twisting the nose produces blood, so stirring up anger produces strife. (30:33)
Whereas patience in the Book of Proverbs is seen as being and doing the opposite. In the original the word ‘patience’ is literally ‘slow to anger’.Listen to these five proverbs from chapters 14, 15, 16, 19 & 25.
A patient man has great understanding, but a quick tempered man displays folly. (14:29)
A hot-tempered man stirs up dissension, but a patient man calms a quarrel. (15:18)
Better a patient man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city.(16:32)
A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offence. (19:11)
Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone. (25:15)
But before we come back to patience let’s first look further at anger from Proverbs under my first heading:
GET RID OF ALL UNRIGHTEOUS ANGER
Last year ‘The Times’ reported the following statistics about the growth of what we could call the wrong kind of anger in the UK.
• 45% of the UK’s working population regularly lose their temper at work.
• 64% of Britons working in an office have had office rage.
• 33% of Britons are not on speaking terms with their neighbours.
• 1 in 20 Britons have had a fight with the person living next door.
• UK airlines reported 1,500 significant or serious acts of air rage in a year,
a 60% increase over the previous year.
• The UK has the second-worst road rage in the world, after South Africa.
• 71% of internet users admit to having suffered net rage.
• 50% of UK workers have reacted to computer problems by hitting their PC, hurling parts of it around, screaming or abusing their colleagues.
And as well as not being good for our relationships, all this is not good for our health the report goes on as it appears to be linked to increased anxiety, stress and depression, which are now the top causes of time off work.
What about us? Do we sometimes get into a rage on the road, at work, at home, on the phone or because the phone doesn’t stop? What is our witness to Christ like in this area? The Bible says we must be different. Proverbs 29:11 says
A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.
As someone has said, “This kind of anger is one letter short of danger.” You see giving full vent to one’s anger suggests rage, an out of control anger, which can have disastrous consequences. Someone who gives full vent to their anger often calls others fools and I know I sometimes fall into this trap. But Solomon says they’re the fool. However, the wise man, rather than giving full vent to his anger, keeps himself under control. That doesn’t mean the wise are never concerned about anything or never express their concern firmly but they do so showing self control, which means they are taken more seriously. So how do we act wisely? How do we keep ourselves under control. What is the key to anger management?
Well the Bible says in Galatians 5 that self control is a fruit of the Spirit, which begins to grow in us when we receive the Holy Spirit at our new birth in Christ. And according to Ephesians 5 we are to then keep on being filled with the Spirit. Turn on with me to Ephesians 5:15-20 Paul says:
Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
And then Paul goes on to describe Spirit filled relationships, marked not by anger or harsh words or harsh treatment but by submission, love and respect.
Yesterday Tim Rutter and Sarah Pennal were married here in church, now Mr & Mrs Rutter. And they had this reading from Ephesians 5:22-33. Wives are to submit to their husbands as to the Lord and respect their husbands (v22&33). Husbands are to love their wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (v25) and not be harsh with them as Paul puts it in Colossians 3:19. Children are to obey their parents in the Lord (6:1). Fathers are not to exasperate their children either by being angry in the wrong way, by giving full vent to their anger in a rage or by stirring up anger but instead are to bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. That doesn’t mean no discipline but rather a Godly discipline. Our heavenly Father disciplines us out of love not out of anger. The Bible says many times that he is slow to anger and abounding in love. And we are to be imitators of God to go back to Ephesians 5:1. You see as we read in Proverbs 29:22:
An angry man stirs up dissension, and a hot tempered one commits many sins.
And this can also cause major problems in the church family particularly with regard to unity and unity of purpose. Proverbs 30:33 says
For as churning the milk produces butter, and as twisting the nose produces blood, so stirring up anger produces strife.
Instead Paul urges the church in Ephesus and us today to (Ephesians 4:31-32):
Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
How are we to get rid of all those wrong attitudes and do what is right? Well in v22-30 of Ephesians 4 Paul tells us:
Put off your old self…and put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
What does that mean practically? Well Paul goes on (v25),
Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbour, for we are all members of one body. In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God.
The leopard can never change his spots, they say. But this is not true for Christians in the power of the Spirit. Yes there is effort involved. Getting rid of all bitterness, rage and anger is not automatic. We’re to put off the old self and put on the new and then tell each other the truth in love. In terms of anger (v26) this means that even when anger may be right, it is dangerous, because it might lead to disunity in the one body. So in your anger do not sin and don’t let it drag on. Someone once quipped that not letting the sun go down our anger means: ‘Don’t go to bed mad. Stay up and fight.’ No it means we’re to sort it out quickly, otherwise the devil gets a foothold. We need to co-operate with the Spirit, not grieve the Spirit. So effort is involved in the power of the Spirit. Paul makes that very clear in v2&3 of Ephesians 4:
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
This Friday, the 21st September 2007, the Holy Trinity Gateshead building is due to be completed and handed over to us by the builders. Then of course much of the work begins. Satan would love to get a foothold and for us to be disunited in that project – bitter, raging, angry over how to do things, the fixtures and fittings, the décor, the group we’ve been allocated, how we can be involved even if we’re not going to go to HTG. Instead (Ephesians 4:1) we’re to live a life worthy of the calling we have received, being completely humble and gentle, being patient, bearing with one another in love. All of which brings us briefly to patience and my second and final heading:
Why? Why does Paul tell us to be patient? Well Proverbs spells it out. Proverbs 14:29 says this:
A patient man has great understanding, but a quick tempered man displays folly.
In other words those who are slow to anger have great understanding; but those who have a short fuse exalt folly, they bring it to the notice of everyone. Proverbs 15:18 adds that:
A hot-tempered man stirs up dissension, but a patient man calms a quarrel.
A patient man is concerned to protect the unity of the church. Not, of course, at the expense of the gospel but rather to see the church promoting the gospel in every way. Proverbs 16:32 makes the importance of being patient plain:
Better a patient man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city.
So it is better to be a patient person, to be one who controls their temper than a mighty warrior who performs great exploits on the battlefield. And Proverbs 25:15 highlights the power of patience:
Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone.
it says being patient and gentle is not to be weak and wet. Rage and quick temper are really signs of weakness and folly. Next Proverbs 19:11 says
A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offence.
Literally people with good sense or discretion restrain their anger. We are to bear with one another for love covers a multitude of sins. And remember the Lord is patient with us, says the Apostle Peter. That’s one reason why Jesus’ return seems to be slow in coming. He doesn’t want anyone to perish, but rather wants everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)
Who needs to do so tonight? Perhaps you’ve been struggling with anger, rage and bitterness? Well why not come to repentance this evening – say sorry to God and decide to go his way instead – a way of love, patience and forgiveness – and put your trust in Christ, who brings forgiveness, freedom from guilt and new life through his death on the cross where he paid for our sin and his resurrection from the dead. In Matthew 11 Jesus says:
Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
Those who are consumed with anger are often weary. Jesus says: “Come to me. In Galatians 5:20 we read that those who live stirring up discord, spreading dissensions, having fits of rage and hatred, to name but a few, will not inherit the Kingdom of God. But the good news is that there is forgiveness and a new start for those who trust in Christ and who therefore receive the Holy Spirit. As Galatians 5:22-23 says: And the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. How can we be patient and self controlled? By submitting to Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord, by obeying his Word and by co-operating with his Spirit who produces fruit in us as he makes us more like our Saviour.