God Running is a place for anyone who wants to (or even anyone who wants to want to) love Jesus more deeply, follow Jesus more closely, and love people the way Jesus wants us to.
My dad was a boxer. He fought as an amateur in Chicago. His picture once appeared in the Chicago Tribune, he was standing over his opponent who he had just knocked out in a Golden Gloves competition. He was 22-0 when he quit because, well, he had me, his son, and a wife to worry about so he could no longer pursue a boxing career.
I’ll never forget watching a fight with him on TV one time when I was a boy. One of the contestants was penalized for sticking his thumb in his opponent’s eye.
“Why would you stick your thumb in the other guy’s eye?” I said. “Why not just punch him?”
“You’d poke him in the eye to make him mad,” my dad said.
“But dad, if you make the other guy mad, then he’ll fight better and you’ll lose.”
“No,” my dad said. “When a fighter gets mad, he fights worse, not better. The fighter who keeps his head fights best. That’s why the one who poked his opponent’s eye was trying to make him mad.”
The Love of the Earliest Believers
The last two posts from the book of Acts we saw how the earliest believers were known by their love for one another, just as Jesus said his disciples would be known. (John 13:35) The earliest Jesus followers had such love for one another, the unbelievers around them were “astonished” according to Tertullian. (see previous posts What the Earliest Believers Devoted Themselves To and Behold How These Christians Love One Another)
And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.Acts 2:47
“And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” It would seem that the earliest believers’ obedience to Jesus’ command to love each other well was attracting unbelievers and resulting in abundant fruit for God’s kingdom. (John 13:34)
In light of the escalating anger and outrage we’ve seen over the last few years, I thought it might be helpful to share the following chapter from the Love Like Jesus book. It’s chapter 18, Love Like Jesus: Jesus and Anger. To be honest, it’s a chapter about anger that might make you angry. But I feel it’s appropriate because lately, and not just lately but over my lifetime, so often, I’ve seen anger quench love and kill relationships. It was the love of the earliest believes that attracted unbelievers to Jesus. Love attracts. Anger repels. Love brings life and light. Anger kills.
So here it is, with a few added comments at the end.
Love Like Jesus: Jesus and Anger
If you follow my Instagram, Twitter, or other social media accounts you know I frequently post scripture. More than one person has criticized me for it, but what can I say – I’m a Jesus nerd. I’ve become fascinated by this ancient Jewish Rabbi, so much so that I just can’t help myself. I want to learn as much as I can about him, and I want to share him with others. One time I posted the words from Jesus, “. . . I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment . . .” (Matthew 5:22) And a friend of mine, Jimmy, asked in the comment section, “What do you think is meant by ‘brother’?”
Now some friends ask questions I can answer off the top of my head, and other friends ask questions that require digging around in the scriptures. Jimmy’s questions tend to fall into the latter category, so, I dug around in the scriptures to see what the Bible says about it. And what I found probably isn’t what you’d expect.
Who Is My Brother?
The easy part of the answer is addressing the specific question, “Who is my brother?” I think when you heard this question, you might have had another scripture come to mind. The one where the expert in the law asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”
Jesus responded with a parable that made clear the emphasis of the scripture in question, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” was about love, and not identifying who’s a neighbor and who’s not a neighbor. I think in the same way, Jesus’ words, “everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment” might be about the anger we sometimes find in our hearts, rather than identifying who’s our brother and who’s not. (Luke 10:25-37)
Jesus’ statement about anger is part of his great Sermon on the Mount, where he also says, “. . . whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”
And, “. . . everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew Chapter 5)
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is saying: It’s not just your outward action, but the real issue is in your heart, the inner workings of your soul and your mind. It’s not just the act of adultery, but it’s the lust inside of you. It’s not just the act of murder, but it’s the anger inside of you. And of course every one of us feels lust, and every one of us feels anger. So Jesus makes us all equally guilty. He levels the playing field.
None is righteous, no not one. (Romans 3:10)
We’re all sinners.
We’re all dependent on God’s grace. We’re all dependent on Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross, on our behalf. We can’t earn our way because of this inherent quality common to all humans: we’re all sinners. And one of those sins common to us all is anger. We all get angry.
The Surprising Part
Most of my life I heard Bible teachers – Bible teachers I love, and appreciate, and respect — teach me to “Be angry and sin not . . .” That’s from Ephesians chapter 4, verse 26 (KJV). They said, “Paul tells us to ‘be angry,’ so we can be sure that anger’s not a sin. It’s what we do with anger that can be sinful.” And they pointed out that God expresses anger in the Old Testament. And they told me that Jesus became angry when the Pharisees didn’t want him to heal on the Sabbath, and when he drove out the money changers.
I really liked that, because it gave me permission to be angry. If I saw some injustice, or something I disagreed with, or some innocent person who was hurt by another, I could crank up the righteous anger. And it felt good when I did.
But then one day I became angry with Kathy. (It was the very next day after one of the best weeks of my life loving like Jesus that I wrote about in the “5 Love Languages” chapter.) The day I became angry I threw a plate in the sink, and, I slammed the front door of our house on my fingers as I stormed out. So there I was, standing outside our front door, I could already see the color of my throbbing fingers changing to black and blue. I desperately needed ice and ibuprofen, but I was too proud to go back in. So I drove around aimlessly until the pain finally grew to the point where it was greater than my pride — about fifteen minutes. On my way back, less than a mile from the house on NW 185th Avenue, I turned on the local Christian radio station hoping for inspiration. And the first words out of the speakers were, “The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:20)
Those words were from an interview with Brant Hansen, the author of the book Unoffendable. Given the circumstances, I thought it might be a good idea to read that book, so I did. That book, and more importantly, researching what the Bible has to say about anger, has made me realize something. The Bible doesn’t say about anger what I thought the Bible said about anger.1
“Be angry and sin not,” is certainly there, in the Bible, in black and white, along with a few other verses that tell us to be “slow to anger.” But every one of the Bible teachers who leaned on those few verses when they taught about anger, also teaches that we should never take verses out of context, but we should consider the whole counsel of God. Most Christ-followers know that to be true. And I can’t remember a single time when any of those Bible teachers ever did take a single verse or just a few verses here and there out of context.
Except when it came to anger.
Because just a little further down the page from “Be angry and sin not,” we see in the same chapter of Ephesians, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” (Ephesians 4:31)
Let “all” anger be put away from you, we’re instructed. This is the kind of place where my favorite Bible teachers usually say, “And ‘all’ in the Greek means: ‘all’.” Except when it comes to anger — they don’t.
Also, consider this: In the wisdom literature of the Bible (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes), anger is almost always associated with a fool or foolishness.
In Colossians 3:8 we’re instructed again. “You must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.” (There’s that word “all” again.)
Psalm 37:8 says, “Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.”
And then there’s the scripture in James, “. . . the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”
And then there are Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount.
And there’s more besides.
It’s overwhelming. When you really dig around and see what the Bible says, as a whole, not just a few verses, but as a whole, it’s overwhelming. I don’t think I ever saw this until recently because I didn’t want to see it. When it comes to what the Bible teaches about anger, I like that one verse, Ephesians 4:26: “Be angry and do not sin . . .” And I like it all by itself. Because when it comes to what the Bible teaches about anger, my perspective requires that I take this verse in isolation.
To justify my personal anger, it’s necessary to take Ephesians 4:26 by itself, out of context. The part that comes later in the same chapter that says, let all anger be put away from you, I want to edit. I want to interject a little phrase into that verse that says, “except for righteous anger.” That’s the phrase I want to add to the other places in the Bible that talk about anger too. That’s how I operate. I love the parts of the Bible I agree with, but there are a lot of places where I’d like to add a little phrase, or include a little qualifying statement, so I can fit the Bible into the framework of my own personal preferences and worldview, and make it match my current patterns of thought and behavior.
But What About God and Jesus’ Anger?
Some Bible teachers have said that we can (and even should) be angry because God and Jesus were angry. But the reality is, some things that are permissible or allowable or even good and desirable for God and Jesus, aren’t good and desirable for us.
Vengeance is like that. We love a movie like Taken with Liam Neeson. “I don’t have money, but what I do have are a very particular set of skills . . . Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that’ll be the end of it.”
But of course, the bad guys didn’t let his daughter go. And it felt so good to watch Liam Neeson have his vengeance. But the Bible doesn’t provide for our own personal vengeance. “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19)
And judgment is like that too. Judgment belongs to God. Because for us, judging others only results in judgment against ourselves. (Matthew 7:1-5) Jesus Christ is the one appointed by God as Judge, and I’m glad for that. It’s amazingly freeing when you realize, God wants Jesus to judge, and He commands us to love. I’m thankful for that. I want God to have the position of Judge because His judgment is perfect. If I were judge, my human frailties and limitations would surely make a mess of things. (John 5:27, Acts 10:42)
Anger is in the same category as vengeance and judgment. It makes sense because of His perfection. My anger is imperfect and never produces the righteousness of God. My anger can be capricious, self-indulgent, irritable, and morally ignoble. But His anger is appropriate because He is perfectly just and incapable of making a mistake. (Packer)2
Why Would God Want To Withhold Anger From Us?
Like everything else God wants to withhold from us, He wants us to put away all anger because it’s destructive. It’s destructive to the one who becomes angry. The Amplified Bible says in Proverbs 14:30 that “A calm and undisturbed mind and heart are the life and health of the body, but envy, jealousy, and wrath are like rottenness of the bones.” How true that is. According to the Cleveland Clinic, a big focus of heart disease research used to be on type A personalities. But now researchers have determined that “it’s the specific characteristic of anger – or hostility – that stresses the heart and leads to an eventual cardiac event.” Men who are quick to anger are more likely to develop premature heart disease and five times more likely to have an early heart attack.3
Anger causes a cortisol dump into your system. Anger alters the balance in the nervous system of your heart. Anger increases inflammatory markers. Anger kills.3
And it doesn’t just kill the person carrying the anger.
Anger kills relationships too.
Anger kills love.
Love Gone Wrong
I’ve heard it said that an emotion is not a sin. But I’ve also heard it said that emotions gone wrong are sin. That’s easy to see with love and lust. Lust for another outside of your marriage is love gone wrong. It’s a twist on the emotion of love, and it’s a sin. (Matthew 5:27-30) Anger, strangely, is also the emotion of love gone wrong. All you have to do to see that, is ask yourself what you’re defending the next time you feel angry. When I’m running late, I get angry at bad drivers in traffic. But what I’m defending is how I’ll look to the people who expect me to be on time. I’m angry because I love to look good to others.
I once heard a wise man define anger with these two words: “Violated expectations.” When I expect someone to behave a certain way, and they don’t meet my expectations, I become angry. The Pharisees expected Jesus to not mess with their religious hierarchy and to fall in line with their religious customs, but Jesus didn’t meet their expectations, and they became angry. So they killed him.
They became angry because Jesus was a threat to what they loved: their position of power in Jewish society and the traditions of men in their religious system.
I’m afraid we find ourselves in precisely the same place as the Pharisees. There’s power in anger, and when we’re angry, we’re afforded a position of power. Our tradition is our established patterns of thinking and behaving. What Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, and what God tells us to do with anger throughout the whole of scripture, threaten them both.
You Know You’ll Get Angry So, Plan For It
I amaze myself sometimes. I know for certain that at some point in the future I’m going to become angry. That’s true for all of us. Yet, up until very recently I didn’t have a planned response in place for how I would handle it. Tony Dungy used to struggle with anger and his pre-planned response is, the moment he feels the beginnings of anger, he asks himself: “What can I do to most help the situation?” This moves his focus from how his expectations were violated to what he can control that will make the situation better. Anger, Dungy says, usually makes the situation worse.4
Another suggestion comes from Dr. Joe Martin. His pre-planned response to feelings of anger is to first identify what he’s afraid of, because all anger is rooted in fear this helps him to take the focus off the person he might be angry with. Then he recites a prayer that takes his focus off his expectations and puts his focus on God and what God wants.5
How To Love Like Jesus
Whatever your pre-planned response looks like, it’s important to have one, because:
Anger kills relationships.
Anger kills love.
Anger can kill your ability to love like Jesus.
To love like Jesus, put away all anger.
“You must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.” (Colossians 3:8)
A Few Comments About Anger
What We Think We Know
Another reason we can’t trust our own anger, even when we know it’s justified, is because we can’t know. The student who incurs the righteous anger of his teacher but was wrongly accused suffers an injustice because the teacher didn’t know the whole story.
People were outraged at Richard Jewell for planting a bomb at an event during the 1996 Summer Olympics. But then it turned out he didn’t do it.
Of course God knew everything about those two situations. God knows everything. But for us, we really can’t be sure we know. The only thing we can know for sure is that sometimes, unlike God, we’ll get it wrong.
Love is Better
In the story about the boxer at the beginning of this post we saw how I learned that anger isn’t the best way to fight in the ring. In the same way I believe anger isn’t the best way to communicate Jesus to the people around us and to the world. I think we’d all agree that even a casual look at Jesus’ life and teachings shows us that by far the best way to communicate Jesus to the people around us and to the world is to love God well and to love people well.
I’m No One of Consequence
Finally I want to point out I’m no one of consequence. I’m not a trained theologian. I have no authority in the church. And I could be wrong. But even when I listen to the best arguments from the best Bible teachers the most favorable take on anger I can find is that 1) It’s dangerous, because of our selfish sin nature. It can go wrong quickly. 2) It should be rare. 3) It should be on behalf of someone else. 4) And we should get rid of it quickly as we’re instructed to in Ephesians 4:26.
In closing, I’ll leave you with a couple of quotes from St. Francis de Sales, with whom I agree completely:
“Most emphatically I say it, If possible, fall out with no one, and on no pretext whatever suffer your heart to admit anger and passion. Saint James says, plainly and unreservedly, that “the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.”St. Francis de Sales
Depend upon it, it is better to learn how to live without being angry than to imagine one can moderate and control anger lawfully; and if through weakness and frailty one is overtaken by it, it is far better to put it away forcibly than to parley with it; for give anger ever so little way, and it will become master, like the serpent, who easily works in its body wherever it can once introduce its head.St. Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life
- Brant Hansen, Unoffendable, Thomas Nelson, 2015
- J.I. Packer, Knowing God, IVP Books, 2011
- Cleveland Clinic Heart and Vascular Team, Angry Young Men and Heart Disease, June 4, 2013, URL: https://health.clevelandclinic.org/2013/06/studies-show-angry-young-men-become-old-men-with-heart-disease/
- Tony Dungy, Do I Ever Get Angry? Yes and This is What I Do, allprodad.com
- Dr. Joe Martin, 4 Ways to Rise Above Anger, allprodad.com
Joseph Scheumann, Five Truths About the Wrath of God, Desiring God, 11/4/2014
Newly released book by Kurt Bennett, now available on Amazon!
Love Like Jesus: How Jesus Loved People (and how you can love like Jesus)
Love Like Jesus begins with the story of how after a life of regular church attendance and Bible study, Bennett was challenged by a pastor to study Jesus. That led to an obsessive seven year deep dive. After pouring over Jesus’ every interaction with another human being, he realized he was doing a much better job of studying Jesus’ words than he was following Jesus’ words and example. The honest and fearless revelations of Bennett’s own moral failures affirm he wrote this book for himself as much as for others.
Love Like Jesus examines a variety of stories, examples, and research, including:
- Specific examples of how Jesus communicated God’s love to others.
- How Jesus demonstrated all five of Gary Chapman’s love languages (and how you can too).
- The story of how Billy Graham extended Christ’s extraordinary love and grace toward a man who misrepresented Jesus to millions.
- How to respond to critics the way Jesus did.
- How to love unlovable people the way Jesus did.
- How to survive a life of loving like Jesus (or how not to become a Christian doormat).
- How Jesus didn’t love everyone the same (and why you shouldn’t either).
- How Jesus guarded his heart by taking care of himself–he even napped–and why you should do the same.
- How Jesus loved his betrayer Judas, even to the very end.
With genuine unfiltered honesty, Love Like Jesus, shows you how to live a life according to God’s definition of success: A life of loving God well, and loving the people around you well too.
A life of loving like Jesus.