So how can you get a grip on your anger? Consider the following suggestions.
o Admit to yourself and God that you have an anger problem. Don’t make excuses for yourself. Don’t pawn your sin off on your family of origin. Just own it. After you have confessed your sin, ask God to change you from the inside out. Be patient with God’s work in your life. Typically, change is not overnight. It may take years to sense God’s victory. Anger may remain your besetting sin until you meet Jesus face to face. But this just means you need to pray for self-control and plenty of grace from God and others. One of the verses I pray regularly is James 1:19: “But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” Perhaps you could write this verse out on a 3×5 card and put it on the steering wheel of your car or your bathroom mirror. I would suggest memorizing this verse and then meditating on it throughout your day.
o Recognize the consequences of angry outbursts. As implied above, there are some words we are not free to utter. “I want a divorce.” “You’re fat.” “You’re ugly.” “You’re stupid.” “I hate you.” When words like these escape your grill, the consequences are severe. We’ve been told, “Stick and stones can break our bones, but words can never hurt us.” That’s a lie! Whoever came up with that line should receive a tongue-lashing! (Just kidding.) We must daily rehearse the relational damage of angry words. Words are hard to forget. Perhaps you still remember angry words that were spoken to you many years ago? I do. Hold off on sending critical e–mails. If you have something good to say, you should put it in writing. But if you have something bad to say, you should tell the person to his or her face. Deal with issues of anger privately. Christians often assume that they need someone to talk to about their anger directed toward another person. This is just an excuse for gossip and slander. It is even justified under the spiritual guise of prayer. There are consequences for angry words. We must also recognize that we will one day stand before Christ and have to offer an explanation for all of the words we’ve spoken. Later in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus goes so far as to say that we will have to give an account for every careless word we speak (Matt 12:36).
o In Ps 52:2, David states that our tongues devise destruction and can be likened to a sharp razor. (Display a razor.) When a razor is too sharp it can cut you.. Likewise, our words can “slice and dice” people. Therefore, we must always be cautious and sensitive to others. Nurture and esteem your relationships.
o Prepare to have your buttons pushed. Those who know you best and love you most know what to say to get under your skin. Expect that you’re going to get ticked. When you’re feeling like you’re about to explode, be conscious of your facial expressions. Often our facial expressions alone can get us into a fight. Remember the expression, “Looks that kill?” Need I say more? Another provoker of anger is our tone of voice. It’s been said that 90% of the friction of daily life is caused by the wrong tone of voice. Prov 15:1 says, “A soft answer turns away wrath.” Watch how you speak. Also watch your gestures. When you get really angry, stick your hands in your pockets. This will keep you from clenching your fists, waving your hands in someone’s face, pushing someone, or God forbid, striking another person. Put your hands in your pockets and just try to do some damage. You really can’t hurt anyone and you look foolish in the process. If you feel like you’re out of control and all this is going to fail, flee the scene. Take a walk and get some exercise.
[Jesus says, “We must recognize the danger of unrighteous anger.” Why is this so important? Because Jesus says that unrighteous anger is on par with murder. You are not only to reign in your own anger, but you must also…]
2. Reconcile with those who are angry with you (5:23–26). Jesus gives two illustrations exposing the seriousness of anger, the first in a worship context (5:23–24), and the second in a legal setting (5:25–26). In these verses, Jesus changes from “everyone” to “you” to ensure that every disciple applies what He says directly to himself or herself. In His first illustration, Jesus says reconciliation takes precedence over worship. “Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.” Please notice the word “first.” Jesus is speaking about the priority of reconciliation. Reconciliation is important enough to interrupt worship. Harmonious relationships with people must be in place before any true worship can take place. The expression “presenting your offering at the altar” assumes a sacrifice being given in the temple at Jerusalem. This saying, presumably uttered in Galilee, envisions a worshiper that has traveled some eighty miles to Jerusalem with his offering. Most likely, the offering is a sacrificial animal. The thought is that the person leaves the animal on the altar and then makes the week-long journey back to Galilee to reconcile with his brother or sister. The improbability of this scenario emphasizes Jesus’ point that we must deal with strained relations. Nurture and esteem your relationships.
Notice that Jesus makes an important distinction in this verse. He says if “your brother [or sister] has something against you.” The phrase “something against you” probably implies a “just claim.” In other words, the “beef” with you is legit! Jesus didn’t say “if you have something against your brother [or sister].” Why? Because if you have something against your brother or sister you need to just let it go. If someone has done something to offend you, forgive them. Settle the issue before God. If there is something about that person that causes you not to like him or her, overlook it. Prov 19:11 says, “A man’s discretion makes him slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook a transgression.” Now, of course, if another believer has done something seriously sinful that caused harm to you or others, Matt 18:15–17 tells us how to approach the person. In this context, however, Jesus says that some believers should NOT attend church until they have pursued reconciliation. Yet, every week people sing songs, listen to sermons, take communion, give offerings, and even pray while they are harboring anger in their heart. Worship depends upon a congregation of worshipers who seek to be reconciled with each other and their neighbors. Peaceful, harmonious relationships, particularly within the church.
The second illustration stresses the importance of making things right quickly. Jesus urges us to have a sense of urgency when it comes to reconciling with an opponent, most likely someone outside of the church. In 5:25–26 Jesus says, “Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent.” This illustration assumes that you owe your accuser a debt of some kind, and to collect on it he is taking you to small claims court. Jesus is saying: Don’t wait until you get to court to work out some kind of deal; settle out of court. Beware of Judge Judy! Because if the court has to decide the matter, you will be thrown into debtor’s prison and won’t get out until every last cent is paid. Remaining imprisoned until a debt is repaid down to the last penny elicits a sense of impossibility (cf. Matt 18:34), since the debtor had no chance to work to create funds. So if you have offended someone, it’s your responsibility to quickly do what you can to make it right. That means you approach that person and say, “I was rude to you, and I was wrong, and I am sorry. I took advantage of your kindness, and I am sorry. I borrowed money and didn’t pay it back, but here’s a small payment and I’ll pay the rest when I can. I made a promise to you that I didn’t keep, and I was wrong, please forgive me.” If there are people out there whom you have sinned against, it is your job to reconcile.
It is interesting that Jesus stated a practical reason to reconcile with one’s enemies—to avoid being thrown into prison. In other words, don’t wait until it’s too late—till tomorrow, till next year, or till kingdom come—to make peace with others. This will hurt you and will hurt the one that is angry with you. A root of bitterness can creep in and overtake you or your opponent (Heb 12:15).
In both of these illustrations, it is worth noting that Jesus seems to expect conflict. The point is not so much to eliminate conflict, but to resolve it. Jesus doesn’t say, “If you’re being sued, shame on you.” Or “If your brother has something against you, shame on you.” Conflicts are inevitable. The focus is on resolution. Nurture and esteem your relationships.
Perhaps you’re thinking, “I have tried to reconcile, but my opponent is unwilling.” If you have done everything in your supernatural power to reconcile, you have honored God. Rom 12:18 says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” The willingness to reconcile must be shared by the other party. Don’t beat yourself up over this. But make sure that you have made right what you need to, and that your anger and insult and self–righteousness about it have been replaced by humility and a willingness to reconcile. Sometimes we have hurt someone deeply and it is fully our fault, but when we go to humble ourselves and seek forgiveness we are snubbed. We may be snubbed, but we must still go and seek reconciliation.
Again, I must ask you: Have you done what you can to be at peace with your antagonists, your in–laws, your ex, your parents, your children, your spouse, your coworker, your friend, your neighbor? If you were going to die soon and had only one phone call you could make, who would you call and what would you say? And why are you waiting? God calls you to nurture and esteem your relationships.