As we begin today, let’s recall our series verse from Genesis 4.6–7, as God told a troubled Cain, the son of Adam and Eve, “‘Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.’”
Last week, we took a look at PRIDE & ENVY how both focus more on the self than on the other, hindering our relationships and our ministry with both God and others. But we saw how HUMILITY & ADMIRATION put others first and honored them with the character of Jesus.
Today we discuss the dangers of the vices called ANGER & SLOTH and how the virtues of FORGIVENESS & ZEAL undoes their destructive work.
WORSHIP GUIDE QUESTIONS & COMMENTARY
WHY ANGER IS DESTRUCTIVE
Like the vices we’ve already covered, ANGER is one that causes the greatest division and separation from others. But anger moves from dangerous to destructive because of the violence connected to it. The harm that can be caused by anger has the potential to be irreversible, leaving relationships torn and scared in ways that seem unforgettable and even feel unforgivable. Anger is one of the more obvious vices that affects everyone involved. It unleashes a destructive power that takes away from both the angry and the recipient of the anger.
Anger is a blinding vice, meaning, that our anger hinders us from seeing truth, from considering anything or anyone other than ourselves. Sinful anger has only one target, which is to eliminate the competition. It is a vice of great focus but focuses on it’s own purpose. Think of when a child needs to be disciplined after doing something terrible or even when someone has hurt you deeply. What do you often find someone saying to you? “You need to slow down and take a step back. You’re too ______,” what? Angry! It is common experience that when we are angry we cannot think straight.
We notice anger in others easily because it’s almost impossible to hide. Remember who God in Genesis 4 noticed it in Cain saying, “Why has your face fallen?” It’s destructive power shows symptoms in all forms of human expression—from the look on our face, to the actual twisting of our posture. Anger is stressful. It can change our attitude and make enemies of anyone who gets in our way. It is truly a gateway–sin that allows many of the other vices to take root. Rarely is someone filled with anger without ending up with a host of sin and vice to follow.
Paul tells us “25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. 26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil” (Ephesians 4.25–27).
Paul’s point here is that there are things to get angry about, but are our motivations pure? Injustice & oppression are things to get angry about, but how we respond is key. What is happening right now in Ferguson, MO is a prime example. Anger is a proper response IF…IF there is injustice that has occurred, but to sin with a burning anger toward others rather than simply at the injustice that has happened is what leads to wrongdoing on the part of both civilians AND authorities. Now is the not the time to speak of solutions concerning this tragedy, but as Christians our duty is to look at the spiritual response and how we can guard ourselves from acting out in destructive violence due to anger.
WHY SLOTH IS DESTRUCTIVE
When we hear the word SLOTH, we may think of someone who’s lazy or the slow-moving mammals of the rainforest. Either way, discussions about the meaning of sloth revolve around physical activity. We may have used the word to complain about teenagers during the Summer or even the disapproval of several government processes. But sloth is a bit different when we are referring to a life of faith.
The Bible’s conversation around SLOTH often refers to the dangers of spiritual un–attentiveness. The person that is lazy resembles the person who fails to keep watch over their spiritual life. When we took a look at sin two weeks ago, we spoke of the dangers of giving the devil an opportunity, and that he is a prowling lion. If we are not attune to what is going on around us—and more importantly what is going on inside of us—then we lose ground, causing our faith to slip and slide, rather than to grow and advance.
A mighty preacher in the late 4th Century named John Chrysostom said, “We must remember that we deal with a crafty enemy. If we were suddenly aware of a serpent nestling in our bed, we would go to great lengths to kill it. But when the devil nestles in our souls, we tell ourselves we are in no danger, and thus we lie at ease. Why? Because we do not see him and his intent with our mortal eyes. This is why we must rouse ourselves and be more sober.”
For the Christian, sloth is that vice that tells us we need not bother with praying, with taking up our Scriptures, with attending worship, or meeting the needs of others. It is a form of laziness toward the things of most importance. And when we refuse to watch and pray—as the disciples did in the Garden with Jesus the night he was arrested—we open up ourselves to the slow destruction of sloth. Like Chrysostom said, the devil has nestled in our souls, and therefore we must rouse and go to great lengths to kill the serpent.
Sloth leads to weariness in our practice of our faith and at times causes spiritual paralysis. So many of us wonder why our faith has grown cold or why we don’t have the drive we once had. We long for those youthful days when our faith was fresh and new. But, the more time we spend longing for what once was or even trying to justify where we are, the more peril our faith experiences. What is required is a confession of sloth and a willingness to re-engage. Again, we must go to great lengths to kill the serpent nestled in our spiritual life.
A great example is in the famous movie Top Gun. The ace pilot Maverick loses his best friend and co-pilot in a flight maneuver gone wrong. That moment paralyzed Maverick, both his personal life and his ability to fly. It wasn’t until he found himself in the middle of life-threatening air-to-air combat that Maverick let go of his grief, faced his fear, and re-discovered his passion and gifts for flight. He re-engages and is victorious, not just in the fight that day, but in winning back his soul.
HOW WE FIGHT ANGER & SLOTH
First, we fight ANGER with FORGIVENESS. Where anger seeks to chain the other person to their sin, forgiveness seeks to free the person of those chains. As we observed before, sinful anger destroys both the angry and the object of anger. But forgiveness frees the one angered from self-destruction and liberates the other from being chained to grief, guilt, and shame.
Forgiveness is the way in which God responds to human sin. Given the individual and corporate sins of humans across both the world and even across time itself, God has the right to be angry all the time. And yet, God chooses to forgive, freeing us from the guilt and shame that could dominate our lives. This is one reason why God is not to blame for the wickedness that exists in the world, for in forgiving us in Christ Jesus, we are liberated from sin. It is in the turning away from that forgiveness or rejecting it altogether that we are made accountable and responsible for our actions and our sins.
The message of Scripture from start to finish is one of choosing life, life that God offers freely. The only other option is death and that is the choice of those who continue in their anger and their wrath. Forgiveness is the way of life, of reconciliation, of peace. God is a God of peace and offers peace through forgiveness.
Now, after having said all this, am I implying that anger is wrong altogether. No, for anger is a balancing act that requires the proper motivation. Where sinful anger is motivated by selfish desire, righteous anger is motivated by justice. This balancing act is delicate because true justice does not mean vengeance or retribution. There is payment for sin and wrath, but only because there are consequences for injustice, and not because God is out to get us.
Scripture records a moment in Jesus’ life when he lashes out at the money changers in the temple. All four gospels tell this story, but the most vivid account is in John 2. Look at the reason Jesus drove the men out with a whip: the activities going on inside the temple were not worshipful or holy. Because the temple is a place where people connect with God and receive mercy, it is wrong to change it’s purpose to a house of commerce and exchange. The very meaning of the temple is changed and confused with the money changers actions. People were profiting at others expense when they were supposed to be worshipping. Jesus would restore the purpose of the temple for the glory of God and for the spiritual life of the people by driving the profiteers out.
When love is the motivator and the end goal of righteous anger, it is then the appropriate response to injustice. It is the passion to set things right, just as Jesus did in this passage. When anger is disciplined by love, it has the ability to execute true justice—saving justice. Anger with love as it’s goal can set things right and even bring lasting peace.
Remember the words of Paul in Ephesians 4.31–32, “31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
And we fight SLOTH with ZEAL. Where sloth is the slow growth toward indifference to the spiritual life, zeal is the slow growth toward commitment in the spiritual life. Zeal means that we are energized by–and–for a life with God. For some, you have grown up in the Church and with faith and you can remember a time when you were quick to pray, quick to volunteer, and ready to serve at a moment’s notice. For others, you may still be young in your faith and have a great passion to study, to help and to be involved.
But to both groups I say this, that your faith is a labor of love and obedience, requiring maintenance and attention. Frequent times of both a giving of yourself (Christian service) and receiving for yourself (Christian retreat) are important. We need to engage in ministry but we need to participate in retreat, too. Our zeal and enthusiasm for God comes from our life WITH God, not without Him. When we lose our zeal, we struggle with our interest, our energy, and our involvement.
Our relationship with God is very much a marriage, and to use that image, many of us understand that we are excited in the beginning. But over time, as outside forces wear us down, we become somewhat less attuned to the important needs, the little things, and we are distracted from our true purpose: LOVE. Reclaiming, rekindling, restoring are all words married people understand. Therefore there are important times of both activity and crucial times of rest that restore the beautiful rhythm of our relationship and love. So it is with God.
…these two virtues of forgiveness and zeal are really expressions of love and commitment. We use forgiveness to love unconditionally and we use commitment to drive the fire of our devotion. Anger seeks to separate us from God, therefore forgive and create freedom and life. And sloth seeks to doubt and distract, so take the steps to maintain and re-commit to a life of purpose and passion. Amen.