Angry Man Alert

I would like to begin by calling your attention to two uncomfortable verses in the New Testament. If these verses don’t bother you, they should.

Colossians 3:19 says, “Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them.” It’s not the first part that grabs our attention; it’s that last phrase. One translation says, “do not be harsh with them.” Another uses the words “harsh” and “resentful.” Another translation says, “A husband must love his wife and not abuse her.”

There must be a problem here because God never wastes words. There must a reason God said this. He knows that we often struggle in this area. If he had said, “Husbands, love your wives,” and stopped there, that would have been fine with us. And if he had said, “Love your wife as Christ love the church” (as he did in Ephesians 5), we would have been fine with that. We know we fall short of that high standard, but it’s a noble goal. It’s a positive thought.

Colossians 3 is very challenging to every Christian man.

Love your wife.
Don’t be embittered against her.
Don’t be harsh.
Don’t be resentful.
Don’t abuse her.
Don’t hold hard feelings against her.

God is telling us this is a problem. It is easy for us to become angry with our wives, to turn against them, to take them for granted, and to be very mean to them. He’s speaking this about our Christian wives who love us dearly.

This is a word from the Lord we need to take seriously.

Here is the second troublesome verse. “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers(1 Peter 3:7). Again, it’s the final phrase that trips us up. If he had said,

Love your wife,
Treat her with respect because she is the weaker vessel,
Honor her as an heir with you of the gracious gift of life,

If that’s all the verse said, it would be enough, and we would all say, Amen! That’s right. Preach on, Peter. But he doesn’t stop there. He adds that pesky final phrase, “so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” Where did that come from? Peter here joins things that we keep separate. He joins the vertical (our relationship with God) to the horizontal (how we treat our wives). The word for “hindered” is a military term for an army digging a trench in a road to stop the enemy’s advance. It describes what Satan will do in your spiritual life. If husbands do not take this seriously, Satan will dig a trench and your prayers will never get through. To put it bluntly, you can’t ignore your wife and get through to God. The Almighty takes the side of the weaker vessel! When we are truly one with each other, then we are truly one with God.

You can’t ignore your wife and get through to God. 

Recently I read a story about Mark Driscoll, astor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle and one of the leaders of the Acts 29 church planting movement. During a “boot camp” for church planters, he met with a young man who had gone out with his wife to plant a church, but it wasn’t going well. He couldn’t get the church to grow beyond forty people. When Driscoll met with the couple, he asked the pastor’s wife what she thought the problem was. She gave the usual stock answers. Then she broke down and began to cry.

My husband is off doing this church-planting thing. I’m stuck in this job I hate, slaving away to support us. People are in and out of our apartment at all hours of the night. I’m losing my husband to this thing. I’m miserable. It’s sapping my joy for life, my love for God, and my respect for my husband.

Driscoll looked at the young pastor and said, “You’re a good-looking, eloquent, hip, Bible-teaching, Jesus-loving [wimp].” Then he added this diagnosis:

You think you can lead and love God’s bride when you can’t lead and love your own bride? The issue with your church is you and your marriage. Everyone knows it. You’re photocopying your marriage. That’s your church, and that’s why it’s jacked up. How dare you.

That got to me when I read it because those of us in the ministry can justify almost anything in the name of  serving the Lord, even neglecting our own family. If the church is growing, people tend to look the other way even if the pastor’s marriage isn’t what it should be. But this is precisely what 1 Peter 3:7  is talking about. Men, you cannot sever your marriage from your ministry and expect God’s blessing. You can’t sever your marriage from your career and have your prayers go through. God won’t pay any attention.

If that doesn’t trouble you, it should. I know it troubles me.

In the mid-1990s, at the height of the Promise Keepers movement, I wrote a book for men called Man of Honor: Building a Life of Godly Character.  In it I looked at the character qualities of a godly leader in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.  You probably know some of the items on the list:

Above reproach
Husband of one wife
Temperate
Not addicted to wine
Free from the love of money
Self-controlled
Able to teach

As I compared the two lists (they aren’t identical, although there is a lot of overlap), I ended up with a list of 25 character qualities. And that became the structure of my book. An introduction, 25 chapters (one on each character quality), and a conclusion. As I sat down to write the book, I had to decide how to structure the chapters. I could list the character qualities alphabetically or I could group them somehow. I decided to put them into various groups, such as “A man and his spiritual life,” “A man and his reputation,” and “a man and his family.” As I worked with the list, one area stood out to me above all the others.  I was surprised to see it, and when I share this with others,  people are surprised to hear it. Here’s the largest single category:

A man and his anger

Whenever I mention this, especially when I am speaking to men, there is always audible silence—a silence so strong that you can “hear” it
. That’s not what anyone expects to hear. Most of us, if we didn’t know anything else about it, would assume the biggest area might be, “A man and his sexual temptations.” After all, that an area we talk about a lot.

Look at all the books written on sexual temptation, all the sermons we preach, and think about how many men struggle in this area. If a man says, “I’m really struggling with temptation,” his buddies will all nod and try to encourage him. But it’s something else for a man to say, “I’ve got a problem with my temper.” We don’t hear that confessed so often. And yet it may be a much bigger problem.

As I studied the two lists Paul made, I found 5 of the 25 character qualities unquestionably related to a man and his anger. And there were several others that also applied, such as “temperate,” “self-controlled,” “having a good reputation,” and “loving what is good.” By contrast there was one only character quality that indisputably applied to the whole area of sexual temptation, “husband of one wife.” Obviously, the qualities of “disciplined,” “self-controlled,” “temperate,” and “having a good reputation” would apply her also. But overall I was struck by Paul’s emphasis—his emphatic emphasis, to be thoroughly redundant about it—on a man and his anger. Clearly, that’s a huge issue for any man who wants to live a godly life.

 One hot-head can destroy the work of a dozen godly men.

Here are the five qualities that specifically apply to a man and his anger. Note that four of them are stated in the negative—which gives it even more weight.

1) Not overbearing (Titus 1:7).

The Greek word for overbearing literally means “self-pleasing.”  It is sometimes translated with words like “obstinate” or “pushy.” A man like this has to have his own way, he has to be in charge, he has an agenda that he pushes through at all costs. It “my way or the highway” with him. He is demanding, critical, defiant, easily aggravated, and disrespectful toward those who disagree. He is a not a team player because he doesn’t care about anyone but himself.  He speaks his mind, defends his turf, stakes out his position with a reckless disregard for the feelings of others. If someone gets hurt in the process, so be it because “you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.” Don’t get in an argument with this man. You won’t win, you won’t break even, you’ll be crushed and he’ll walk away laughing. 

2) Not quarrelsome (1 Timothy 3:3).

The King James Version uses a picturesque phrase—"not a brawler."  Other translations use phrases such as “not pugnacious,” “not combative,” or “not thin-skinned.” It literally means “abstaining from fighting” or “noncombatant.” It has the idea of choosing not to get in a fight, thus the idea of “uncontentious. Some people just love to pick fights. They love to argue, love to “mix it up,” to trade insults and put other people down. Such a man is the master of the cutting remark, the king of the snappy comeback. Proverbs 20:3 says, “It is to a man’s honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel.” Do you know how to spot this person?  In any group, this man dominates the discussion by arguing every point into the ground.  He can always find a thousand reasons why a new idea won’t work.  When challenged, he sends out the clear message:  “My way or the highway.”

By contrast, the godly man is uncontentious, willing to listen, not argumentative, not given to a fighting spirit. He is a peace-maker, but not a peace-breaker.

3) Not quick-tempered (Titus 1:7).

The word means “not passionate.” Moffatt translates it as “not hot-tempered,” while the New Testament in Basic English says “not quickly moved to wrath.” It describes a person who doesn’t blow his top whenever he gets angry. Such a man suddenly becomes upset and disturbed. Proverbs 29:22 warns us about this tendency: “An angry man stirs up dissension, and a hot-tempered one commits many sins."  Let’s be clear on this point. There is such a thing as righteous anger (Ephesians 4:26), and there are times when leaders need to be angry. No one wants a leader who always smiles and never frowns. No one wants a leader who lives in Fantasyland and thinks everyday is Christmas. We need men who know how to get angry at the right time for the right reasons in the right way.

The godly man is uncontentious, willing to listen, not argumentative, not given to a fighting spirit.

But Paul is warning us against putting a “hot-head” in a position of spiritual leadership. Don’t do it.  One hot-head can destroy the work of a dozen godly men. Leaders deal with people and their problems.  And sometimes people can be frustrating and the problems can be annoying. Godly leaders know how to remain calm under pressure and provocation.

4) Not violent (1 Timothy 3:3; Titus 1:7).

I like the King James rendering—"Not a striker."  That says it all. A “striker” is a violent person who is easily angered.  Such people tend to be assertive, manipulative, demanding, coercive, and highly critical of others.  They are quick to pick fights and slow to make up afterwards. The term warns against those who use physical abuse, verbal abuse, mental abuse or emotional abuse in order to get their way. They are masters of intimidation, quick to raise their voice, quicker still to raise their fists, always ready to do whatever it takes to have their own way. Such men have a Rambo mentality, loving violence for its own sake.

5) Gentle (1 Timothy3:3).

Here Paul uses a word rich with meaning. Greek scholars say that the word is difficult to translate because it has so many nuances. It is full of beauty and richness. Words such as peaceful, magnanimous and generous come to mind. It describes a person who considers the whole picture before acting. A gentle man protects and does not humiliate. He “guards each man’s dignity and saves each man’s pride.” In making a decision he judges both the letter and the spirit of the law. He is willing to lose even when he is right. He is willing to yield, willing to forgive, willing to overlook. Matthew Arnold calls this quality “sweet reasonableness.” You know it when you see it because the person who has it always makes you feel better when you are around him.

A gentle man protects and does not humiliate.

Gentleness is best demonstrated when you are dealing with unreasonable people. It’s not hard to be gentle when you are feeling good and have no pressure. That’s not meekness; it’s niceness. Meekness is seen when you are under the gun, up against deadline, surrounded by problems, hip deep in alligators and no way to drain the swamp, and you feel yourself getting frustrated. If you don’t have it then, you just don’t have it at all.

Braveheart and The Dirty Dozen

Here’s the question of the hour. Why did Paul devote so much space to a man and his anger? I think in part because this was probably his issue. Acts 15:36-41 records the story of the violent disagreement he had with Barnabas over whether to take John Mark along on the second missionary journey. Barnabas wanted to give him another chance (John Mark had left them during their first journey); Paul wanted nothing more to do with a man he regarded as unreliable. They argued so much that they ended up parting company (though clearly they worked together later—and Paul came to have great confidence in John Mark.) I’ve always felt that Paul was a classic Type A personality—driven, demanding much of himself and those around him, holding himself and others to high standards, and  willing to give everything for a cause he believed in. He was an excellent man to pioneer the gospel in Asia Minor, Greece and Rome, but he probably could be difficult to be around at times.

I think Paul understood that men are both born and raised to be tough. It’s all that “wild-hearted” stuff we’ve heard about in the last few years. And it goes back to that testosterone that washes over our brain when we are in the womb, giving us our competitive drive, our desire to win, our need to fight and conquer, and our love of sports. It’s why we watch Braveheart and Die Hard and The Dirty Dozen. It’s why we cheered so hard for Michael Phelps to win that 8th gold medal.

Better to be John Wayne than Barney Fife.

Men understand that we are paid to get ahead, paid to win, to make a plan and make it happen. It’s a tough world, and only the tough survive. Better to be John Wayne than Barney Fife.

Against that natural inclination we have the words of Solomon in Proverbs 16:32. “Better a patient man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city” But of course we don’t really believe it. Which would you rather be called? A patient man or a warrior. The world rewards the warriors while the patient men change diapers and take out the garbage. It’s not much of a contest.

Solomon further defines a patient man as one who controls his temper. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t get angry. He does. But at the right time and in the right way and for the right reason.

A godly man gets angry at the right time and in the right way and for the right reasons.

Better to control your temper than to “take a city.” But we use that military imagery all the time in Christian circles. We talk about taking our cities for Christ and winning America back for God. That sort of talk can lead to some disastrous results:

“I took my city for Christ, but I lost my family.”
“I took the city for God, but my wife left me.”
“I pushed back the darkness, but my children no longer follow Jesus.”

A Sunday Morning Prayer

During my last several years as a pastor in Oak Park, a group of four men came to pray with me every Sunday morning. They came every week about 7:50 AM, we talked for a few minutes, and then we started to pray. Over time we got to know each other very well. If you have ever been in a Bible study or a prayer group, you’ll understand what I am about to say. When you pray with the same group over a long period of time, without even thinking about it, you know what they are going to say. We all have our rhythms in prayer. I do. I have certain things that I pray for, and even certain expressions that I  customarily use when talking to the Lord.

So Sunday after Sunday, my four friends came to pray with me. I was very blessed by their coming and helped greatly by their prayers. And the routine of it actually gave me comfort and calmed my nerves before the first service. One Sunday morning we started to pray as usual. The first man prayed his usual prayer—sweet and moving. Then the next and the next. Finally one man prayed—and it was more or less what he always said. Then something broke through, and he  blurted out, “Lord! Sometimes I’m so hard on those closest to me.” That changed everything. We all felt like we had been kicked in the stomach because all of us could say the same thing.

Strange, isn’t it, how we can be walking down the street and someone can come up and curse us, and we’ll laugh it off because we don’t know them. But let your wife say just one word you don’t like and you bite her head off. Or you suddenly snap at the children. Husbands are hard on their wives. Wives mercilessly criticize their husbands. Parents tear down their children and strip away every vestige of self-esteem. Friends attack friends, Christians criticize each other, and many families are held together by the glue of mutual disdain.

We criticize mercilessly.
We blow small things out of proportion.
We make mountains out of molehills.
We too quickly condemn those who disappoint us.
We take pleasure in bossing people around.
We say things in private that we would be ashamed to have repeated in public.

I wonder how many of us have gotten in trouble because we gave in to our anger. I wonder how many of us have said things in a moment of tension that we later lived to regret. I wonder how many marriages have been broken, how many friendships have ended, how many jobs have been lost because we have lost our temper and said and done things we later regretted.

Father, Forgive Them!

Do you remember the first words Jesus said from the cross? How could you ever forget them? He looked down, his chest heaving, the sun beating down on his fevered, bleeding brow, his face a mass of blood and tears, his hands and feet dripping blood from the nail holes. He saw the laughter, heard the jeers, and he knew that they were laughing at him.

He had done nothing wrong. Nothing to deserve this.

He closed his eyes, as if in prayer. Then he looked again at the howling, wild mob. “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

Forgive them! But they were guilty of the greatest crime in all history.
Forgive them! But he was innocent . . . and they knew it.
Forgive them! But they had twisted the truth, made up lies, slandered his name, bribed his treasurer, rigged the trial, and guaranteed his death. It was murder pure and simple. They meant to kill him  . . . and they did.
Forgive them! How could it be?

If Jesus could forgive, then anything is possible.

But that’s what he said. “Father, forgive them.” He was a good man, the best man the world has ever seen. He was the Son of God who came from heaven to earth.  He came to show us how to live and he came to show us how to die. He came to save us while we were yet sinners. He even came to save those who put him to death.

“Father, forgive them.” I’m so glad Jesus said that because it shows us that forgiveness is always possible. If he could forgive, then anything is possible. If the Son of God could rise above anger and hatred, if he could find a way to forgive his enemies, then so can we.

The Lord Jesus has shown us the way. We will never be the right kind of men without his help. It is more than just following his example. We must come to him, bow before him, and cry out to him for mercy and forgiveness and the strength we need to be true “gentle men.” I want to close with a simple prayer. Perhaps you can pray this out loud. Maybe you will want to write it down and put it where you can see it every day.

O God,

Baptize my lips.
Cleanse my heart.

Make me like Jesus, a true gentle man.

This is my prayer. I open my heart to the work of your Spirit. I ask you come in and make me new from the inside out.

Do it, Lord. Begin right here, right now, in me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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