Grace to you! Last week we began to look at the ominous topic of death. We’ve seen one of the main reasons we fear death is due to the unknowns surrounding it. But Jesus has died and rose again to tell us that He is with us always. It’s better to know Jesus who has conquered death than to know all the details surrounding death. This week we’ll look at another reason we fear death and how scripture speaks to it.
One of the great fears we have is everything we lose at death. We leave behind family, all that we worked for, future plans, and life as we know it. Socrates, the great philosopher, asked this question: “Must not all things at last be swallowed up in death?” He captured well our fear of losing everything in death. Sometimes we try to comfort ourselves by saying, “Well, I don’t mind dying. I just don’t want to die now. I think it will be easier to die at 100 years old!” But that isn’t the case. Even older people see the loss of things as they age. So again, we all face the loss of everything when death approaches. So is there any hope? What is the biblical perspective about this fear of losing everything in death?
We must understand that we can never die early and lose everything too soon. First, no one deserves to be alive due to their sin. “The payment for sin is death.” (Romans 6:23) The fact we live anytime at all is due to God’s amazing grace and mercy to us. So we can’t die early especially when we deserve to die right now for our sins. Second, God has already appointed the number of our days. Psalm 139:16 says, “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in Your book were written, everyone of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them.” How can we die early when God not only has appointed the time, but also the way we die so we can glorify Him? (See John 21:19) The comfort is that death doesn’t have the say about my death – God does. He’s appointed it for me just like He has appointed life for me now. There is comfort in knowing that life and death don’t just happen to me, but my Redeemer is directing all phases of my life!
How do we combat the fear of losing everything? By investing in things that can’t be taken from us at death. Jesus said, “Do not lay up treasure on earth where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But lay up treasure in heaven.” (Matthew 6:20, 21) What we do for Christ counts now and forever. And we will be rewarded for our labors for Him. But living for anything else will be taken away by death. Live wisely, not foolishly! Live and die for Jesus!
Grace to you! This week we look at the most taboo of topics, the most dreadful, and fear evoking: death! One writer said, “Life is hard, then you die. Then they throw dirt in your face. Then the worms eat you! Be grateful it happens to you in that order!” Death is not something we like to talk about in our culture. With our focus on health, wealth, and beauty, death is obtrusive to our American ideals of life. But stats are hard to deny. 1 out of 1 people die. Ecclesiastes advises that it’s, “Better to spend your time at funerals than at parties. After all, everyone dies and the living will take this to heart.” (Ecc. 7:2) In short, facing our own mortality is a wise thing to do. But it frightens us to do so. How can we overcome fear of death?
There are many reasons we fear death and scripture addresses each of them. Let’s look at them in the next few articles. The first reason we fear death is fear of the unknown. No one reading this has been through final death. No of us can say from experience we know what death is like. We seek to comfort ourselves at the loss of someone we know when we can say they died of natural causes. But this is not true. No one has ever died of natural causes. Why? Because the Lord made man to live forever. Only when man sinned in the Garden did death enter into reality as an invader and enemy. There is nothing natural about death in God’s intended design for mankind.
But we speak of death as something natural to try to comfort ourselves about this great unknown. Yet we can’t normalize it no matter what language we seek to use about it. It is the unknown that frightens us! So are we doomed till we die to be in the fear of the unknown surrounding death? No, we aren’t! One has died and came back from death to tell us good news!
Because Jesus had no sin of His own, “God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” (Acts 2:42) Here is the One who has conquered the unknown and offers us hope. He tells us some comforting words. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” (Isaiah 43:2) We don’t have to know all the unknowns; we need merely remember the words of the One who overcame death and who will be with us always. (See Matthew 28:20) Consider this: is it better to know all about death or to know the One who has defeated it? I’ll go with the One was ‘dead and is now alive forevermore” and says “Because I live, you shall also live.” (Rev. 1:17,18; John 14:19)
Grace to you! Scripture is very clear about something: “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe.” (Proverbs 29:25) Fear of man is everywhere! Once we understand this principle and how to be free from it, our lives can be changed to be able to glorify God in a far richer way!
Think of all the places we see the fear of man used as a tool to get people to conform to a particular agenda. If kids don’t act or dress a certain way, then the other kids at school may not think they are all that popular. Society calls it ‘peer pressure.’ Scripture calls it fear of man and therefore a sin! News pundits use fear of man language to seek to coerce people to accept certain behaviors, ideas, political plans, etc or else they will give them a label such as racist, homophobic, or whatever other new label they can use to get people to comply with their desires. The name calling is their sinful way to seek to play on the sinful tendencies in others to fear man and his opinions. What happens? “The fear of man lays a snare.” People go along with whatever agenda, idea, behavior, etc that supposed elite people say for fear of losing their approval and being given a name.
Modern psychology’s answer to how to deal with this problem isn’t helpful. They tell us we need to love ourselves, to value ourselves for ourselves, rather than seeking to conform to everyone else’s desires. Why is this a problem? Because Jesus said this promotes the same issue that’s in the fear of man. Fear of man says conform to others so that you can preserve your life, reputation, etc. Modern psychology says don’t worry about what they say, live for yourself only. Psychology’s self-love goal and fear of man’s peer pressure work the same sinful way: preserve your life at whatever cost. So what is the answer then?
Jesus says our problem isn’t that we have loved ourselves too little, but that we love ourselves too much! “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) The call to take up a cross is the same as saying, “Go sit in your electric chair and throw the switch on” to your self-focused life. We love ourselves to the exclusion that we don’t love God first and primarily. The Psalmist redirects us: “I trust in God, so why should I be afraid? What can mere mortals do to me?” (Psalm 56:11) Jesus tells us the antidote to fear of man. It is the fear of God. “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28)
Grace to you! So far we’ve seen that our hearts are the reason for our anger. The desires we have, whether for evil or wanting something good too much, produce anger in us. (See James 4:1-4) Our call is to desire Christ more or in place of what we currently desire. So what does this look like in a real life situation?
Remember, we have to understand that Scripture calls us not to merely break bad desires and habits but to replace them with godly desires and habits. This is called the ‘put off, put on’ principle. First, we discern what our desires are that motivate us to do certain actions. Then we ‘put off’ the lies of our desires with the truth of God’s word and ‘put on’ the motivation to live for Christ’s glory. This new motivation then helps us ‘put on’ new actions. The result is that we live a life that honors God and allows us to love our neighbors as ourselves rather than responding with sinful anger.
Let’s take a common example. Scripture tells wives to ‘respect their husbands.’ (Ephesians 5:33) As a husband, I know from God’s word that men desire to be respected by their wives. And this is a good thing. However, problems can still arise in me depending on how my heart and its desires respond to this good commandment. How so you ask?
As a husband, I desire for my wife to be obedient to the Lord. But the problem comes when my desire to be respected becomes something I demand I have from my wife for my life to be meaningful. Let’s look at this closer. The commandment is written to wives, not to husbands. So if I as a husband begin to demand that I be respected, I’ve changed the focus from her glorifying God to me getting the respect my heart wants. At this point, my desire for respect, which in itself is a good thing, has now become a sinful craving that I want to serve only my interests. Why is it sinful? Because I have taken a good desire and now have let it rule me. Jesus is the only One who is to rule my heart.
So since my wife doesn’t respect the way ‘I desire in my heart’, the result is that I’ll get angry at her. I’ve set up my own standard about what it means to be respected because I’ve made the commandment more about my desires being met rather than my wife obeying Jesus.
How do I counter this? Again, a good desire has to take a back seat to honoring Christ. I honor Christ by realizing that ‘respecting me’ is a commandment for her. It’s not my opportunity to browbeat her into giving me the respect I think I deserve. Anger shows a good thing has become an enslaving desire. Love Jesus and good things will not become ultimate things. Because when good things become ultimate things, they become bad things!
Grace to you! As we’ve been looking at our anger from a biblical perspective, we’ve seen that most of our anger is sinful. We’ve also noted that neither our biology nor our circumstances can make us angry. In all honesty, we always freely choose to be angry. The heart of the issue is the issue of our hearts. What drives our behavior (such as getting angry) is what’s going on inside of us. But what are the things that drive our heart? What is it in our hearts the move us to get angry? Let’s take a look.
James 4 speaks clearly here. “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” (James 4:1-4) The issue that drives us to be angry is our wants and desires! It’s not other people or my situation. It’s that I am wanting something so much I will sin to get it. Or, I am desiring something so much if I don’t get it, I’m going to sin with anger!
This is the root issue of our behavior problems regarding anger. We have made an idol of something, a circumstance, a person, a want, a thing, etc so much that it now rules us. When that desire is not fulfilled, we sin. Now here’s where it can get tricky. We all understand that there are sinful things at times we desire and know that those things in themselves are rebellious to even pursue. But do we also know that even good things, good desires, and good goals can likewise lead us to sinful anger? It can happen because we can want a good thing too much! Paul says, “You say, “I am allowed to do anything”–but not everything is good for you. You say, “I am allowed to do anything”–but not everything is beneficial.” (1 Corinthians 10:23) Paul is saying even good things can become an idol for you. And when they become that strong of a desire, even if they are good, they become what you worship and serve. And whatever you give yourself to that is the thing you become enslaved to. (See Romans 6:16)
So how do we handle our anger? We return God to His rightful place in our lives as number one. We turn away from making anything we desire, want, etc that captures our heart more than the blessed Lord Jesus. Whether they are bad desires or good desires, all things have to give way to the Redeemer who died for us so that we might live for Him. When we change what, or rather Who, we live for, then our anger will automatically disappear!
Grace to you! Last week we saw that the Bible says we can be angry and not sin. Yet, it also provides guidelines that limit what righteous anger is. We see that the vast majority of the time our anger is sinful. So how do we move forward? How do we handle anger in a way that honors God? Before we begin, we have to understand what is driving our anger before we can know how to deal with it. So where does our anger come from?
First let’s look at where it does NOT come from. It does not come from biology. How often have your heard, “Well, look at him throw a fit. That’s just the Kilgore side of his family coming out in him.” It’s as if some are born mad because they come from a certain family. Modern man has gotten more sophisticated with our cultural way of deflecting personal responsibility for our anger by saying we are genetically born a certain way. In short, sinful behaviors in today’s society are attributed to some biological factor rather than a person’s free choice. But Scripture locates the heart of the problem with the problem of the heart! “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders.” (Matthew 15:19) We are sinfully angry because we freely choose to get angry.
Nor does a person’s sinful anger come from their environment. People often blame their surroundings for the reason they are mad. “You MAKE me so mad!” is a common refrain we hear. But that statement is simply not true. Nothing or no one can force you to be angry. Jesus was ill treated, spit upon, shamed, slapped, hit, mocked, falsely accused, and even crucified unjustly. Yet “Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; (1Peter 2:21-23) Jesus had the worst of circumstances thrown at him, yet He responded in a way that honored the Father. Neither circumstances nor the people involved could MAKE Him get sinfully angry.
So how does this help us? Well, as is often said, the first thing to do in fixing a problem is to admit that you have one! Scripture clearly puts the problem of our anger on us. Our hearts get angry for reasons that lie within us. And next week we will look at why we get angry. But for now, let’s take an honest look at ourselves and realize that myself, and myself alone, is the sole reason for my sinful anger. From here we can move forward to God’s grace in dealing with our problems.
Grace to you! We’ve all felt that well known expression of “I’m mad as Hades and I ain’t gonna take it anymore!” At one time or another we’ve all been angry. Anger is such a common problem that there are classes on “anger management.” These classes can vary in their approach about how to deal with them. Scripture, however, not only gives us the way to deal with anger but also why we even have anger. We will begin to look at this very important issue in the weeks to come. First, let’s ask the question, “Is all anger bad?” Or, biblically speaking “Is all anger inherently sinful?”
Scripture tell us “in your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” (Ephesians 4:26) Is this just saying as long as I’m not angry when it’s dark, it’s ok to be angry? Not quite. But the verse does teach us that anger can be righteous and legitimate in some contexts. Even God Himself has anger; a very common theme in the bible. (See Isaiah 5:25, Mark 3:5) So God can be angry and be righteous. And scripture seems to say that we can be angry (though rarely!!) and it not be sinful. In short, scripture teaches us that there can be righteous and sinful anger in people. How do we know the difference?
Robert Jones in his book “Uprooting Anger” suggests 3 criteria from scripture for evaluating our anger if it is sinful or not. First, Jesus displayed anger when God’s grace for sinners and kingdom agenda were opposed. When people opposed the gospel or sought to hinder others from hearing about the message of salvation, this got Jesus very angry. Luke 14:21 shows Jesus expressing anger because sinners refused to accept God’s invitation to salvation. Second, righteous anger is always in response to sin, not my agenda, desires, will, or preferences. To the point, scripture has clearly been violated to give me a basis for being angry, not what I am wanting the way I want it. Third, righteous anger is always accompanied by other godly characteristics and expressed in a God-honoring way. Tirades, cursing, ignoring others, etc are not godly responses. Anger with love motivating it, patience, a desire for restoration, etc is evidence of righteous anger. When God expresses His anger, it’s always in relation to His other characteristics. If we are angry and no other godly characteristics are present, then we can be certain we are sinfully angry!
So before we jump to a quick conclusion that the bible says I can be angry and it not be sinful, we need to understand what that means. And that means that we first make sure that any anger in our life right now meets the biblical criteria. If we are honest, we’d have to say by far the majority of our anger is more about what I care about than it is about God’s glory. (See 1 Corinthians 10:31) And any sinful anger is dangereous for us to ignore because it will incite God’s anger against us. So how do we deal with it? How do we move forward? Stay tuned!