The following are the notes from this week’s CROSSROADS lesson. Words in bold identify key phrases from notes pages handed out each week. If you would like copies of our slides, please feel free to reach and request them. As these are from the notes pages for each week, please excuse any typos or grammatical errors.
We love to get mad. I think it has something to do with how much we admire bold and aggressive people. Think about it. When was the last time you saw a superhero movie about someone who wasn’t bold? I can only think of one, and that is sort of the exception to the rule. We live in a world that doesn’t see anything wrong with getting incredibly angry WITH people and AT people because we value “fair” over “gentle”.
When was the last time you got angry? Why did you get so agitated? Why couldn’t you just “get over it”?
I’m not going to argue that being overly aggressive and hostile doesn’t sometimes work. The reality is that something people who do the wrong thing seem to “win”. The book of Ecclesiastes is good evidence of that. It goes over subject after subject explaining how trying to judge the ‘goodness’ of something based on earthly results is pointless. If people who are aggressive and argue with others often win, then why would we bother approaching life with a gentle spirit?
First, let’s ask ourselves why we insist on getting into fights with other people. What do you think is the SOURCE of our anger?
What is causing all the quarrels and fights among you? Isn’t it your desires battling inside you? 2 You desire things and don’t have them. You kill, and you are jealous, and you still can’t get them. So you fight and quarrel. The reason you don’t have is that you don’t pray! 3 Or you pray and don’t receive, because you pray with the wrong motive, that of wanting to indulge your own desires. (James 4:1-3)
According to James, our willingness to fight comes from our sense of DESIRE. What example does that mean? How does desire drive us to be more aggressive with people? Well, think about it. If you had no desire, what PURPOSE would there be for conflict? What would be the point? If you remove desire from the equation, suddenly the entire emotion of anger and the act of fighting doesn’t make any sense.
This is where we get to the big theological lesson of the night. If you don’t remember anything else, remember this: what we choose to get angry over reveals what we VALUE. What do we mean by value? Let’s revisit some of those arguments and fights we mentioned earlier. Were any of them over being disrespected? That means that you were VALUING your dignity. Was it over a rumor someone spread? That means you were VALUING your reputation. Was it over a physical thing? Obviously that shows a desire for that thing meaning you valued it more than your relationship with the person you were fighting with. Christ actually demonstrates this perfectly when he arrived in Jerusalem a week before he would be crucified on the cross.
They came to Jerusalem, and he went into the temple and began to throw out those buying and selling. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves, 16 and would not permit anyone to carry goods through the temple. 17 He was teaching them: “Is it not written, My house will be called a house of prayerfor all nations? But you have made it a den of thieves!”[a]
18 The chief priests and the scribes heard it and started looking for a way to kill him. For they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was astonished by his teaching. (Mark 11:15-19)
Even Christ got angry. He was angry because of the actions of the vendors in the church. Was it because they were doing business in the church? No. Jesus was angry because in the Jewish law (Torah), the Jews are instructed to offer only their very best offerings to God (Leviticus 1:1 and all over Leviticus, really). The Jewish leaders of the day had decided that in lieu of a blemishless male lamb, pigeons could be sacrificed for the poor. This compromised the Bible and substituted God’s definition of “holy” with man’s definition of “holy”. Christ, being fully God, is passionate about truth and purity. The practices in the temple were anything but true and pure, so Jesus naturally got angry. In a way, we get our confirmation here that Jesus was not just some peaceful hippy hanging around 2000 years ago; he was a real man with real passions and desires. However, unlike our passions and desires, his were focused on God’s righteousness and glory. Anything that compromised that was worthy of Christ’s anger.
It’s easy to simply say “don’t get angry”, but it’s hard to do it. I get that. It’s also hard to avoid an argument before we get into it because sometimes things aren’t clearly “right” or “wrong”. What does this mean? It means that sometimes the thing we are “valuing” that causes us to fall into anger isn’t something that immediately seems bad. For example, let’s say you find out your best friend lied to you about who they were trying to date and ended up scooping up your crush. Something like lying almost seems worth getting angry over because it’s related to “truth” which we SHOULD be passionate about. Even two people pursuing good, Godly things… maybe even within the church… will find themselves at different sides of arguments and opinions. When we find ourselves in these situations, our priority should be DEFUSING the situation.
Notice that I didn’t say WINNING the argument. Look at what Solomon says in Proverbs 12:16…
A fool is quick-tempered, but a wise person STAYS CALM when insulted. (Proverbs 12:16)
A sign of wisdom is being willing to stay calm. Being “right” or “wrong” doesn’t play into the equation because… honestly… someone else’s standard of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ is completely irrelevant compared to that of God’s and God values love and understanding over “being right”.
So how do we resolve our arguments and disagreements with others? In our society, there are a ton of things that require a little bit of study and prayer to determine how God wants us to act. This isn’t one of those areas. On this subject, Jesus tells us exactly how to resolve our differences with others.
15 “If your brother sins against you,[f] go and rebuke him in private.[g] If he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 But if he won’t listen, take one or two others with you, so that by the testimony[h] of two or three witnesses every fact may be established.[i] 17 If he doesn’t pay attention to them, tell the church.[j] If he doesn’t pay attention even to the church, let him be like a Gentile and a tax collector to you. (Matthew 18:15-17)
We have a few steps here. First, we address the matter PRIVATELY with the individual who hurt us. Let’s stop and look at what is NOT in there that many people do right off the bat. It doesn’t say to gossip about the person or go bad-mouth who they are. That is difficult when you’re often hearing about a problem through the grapevine to begin with. The temptation is strong to send signals back through the grapevine, but you have to go directly to the source.
If that doesn’t work, you bring in someone to MEDIATE. What does “mediate” mean? It means you bring in some third party to help sort things out. A mediator is NOT someone who is unabashedly one-sided; getting your best friend to mediate isn’t a good plan. Get someone who can be truly impartial or as impartial as possible. If they don’t have a dog in the fight, they’ll be much more likely to get down to the facts.
Finally, if none of that works, bring the issue to the COMMUNITY. Community means different things to different people. Sometimes the community is a group of friends who are involved with the issue and sometimes it’s something much more formal. Most of the time an issue isn’t worth bringing up to the third step, but IF we aren’t going to drop it, than taking it to the larger community will help get to the bottom of it.
At the end of the day, if nothing has worked, Jesus says to treat the person like a Gentile or tax collector. Basically, he’s saying to treat the person like any other detestable individual. With that said, how do we treat someone who is a “gentile” or a “tax collector”? If you said “WITH LOVE” than you are correct. Remember that Christ had several tax collectors following him throughout his ministry and spoke to Gentiles regularly. The difference is that he spoke to Gentiles and tax collectors like he would to someone who needs instruction and mercy… because they did. He treated them like people who need to overcome some personal status or personality issue but needed Christ’s love and affection to do so. So how do we treat people who we fail to reconcile with? We treat them as someone who is lost and needs Christ. Rather than treating them as an exile from our life, we should take the situation and interpret it as a challenge to witness to that person.
How different of a response is that to a sinning brother? The world would have just said, “Welp…. [expletive] that guy!” We are called to a higher standard. The standard we are called to is to show the grace that we were showed. After all, we above all should understand the concept of unconditional grace. In the eyes of an infinitely pure and infinitely glorious God, we were sinners. Any amount of sin in the presence of an infinite God is infinitely detestable and unworthy of His favor. Despite that, this God sent his infinitely holy son to pay the infinitely sufficient price for our sin so that we would be redeemed. When you think of the level of insult we gave (and give) God through our sin and the great lengths God goes to reconcile with us despite our sin, how petty do we look when we won’t forgive someone for something far, far less?
It’s easy to get mad at the little injustices this world will throw your way. The world will also support you when you react according to their standard of “right” and “wrong”. The world “understands” your anger and “understands” your rage. What the world doesn’t understand is the power of Christ. You do. Act like it.