Galatians 5:16-21 NRSV
Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Most Americans are angry. I don’t know about other countries, but I do know that most Americans are angry. Perhaps it’s our mindset, that we have rights that are inalienable ours. Perhaps it’s our culture, which is self-indulgence at its finest. Perhaps it’s our huge amount of free time, which allows for fantasies gone wild.
It doesn’t matter, really. What matters is that we are an angry people, angry with each other, angry with our circumstances, angry with how life simply doesn’t work out the way we want. I think that for many of us we want life to exist in 60 minute segments that always work out in the end. The guys in the white hats (the ones on our team) win and the guys in the black hats (the other guys) lose. Life has become a Saturday morning cowboy western, set in hip-hop clothes with a rap background.
For many of us, we want life to exist in fast food restaurants, where we can have it our way in 60 seconds or less (Who cares whether or not it’s healthy for us?). Where the taste satisfies the tongue and ignores the body. Where individual choice of the moment overrides than long term consequences.
And when life isn’t this way, when the commercials don’t live up to their promises, we get angry. We’re angry at the moment (the “now”). We’re angry at the past. We’re angry at the future that looms just over the horizon.
Paul talks, in Galatians, about the “works of the flesh.” What are “works of the flesh?” The “flesh” is that part of us that is sinful, completely and absolutely! It is the egocentric nature we were born with. It is that which takes us to eternal destruction without the saving grace of the Lord Jesus. And the “works” of the flesh are the things that we do because we choose sin instead of God.
What are the things we choose? What are the choices that are sin? Paul says that the desires within our bodies (our emotions, our cravings, our lusts) are sin, and that these include anger.
I grew up in the 70’s. And something that began in the 60’s and 70’s and continues to permeate our society today is that emotions aren’t bad. Emotions are morally neutral. (For example, from http://www.theopengrove.com/dwnlds/news/newsv03i20.pdf: “An important step toward mental health is learning to accept your emotions. All human beings have emotions. Try to learn that there aren’t “bad” emotions and “good” emotions.?)
Obviously Paul wouldn’t agree with that because, in his list of “works of the flesh,” he includes emotions. The Lord Jesus taught this as well:
“For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all other sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander.” Matthew 15:19 NLT. The word translated here “heart” is kardia and means “thoughts or feelings.”
There are evil feelings, feelings that we are to deny, to avoid, to keep from our lives. And one of those is anger. But how do we do that?
In 2 Corinthians, Paul talks about our thoughts:
We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take e very thought captive to obey Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:4b-5 NRSV
We can think righteously and that controls everything else: For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he. Proverbs 23:7a KJV. We can obviously control our thoughts or Paul wouldn’t tell us that “we take every thought captive to obey Christ.”
Ever wonder why Paul also admonishes us to “pray without ceasing” 1 Thess. 5:17? If we are having a constant communication with Father God, we won’t sin. We won’t be thinking about sin, but rather about doing whatever it is God wants us to do. We won’t have cause to be angry because we will be trusting Him to lead us out of each and every painful situation.
We choose to be angry because it makes us feel better! It makes us feel righteous, justified, superior. And yet, it is a feeling for the moment, like a taste on the tongue that sours after the first bite. We can choose not to be angry, but rather to be self-controlled, to be trusting, to be in constant prayer with our Father.
One is the lust of the flesh and leads to death. The other is an outbreak of faith and leads to life. Which are we going to choose today?