I don’t know when, but something happened in our culture that changed our perspective of what a Christian is supposed to act like. People look at the way someone acts and determines from their behavior that “they’re not very Christian” or they’re not a “good” Christian simply by merit of how they behave, when the truth is that being a Christian has less to do with our behavior and more to do with the state of our heart.
That’s not to say that our actions are meaningless. That’s the not the case at all. The distinction should be made that a Christian never loses his or her temper or never gets angry or never demands anything. The distinction comes with why and how. I’ve heard people say that Christians should never be angry. I’ve heard people say that Christians should never get upset. And part of me agrees with that, especially when you consider the reasons why most people get angry or upset.
Most anger in our world comes from petty unimportant things. We lose our tempers over the smallest problems, issues that don’t mean anything. And as Christians, we shouldn’t. But that doesn’t mean we’re not supposed to be angry about things that are worth it.
Today’s verses are Matthew 21:12-13.
Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out all the people buying and selling animals for sacrifice. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves. He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves!”
This passage out of Matthew is one I’ve turned to many times when I feel angry about something, strangely enough. It reminds me that being angry isn’t a sin, especially when that anger is just. But there’s a lot happening in this passage. This marks a time when Christ returned to Jerusalem, and what He found in the Temple was shocking. Culturally, I’m not sure if we can understand what’s going on here without taking a lot of time to do an in-depth study, but basically what’s happening is that the market people inside the Temple who were supposed to be fair when they sold animals for people to sacrifice were cheating people. That’s probably the easiest way to explain it.
And it made Jesus angry. The Temple was supposed to be a sacred place where people came to worship God, and because of greed and selfishness, people had turned into something it was never meant to be. Notice how He handled His anger, though. He didn’t curse. He didn’t lose control. He didn’t direct His anger at one person. He simply righted the problem, and He backed up His actions with Scripture.
Okay. Throughout the month of May, I’ve been studying the Fruit of the Spirit, as recorded in Galatians 5:22-23 (But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control). The Fruit I’m focusing on today is gentleness (πρᾳότης). But what does that have to do with anger?
The version of the Bible that I learned this passage in didn’t use the term gentleness. It used meekness, which honestly isn’t a term you hear in 21st Century America often. A more accurate definition is: “displaying the right blend of force and reserve, strength in gentleness, avoids unnecessary harshness, yet without compromising or being too slow to use necessary force.”
Meekness is quiet strength. It’s inner calm and humility that doesn’t hesitate to bash skulls when it’s needed. And it absolutely doesn’t mean that you take conflict lying down.
Too many times I think Christians get this idea that being gentle, humble, meek means that we don’t get to stand up for what’s right. Too many times I think we embrace this concept that Jesus was this soft-spoken pansy who never challenged anyone. And anyone who believes that hasn’t read the Gospels. Jesus challenged everyone. He challenged everything. He took the preconceived notions of how life was supposed to be and turned them on their heads. He angered the religious leaders to the point where they conspired to put Him to death.
Let’s face it, folks. Nobody wants to kill a pansy. If anything, people like that are ignored, written off, neglected. They’re easy to push to the sidelines. And nobody was able to do that with Christ.
Christ was a blue-collar worker. A carpenter. An average man like anyone else. Isaiah tells that He wasn’t even handsome, unlike the beautiful glowing portraits people have painted over the years. I guarantee He didn’t look like that.
But He wasn’t a zealot either. Christ is the best example of meekness in Scripture. He’s called the Lamb of God, but He’s also called the Lion of Judah. How can one person be both a lion and a lamb? That’s meekness. Maybe it sounds like a paradox, but it’s not. It’s a Fruit of the Spirit. It’s evidence that God is working in your life.
So what does that mean for us today? How do we demonstrate meekness in our lives? What’s worth getting angry about? And how do you show anger without sin? Because anger on its own isn’t sin, but anger can drive us to sin, and we need to deal with it before it gets to that point.
It comes down to Scripture and having a relationship with Christ. It’s okay to be angry when the church doesn’t line up with Scripture. It’s okay to be angry when God is misused in culture. It’s okay to be angry when Jesus is mocked and openly misrepresented, whether by believers or nonbelievers alike. But our response needs to be Scriptural too. Now, I don’t really think any of us can walk into a materialistic church and start kicking people out and turning over tables. I don’t think that’s necessarily a scriptural response, especially in our culture right now.
But there’s nothing wrong with speaking out. There’s nothing wrong with getting to the bottom of why people are doing what they’re doing. Maybe they’re doing these things out of ignorance, and then it becomes our duty to teach them. But however we choose to deal with a situation that makes us angry, we need to remember meekness. It’s that balance between anger and love. It’s the balance between standing up for what’s right and speaking truth in love, and that’s not something we can do on our own. That’s something God has to do through us. That’s something He has to speak through us.
And so when you get angry, first make sure it’s not coming from some unresolved issue in your own heart. And then, when you choose to act, make sure you ask the Holy Spirit to help you. Because while anger is a useful tool, it has done more damage in the church and in lives and in relationships than anything else. When we turn our anger over to God, He’ll take care of it, and when we trust our actions to the Holy Spirit, He’ll help us say what we need to say and do what we need to do.