This article is based on a sermon at Palm Bay Seventh-day Adventist Church on August 14, 2021. Elements of the oral presentation have been retained.—Editors.
It was a morning when the earth was young. Creation still gave clear evidence of the grandeur and symmetry of the marvelous handiwork of God. Along the side of a babbling brook, two brothers, I imagine, walked together. As they strolled alongside the waters they talked of their love for God and of their love for each other. Yet even though they had so much in common, in so many ways they were so different. They had come from the same womb, shared the same nurture and upbringing; yet in character and personality they were worlds apart.
The elder brother, Cain, was a moody soul who carried in his heart feelings of resentment against God. You see, while the rest of the family accepted God’s punishment for sin, Cain would often question why it was necessary to punish humanity so severely for one mistake—and something as simple as eating a forbidden fruit. To be cast out of the Garden of Eden for that seemed to Cain arbitrary and unfair.
But God in His wisdom had ordained a plan that made offerings and sacrifices part of the plan of salvation. “Without shedding of blood there is no remission” (Heb. 9:22). Cain and Abel built identical altars, but what they placed on the altar revealed their hearts and the measure of their faith.
Abel brought a sacrifice of a lamb from his flock, in harmony with the Lord’s directions. Scripture tells us that “the Lord respected Abel and his offering” (Gen. 4:4). God showed His favor toward Abel and his sacrifice, and as Abel stepped back from his altar a single volley of a white-hot flame came shooting out of the sky. The altar came ablaze with a holy fire, showing them both the blessing and benediction of heaven upon Abel’s offering. The fire danced around Abel’s sacrifice, consuming it in divine approval.
But Cain ignored the direct and explicit command of God and presented an offering of his own choosing. He brought to the altar a sacrifice not of a lamb but of the fruit of the ground. And as he stepped back from his altar, this time there was no fire from heaven, as with Abel’s sacrifice. No sign from above that God was pleased with the sacrifice of Cain. Cain stood there before his altar embarrassed but unrepentant. Cain was saying in his heart, God, if You can’t find pleasure in my offering too, so be it. As for my offering, You can take it or leave it.
Abel begged Cain to comply with the requirements of God, but his pleadings made Cain more determined to follow his own will and go his own way. The servant of the Lord says that “Cain and Abel represent two classes that will exist in the world [and in the church] till the close of time.”*
As Cain continued to complain of the injustice of God, he would often angrily reproach his brother, and attempt to draw him into controversy concerning God’s dealings with them. All this caused Cain’s anger to burn the hotter. Reason and conscience told Cain that Abel was in the right, but his anger took from him the ability to think straight.
Perhaps one day Cain said to Abel, “Brother, this tension between us must stop. Let’s go for a walk and talk it over.” The Bible says that as they walked together in the field, Cain suddenly, and viciously, out of anger and resentment, attacked his brother, Abel, and killed him.
Abel lay there on the green grass, his innocent blood flowing with the dew. Oh, but the memory of his life and faithfulness will never be forgotten.
Is it not significant that the first violence that the world ever knew was the result of anger? How do we know that Cain was angry? Because God said so.
The Bible says that when Cain saw that his offering was rejected by God, he was very angry, and his face was downcast (Gen. 4:5). Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen?” (verse 6).
Cain had an anger problem.
It’s a Serious Problem
In my study of God’s Word, I came upon this list in Galatians 5:19-21. It is a list of actions and behaviors that will keep us out of heaven. Depending on our own character weaknesses, we may overlook some things on this list and speak out against others. But the truth is that the Bible says practicing everything on this list will cause us to be lost if we don’t repent. There is a sin on this list that is not often spoken of, but represents a deficit of character that many of us deal with and all those who inherit the kingdom of God must overcome: the sin of angry outbursts.
Angry people are not going to heaven.
I did not make this up. It is right here in God’s Word. Angry people are not going to be changed on the trip from earth to heaven. Those who choose to live with and live by a spirit of anger will not inherit the kingdom of heaven, the Bible says.
For angry people who repent of the sin and habit of anger and turn from it, there is a crown waiting and a mansion prepared in heaven. Second Chronicles 7:14 says, “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
There are some Christian people who would rather stay angry than follow Christ. Too often, when we think of serious sins, we think of such sins as adultery and murder. But this nasty habit of uncontrolled anger has not only created wars and turned homes into battlegrounds—this nasty little habit will keep some of us out of heaven if we do not repent.
Have you noticed that you can’t hide anger? You can suppress and even repress anger—but if anger lives in you, it will eventually come out. And anger can poison your health and leave you sick and diseased. Anger affects your digestive system, your nervous system, your respiratory system. Every system responsible for your health is affected negatively by festering anger. Anger affects your blood pressure.
People do strange things when they are angry. Some yell and scream. Some withdraw their emotions and affections. Some even reject their commitment to act and speak like Christ just so they can be angry for a while. They say to themselves, So what? I’m angry, and I’m expressing my anger. It’s my right, and that’s all that matters right now. I have only one question: Does uncontrolled anger feel so good to you that you are willing to jeopardize your soul’s salvation just to give the offending party a piece of your mind?
Did you know that the devil was the first angry soul? And angry souls who choose to hold on to anger have the devil as their father.
It’s a Human Problem
Some of the most spiritual people have struggled with controlling their anger. Moses struggled with it.
Samson fell prey to it. One day Jesus sent messengers to go to a village of the Samaritans to make things ready for His visit there. But the message came back that He was not welcome there. They knew Jesus was tired and needed some place to rest, but they did not open their doors to the heavenly guest. The disciples were offended, and in their anger they asked Jesus to call down fire from heaven to consume those who had disrespected their Leader. But Christ rebuked their anger, their indignation, and their zeal for His honor.
Yes, they were angry. And we all will feel angry feelings at some time or another. The question is: Do you indulge it, or do you smother anger with love? Have you noticed that when you are angry you have no desire to forgive anybody? Sometimes we get angry at ourselves, but have you noticed we often can forgive ourselves much sooner than we can forgive others, and we often stay angry with others much longer than we stay angry with ourselves?
But Jesus got angry, some say, when He drove people out of the temple.
First, that was righteous indignation, and there is usually nothing righteous about our indignation. And second, Jesus was angry about deceit, and corrupted systems, and institutions that distorted and misrepresented the true loving character of His Father. Never once in the Bible did Jesus express unrighteous anger to an individual. That kind of anger comes from Satan himself. Did you know that you cannot indulge your temper and have your own way, and still call yourself a child of God?
In Matthew 5:22 Jesus says He considers anger a form of murder. And Jesus says if you are bound for heaven, there is some baggage you can’t bring with you, and your anger is one. Whether your angry outbursts are public or private, regular or occasional, uncontrolled anger will keep you out of heaven.
Isn’t it interesting how we are selective with how and where we express our anger? So many of us take out our anger on those who love us most. Perhaps because we believe that no matter how badly we behave in our anger, they will still love us. I say don’t treat those who love you like a dumping ground for your anger.
It takes a great deal of humility to admit one’s struggle with anger. For some of us, getting victory over anger will take a struggle. But God can help us. Here is one practical tip that the Lord has taught me.
First, there are stages that lead up to anger. And some people advance through those stages quickly, and some advance through those stages slowly. Here are the five stages of anger God showed me.
The first stage is annoyance. What annoys you will be a cause of frustration, and annoyances and frustrations are triggers for anger. Now, I will tell you a secret. Annoyance is the easiest stage of anger to manage. And each succeeding stage that follows becomes more difficult to manage and slow down the moving train of anger.
God has taught me that if you can handle annoyances in a spiritual, cheerful, and healthy way, you won’t move on to the other advanced stages of anger. So the best way to win the battle against anger is to win at the stage of annoyance. And to win at the first stage of annoyance you have to tell yourself, With God’s help I will let nothing anyone says or does ever annoy me. Develop a resilience, a positive outlook, a steadfastness that is grounded in your faith in the God who controls all things. Win the battle at stage one.
The next stage of anger is aggravation. Now annoyance has escalated to aggravation, and you are like a rocket on the launchpad ready to blast off. The fuel is all there; the countdown is on: six, five, four, three, two, one—abort, abort! Unless you abort, you become aggravated.
After aggravation we move on to the next stage: arousal. Arousal is how you feel in response to annoyance and aggravation. Annoyance and aggravation then become your justification for your emotional decision to respond. Maybe somebody lied about you or stole from you. You are about to lose something you value, and out of fear you are aroused to fight back.
That’s when your anger moves to the next stage: aggression. Aggression manifests itself in name calling and threats. Aggression shows up in outbursts of fighting and fighting back. Aggression shows up in verbal outbursts and, God forbid, sometimes physical outburst. Aggression manifests itself in words and actions, accusations and attitudes, temper and tone.
The fastest horse cannot catch a word spoken in anger, and believe me, for some people adrenaline-fueled aggression is a form of getting high. They actually thrive on it and love it. Some people actually enjoy losing their heads and losing control of themselves.
But Pastor, I have to defend myself. Who ever said that self-defense requires anger? An old man once told me: “Don’t get mad; get smart.” And using anger in self-defense is never smart. When you are in that stage of aggression, your judgment is gone. And open aggression culminates in rage.
An IED is an improvised explosive device, a bomb constructed and deployed when attached to a detonating mechanism. IEDs are commonly used as roadside bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan. Well, there is another kind of IED. They are IEDs used in relationships, and they are every bit as deadly. In the psychoanalytical world this IED stands for intermittent explosive disorder. Intermittent explosive disorders can hurt, and burn, and maim for life. They can bring pain and suffering into our homes.
Now remember, there is overt aggression and there is passive aggression, and passive aggression is every bit as deadly. Passive aggression is letting people suffer silently when you could do something to alleviate their suffering.
The final stage of anger is depression. Because anytime we are not our best selves, anytime we act out in a way that is un-Christlike, if you have a conscience and a decent bone in your body you will regret it, and your disappointment in yourself will show up as sulking, and resentment, and depression. Anger and depression are emotional contagious cousins. Anger unchecked gives the devil an opportunity to wreck what God is doing in your life. And anger will leave you hostile and bitter.
So you would like to make a change? First, analyze why you get angry. Identify your triggers. Then acknowledge where you’ve been wrong and take ownership of the fact that angry outbursts are never spiritual and they will keep you out of heaven. Then ask for divine assistance. And remember, when not handled at the annoyance stage, more of God’s Spirit is needed exponentially to handle the subsequent stages. In the annoyance stage, remember to focus on the big picture—the great controversy metanarrative and that God wins. Try to remember that every day someone you care about will say or do something that will annoy you and that in love you will need to forgive them. Learn to forgive the annoyances and don’t let them bother you, and you will never have to deal with aggravation, arousal, or aggression. There will be no IEDs in your house—buildup, sparks, explosions, and painful aftermath.
* Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1890, 1908), p. 72.