“Instead, dress yourself with the Lord Jesus Christ, and don’t plan to indulge your selfish desires.”
Romans 13:14 (Common English Bible)
“Be angry without sinning. Don’t let the sun set on your anger.”
Ephesians 4:26 (Common English Bible)
If you are like most people, you were raised with the old maxim, “feed a cold, starve a fever.” Writing for Scientific American.com, Mark Fischetti has traced this maxim to a 1574 dictionary by John Withals, which noted that “fasting is a great remedy of fever. The belief is that eating food may help the body generate warmth during a ‘cold’ and that avoiding food may help it cool down when overheated.”[i]But recent medical science says that that old wisdom is wrong. It should be “feed a cold, feed a fever.” Naturally, doctors advise meals that are balanced and nutritious for optimal support of the body’s struggle to overcome the illness. Apparently, what still holds true is the value of a simmering bowl of chicken soup.
That old maxim has been disproved by modern medicine but a portion of it – “starve a fever” – is precisely the spiritual prescription the Apostle Paul advises for unhealthy anger: “don’t plan to indulge your selfish desires.” Anger is one of the most common sins when it stirs within us a passion of fury that can result in threats and violence. The world has witnessed this anger in the increased level of violence often done in the name of religion. Fear occupies the thoughts of many simply because they may be found to have a different religion or point-of-view. Broken relationships and estrangement from loved ones due to anger also rips at the fabric of God’s good intention for all of humanity. Paul offers counsel: let the selfishness of anger be destroyed by the withholding of appropriate support – “don’t plan to indulge.”
There is no method more efficient and assured of victory over the sin of anger than destruction by neglect. As another maxim goes, “deny the fuel, you exhaust the flame.” In practice, what Paul urges in all of his letters is that we redirect our thoughts from those things we disagree to the one conviction that holds each of us together, the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Dwelling on the things that divide us results in aroused feelings. Unchecked, those feelings boil over and scalds and destroys the more gentle places of our spirit. We can control our passion by wisely directing our thought to our unity in Jesus and a common striving to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Paul is clear than anger itself isn’t sin. Anger often signals that something is wrong, requires attention, and calls for a measured response. At the deepest level, anger demonstrates that we are awake, aware, and care deeply about the world we live in. “Be angry,” writes Paul to the church in Ephesus, “without sinning.” Those last two words must not be glossed over. We are not to sin whenever anger is present. There is no consideration given to whether the anger is justified or not. And when we do experience anger, resolve it quickly before it arouses those passions that lead to destruction. We have been baptized into the life of Jesus Christ. At its most basic meaning, that means that Christ is placed first in our lives, not our ideology, our prejudices, and our convictions. If we keep our eyes on what our baptism means, we will make no provision for the care of selfish desires. And, an unhealthy anger withers.