The Games People Play – Aggravation
They say that everyone collects something. Some folks collect stamps, some coins, and others just seem to collect dust. I like to collect old toys. Since my dad was in the Navy and we moved every four years or so, many times it was easier to throw away your memories, instead of packing them in another box. After Trista and I got married we were at a flee market and I came across an old windup radio that I remembered having when I was little. That day I started collecting toys that I had chose to get rid of when I was younger.
Today I have old toys proudly displayed on shelves in our home office. I have vases full of marbles, and some old cars, an old Atari game and a little dog on a string. There are bunches of green army men ready to go to war with the cowboys and Indians, and of course weeble wobbles. I imagine that I like these toys because they remind me of a time when there was no stress or strain in my life. A simpler time when a day could be filled running through the yard and the nights spent around a table playing Candy Land, or Chutes and Ladders.
Maybe you have noticed in your own life that as we get older we begin to spend all of our time on grown up things and put the toys away, but that doesn’t mean we ever really quit playing those games. Over the next few weeks I want us to look at the games that people play, and I want to anchor this series based on some old board games. Some of these you have heard of, some of you have even played them. But I think that all of them have something to say to us and our walk with Christ.
This morning we will start by looking at the game Aggravation. This was one of those games that I loved and hated to play when I was a child, depending on how the game was going. The premise of the game is to aggravate everyone you know before they aggravate you! Sounds a lot like real life doesn’t it? Anger is one of our universal emotions that can be seen as early in life as a baby’s cry and probably the most powerful emotion we feel.
There seems to be an epidemic of anger these days. Some people seem to be constantly angry and are always irritated. But it’s not a new problem. In fact, the Bible has an awful lot to say about anger and our proper response to the struggle we face. If we are going to win the battle of aggravation, we have to know how to deal with it.
Turn with me to Matthew 5:21-26 and lets read the text.
Jesus has a solution to the problem of anger. In this text He is saying that it is not enough just to talk about not murdering people. The solution must go deeper than that, and it must get at the problem long before we reach the place where we want to kill someone. Jesus reaffirmed that it was wrong to murder, but he added to the command in a way that made it much more far reaching.
Jesus’ teaching about anger said, first of all, that: Murder begins as an attitude in the heart.
This is the new righteousness of Jesus; the old righteousness just said, “Keep the rules.” The new righteousness says, “You must have a new heart.” This important because every wrong action began with a wrong attitude. It is in the heart that the devil plants the seed of anger. And he does what he can to nurture that seed to make sure it grows. He takes a hurt and turns it into hatred.
Maybe you remember when the Pharisees came to Jesus complaining that His disciples did not wash their hands before they ate. The story unfolds in Matthew 15, and Jesus says, “What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean’”
A little later His disciples asked Jesus to explain this teaching and He said, “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander”
Having a pure heart is much more difficult than having pure actions. We can can control our outward actions enough to fool the people around us, but if you see into our hearts you might see something quite different. For instance, you can hide the anger you have for another person. You can even treat them in a way that makes them believe that you like them very much, while all the time you are wishing they were dead. Jesus was very clear that these folks are hypocrites; they are putting on a front or wearing a mask and you cannot be a hypocrite and live for Christ. Jesus is saying that if you want your life to be free from sin, you must make sure that your heart is clean. You must give up your anger, and more than all that, you must love them.
There is a story out of Dadeville, Alabama that happened back in 1984. Apparently two men started arguing in a Sunday school class and that argument continued in the parking lot following services. The argument came to an end when one of the men went out to his truck got a gun and shot the second man and killed him. And while that is a horrible act, the reason for this act of anger is even more troubling. The argument started over who could quote the most scripture. Jealousy turned to anger that turned to murder.
We have worse heart problems than blockages and high cholesterol. An evil heart desires to do evil and looks for ways to express that evil. We are really good at cleaning up the outside, walking in here like we are perfect inside and out. But we fall into the same trap that the Pharisees we consumed with. In Matthew 23 Jesus had some pretty strong words for them. He said, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness”. They missed the concept on an inner righteousness and having a new heart.
I wonder how many of us here this morning are nursing a grudge? How many of us have a rotten attitude about people, or are caught in the grip of bitterness and an unforgiving spirit? Jesus is talking to you today. This morning Jesus is telling you to quit playing the game of aggravation and find the freedom of His new righteousness.
Next we see that Jesus teaches us a second lesson about anger: Anger grows as we express it in insults and cursing.
Jesus said, “But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool ’ will be in danger of the fire of hell”.
The word Racca is a Hebrew word and is pronounced like you are clearing your throat. You don’t have to say it as much as make the sound. When you did this at someone, you were basically preparing to spitting on them but then you decide that they weren’t even worth that. When you said Raca you were expressing that you thought this other person was “worthless.”
The word Jesus used for fool was to say that someone was so far from God that God Himself could not save them. It was an huge offense to the point that if one Jew was heard to call another a fool, they would cut his tongue out and place a hot iron 10 fingers wide in his mouth. It was a word reserved exclusively for the Gentiles. So when Jesus added this teaching by including the word fool, He was teaching that even those we have been taught to hate from the very beginning of our lives are not worth our anger.
The reason that Jesus said a person was in danger of the judgment was because they are devaluing another human being. Don’t miss the significance of Jesus’ words here. The value of human life begins in the heart, and when human life is devalued in any way it is an insult to the God who created that life.
When we devalue someone with our words we are devaluing a person that Christ loved enough to die for. In the heat of our conflicts, we must avoid saying things that can do absolutely unbelievable damage to both the self-concept of the person we are talking to as well as our relationship. Angry words can cause serious damage.
As parents we have to be very carefully with the words we use to disciplining our children. Angry words can affect them for the rest of their lives. Husbands and wives, must be very careful with the words you say to one another. Christians should be very careful with the words you say to your brothers and sisters. Angry words can destroy relationships and cause others to abandon their faith.
We need to burn the words of James 1:26 into our hearts and conscience. If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Have your words made your religion worthless? Do you still have unresolved anger lingering in your heart? If we believe that every person is a creation of God and is important to Him then how can we curse what He created?
The third lesson Jesus teaches us about anger: Anger ends through reconciliation.
The greatest problem I see with anger is that anger does not have forgiveness and reconciliation as its goal. Anger has to do with getting even, setting someone straight, settling the score. That is exactly the opposite of love whose goal is to forgive, build up, give value to, encourage, enhance dignity and bring about reconciliation. Anger puts down and pushes away, and love builds up and draws near.
Jesus takes a turn here, because in Matthew 5:21-23 he talks about our anger toward other people, but in verses 24-26 the focus changes. He said, “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift”.
Some of you may think that the best way to resolve anger is to go exclusively to God and ask Him to work it out. Some of you think that the best way to resolve your anger is to talk to someone else about it, but Jesus puts a high importance on getting right with your brethren, even higher than worship. If we truly want to work out our anger then we must go to the person we are having trouble with first and get it all worked out, and then come to Him.
Jesus is pretty clear; if someone thinks he has a reason to be angry with us, then we are to place our gift in front of the altar, not on it. In other words, reconciliation is more important than worship. The God that we worship calls us to stop our worship, and go and be reconciled to the person who has something against you. Someone has said that if this happened in actuality, it would empty every church in America.
This is so important for us because a right relationship with God can never be separated from right relationships with other people. They are forever linked. A bad relationship with another person will interfere with your relationship with God. Paul writes in Ephesians 4:26-27, “In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold”.
Anger which is allowed to linger allows the devil to get a foothold in your life. And when you give him control by permitting anger in your life you will be in a prison that you may never get out of. Learning to forgive can be the most freeing thing that will ever happen to you.
When the boys were a bit younger, when it was time to discipline them I tried to teach a little about God and would often talk about justice and mercy. Before I would pass out justice I would ask them if they wanted me to extend them mercy. But I cautioned them that if you get mercy you have to give mercy to everyone else, and that includes your brother.
At first Trafton would always say yes to mercy but one day a switch flipped in his brain. One day, Trafton was tired, hungry and he and Rylan were both wanting the same toy. Trafton put it down, and Rylan scooped it up. Trafton picked up another toy and hit Rylan in the face with it. Normal boy stuff and I sent him to his room. I took off my belt and we sat down to talk about what he did and why he did it and I told him to get ready for his spanking, then I asked him if he wanted mercy. He looked at me and said if it means I have got to be nice to Rylan I’ll take the spanking.
Reconciliation means that you pardon the person of his or her offense; you give up all feelings of getting even; you let go of all the hurt that he or she has caused; and you keep no records of wrongs. Reconciliation means it over; it is complete; it is finished.
I know all to well the effects of Aggravation, but if we are going to receive the grace of God then we must be willing to forgive even when they don’t deserve it.
Questions To Consider
How do you see anger operating in our society?
How do people in our culture try to handle their anger?
How does Christ ask us to handle our anger? How does this apply to the new kind of righteousness he taught?
Read Matthew 15:11-19. Where does anger begin? What can we do about this?
Why is it so difficult for some people to let go of anger? What helps?
Read Philippians 2:3-4. How could this help us if we followed Paul’s advise?
Read Matthew 23:27-28. What is Jesus’ concern as expressed in these verses?
Read Matthew 5:21-22. Why do insults and name calling put us in danger of the judgment?
Read Matthew 5:23-26. How can we put the principle of reconciliation into practice?
Read Ephesians 4:26-27. What happens on the spiritual level when we allow resentment to take up residence in our lives.