Honoring Christ in Angry Times
"Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God." - James 1:19,20
"Be angry and do not sin..."-Ephesians 4:26a
There is much anger in our culture. It is easy to see. People are easily offended. It is now a 'virtue' to express 'outrage' over any number of perceived offenses. The talking heads on national cable news are outraged. The politicians they cover are as well. Professors and university students are outraged as are teachers students in junior high and high schools across America. The cultural leaders of the new moral and spiritual revolution are outraged and are doing all they can to stoke the flames of anger.
One doesn't need to take a quick scroll through social media to verify the anger and outrage at perceived and real offenses is real (and rather intense), one simply needs to look around. Many people are stressed and many people are angry.
Some of this anger and stress is surely related to the strange events of the past fourteen months. Covid changed the way we live our daily lives in both subtle and profound ways. There are many who report a profound sense of feeling alone or helpless/powerless or simply frustrated from the past fourteen months. I do believe that historians will look back on these past fourteen months and write about the long-term negative psychological, emotional and relational impact the stress of Covid and policies implemented by politicians, had on some people.
However, Covid and the policies implemented alone were but a part of the stress placed on our culture and on people. The seismic cultural shifts and the intense political tensions and social/moral/spiritual changes that emerged and converged the past few years, combined with economic uncertainties and all things related to Covid produced the perfect environment for anger and outrage to be normalized.
How are Christians to respond to and engage an angry culture? Even more challenging: how are Christians to engage a culture that increasingly hates Christians?
As followers of Christ we must first be careful to not normalize anger ourselves. When surrounded by so much anger and with so much anger being 'justified' today, it is quite easy, if we are not careful, to become like the culture.
After all, we have our rights and feelings too. Right?
Yes and no.
Yes, we do have rights given to us by our Creator. Yes, we have constitutional rights. However, this is not to say that 'because the culture is hostile and angry and outraged that we have the 'right' to 'fight fire with fire.' We are to be different.
Consider the first Christians in Rome. The Roman Christians, were a small minority group, living on the margins of culture. They were profoundly misunderstood. The city of Rome was massive by ancient standards. The Eternal City, the capitol of the Empire, had a population of one million people, most all of whom were pagan idolators and absolutely lived contrary to the teachings of Christ.
Paul wrote these words to them under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit: "Do not be conformed to this world,but be transformed by the renewal of your mind..."-Romans 12:2a
Did you catch that? Don't be conformed (don't be squeezed like putty into the shape of the culture/world system), but instead, by transformed from the inside out, a metamorphosis, by the renewing of your mind, by the Word of God.
The reality is, God calls us to a profoundly counter-cultural life. Jesus told His followers that they were to love their enemies and to pray for those who persecuted them. Those were not 'symbolic' words, but a direct command. This is the way of Jesus.
I did not say it was easy. Jesus Himself did not say it was easy. I did not claim to have it mastered either. I am a work in progress, but I am very aware that this is what my King expects of me and of all who profess His Name.
We are to be a people who love God first and foremost, with all of our being, and that means we elevate nothing and no one above Him. He is our greatest treasure and greatest love. The more we grow in that love for Him the more we grow in our desire to obey Him. Jesus Himself said 'if you love me, you will keep my commandments.' (John 14:15). if we don't take His commandments seriously or try to rationalize our sin, there is a profound problem in our walk with Him.
Jesus said the second greatest commandment was to love our neighbors as ourselves. Who is our neighbor? Everyone. That 'everyone' includes people who do not like us, even those who hate us.
Christianity never claims to be 'easy,' by the way. We can only live the life we are called to if we are first regenerated, born again, and then, only as we are continually filled with the Spirit, abiding in Christ, His Word dwelling in us richly....we cannot do this in our own strength. He must do this work in us.
So, how are we to respond in Angry Times? We are to give the world Jesus. We are to show them Jesus. We are to show one another Jesus. We are to walk in gospel humility and we are to live for our King and the blessing of others. We are to proclaim the Truth in love, even if we are hated for it. We are to pray for others. We are to love and we are to forgive and we are to be the most gracious people on the face of this planet because we have received the most incredible gift of grace imaginable through Jesus Christ. We are to turn the other cheek. We are to overlook offenses. It is to our glory to do so. We are to pursue unity and love among our brothers and sisters and we are to show this world just how glorious our Savior is by doing all of this.
We cannot do this and be angry, like our culture, at the same time. These are two diametrically opposed ways of living and relating.
This is not to say there is not a 'righteous anger.' We can and should be angry about some things! We should be angered by the state-sanctioned slaughter of innocents in abortion clinics. We should be angered by the abuse of women and children, by human trafficking and actual incidents of racism, to name but a few things. And yet...in that anger, we are not to sin.
How did the early Christians turn an empire upside down? They lived radically different lives. They lived for their King, Jesus. They rescued and cared for children who (literally) were thrown away. They cared for widows and orphans. They loved one another as Jew, Greek, free, slave, barbarian and educated, rich and poor, men and women, showed that in Christ, they were all one. They prayed. Oh, how they prayed. They also suffered. They gave their culture a visual of the sufferings of Christ every time one of them was martyred. They did not 'fight fire with fire.'
What a radical idea at the time. What a radical idea it still is. Meaning: they did not 'win the day' by becoming like the culture, rather it was their counter cultural way of living that impacted a very lost culture. It was following Jesus and becoming more and more like Him.
So, as you and I walk through these times on an individual level and corporately as a church, as brothers and sisters, we must not fall into the trap of becoming like the culture. This nation desperately needs Christ. The people around us need to see Him. They need to experience Him. They need to hear about Him. They need to see the reality of what Christ can do in people's lives.
May they see all of that and more, in us, for the glory of God and the blessing of many.
Grace to You,