Being Careful to Let Not Anger Rule Our Hearts
Whenever the Apostle Paul lists out the “vices” in Ephesians or in another one of his letters a particular item which always strikes me as being in some sense the most personally damaging to the soul of an individual is without a doubt: bitterness. Yet the place where it really stands out to me when I am reading God’s word can be found in Paul’s sermon in the epistle to the Hebrews.
There in chapter twelve he says:
Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled; lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright.
It’s instructive that when Paul is looking for an example to help the people understand what he is getting on about here he goes back almost to the beginning of the history of Israel, the brother of Israel himself. Those familiar with the story know that Esau was hungry. Ironically the great hunter had no food to eat. So, what does he do? Entreat his brother to make him some stew and the price, which in hindsight is more precious than gold, is something which he felt like he did not need at the time. Take a second and think for a moment why this would be an image a Bible writer like Paul would turn to… For it really shouldn’t take much time to see the wisdom here. What Esau did was not just silly in the moment, it was self-defeating in the long term. His hatred of God manifested itself in the way he considered Jacob, and himself.
The larger context of what the apostle is writing about here is the way the believer deals with suffering in the Christian life. His particular concern is that the lover of Jesus recognize that to be embittered towards those who are persecuting them only gives the tormentor power over them. While it is true to say that we are to rise above pettiness that is definitely one of those truths that is more easily said than done. Our minds are not necessarily drawn towards grace as people we are in conflict with are engaged in doing the kinds of things that really get our goat. Of course, no one reading this in America is really going through any kind of real persecution. When we think of those things that we deal with they really pale in comparison to what brothers and sisters in Christ are living through as they faithfully follow the call of the gospel. The kinds of things that divide believers in churches across our land are beyond trivial. One of the stories preachers share with each other every now and then is how individuals in their congregations are at odds over issues that in the scheme of things are not really that important. Me personally, the most vicious argument I ever witnessed during a congregational discussion was when I was in junior high school when men nearly came to blows over where to mount speakers in the sanctuary. I mean, it does matter when it comes to acoustics and the like, but as the kids say today that sounds like a first world problem. That bitterness of heart towards a brother or sister does nothing but make the church look bad in the eyes of the world. If Christians can’t get along over matters that don’t seem to rise to questions of eternal import, what exactly are we doing here?
Consider again Esau.
What does his bitterness towards his brother lead to down the line? In the wilderness wandering the people of God came upon the Edomites, the descendants of Esau, as they neared the land of promise. Instead of allowing the Israelites access, they were forced to go around Mount Seir, because the Edomites sought not to help their relations. What did this generational bitterness lead to? Eventually to the destruction of the people of Edom and ultimately their acting as servants to the Hebrews in the kingly reign of David. What had all this personal anger led to for Esau and his descendants? Anything good?
Well, I think the answer is obvious for those with ears to hear.
To close out our consideration of the matter let us bring it forward to a little self-reflection, which is always a dangerous thing. Being our own accuser is not a position many are familiar with. However, Paul in the portion of his letter that we quoted at the beginning notes that part of the reason why Esau was in the position that he was in is because in the time of his trouble he could think of nothing more than to satisfy himself, whatever he had to give up to receive it. For this other son of Isaac it was in effect the totality of his life. It may not seem like that the refusal to allow ourselves to be disadvantaged can have that big of a result, but we give up so much when we miss who exactly it is we are disagreeing with. Both Esau and Jacob were members of the covenant family of God, it was not as if these two men were from different parts of the world, they were literally crib brothers. Of course we have to remember that Jacob was obviously not without his own sin. The scheme drawn up by Rebekah is something else, but irrelevant to the situation. Esau is responsible for himself. In one sense it’s not Jacob’s fault that Esau takes the route of allowing the trial of the moment to change the direction of his life. That comes precisely because Esau had allowed the bitterness of his own heart to make everything be seen through that lens of rage and animosity. The Book of Proverbs (as it usually does) has something to say about that, Solomon writes, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” and as you can imagine Jesus also has a word for us to hear, “And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”, and we’ll let the Lord’s brother have the last word, “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.”
Consider these things.
Blessings in Christ,
Rev. Benjamin Glaser
Pastor, Bethany ARP Church