April 14, 2014

Avoiding The Flashpoint I: Don't Add Fuel To the Fire

Welcome to Pain In Truth, Inc. Just as other posts in the past have torn me up and exposed my wretchedness and sin...so too this one. As I did this study, it hurt. As I did this study I was plagued with guilt. It was a painful introspective look at myself that I’d rather not have made. But God has forced me into many uncomfortable situations in the past and He seems to be continuing more of the same by marching me through the mire of my own sinful life. I was forced to look at my own sin in detail and in the end I realize I need to repent of it...continually.

Writing this I realize that I am guilty of not doing what I write here and that is exactly why I write. I am also guilty of doing some of these things that I should not be doing. It is a biblical study to improve myself first and foremost. To say this sin has been conquered in my life would be a lie and the utmost in Christian hypocrisy. To say this sin is still conquering me might be a more accurate statement. The only thing that leads me to believe otherwise is that the Bible says that sin will no longer have victory over me if I am a true Christian. So every day I battle my sin and attempt to reckon myself dead to it. I attempt through prayer and Holy Spirit bolstered restraint, to not let sin reign in my body and life. Every day I try to present myself to God as a usable instrument to further His glory. Every day I try...and every day I fail again.

So as you read temper your thoughts with this presupposition. You as reader should also consider you might be guilty also. Perhaps not with the same sin as I but a sin just the same. As a point of brutal honesty I must admit that I have often put others through long-suffering with my sinful and fallen antics. One needs only talk to my wife. It has only been through the help of the Holy Spirit that I have been able to gradually work through longstanding problems and attempt to dislodge entrenched sin to get it out of my life. It is clearly an ongoing battle that some days…just gets the better of me and kicks my rear end.

Long-suffering is such a strange and archaic word. It is no longer an everyday word. It has dropped dramatically from use and has been replaced in most modern Bible translations with the word patience. I believe it is because we are an impatient and disposable society. We want things now and we constantly want them new. Long-suffering is another word for long patience and is a virtue needed more than ever when impatience, intolerance, over-sensitivity, political correctness and rash anger has become so prevalent. We live in an age where anger that can escalate to violence and destruction if left unabated. Anger is rarely righteous anger as much as we try to fool ourselves that it is. Most anger is just a manifestation of our sinful selfish nature.

Galatians 5:22-23 ~ But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (NKJV).

When we look at the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians they are listed as love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. The reason Paul groups these together is because they work together. Long-suffering in the Greek is μακροθυμία / makrothumia. This is a compound word made of μακρο/makro or macro meaning long, large or broad and θυμία/thumia meaning to burn slowly as if to produce smoke. In other words it is a low burning fire that is not prone to burst into raging flame or in the case of our context…an anger that is not impulsive and easy to explode and pepper everyone in earshot. In short it is a perfect illustration of long-suffering.

We are therefore not prone to spiral to high temperatures quickly or become ill-tempered. We are not of aggressive temperament. We are slow to burst into full-blown anger. We don’t blow-up or snap-out on people for trivialities. Understanding this I quickly arrive at the conclusion that my anger is not justified. There is no place in a Christian’s life for explosive and corrosive anger. I am mortified (as are many men) that I often battle with this emotion. As a matter of fact, Paul was abundantly clear that explosive anger is a no-no in 2 Corinthians.

2 Corinthians 12:20 ~ “For I fear lest, when I come, I shall not find you such as I wish, and that I shall be found by you such as you do not wish; lest there be contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, back-biting, whisperings, conceits, tumults…”

Let’s face it, we men overreact. I certainly do. When we think we’ve been wronged we are quick to become defensive. Once a comment or remark is viewed as malicious or snide we are often on the defensive and prepared to strike back verbally to defend our "honor".

If you are like me, I carried a lot of inner anger from my past into my walk with Christ and there was no room for it here. Every small hurt or grudge that I didn't forgive added to a warehouse of anger I was keeping stockpiled unawares. The slightest frustration or irritation eventually started bringing that anger to the surface and into the open. This erosion of patience snowballs until the anger is no longer restrained and is left on full display all the time. Once anger trips over into the open, it is the nature of anger to exhaust itself before it stops. Eventually there was a cliff event or moment where I turned openly bitter and this just had to go, even if it meant getting help from others. Anger is a choice. Anger is usually always a sinful choice. God forbids retaliation and revenge. We are not to repay evil with evil.

Romans 12:17-19 ~”Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord

The Bible is absolutely clear, we are to forgive. We must forgive or we will not be forgiven (Matthew 6:14-15).

Hardly anyone will admit they hate other people for something even though they are probably doing it on a daily basis (maybe even right now). Hate (lack of love) takes on many forms. It is rare someone does not at least detest someone else at any given moment. To not love is hate pure and simple. To not love is to not have forgiven. Therefore the one you have not forgiven...you are hating...period...end of sentence. In this situation you have pitted yourself against God...and you will lose. True love suffers long and kind. Anything less…well, it is hate. I’m guilty, I admit it. This is why I need Christ and I recognize this fact. What is worse is that I am guilty every day. So then I need Christ anew...every single day. Perhaps not in an extreme way everyday...but guilty none the less on all days. Sin is still sin no matter what window dressing we attempt to put on it. We're all guilty of sin and that window to the soul is a broken pane of glass just waiting to cut us every which way to Sunday and cause us pain. Don't let it!

Love on the other hand suffers. It will continue to suffer too. It gives love and expects none in return. It is often the case that love is indeed not reciprocated. I've been on both ends of this and both ends stink to high Heaven in God's nostrils. True love will continue to love even when none is given back. We see this in God’s love towards sinners and the sacrificial love of true Christianity when it is displayed properly. Just like it was displayed on the Cross.

1 Corinthians 13:4-5 ~ “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up;5 does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil…

Often I wonder if what I feel for others is really love. These are stiff and uncompromising demands of love and they really aren’t even demands. These things should flow naturally from the heart that loves and I find that they often do not come from my sinful and fallen heart. Does this come from within you towards the people you claim to love and say you love?

Why does it matter? It matters because our thoughts precede our actions. Where the mind leads, the body follows. If there is no kindness in our hearts towards another person…there will be no love either. The good doctor Luke cites a statement from Jesus when he writes the following in his Gospel.

Luke 6:45 ~ “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.

It therefore makes it imperative that we examine ourselves with a fine-tooth comb and be critical of, or suspect of any thought towards another person that is not in some way bringing glory to God. Are my thoughts and actions motivated by respect and honor for another person? Am I being compassionate and understanding or impatient and intolerant? I find myself far too often on the wrong side of this question even with some people in my own family. If my motivations find their source in resentment, intolerance or bitterness…rest assured, Satan is close by snickering with festering yellow teeth and wringing his gnarled hands together. He and his minions know their job of destruction and chaos is in play at that moment. They need only feed and fan the flame until it is a complete conflagration.

I must be slow to burst into flame. I must more readily forgive. I must be full of grace and mercy and devoid of unkindness and spite. If I begin to lack the fruits of the Spirit in one form or another...I am probably beginning to lack the Spirit Himself.

Brother James was even more concise and to the point. James minced no words.

James 1:19 ~ “So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath…”

Yet...I continue to struggle to believe I am being wronged on nearly a daily basis. I realize that I value myself too greatly if I believe I deserve any respect whatsoever. To believe I should be treated better by others assumes I have some intrinsic value. The only value I really have is what God gives me. I should probably humble myself most times and remain silent. Except when God Himself is being maligned or dishonored I generally have no reason to escalate to indignant anger. Even then…God is capable of defending Himself and defending the honor of His own name. Perhaps sometimes that defense of apologetic could be through me…but it isn’t like He really needs me to verbally duke it out with an atheist or a pagan. God’s arms are long enough to KO anyone or anything. Man’s arms are too short to box with God.

So what I find in hindsight is my anger directed towards others even in the form of frustration is never justified….ever. I must avoid the satanic accelerants. I should respond with alarm to my ire being raised out of control and extinguish the source of said anger or irritation. I must avoid combustible situations whenever possible and not start lighting matches and making incendiary comments.

Solomon knew these things and wished to pass on what he knew in his God-given wisdom.

Proverbs 14:29~“He who is slow to wrath has great understanding, but he who is impulsive exalts folly.”

Proverbs 15:18~“A wrathful man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger allays contention.”

Proverbs 19:11~ “The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, and his glory is to overlook a transgression.

So what do I do with this knowledge now that I have it? Guess I’ll have to write another post about it.

[The sad addendum to this post is that I failed again today three days after writing it. Sin stinks and can be nearly impossible to remove from one's life]

{Continued in Next Post}

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