The Way of Cain, part 2; Controlling Our Anger

Writing about self-discipline in The Book of Virtues, William J. Bennett says, “There is much unhappiness and personal distress in the world because of failure to control [one’s] temper . . . ‘Oh, if only I had stopped myself,’ is an all too familiar refrain.”   Our study of the sins of Cain reminded us again of the danger of anger. How well do you control your emotions?  Or do they control you?  The battle we face is not new.

I.  Read again from Genesis 4.  After his unacceptable sacrifice, Cain was approached by God because Cain’s anger was showing.  Gen 4:6-7 – So the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen?  7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.”

A. These verses will form the focus of our study tonight. The Lord speaks to Cain because He recognizes the danger Cain is in.  Much the same way that Jesus speaks directly to His apostles in the garden of Gethsemane.  Matt 26:41Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”   The apostles did not know the danger they were in, or how far Satan would take them into sin. So Cain does not understand how Satan can use his anger against him.  So God intervenes.

B.  Someone has said that this is one of the first biblical expositions of human accountability and God’a authority.” 

1.  If you do well, will you nor be accepted? ”  How can I know that God approves of me? If we do what is right we can be assured that God approves of us. This is not to suggest that we live before God through perfect obedience or that our salvation is based upon on our flawless lawkeeping.  If Jesus does not provide for my forgiveness I am doomed to be lost. As was Cain.

a.  But we are responsible. That is what Cain needed to hear at this point.   There are many who need to hear this today. They are experiencing the effects of their own sinful choices. God is looking for them to do what is right, so that He can approve of them. But they must first be willing to face their own transgressions and respond according to truth.

2.  “If you do not do well, sin lies at the door” Notice the simple dichotomy of morality. You either do well (what is right) or you do not do well (what is wrong). These are the choices that confront us. Any degree of a relative morality flies in the face of God’s words here.  

a.  Cain had not done what was right, but he could do right now. We can always make the choice to do what is right; and God will always honor that.

II. Dealing with Anger:  God is calling on Cain to confront his emotions (his countenance was evidence that he was experiencing intense emotion of anger.  But is anger sin?

A.  Not all anger is sin.  I am convinced that Cain anger here was unjustified. He was angry at the presence of righteousness (being angry with God).  But the Bible teaches that there are times when we should be angry.

1.  God is angry at times:  Hebrews 3:1111 So I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest.'” .  Jesus was angry when he drove out the moneychangers from the temple and at times at the stubbornness of the Pharisees (Mark 3:5).   Henry Ward Beecher said, “A man that does not know how to be angry does not know how to be good. A man that does not know how to be shaken to his heart’s core with indignation over things evil is either a fungus or a wicked man.”

2.   Eph. 4:26 – “Be angry, and do not sin”: do not let the sun go down on your wrath”.   In Paul’s analysis he commands us to not sin in our anger.  His recipe for dealing with anger is to not allow anger to fester into resentment – do not let the sun go down without resolving it.  

a.   Both rage and resentment are sinful.  Rage is uncontrolled, violent fury. Paul writes, “Get rid of bitterness, rage and anger” (Ephesians 4:31); and he cites “fits of rage” as the product of the flesh.  (Galatians 5:20).

B. Can anger be controlled?   We tend to think of anger as an instinctive, reflexive, unconscious, biological reaction beyond our control. Must we then hold ourselves responsible?  We must. God does.

  • Proverbs 16:3232 He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, And he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.
  • Proverbs 29:1111 A fool vents all his feelings, But a wise man holds them back.
  • Proverbs 14:29 – 29 He who is slow to wrath has great understanding, But he who is impulsive exalts folly.   The proverbs are filled with instruction toward controlling our emotions, as it is a sure indication of wisdom – and the lack of control is identified with the fool.

C.   The Components of Anger:  Studies on anger support what the Bible has been saying all along: Anger can be controlled and sanctified through truth.

1.  Anger involves four components: (1) the activating experience (a crying baby, a tardy spouse, a thoughtless remark); (2) an inner emotional reaction to the threat; (3) a series of thoughts that either augment or mitigate the anger; and (4) an outer behavioral response.  Notice that these components involve  our emotions, thinking, and our actions.  These components are so intertwined that we experience them as one continuous surge. That’s why we tend to think of anger as an emotion beyond our control. We lose hope for change because we lose sight of the thinking and behaving components of anger and focus on the physiological surge of emotion – how we feel at the moment.

2.  How we respond to the initial emotion is determined by the thinking that takes place in the process. The intensity of our anger is based on those thoughts. We reach the stage of towering rage because we permit our thoughts to drive us to it.  

a.  So our behavior is determined by our thinking.     This is nothing new. The Bible makes it clear that any progress toward godliness is the result of proper thinking. Our thought life is the key element in emotional and behavioral control, and that control grows as we acquire additional truth on which to set our minds. We are what we think.  This is not esoterical, but highly practical. Matthew 12:35 –  35 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things.

D.  Doing What is Right:  James is very helpful here. James 1:19-2019 So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; 20 for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.   

a.   First notice that James says human anger does not work the righteousness of God. It does not lead us in the right direction, and cannot be trusted to do what is right. How many times have you been glad you flew off the handle and lashed out at someone?

b.   James’ command is for us to be slow to speak , and slow to becoming angry. I must first recognize that I am getting angry – acknowledge that to yourself and others. We do not do this because we view getting angry as sin – or see it as a weakness. This is Satan’s tool to keep us from confronting what is right before us – the elephant in the room.

c.    Slow to speak  – Slow to Anger…When we recognize the presence of anger then we must slow down the escalating nature of this emotion.  Plutarch, the Roman playwright, had one of his characters say to the emperor, “Remember, Caesar, whenever you are  angry, say or do nothing until you have repeated the four-and-twenty letters [of the alphabet] to yourself.”  – count to ten – walk away – call a time out.  “Anger is the anesthetic of the mind,” C.S. Lewis said. Once a certain point is reached rationality goes out the window. It’s important to slow our thought processes down and begin to analyze how we’re thinking.  When stop speaking we naturally slow down the process and give ourselves time to think – which is the key to doing what is right.

d.   Quick to listen…  listen to what God has to say and think about His words. That’s what James means by being “quick to listen.”

  • Note the context: “He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of all he created. My dear brother, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:18-19).
  •  Listen to what? Listen to the “word of truth,” an idea he elaborates in verse 22: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”     What we must do is slow our thinking down and mentally challenge our thoughts — correct the lies that inform our thoughts and replace them with truth.   

e.  The truth that God provides is not just what to do – but also what to think.  Paul admonishes us to think on the things that make for peace and purity. 

  • Phil 2:1-4Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, 2 fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. 3 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. 4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.
  • Phil 4:6-8  Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;  7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.   8 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy — meditate on these things.

f.   Its not all about me. When it is then I will have anger and conflict  James 4:1-2 –  What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God.  We should listen to God’s voice and challenge our self-pity,  self absorbtion, and jealousy and replace them with truth.

Conclusion:  Controlling anger is not easy or automatic. It takes time to get control of our emotions. But God demands it.  We must be patient with God while he brings it about.

  • As we learn truth we will begin to develop a mind-set that will react properly to threats.  
  • As our hearts become increasingly convinced that God loves us  and we put our faith in him  we will find ourselves less inclined to react emotionally to indifference, criticism, or rebuke.
  •   The person who realizes that God is sovereign and controls all the details of life is less likely to get angry at 5:00 p.m. traffic. Men and women who know they are in God’s grip can be patient and calm in the face intimidation.

C.S. Lewis wrote : To rail is the sad privilege of the loser.  We are not losers, but more than conquerors through him that loved us.