Love Is Not Easily Angered (1 Corinthians 13:5)
by Ted Schroder
Love is not easily angered (NIV). Love is not touchy (JBP). Love is not irritable (NRSV). Love is not short-tempered. “Love puts a long fuse on our emotional bombs.” (Lewis Smedes) Love does not blow up at the least provocation. Love is calm under pressure. Love accepts responsibility for how we react to others. Love takes responsibility for how we feel and how we handle unjustified aggravation. We cannot be responsible for how others behave, but we can control how we respond to them. We do not blame how we behave on other people. We do not see ourselves as victims.
We recognize that life does not go smoothly. We take into consideration that interruptions will occur, that other people’s agendas and needs will compete with ours. We do not plan each moment of our day as though we have complete freedom to do what we alone want to do. We live in community. Other events, accidents, emergencies, telephone calls, emails, requests for our attention, will occur. We are not lone rangers, flying solo, with no one to please but ourselves. Love recognizes the context, the environment, the life situations, in which we live, and makes provision for them, so that we are not frustrated when we are confronted with unexpected demands upon us.
Self-absorption and perfectionism sets us up to be easily angered when our
needs are frustrated by the realities of life. The goal-setting, highly planned, purpose-driven life that does not allow for the needs of others, results in irritability. Irritability leads to anger. We get angry at every small obstacle that slows us down or gets in our way. We get angry at the telephone when it rings. We get angry at people who ask us to participate in another function. We get angry at the church or charity that asks us for financial support. We get angry at the person ahead of us in the checkout counter. We get angry at the driver in the car in front of us who doesn’t seem to know what she is doing. We get angry at the slow service in a restaurant. If only these people would know how important our time was they would be more considerate!!!!!
We are so self-centered that we think the world should revolve around us and our needs so that we do not have to wait or be slowed down on our mission in life. We get frustrated by not getting what we think we deserve. Sometimes we let our anger show. The mask slips, we lose control, and we let them have it. We become aggressive. We may lash out at others by letting them know how inconvenienced we are. We may indulge in sarcasm. Those who have little control revert to violence. Frustration turns to hostility, which expresses itself in violent behavior.
How does love prevent this problem of irritability and frustration?
Love recognizes the value of anger. Anger is not the problem. Anger shows that we care about something important. Anger shows that we are not indifferent to injustice. Anger may be justified. “In your anger do not sin.” (Psalm 44:4; Ephesians 4:26) Sin occurs when anger is prolonged and unjustified. God gets angry and has good reason to be so. When God looks at the world and all the sin, evil, and suffering caused by so many hateful people, he has a right to be angry. None of us is guiltless. We are all sinners, who need to take responsibility, repent and change our ways. But God is described as being “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.” (Psalm 103:8-10)
Love calls us to be “slow to anger.” Jesus models this for us in his trial before the high priest. He is struck in the face by one of the officials. That is provocation. Jesus responded by asking a question: “If I said something wrong, testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth why did you strike me?” (John 18:23) Jesus did not immediately blow up at the provocation. He did not take it lying down either. In a calm manner he confronted his tormentor with the injustice of his action. He did not want to give the devil a foothold by allowing anger to control him, even though he would have been justified in responding with anger. Jesus gives us the example of bearing up under the pain of unjust suffering (1 Peter 2:19). “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” (1 Peter 2:23)
Non-retaliation, restraining our desire to blow up, to pay back, to ventilate our frustrations, to express our anger in aggressive behavior, to lose our temper, can only happen when we admit that we have no power to help ourselves, and that losing control, and indulging our desire for revenge will only make matters worse. Instead, let God, who is sovereign over all things, take care of our antagonist in his time. “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written ‘It is mine to avenge, I will repay,’ says the Lord… Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:17-21)
Love enables you to see into the heart of the one who is harassing you. Love sees the anxiety, the fear, the pain, the defensive behavior, of the person who is controlled by anger. Love gives you the patience and kindness to endure the provocation of the person who is self-seeking, and who wants to be in control. Love pities the person who is out of control and is making a fool of himself. Love bites his tongue so that he does not say something that he might regret later. Love listens to hear what is not being said, what is behind what is being said. Love gives you the words to respond when you are confronted with bad temper.
The elder son in the parable of the prodigal son gets angry when his brother returns and his father throws a feast to celebrate his homecoming. He refused to go into the house and blew up at his father: “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours [note: he doesn’t refer to him as his brother] who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home you kill the fattened calf for him!”
His father could have given him a dressing down, he could have been irritated and frustrated by his older son’s petulance and selfishness, but instead, in love, he reached out to the sibling, who was hurt by the attention given to his younger brother. His father affirmed him and explained why he was doing what he was doing: “My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” (Luke 15:28-32)
If we are easily angered, if we are quick-tempered, if we have a touchy disposition, if we routinely get irritated, we are like this older brother, sulking outside the door because he is not the center of attention. It reveals a defect of character, a disease of the heart, that is a product of our sinful nature. It needs to be repented of, and healed by an influx of the love of Christ. We cannot change through trying to be better in our own strength. Only Christ can change us. This irritability has to be neutralized and overcome by the medicine of Christ and his transforming power. It is his love that we need, that is given by the infilling of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 5:5)
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