The Secret to the Christian Life

Do you still get angry? Do you fight with others in actuality or even in your own mind? Do you know why? I do. And I think you can stop. In fact, I think your whole life can change if you can understand two verses of the Bible. 

James 4:1-2 “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask.”

The secret to the Christian life, that is, the answer to the question: How shall we then live, is given in these two verses.

James is writing to Christians in a church. They are fighting with each other pretty intensely over something or other. What is it? It doesn’t matter. They should not be treating each other this way, because they should not be feeling so murderous and angry. 

Why are they feeling murderous and angry? Because they have “passions” at war within them.  

This is “lusts” right? No. It’s the word for “pleasures,” the same word we get our word “hedonism” from. My translation:

“Why do you fight? You want pleasure, and your desire for pleasure is at war with another one of your desires for pleasure, AND, with someone else’s desire for pleasure.

So, desire for pleasure is wrong? Sure, if you don’t want to have any enjoyment of life at all. But is that what you want? Is that what God wants for you? You might be thinking: “No, God wants me to have pleasure in him.”

But how will you do that if you shut down your pleasure mechanism, which is what you’d have to do. You’d have to train yourself to be stoic. If you’re stoic, you won’t take the right kind of delight in God.

So, desire for pleasure must not be wrong, and I guess I can take pleasure in some things.

Ok, logically, that must be true. So it’s ok that we take pleasure in some things. So how is it that our pleasures get at war inside us and with others? 

I think it is because we have not done the hard work of prioritizing our life and values.

Pleasure is something I get when I gain something that I value: God, success, sex, cake, something beautiful, lot’s of things. The lack of pleasure comes from not getting those things when I’d like them, or losing them when I had them. It feels bad. It feels like pain, or depression. It should feel bad. This is not sinful.

So here’s how I do it: I set priorities logically based on what I perceive to be the facts of reality and causality. These are the things that I value, that is, the things that I act to gain or to keep. I make sure these things are the proper things for the way God has called me to live. 

It starts with my ultimate purpose: To enjoy and glorify God. He is my highest value. If I were thrown in a dirty dungeon to starve to death, I’d still have my highest value. You want your highest value to be the hardest thing for anyone to take away.

My penultimate purpose is my life: I believe in the biblical principle stewardship, so I believe life is not about what you have, but what you do with what you have. The most basic thing I have is my life. While I am on earth, I value staying alive and enjoying it if I can without corrupting my other values. Because of this, my next value is…

My health: I can’t do any of the important things of life if I not only don’t stay alive, but don’t have any strength or energy.

My work: I have to produce something in order to provide for me and my family. You could convince me that my family is a higher value than my work, but in the sense that I would tell a young man who wants to find a wife and have a family that he needs to get a job first, I put producing as a higher priority. If I don’t, all the Millers (that’s me and my wife and kids) die. I also put handling finances/investing in this category, and any mundane daily work as well. I put dishes, diapers, home repairs, and lawn work in this category. Work is producing some kind of order. But this would not justify workaholism, because my next value is…

My wife: Marriage has to be attended to. It is such an important part of joyful life and it brings attention and glory to God. I want my marriage to be fulfilling, and encouraging. Romance, connection, and cooperation are the key areas of focus and all equally important.

My Children: The kids come before any other relationships outside the marriage. I won’t put friends, church members, or extended family before my kids. The areas of focus in order of importance are: Their faith, love between us, character training, education. I suppose I might put my home in this category as well, because my home is the place for my family to live.

My church: For me, this is mixed up in my work, since I am a pastor, but I still try to think of my church as my church family separate from thinking of my job as the pastor of that church. Otherwise, worshiping on Sunday with my church family feels more like work and less like gathering with my brothers and sisters in the local expression of the worldwide Body of Christ. One is not restful, the other is.

Service to the community, the poor, and my geographical neighbors: This is not optional for Christians. We make time for it after the other things. If you are tempted to put this before the stuff above, seriously rethink that logically.

Extended family: They technically come before service to the community, but none of mine live close.

Leisure: Reading and playing the piano are my leisure activities. I don’t have time for any others (well, Mario Cart with my kids too), although there are things I would do if I had much more time (fishing, golfing, playing softball, singing in a choir).

Nice things: Having something I like is a bonus, but not a huge priority. I’d like a nicer car (I have 2006 Hyundai), but I value financial freedom more.

That’s the main stuff. To get any of it out of order will cause confusion, a war of pleasures/passions. For instance. I say I value family over reading. If I am trying to read more than I really have time to, and one of my kids is trying to get my attention, I might blow up on him. If I am aware of my value priorities, then I would get the proper pleasure from putting my book down, a lesser value, and talking to my child, a greater value.

Some of these values could seem like they are equal and need to be balanced as though they were. What I mean is, they are all important when it is possible to have them all in the course of your regular life. Work is really important, but things get messed when you cross a line into the other really important things in your life. So you balance intelligently based on your true and righteous values. You pick your values based on principles. If you currently don’t feel like making your health a high priority, then you need to readjust based on logic, not on what you feel like. If you don’t feel like putting your wife ahead of your friends, then you need to readjust your values based on logic, based on truth, based on what you thought was best when you were in your right mind with God with some space for visioning and planning.

Have you taken space for visioning and planning? Do it. Figure out what is important, and make those things important. Your “pleasures” will begin to align with your values in the right order. They won’t be at war with each other, because each of your values will know its proper place. Your emotions, the pleasure and pain mechanisms, will begin to serve you. This is the secret to never having “fights and quarrels.” It is the secret to a peaceful enjoyment of a powerful and productive life abundant. It is a life that glorifies God and brings a smile to the face of your good Father in heaven, who loves you very much.

How Jesus Restores Mankind Pt. 2 The Sermon on the Mount – Anger

To hear Jesus talk about the ways of the kingdom of God must have been frustrating to the unsaved, as it is today.  But having accepted salvation and received the Holy Spirit, we can see Jesus’s teaching as more than just the proof that we need a savior.  We can see it as the ways and laws of living the abundant life of Christ.  Let’s look at some of the key themes of Jesus’ teaching on how to live life.  We’ll take a look at the sermon on the mount. The scope of these articles won’t allow us to hit every part of it, but just a look at a few key points will tell us a lot. Today, we’ll look at the way Jesus addresses anger, lust, and practicing religion.  

The Sermon on the Mount

Matthew 5-7

After the Beatitudes, which turn the normal assumptions about being blessed or happy upside down, Jesus takes his listeners through a profound set of “rules” designed to do two basic things. The first is to change their thinking from managing their outward behavior, to managing their inward orientation. And the second, which is related, is to get them to see how much of their life, even their religious and moral life, is spent on trying to impress other people. Jesus says in Matthew 5:14-16 that his disciples are to be the light of the world, so that others can see them, and see the way to God.  But at the same time, you’ll see in a minute that we are not supposed to do things to be seen.  Which is it?  We’ll come back to this question.

Anger 

Jesus really gets going about heart and behavior when he addresses anger in the next section.  

21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire” (Mt 5:21-22).

All the Jews, like most people, know that it is wrong to kill people. It was part of their ten most important and fundamental commandments.  But Jesus is much more radical than everyone else.  He says effectively, “If you are angry, it is the same thing as murder.” Why? Because it comes from the same place.  How am I never supposed to get angry?  You can explain this in a lot of ways, and people have. “Jesus got angry in the temple at the money changers”. Or, “The Bible says be angry and do not sin” (Eph 4:26).  But all of this is an attempt to avoid the plain instruction here.  If Jesus is saying this, then there must be some way in which we can obey this teaching.  More importantly, there must be something about obedience to Jesus on this issue that is good for us. There must be something about it that relates to the kind of life that Jesus refers to when he promises that he came so that we could have life, and have it abundantly (Jn 10:10).  

Most people see the sermon on the mount as an unattainable set of laws that Jesus gives us so that we will know we need him to save us. They say that he is trying to show people that, not only are they not righteous, but that they cannot be.  But what if that isn’t true?  The authors of Scripture tell us again and again that we should be righteous. Jesus said that unless we are more righteous than the Pharisees, we won’t enter the kingdom (Mt 5:20).  He said we must be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect (Mt 5:48).  So could it be true that we could look at the commands like this one to not be angry as some part of the good news?  Can you imagine not becoming angry?  Does anger ever feel good?  

To be clear, Jesus, who was perfect, did sometimes get indignant. It is true that he got fired up when the money changers were misusing his father’s house and exploiting guilt of the people who came to the temple to worship.  He got indignant when the disciples wouldn’t allow people to bring to him their children for blessing.  I don’t think that is what Jesus is talking about here.  He’s talking about taking things personally and getting angry because of it.  How in the world does one manage to avoid taking things personally?  It’s about the worldview, which comes with a right view of yourself.  

Picture this.  There is a guy at work who is mean. He is rude to everyone and one day, he turns his rudeness toward you, in front of everyone.  He makes some comment that is meant to be a put down about some project that you worked hard on and did your best.  You get angry about it. What does it mean that he said that?  Does it meant that you did a poor job?  Consider that.  Maybe you did. Did you do your best?  Yes.  Was it good enough?  Maybe not in this case.  Why? Maybe you need more training.  Are you willing to correct it?  Yes.  In this case then, he may have been right in his criticism, but he was a jerk about how he said it.  Furthermore, he said it in front of the rest of the team, which made it much, much worse.  This is understandable, but it is important to figure out why that made it worse.  

First of all, he disrespected you.  So what?  That is his problem. You may need to call him on it, you may need to ignore it, but you absolutely must understand it.  Why does someone act that way?  It is because of his own feelings of insecurity that someone would look for someone else to put down, especially in front of others.  So what do we know?  You could have done a better job, but you still did your best.  You’ll need to address that.  But we also know that this man is insecure and he covers it up by talking down to coworkers.  If he can get an audience, even better, because other people are his means of self-evaluation and self-esteem.  Here is the secret: that’s got nothing to do with you. 

Yeah, but how on earth will you manage to control anger in the situation? But I didn’t say “control anger” and neither does Jesus. I’m talking about freedom.

As a follower of Christ, you and I can learn to see the world as Christ sees it, for what it is.  Reality.  Your feelings don’t tell you what reality is. They only tell you what you think deep down that reality is.  If you understand that, your feelings will become useful.  As soon as you fish out some lie you’ve believed by following a sinful feeling back to its source, you can develop a concept of the world that is true, and begin to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Ro 12:2).  This takes work. It takes time with God in the Word, and a courage to face reality about the way things truly are, and the way you still misunderstand that.  

In this situation you got angry. But you know from the Bible that this is a problem with the other guy and his own insecurities.  But because of your insecurities, the disrespect has got you ready to blow.  Maybe you also have a worldview of nonconfrontation and you aren’t going to blow up on him. Rather, you are going to go home and call your mom, or complain to your wife (just as bad), perhaps to all the coworkers when he’s not around, and maybe up the chain.  

You are going to do this because you think it will take away the hatred you have for yourself.  But it won’t. It’ll actually make it worse because you know this is a cowardly way of dealing with things.  

Step back and ask, “Why am I getting angry?”  You’ll find that this guy is pushing some very specific buttons.  He is reinforcing a false belief in you that you are no good.  Why do you think that?  Is it because you didn’t do as well on this project as you wanted?  Not fundamentally.  Fundamentally, you think, “Of course I didn’t do well. I’m no good.”  I don’t know why you think you’re no good, but I’d bet serious money that you learned that from a caretaker, and it really doesn’t matter who it was.  

When Jesus says, “Don’t be angry at your brother, because that’s how people get murdered,” he isn’t trying to give you another rule you can’t follow in order to confirm your suspicion that you’re no good. He’s trying to set you free. 

Anyone can go through life and manage to avoid murdering someone. Most people don’t want to go to jail.  But imagine that you did this hard work of following feelings back to the source, the lie.  When you see that you have a fundamental belief that you are no good, and you see that you got that belief from a specific source, deal with it. Spend as long as it takes, and do whatever it takes, but deal with it.  Start out by forgiving the caretaker. In fact, I’d recommend confronting them.  Say something like: “I know you were only doing what you thought was best when you loved me less than you should have because you were trying to control my behavior, but I have resented you for a long time, and I have suffered self-doubt and self-hatred because of it. It was wrong of you. But I forgive you.”  This is the most powerful thing you can do.  Jesus actually commands that we forgive others and says that we won’t be forgiven by God if we don’t (Mt 6:15). This is because if we are unwilling to forgive others, we have yet to believe God as needed to forgive us and has indeed forgiven us.  

Next, learn to abide in the presence of God by prayer, time in Scripture, mindfulness on God, and mindfulness on his ways and worldview.  Train your mind. 

8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil 4:8).

Counter lies with the truth.  When the coworker is rude, and a voice in your head says, “You’re a loser.” Ask yourself, “Is that rational? Is it biblical? Is it true?”  No? Then don’t believe it. One day it will happen. Something that usually would make you angry has zero effect on you.  

Besides rooting out your beliefs by following your feelings to their source, and besides forgiving the one who originally caused the source lie to root in, you also must learn to respond appropriately. Jesus’s command in the sermon on the mount mostly relates to how we view other people. God calls us to love others; our brothers, our neighbors, and our enemies.

How would you love this guy? Well, now you dont take things like this personally, so you can evaluate his words. Are they true? Yes? Listen then, and adjust for next time. Thank him for his feedback. Also, without anger, in love, speak the truth to him about how you’d like him to address you in the future. To be an image-bearer of God, you must be just. He should not necessarily be allowed to get away with this behavior, not because you are angry, but because it is wrong. It may be even better to do it when you witness him doing it to someone else. In that case, it won’t be tempting to take it personally. You are only righting a wrong.

Jesus said if your brother sins against you, tell him (Mt 18:15).  He also said to go to him alone first.  This means you don’t need to talk to the whole office, or the whole family about it first.  That is a cheap way to draw strength from others. But it’s a lie. You don’t gain strength of character by doing that. You avoid gaining strength of character.  You will grow exponentially when you begin to deal with your problems in a direct manner.  Getting into these habits will change you at the core. You are dying to yourself so that you can find your Self (Lk 9:24-25). You are losing your life to save your Life, that is your “abundant life” (Jn 10:10). You are becoming what you are in Christ, walking in the “newness of life” (Ro 6:4).  

If you will follow Jesus in this, then one day, you will find yourself unflappable. You will be able to become indignant at certain things, but they won’t undo you the way they used to. You won’t be angry in the sense that Jesus is talking about when he says it is the same as murder. Your view of God will be set in. Your view of the world will be set in, and your view of yourself will be proper. Tomorrow, we’ll look at Jesus’ teaching on lust