Overcoming Anger in the Home
Welcome back on this Wednesday. We have often taken up the topic of anger on the podcast. And that’s because we get a lot of questions on anger — hundreds of questions over the years on anger. Last time we looked at one dimension — namely, getting mad at God when life doesn’t turn out the way that we had hoped. Is it ever virtuous or righteous or godly or innocent or even morally neutral to feel heartfelt anger at God? That’s the question we took up last time, on Monday in APJ 1828. But most of our emails on anger are in the context of the home. In wondering what Pastor John has said here, I searched the sermon archive and found this clip that I want to play for you today. It’s for dads. And it’s a reminder of how a dad’s anger in the home kills the kindness and the tenderheartedness he is called to display to his family. So how do we confront the powerful and seemingly unstoppable force of anger inside the home? Here’s Pastor John with a wonderful gospel answer in a clip taken from one of his 2007 sermons. Here he is, talking about the fatherhood of God.
So here he is, as our Father, and he has never done us wrong or done anything to give us a legitimate cause for anger, and the relationship is broken with everybody in the world. Whose fault is it? It’s man’s fault. It’s always our fault. It’s always our fault when the relationship breaks down between us and God — always.
Pattern for Fatherhood
Now, here’s the point: Who takes the initiative to fix that? Our Father in heaven does, at the price of his Son’s life. This is not a small, “Well, I’m going to give it a little try here to see if I can save my children.” This is the Father and the Son, from all eternity, knowing our rebellious anger against him and saying, “Son, we’re not going to let them go. We will not let our elect go. We will do everything it takes to have them in this family and have them happy.”
“The gospel is the only hope for child-rearing.”
Now I mention it, dads, because that’s our pattern. And it was all our fault. It’ll never be all your children’s fault when they give you trouble. Some, but not all. And therefore, the call to be like God to our children will be more warranted than if we were perfect fathers. And even if we were perfect fathers, the knock on the door would still be, “I would like to talk to the man of the house, and we’ll work on this.” We will lay our lives down to have these children back, and to have them free from anger, and to have them whole emotionally and moving into their own little nests whole.
Now, I said I would point you back to the way Paul worked with anger. Turn to Ephesians 4:31–5:2. This text is a model for fathers and how to attack the anger in the family — in himself, in his children, in his wife. Let’s start reading at 4:31. “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another . . .” (Ephesians 4:31–32). Now stop right there. That’s all command — and as command, powerless.
You go to a dad who’s angry in this church tonight and say, “Stop feeling that way.” He’ll look at you like, “You mean you want me to fly? It doesn’t work.” That’s what he would say, probably, if you just said, “Stop the anger” — or like Paul, “Put it away.” That’s powerless. But the next phrase is all power: “. . . as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). There’s the only hope, dads. The gospel is the only hope for child-rearing.
“A soul that has shriveled up to one solitary emotion, anger, can begin to melt under the smile of God.”
The main issue in making kids mad is that we’re mad. And if we’re going to pull the plug on our anger, this is it. I don’t know any other Christ-exalting answer to how to overcome anger than to do it the way Paul says here. “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you” (Ephesians 4:31). Reverse it. Let there be kindness and tenderheartedness — those other sweet emotions that are being slaughtered by the anger. Replace the anger with tenderheartedness, and forgive one another. And then here it comes: “as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).
So according to the text, God doesn’t just come to us dads and say, “Stop being angry, and stop provoking your kids to anger — period. I mean it. I’m God. Do what I say.” That’s not the gospel. What God says is this: “From eternity, I planned to save you. My Son and I, in a covenant of redemption, agreed to do it. I’m going to let him go. He’s going to die. He’s going to rise again.” For every dad who will look away from himself to Christ to see the punishment he deserves and the righteousness God requires, and who will receive all that precious, glorious treasure — at that moment, God says, “I am totally for you, forever.”
And out of that forgiveness, out of that right standing, out of that sweet, tenderhearted experience of the living God folding me like a father into his family, you know what can happen, dads? A soul that has shriveled up to one solitary emotion, anger, can begin to melt under the smile of God. It can happen. It will happen.