Righteous Anger 5.17.20
There are some commandments in the Bible that are absolute. You can never, ever go against certain commands. For example, love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind. That is an absolute commandment. One that you can never, ever break in any context. There is no situation in which you should break this command.
There are other commandments, though, that are not absolute. In some occasions, Christians can and should go against what it is that certain passages teach. Let me give you an example. Listen to what Psalm 37:8 says. The psalmist writes,
Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath
You can’t get anymore clear than that. This verse along with others says that we should, “Refrain from anger.” There are others. This suffices to demonstrate the point that the Bible prohibits people from getting angry.
The Bible has exceptions to this, though. That is going to be our topic of study this morning. The Bible indicates that in some situations we should not follow what Psalm 37:8 is teaching. On the contrary, there are some situations in which the righteous and moral response is to become angry. There are some situations that require us as Christians to become righteously angry. We are going to one of those situations in which Christians need to be righteously angry.
Go ahead and turn with me to Phil 3:1. Our passage this morning will be vv. 1–2. Thus saith the Lord,
Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you. Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.
This morning we’re transitioning to a new section in Philippians. This transition is indicated by the word “finally” at the beginning of v. 1. Another way to understand this word “finally,” is with the English word “further.” This new section begins in v. 1 and goes all the way down to v. 11. The next time we experience a section change in Philippians will be when we get to v. 12. In these next couple of weeks, we’re going to be exploring this section in Philippians. In this section, Paul is going to explain to us what a false understanding of salvation is based on—a salvation of works—and a correct understanding of salvation—salvation of Christ’s by grace through faith. And he introduces this section with our two passages this morning by expressing his anger towards those people in the first century who were teaching a salvation by works.
Paul’s Righteous Anger
Paul expresses righteous anger in vv. 1–2. And it’s that righteous anger that’s going to be our first point. So for our first point, write this, “Paul’s righteous anger.”
Rejoice in the Lord
We begin our examination of Paul’s righteous anger by looking at v. 1. Paul begins v. 1 with the exhortation,
Rejoice in the Lord.
At first it’s hard to see what Paul is doing here with this commandment as it does not seem to connect with what he says following this command. I take it, though, as connected to what Paul begins discussing in v. 7 through v. 8.
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.
Paul says “rejoice in the Lord” in v. 1 because, as we will see in the next coming weeks (not this week) that salvation is found only in Christ, as vv. 7–8 show. He begins his discussion of salvation found in Christ with this command to rejoice in Christ. Rejoirce in Christ is the expression of salvation found in him. What it is that Paul is about to discuss.
Is No Trouble to Me
Paul then says this,
To write the same things to you is no trouble to me
Paul is letting the Philippians know that he does not mind instructing them again (the content that is to follow in chapter 3) as to what they have already heard from him. We don’t know when Paul had talked to them about these matters before. If that came through a previous letter or through face-to-face correspondence, we do not know. But Paul had talked to them about these same matters.
Paul is simply saying that he is not bothered to have to repeat himself. Sometimes we all get bothered if we have to repeat ourselves. It’s like, “Didn’t you hear me the first time?” Paul’s not taking that approach. He is saying, “No big deal. I can repeat myself. It doesn’t bother me. It’s of no trouble to me.”
Is Safe for You
Paul doesn’t mind one bit. In fact, Paul says, it is in the best interest of the Philippians that Paul share these things. Paul says this, look again with me at the passage,
To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.
The Phillipians need Paul to remind them of these matters. The word “safe” here can also be understood as “safeguard.” For Paul to remind the Philippians of the matters that follow is a “safeguard” for them. It places them in a safer position had he not reminded them.
Now, why is it “safe,” why is it a “safeguard” for Paul to say these things to the Philippians. Well, were provided the answer to that question in v. 2. This verse reads,
Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.
Paul’s reminder of the Philippians of the matters to come are a “safeguard” because there are people in the Philippian community who are a threat to the Philippians. This threat is so great
that Paul commands the Philippians three times to “look out” for them.This verb for “look out” might be better understood as “beware of.” Paul is calling the Philippians to beware of certain people.
Paul does not specifically name these people, this group who the Philippians are supposed to look out for. He refers to them as “dogs,” “evil doers,” and “mutilators,” as we will see in a bit, but he does not fully specify who this group is. So, I need to fill in the lines here.
The group that Paul is addressing in Philippians are the “Judaizes.” This group receives attention elsewhere in the NT. Specifically, Paul speaks of them quite extensively in Galatians. If you want to read more on who this group was, go read Galatians 1–2.
The Judaizers were know for their teaching that in order to be a Christian, you had to follow some of the OT law. Specifically, the Judiazers taught that circumcision was necessary to be a Christian. The taught that certain portions of the OT were still binding even after Jesus came. In order to be saved, you had to be circumcised, you had to follow the OT law. That’s what they taught.
Paul makes mention of their practice of circumcision at the end of v. 2. Paul refers to them as “mutilators of the flesh.” Paul’s reference here is very graphic, dear friend. Paul is saying that this group, these Judiazers encourage men to mutilate their bodies.
Paul is even harsher in Gal 5:12. Listen to what he says there,
I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!
This group who is “unsettling” the Galatians is the same group who Paul is dealing with in our passage. And Paul wishes that these Judiazers would emasculate themselves. I’ll leave it up to you to discern what Paul is saying here. Paul has very harsh words for this group.
So, Paul referred to these Judiazers as “mutilators.” In kind of a backwards fashion, looking again at v. 2, Paul refers to this group as “evildoers.” The idea here is very easy to understand. Paul teaches that these Judiazers are workers of evil, the are workers of the devil. Their mission as Judizers was opposed to the work of the gospel. They were evil people engaged in an evil endeavor.
The last way Paul describes these Judiazers is with the title of “dogs.” Paul says at the beginning of v. 2,
Beware of the dogs
Now I take a little offense to this because I am a dog lover. I wish Paul would have said, “Beware of the cats” but he didn’t.
To understand this reference, we have to first recognize the cultural gap there is between us and between the Greco-Roman world that Paul is writing in. In our culture we love dogs. I’m a dog person. Our family just got a dog. A black lab. He’s about 11 weeks old right now. His name is Paws. Our kids love him. He’s growing on me. He a lot of work. He expensive. I’m learning that. Takes time to train and teach. I imagine many of you have dogs. Their “man’s best friend.” How can you not love them, right?
The way we approach dogs is very different than ancient people approached dogs. In the ancient world, dogs weren’t household pets. In the ancient world, many people despised dogs. They were unclean. They would travel around town looking for scraps of food to eat. Ancient people could find them at the trash dumps, scrummaging for food. They were dirty. They could also be dangerous. If there were aggressive, they might bite you. When Kathryn was in Dallas she was out for a run one time and was almost attacked by a dog. Dogs can be dangerous. And they can carry diseases/ They’re dangerous today and were in the ancient world. Paul is referring to these Judiazers to these dogs. The Judiazers taught doctrine that was filthy and dangerous.
Paul uses very harsh rhetoric here. Paul is very angry. Paul is flexing his apostolic muscle here. He is not mincing words. I imagine if the Judiazers would have read this letter they would have been very offended. Paul doesn’t care, though. Their teaching required this type of rhetoric.
Our Righteous Anger
We have a lot to learn from Paul’s example here. There are some occasions in life where this is the type of response that we should have. The Bible is not just a historical text. The Bible is also a text about today. What can we learn for ourselves about Paul’s righteous anger towards the Philippians? This is a very important question. I will answer this question with my second point. My second point is this: “Our righteous anger.”
To start our discussion of righteous anger, I’d like to address two errors with righteous anger that Christians fall into. Two dangers to avoid. The first danger or error is over anger. Some people get angry about everything. Some people think that every issue needs to be responded against with righteous anger. Every issue demands an angry response. This is an error. We want to avoid this behavior.
Paul had disagreements with people in his day. We see how he dealt with the Judaizers. He got really mad with them. We covered that. That wasn’t how Paul always dealt with those who he disagree with. In other cases, Paul was inclined to be much easier going, much more patient, and forbearing. There are three passages that show this.
The first passage is Phil 1:15–18. We’ve covered this a previous sermon. It is helpful to look again. Paul says,
Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me
in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.
Summarizing this: there was a group of people that Paul knew (these were not the Judiazers) who were preaching the gospel to spite Paul, to harm him. We don’t know their exact identity, but they wanted to harm Paul. Paul’s response: he channeled his inner Elsa. He let it go. He didn’t care. As long as the gospel went forth, he was happy. He didn’t call this group dogs. He didn’t even speak negatively of them. Does Paul call these people “dogs?” No. He call them anything. He mentions them, but basically says, “O well; at least the gospel is preached.”
Now Look with me at Phil 3:15.
Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.
What Paul expresses in this passage is that the mature are to think a certain way. He states, “Let those of us who are mature think this way.” For our purposes, it does not really matter what Paul is saying here. He wants the Philippians to think in a certain way. However, he then states, if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.” Another way to put this, “If any of you disagree with me about this, no big deal. I entrust you to the Lord for he will show you your error.” So, Paul highlights that there will be people in Philippi who disagree with him. What is his response? Does he call them “dogs” like he did the Judaizes? No. He basically says, “Whatever. God will show you.” He takes a very nonchalant, non-judgmental approach here.
One more passage. It’s Phil 4:2–3. Paul writes,
I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.
Paul writes here of a disagreement between two women in the church. He identifies their conflict and wants them to make amends. Paul disagrees with their conflict. He doesn’t think these women are living right. He doesn’t believe their conflict should divide them. Does he call them “dogs?” Does he say, “Those women are living in sin and their dogs?” No. There’s no harshness here. This is a gentle yet direct apostolic instruction for these women to move past their difference.
By going through these different passages and comparing them to what Paul says to the Judiazers, I want you to notice that Paul had many disagreements with people during his day. However, he has a different response to each of them. We covered a total of four disagreements Paul had. Only once does he get mad. Only once does he use a harsh word. Most disagreements to Paul are no big deal. Only some of them are a big deal.
Some Christians get mad about everything. Some Christians call people “dogs” who disagree with them about anything. Based upon Paul’s example, that approach to disagreement is misguided. We should not fight about everything. We should not get mad about every disagreement. There are some issues worth fighting for. Yes. There are many issues, though, that
are not worth fighting about. Our righteous anger needs to be placed into the right type of controversy. Paul’s example shows us.
An example where I don’t think Christians should show anger in is certain political issues. We live in a political town. Politics matter here. I get that. Politics are important, to a degree. As we approach November 2020 and as this COVID-19 situation continues to develop, I feel that many Christians become overly angry with those who disagree with them. What I see is that many Christians get too fired up about political differences. Too much Fox News can do this. We need to have political convictions but those don’t hold a candle to Christian convictions. If the 2end amendment really fires you up, but you don’t support global missions, your priorities are misguided.
The second error to avoid with this notion of righteous anger is under-anger. There are some people who express too little righteous anger. Some people never get angry about anything or with anyone. There are some Christians, some dear Christians, who always give others the benefit of the doubt, who always are forbearing and understanding, and who always allow themselves to be taken advantage of. They always suffer the consequences of others decisions and they never speak up. These Christians are dear saints. I know people like this. I love these dear Christians. My wife can be like this. Long-suffering, kind, gracious, gentle, and loving.
We’ve already examined Paul’s example here. That should be enough for us to see that in some situations we should get angry. However, just to drive the point home a little bit more, Turn with me to Eph 4:26. Paul wrote Philippains along with Ephesians. Same author. He says this,
Be angry and do not sin.
You see that “be angry?” Dear friend, that’s a command. That’s a command. God is commanding us here that we are to become angry. God is saying to us, “Sometimes you have to get angry. When you do, do not sin. Get angry but don’t sin.”
I want you to see, dear friend, what the Scriptures are teaching us this morning. It is OK to get angry sometimes. In fact, in fact, it’s a command. If you never get angry about anything, your life is not right. Wow. What a statement. As Christians, there are situations when we must get angry. In some situations, the only godly response is anger.
What to Get Angry About
So, Pastor, what should I get angry about? Great question, dear friend. Taking our cue from Paul. What was it exactly that angered Paul so greatly about the Judiazers? What exactly was it? It was that they taught that in order for Gentiles to be saved they had to submit themselves to the OT law, specifically to circumcision. Dear friends, that is a theological issue. It pertains to a correct understanding of salvation. What made Paul so mad was a theological error. Theology correctly mattered for Paul.
Christians need to get angry about false teaching. That should greatly anger us. We should be angry with false teaching and with those who teach false doctrine. We follow Paul’s example
here. Anytime we encounter, like Paul did, teaching that says we are saved by works, we as Christians must become angered by that. Now that doesn’t mean that we call those people who believe this way “dogs.” No. In some situations we do that. At minimum, we need to care about theology enough to get mad when people distort it.
Not the second you start talking about getting angry at false doctrine, some Christians respond this way:
Doctrine divides; love unites\\You’re being judgmental\\You’re splitting hairs\\You’re ostracizing others\\It is our acts, our deeds that matter, not what we believe\\People can believe whatever they want, this is a free country\\Who are you to say that someone else is wrong\\Who’s to know what correct theology is\\Many well-meaning people disagree with you\\Some people believe this, some people believe that; it ultimately doesn’t matter.
Have you heard any of these responses before? I have. There out there. Those who say these are likely well-meaning Christians, Christian who I love. Christians who I respect. But dear friend, I want you to compare these response to the Apostle Paul’s. When Paul encounters the false teaching of the Judiazers, does he say, “Well, they’re free to believe what they want. They might be right. Who actually even knows?” Does he say that? No! He says the exact opposite. He says, “They’re dead wrong. They’re theology is cancer. They’re false teachers who will lead you to hell.” Theology matters, dear friend. Our response to false teaching needs to have anger.
Now there’s a second way I want to apply this righteous anger this morning. This does not naturally flow from the text. This is more of something that is on my heart. I want to apply righteous anger to the context of intimate relationship. Ministering to those who we care most about can be difficult. It can be difficult to disapprove of those who we most love. Take a family, for example. Parents often want to defend their children, stick up for them, love them, and encourage them. That’s wonderful. That’s often how I want to act.
There are times, however, when what our family members or close friends need most from us is some righteous anger. Sometimes those who live closely to us are acting in ways that dishonor the Lord. It might be very easy and comfortable to turn a blind eye to this. But as we have seen this morning, there are some situations where you need to be righteously angry. Now you must use your discretion here. The wisdom that God supplies. We must, however, honor the Lord above all else. Righteous anger is necessary even within families.
We’ve covered a lot of ground this morning, dear friend. A lot of ground. If you have any questions about what we’ve discussed this morning, please touch base and allow me to clarify. I would love to do that. This is an important topic but one that we must carefully examine. I’m so thankful for you all. I cannot wait to get back together. In the meantime, don’t be overly angry or under-angry. There are some situations when we should become angry. I pray for the Lord’s guidance for you all.