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Pastoral Letter - 19 Aug 18                                                 

Dear Calvarians,        

Not long after declaring to us the wonderful beatitudes in His Sermon on the Mount, our Lord Jesus expounded for us some of the Mosaic laws. And perhaps to the surprise of many of His listeners then and even now, our Lord clearly spelt wrongful or unjustified anger as a violation of the sixth commandment. "Ye have heard that it was said of them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire" (Matthew 5:21-22).

The Mosaic laws being instrumental guides in our sanctification, our Lord's instruction to us certainly calls for us to examine ourselves whenever we are caught in a situation where we are tempted to vent our anger at others. Many a time our anger comes and we express it almost instantaneously - not without regrets thereafter. Yet further in the aftermath of our wrath, we are also too ready to point a finger at others - how they have transgressed against us and even sinned against God. Worse, we might deceive others and even ourselves into believing that others are entirely in the wrong, and that our anger is just "a natural reaction" to an unjust provocation.

However, let us be careful in using the word "natural", for Paul has made it clear to us: "But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him" (1 Corinthians 2:14a). Let us not follow the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God, the Spirit that reveals God's wisdom unto us; the Spirit that searcheth all things (1 Corinthians 2:10-12). Whatever that seems "natural" in the eyes of the world may not be pleasing in the eyes of God.

In light of this, the advice of James comes to mind: "Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath. For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God" (James 1:19-20).

Indeed, in a world that esteems efficiency and straightforwardness, we have indeed lost the virtue of hearing. Let us instead be swift to hear - hearing the prompting of the Holy Spirit through our conscience, hearing God's commandment to love others like how we would love ourselves, hearing out others. Many disasters could be averted if we are sensitive to sin and to God's guidance - examining our own motives and remember what God has taught us. Many conflicts could be avoided if we put ourselves in the shoes of others, trying to understand from others' perspective, giving a chance for others to explain themselves, listening to the advice of people who are offering godly advice. Exercise patience instead of getting worked out. Train ourselves to hear as our first "natural response". "Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry: for anger resteth in the bosom of fools" (Ecclesiastes 7:9).

Be slow to speak. We are reminded of the well-known analogy where every wicked word uttered is likened to a nail that pierced into a table of wood, and though it might be subsequently removed, the mark left by the nail would always be there - in the table of our heart. Whenever we are tempted to vent our anger, consider the consequences. The Book of Proverbs has much good advice for us. "A fool uttereth all his mind: but a wise man keepeth it in till afterwards" (Proverbs 29:11). Give yourself some time to consider how the matter could be better resolved and how a crisis could be turned into an opportunity to edify others and to glorify God. "The discretion of a man deferreth his anger; and it is his glory to pass over a transgression" (Proverbs 19:11).

And be slow to anger. Remember, "a wrathful man stirreth up strife: but he that is slow to anger appeaseth strife" (Proverbs 15:18). Whenever, we are angry, we face two choices and we need to be responsible for the option we make. "A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger" (Proverbs 15:1).

A person who chooses peace and harmony should not be deemed as weak; on the contrary, "he that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city" (Proverbs 16:32). A person who could withhold his wrath shows forth the fruit of meekness and temperance.  In fact, if we were to consider the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22), it has no place for an angry man. The fact is we are even told to stay away from a perpetually angry man who otherwise could be a bad influence over us. "Make no friendship with an angry man; and with a furious man thou shalt not go: Lest thou learn his ways, and get a snare to thy soul" (Proverbs 22:24-25).

Being slow to anger would give us time to examine ourselves. Consider why God allow a certain conflict to come about. Think of how we could make use of this opportunity to grow together in His grace through a crisis as such. Above all, in any conflict and especially among believers of Christ, be reminded that our sovereign God is in our midst.

In Ephesians, when the apostle Paul elaborated on the putting off the old man and putting on the new man (Ephesians 4:22-24), he has fleshed it out as a spiritual warfare, using anger as an apt illustration: "Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath. Neither give place to the devil.... And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption" (Ephesians 4:26-27,30). The message is clear: giving place to the devil will grieve the Holy Spirit dwelling in us.

And thus with this knowledge, comes the actual action of transformation, putting off our old man, "let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.... Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice" (Ephesians 4:29, 31); and putting on the new: "And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you (Ephesians 4:32).

Most Christians know the principles, yet indeed it is hard to put them into practice. The Mosaic laws on that count also serve to remind us of our depravity, pointing us to our strength in Christ. Jesus has not only paid for us the penalty of sin, He has granted us the power to overcome sin. Let us thus press on, "giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:5-8).

Forgiven by God, saved by Christ, and led by the Spirit, may our inward man be renewed day by day with every big and small decision we make in our lives.


Preacher Bendick


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