READ : Proverbs 16:32
What is the truest royalty, the worthiest exercise of dominion? What is it in God’s eyes to be a mighty king, a ruler of genuine strength? Listen to this ancient saying from God’s Word. It’s in the book of Proverbs, chapter 16, verse 32:
He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.
Think of that! To keep your temper is better than being a powerful dictator. If you exercise self-control, you’re higher than a conquering general. In other words, the admirable dominion is self-dominion; the greatest conquest is over one’s own spirit.
A DIFFERENT KIND OF GREATNESS
That thought, like so many in the Bible, runs counter to our ordinary ways of thinking, doesn’t it? The world commonly associates greatness with power, aggressiveness, domination over others. We stand in awe of the Alexanders, the Napoleons of history, the all-conquering military leaders who impose their iron will upon others. Who could be greater than the man who subdues a host of peoples, or has all Europe at his feet?
From the perspective of God’s Word, however, the better victories are won not on battle fields but within human hearts. The true conquests are not over human foes, but over our own unruly passions. The kingdom of God lifts up a set of heroes different from those we might expect.
Further, the world does not value highly the art of self-control. Being “slow to anger” is not a coveted goal for most people. We often treat outbursts of temper, runaway emotions, as relatively minor faults. Some even seem to pride themselves on their expressions of spleen. Especially among the powerful and dominant, storms of anger are sometimes seen with admiration. They are viewed as expressions of strength, of all-prevailing will. But to God, apparently, the persons of genuine power, the ones most fitted to rule others, are those who can control themselves. The great poet John Milton was expressing the Lord’s mind about that when he wrote, “He who reigns within himself and rules his passions, desires and fears, is more than a king.” That’s a different way of looking at royalty, isn’t it?
MAJESTY AND MEEKNESS
This intriguing proverb comes to my mind when I think about Palm Sunday, about the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. They called Him a king, but how different He was from the kings of this age!
The prophet Zechariah had foretold His advent. Listen:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on an ass, on a colt the foal of an ass. I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations; his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.
What a strange figure this king is! He is triumphant and victorious. His dominion shall extend throughout the world, but He will put an end to weapons of war and command peace to the nations. And when He comes to His people, He will not come in a bejeweled chariot, but humbly, riding on a donkey.
When Jesus made His way into Jerusalem toward the close of His ministry, He embodied this odd combination of things. He was treated like a mighty monarch returning from His victories. People took off their robes and spread them in the dust before Him. Others cut branches from the trees and strewed them in His royal way. “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they cried. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”
But what made this so unusual was the fact that no soldiers attended Jesus. He led no captives in His train. He had never defeated an army, never taken a city, never harmed a single enemy. It was plain that whatever kingdom He could claim was a reign of peace. The beast on which He rode was not a war horse, not a mighty stallion, but a lowly beast of burden. What an entrance!
It seemed at first that He was ready to take over, to assert His rule. He strode into the temple and drove out all who sold and bought there. Overturning the tables of the moneychangers and the seats of those who sold pigeons, He thundered, “It is written, `My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you make it a den of robbers.’” But that was all – a poignant, prophetic word. When He left the temple soon after that, business apparently went on as before. Not a very auspicious way to inaugurate a new regime!
For those who had hailed Him as a king, the days that followed must have been filled with crushing disappointment. When He was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, He made no attempt to escape and He even forbade His followers to fight. When He was falsely accused before the Sanhedrin, He declined to speak in His own defense. When flogged by soldiers, He submitted to it meekly. When He was mocked, slapped, spit upon, He was never vindictive. They forced Him to carry the cross on which He would die. He did so without complaint until He collapsed at last under its weight. And finally, when all His kingly claims were derided and He was taunted to come down from the cross, He did nothing of the kind. He simply suffered and died.
The inscription over His cross seemed a pathetic joke. “Jesus of Nazareth, king of the Jews.” “A king?” you say, “Where were His loyal subjects? Where were the soldiers who marched at His command? Where was His authority and power?” He seemed to have none at all.
Now listen to the proverb again.
He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.
“Slow to anger” Jesus surely was. Not a trace of anger do we see in Him through all the indignities and torments He suffered. Never once did He lash out, threaten, or even speak a bitter word. He was so slow to anger that He actually prayed for His mockers and murderers, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
And how He ruled His spirit! So much in control was He that in the midst of His agonies, He could make provision for His mother, comfort a dying thief, and exult that His mission had been accomplished. Then ruling Himself, regal to the last, He said with His dying breath, “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit.”
Everyone around Him must have sensed something kingly about that. Remember how a tough Roman soldier shook his head in wonder and said, “Truly this was the Son of God”? When we try to live ourselves into this scene, we have the eerie feeling that on Golgotha things are not what they seem. What appears to be weakness in Jesus is really an awesome strength under total control.
Why did Jesus not give way to anger? Why was there no protest, no resistance, no dramatic turning of the tables? Was it because He was afraid, cowed into submission? No one can believe that of Jesus, who deliberately chose to go to Jerusalem even though He knew what awaited Him there. Was He weak then, powerless to prevent what happened? That hardly accords with what we know of His mighty works, His words of authority. No, what we are seeing is strength under control.
What kept Jesus there in the midst of His shame and suffering was not fear, not weakness, but a deliberate choice to do His Father’s will. “Father, if it be possible,” He prayed, “Let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless, not my will but thine be done” (Luke 22:42). When He knew it was the Father’s will that He should drink the cup, He determined to go through with it all the way.
But it was even more than obedience that held Him. It was love. Because He cared for us, because He longed to save us, because we were more precious to Him than His own life, He refused to come down from the cross. He ruled His spirit with the mighty hand of a sacrificial love. He was the king of mercy and of grace, reigning from His cross.
WHAT IT MEANS FOR US
Let’s ponder that for a moment, in a personal way. What does it mean for you, for me, that He so ruled His spirit? It means that salvation can be ours. When they said to Him, “He saved others, himself he cannot save,” they spoke better than they knew. Precisely because He would not save Himself, His atoning death can save us. When we recognize that it was our sin that caused Him to suffer, when we trust that He gave Himself for us and invite Him into our lives to redeem and to reign, we enter into life.
But it means something also for the way in which we live. It gives us a glimpse into the heart of things. It suggests that the significant encounters of our lives are often played out on a small stage, with no viewers but God Himself. It hints that the highest heroism may go unnoticed on earth but yet be applauded in heaven. It says that when we rule our own spirits because we want to serve God and bless others, we do a great thing.
So you don’t speak the spiteful, retaliatory word. So you refuse to “blow up,” even under extreme provocation. So you don’t let yourself nurse resentment over injuries. So you say no to the festering desire to get even. So you push yourself to do the right thing, the caring thing, even when it costs. Who notices? God – if no one else. What difference does it make? A great deal. What’s so special about all that? “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.”
“Well,” someone objects, “that sounds beautiful, but who can bring it off? Who has that kind of self-control?” The truth is: no one of us has, that is, in ourselves. The famous St. Augustine, who knew all about struggles with his own nature, had this to say, “Wouldst thou have thy flesh obey thy spirit? Then let thy spirit obey God. Thou must be governed that thou mayest govern.” That’s the heart of it. As another wise man said, “If you would learn self-mastery, begin by yielding yourself to the one great Master.”
Self-control, you see, is the fruit of God’s Spirit, one of the rich resources that we have in Jesus Christ when we receive Him as our Savior and Lord. When He rules your life and mine, then we can begin to rule our own spirits. He, the risen King, transforms His people into earth’s true royalty. Do you believe it today, that he who is slow to anger is better than the mighty and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city? It’s true. Whatever your circumstances, whatever your situation in life, that self-governing is a significant victory. Thomas Carlyle left us this reminder, “Over the times thou hast no power. To redeem a world sunk in dishonesty has not been given thee. Solely over one man or one woman therein, thou hast a quite absolute, uncontrollable power. Him redeem and make honest.”
That you can do; that I can do. This is our chance. In limited surroundings, among difficult people, we can be slow to anger. We can rule our spirits for God’s sake and for theirs in the power He gives. And, friends, that may be, by heaven’s reckoning, our premier “class act,” the most regal thing that you and I ever do.
PRAYER: Father, for the King who would not come down from the cross, we bless You this day and pray that all of us may so trust in Christ and be governed by His Spirit that we may rule our own hearts. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.