God's Recipe for Anger Managment
Our Angry Culture
Anger, hostility, and vitriol have become an all-consuming fire in our culture today. We have anger management classes for people who commit violent crimes like domestic violence. The success rate for these classes is not favorable. We now have the term "road rage." Imagine, beating someone up with a tire iron because they were cut off or the other driver was going too fast or slow for their liking. Don't get me started on Twitter. What a toxic hotbed of wrath from politicians, pundits, and celebrities to angry trolls who live behind computer screens baiting and pouring out venom on everyone.
I started this article in early May of this year (2020) and since then the murder of George Floyd by a cop in Minnesota has caused all hell has broken loose. Rioting, anarchy, and hatred are still raging two months later and seems as if there is no end in sight. Killings and more killings. I don't want to raise your blood pressure our mine so I won't go any further. You all know what's going on.
I will confess, people who rage undo me because of people and circumstances in my past; however, I have learned a few things from trial and error, and from employing biblical wisdom and counsel. Anger is not absolutely forbidden in the Bible. Anger is a God-given emotion, but how we express it is important.
There is a place for anger in the life of the Christian, but how it is expressed is the key. Let's take a look at what God says about anger.
Be Slow to Anger
The Bible does not indicate that anger is always evil and uncalled for. It promotes self-control and warns against having a short fuse. Have you been with someone who has a short fuse, who explodes easily? We see a lot of wreckage from such people. The Bible teaches that we are to be slow to anger. God Himself is our example. When Moses took the stone tablets with the ten commandments on them, God told him to hurry down the mountain because the Israelites were up to no good. Sure enough, Moses found them having an orgy and wild antics around a golden calf they made to worship because they got tired of waiting for him. Moses got so angry, he threw down the tablets and they shattered. There was a scene and some people paid a terrible price. When he went back up to the mountain to get replacement tablets, God revealed some things about Himself. "I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness" (Exodus 34:6). We are to follow his example:
- Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly (Proverbs 14:29).
- He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city (Proverbs 16:32).
- Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger (James 1:19).
- Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the bosom of fools (Ecclesiastes 7:9).
- Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense (Proverbs 19:11).
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God (James 1:19-20).
Don't Sin When Angry
Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil (Ephesians 4:26-27).
This verse is brimming with wisdom. There are three phrases that follow in a deliberate order. The first two words are "Be angry." What? Is God okay with anger? Yes, sometimes. The caveat is "do not sin" when you are angry. Anger comes with intense emotion and our knee jerk reaction is to lash out or do something sinful to hurt the other person. We are not to sin this way. Self-control is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. We need to walk in the Spirit as He leads to obtain that self-control.
Paul gets specific in the next phrase: Do not let the sun go down on your anger. This means don't go to bed angry, don't hold on to anger or nurse a grudge. Have you ever been angry or resentful at someone and it ate at you all night, robbing you of sleep? You can't sleep because you are rehearsing in your mind what you would like to say to the person. You imagine a scenario where you list their offenses to them, tell them how terrible they are, how they have victimized you, how righteous your indignation is. When the scenario has played out in your mind, you start all over again and throw in some more damning charges. Your heart is thumping, you can feel your blood racing through your body, you're wired, sleep is not an option. The cycle continues for the rest of the night. In the morning, you may blame that person in your mind for robbing you of sleep.
I have first-hand experience with this scenario. The Lord showed me a few years ago my propensity for resentment. When I heard His still small voice and read in His word about this stronghold in my life I saw how poisonous it was to me spiritually. I felt the grief of the Holy Spirit and repented. I also asked God to help me overcome this besetting sin. I knew I could not do it in my own strength. Resentment tries to rear its ugly head from time to time. But as soon as I see it, I take it to the Lord. It is still a battle, but I pray for the person or people, no matter how justifiable my anger is, and ask God not to let the root of bitterness settle down.
This leads to the last phrase in the verse "give no opportunity to the devil."
When Someone Else is Angry, Give a Soft Answer
Sometimes remaining calm will defuse an angry tirade. When someone is hostile and angry our default position is to get defensive, raise our voices, and argue. There are people who take great pleasure in provoking others. In modern vernacular, it's called pushing someone's buttons. They are looking for a fight and bait you, accuse, and provoke to make you mad. Or perhaps there is just some tension in their life and they are feeling testy and snap at you. Reacting makes the mess bigger. Respond by remaining calm, say nothing, ignore an insult, or give a soft answer. These are not easy to do. Ask God for help to do what your flesh cannot do.
- A soft answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger (Proverbs 15:1).
- Fools give full vent to their rage, but the wise bring calm in the end (Proverbs 29:11).
- A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict, but the one who is patient calms a quarrel (Proverbs 15:18).
- The vexation of a fool is known at once, but the prudent ignores an insult (Proverbs 12:16).
Do Not Avenge Yourself
Sometimes we are tempted to punish, seek retribution, retaliate when someone hurts us. But the Lord says no, that is His job. Vengeance is mine, and recompense, for the time when their foot shall slip; for the day of their calamity is at hand, and their doom comes swiftly" (Deuteronomy 32:35). Consider these as well:
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord" (Romans 12:19).
Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil. For the evildoers shall be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land (Psalm 37:8-9). In this psalm, David is telling people not to fret about evildoers. The word fret means to burn or be kindled with anger. He is saying, don't get angry at people who are evil because the kind of anger you have is the kind that will lead you to do evil back.
You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord" (Leviticus 19:18).
He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now."— 1 John 2:9
Anger That Leads to a Murderous Heart
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was speaking to disciples (not just the 12) which means this sermon is addressed to Christians and how they should and should not live. After the Beatitudes, He talks about the law (ten commandments) and the traditions added by legalistic religious leaders, called the oral law. The oral law was the rabbinic interpretation of the law. It was not divinely inspired. These leaders and teachers of the law held up the oral law equal to the Torah (the written law of God as laid out in the first five books of the Bible). As He spoke to His people, Jesus, as you will see in a moment, denounced their laws, which are rituals, ceremonies, and rules that have nothing to do with loving God and loving their neighbor. The Pharisees emphasized the letter of the law, strict adherence to their traditions. One commentator called them "microscopic precepts." Jesus emphasized the spirit of the law. The condition of a man's heart. The motives that lead to actions.
In Matthew 5:21-22, Jesus begins with the words, "You have heard that it was said..." He is referring to the oral traditions of the Pharisees, their interpretation of the holy law.
"You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.' But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, 'Raca!' shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, 'You fool!' shall be in danger of hell fire."
Wow! What stunning statements. Let's break this down.
The sixth commandment is "Thou shalt not kill." The word kill means murder. Murder is killing an innocent person without cause. There are other times when killing is necessary, such as in war, self-defense, protecting someone in danger of being murdered.
The law states that those who murder are in danger of judgment, and that is true. But Jesus gets to the heart of the matter. Paraphrased, Jesus is saying "Don't be like religious legalists who say murder brings the danger of judgment, but themselves have murderous hearts." The kind of anger Jesus is speaking of is all-consuming hateful anger. Anger that wants to see someone dead or harmed. The Pharisees condemned the outward action, but Jesus condemned the inward, the heart.
Have you ever met someone with that much venom? Aren't we witnessing this today so heavily in our political arena? In our culture? Hate for our President and between political parties is the likes of what I've never seen in my 64 years. As Christians, we must never have that kind of anger in our hearts. No one should of course, but especially a follower of Jesus.
Jesus goes on to say that anyone who calls someone Raca will be brought before the council or court. What is this word Raca? It is an Aramaic term. According to the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (4469), this term expressed contempt for a man's head, viewing him as stupid (without sense) – i.e. a "numbskull" who acts presumptuously and thoughtlessly. It's basically calling someone stupid in a mean and hateful way. It's a weapon to slay the dignity, character, spirit of the targeted person. It comes from a bitter, hateful heart.
My first grade teacher was meaner than a junkyard dog. She had Raca names for just about every student. She especially targeted one little boy named Danny. Danny was timid, shy, insecure. When he got tongue-tied, gave the wrong answer, or was too afraid to say anything, she would berate him in front of the whole class, and shouted, "Danny, you are soooo STUUPIDD!" She thrust herself forward with her hands on her hips while she said it. It was a violent assault on an innocent soul. I can't bear to remember that precious little face so deeply wounded and shamed. We had plenty of numskulls, idiots, and boobs in the class. The scars are still with me as I was not left untouched. My scars are more for Danny though than me. I hope he was able to find his place in the world, to see his value and worth in the eyes of God and man. Charles Swindoll calls this kind of assault as "verbal murder." 1
Jesus goes on to say calling someone a fool is just as bad. The biblical term, "fool" has very similar in meaning. It means "moron, "mentally inert"; lacking a grip on reality, acting as though "brainless" (TDNT 3474).
It is what's behind that statement that is most heinous. It's hateful and cruel, and God says it's a very serious sin. In Matthew 12:34 Jesus said to the Pharisees, "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks." In other words, whatever consumes your heart will come out in your words and actions.
Muttering "idiot" when you see an irresponsible driver is not what Jesus is speaking of here. Although it's not a good thing to have those thoughts, it's not born out of hate and wanting someone dead.
Jesus is also saying, if these are even thoughts in your heart, and not spoken, they are still as gravely sinful.
God's people should regard no such hate and anger in their hearts. Jesus calls us to love God and love people.
This kind of bitterness and hatred is poison to the soul.
Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him."— 1 John 3:15
Jesus' Instructions to the Angry
Jesus goes on to instruct those who are battling such anger. Matthew 5:23-26 says, "Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny."
Before you leave your gift at the altar means any act of worship. Before you pray, read the Bible, go to church, tithe, give to the poor, sing a hymn, take communion, get right with the one you hurt first. Go to him and be reconciled. Repent and ask for forgiveness, offer to make it right in any way you can, but you must mean it from the depths of your heart. Then you can return and worship the Lord with a clean slate. Jesus says to do it quickly (while you are on the way with him toward the court.) or you will pay a terrible price and great consequences.
Sometimes we drag our feet because it takes humility, which your pride has robbed you of. But waiting can backfire. Get right with the person and get right with God.
Forgiveness Will Set You Free
Forgiveness can be very difficult if we've been deeply wounded, especially if the person is not repentant and hasn't asked for forgiveness. Maybe they have said they will never be sorry. If your offender is gone and not approachable, it may cause more difficulty. Every sin we have committed and will commit was nailed to the cross and shed in Christ's blood. So how can we continue in bitterness against another when God has forgiven us. You might compare yourself to your offender and say to yourself or God, "I have never done that. He or she is much worse than I am." But God judges by His standard, not other people. If we are so bitter that we are full of hate, we are indeed, as we saw above, engulfed in a sinful state that will come with serious consequences. I am preaching to myself as well as anyone else.
I know there have been times when my resentments have been on relatively minor things. Things that hurt but were not earth-shattering. I will admit, even petty. As I shared before, I am still a work in progress. But forgiveness is freedom, new life, refreshment to the soul. I could write ten articles on forgiveness, but God has taken care of all that. If you are stuck, take it to God, keep reading His word, see a Christian counselor, your pastor, or a godly person in your church or sphere of friends, and have them pray and give you counsel. Don't give up. The deliciousness of victory and a right standing with God is worth it all.
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as Christ God forgave you.
— Ephesians 4:32
1Swindoll, Charles. Insight for Living (producer). (2016, July 18). Simplicity Starts From Within: Part 2. [Podcast]. Retrieved from https://www.insightforliving.ca/broadcast/simple-faith/SPFD04
© 2020 Lori Colbo