Unholy Anger8 min read
Anger could be defined as “The arousal of strongly negative emotion agitated from an offense that affects one in a personal way.” In Galatians 5, the word “wrath” is thumos. Mr. Vine is very helpful when he notes “that thumos indicates a more agitated condition of the feelings, an outburst of wrath from inward indignation…” If we are honest with ourselves, we will understand these tendencies. Who of us has not unduly yelled at a child out of frustration, rather than from concern? Who of us do not need a time to “cool off” after an argument which quickly gains heat? By the end of our study, may it be priority in each heart to deal with this issue at once.
Characteristics of Angry Men
Of the two examples of angry men we have, it does not take very long to search and find the first one in our Bibles. Genesis 4 provides Cain as an example of such a one. With Cain, this was his main characteristic: he wanted to do things HIS way. Notice Genesis 4:5-7 – “But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell. And the LORD said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen? If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.” Our natural tendency is to promote our way without relenting until we see it fulfilled: we often cannot fathom the thought of our opinion possibly being secondary, or even wrong! Sadly this happens all too often when we are faced with God’s way of working. And even more tragically, we often don’t submit to God’s truth until we have painfully seen the result of going our own way. The painful journey is often one of anger, because it involves humbling, a sacrifice of our will, and certain pressure by God’s hand as He tries to steer us back to the paths of righteousness. Let us beware when we find it difficult to accept rebuke or see ourselves angry much: it is possibly a sign of idolatry, that is, putting my way above God’s. A humble person is usually a happy person.
Secondly, notice Simeon and Levi in Genesis 49 – Jacob’s summary of his sons, as it were. He says in verse 7, “Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce; and their wrath, for it was cruel.” This corresponds to the event of Dinah in Genesis 34. In short, as a response to Shechem’s sin against their sister, Simeon and Levi deceitfully suggested that his men gathered together to be circumcised, and when they agreed, rather than “slaying” the foreskin, these brothers slew the men themselves. Their problem was a lack of self-control. Their problem was a lack of self-control in a situation that desperately needed it. In Titus 1, a characteristic of an overseer is that he must “not be soon angry.” He needs to have a “long fuse” as it were, before his anger ignites. To be one with anger issues is to be one who cannot subdue his body. Ecclesiastes 7:9 says “Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry: for anger rests in the bosom of fools.”
Differences Between Righteous Anger and Sinful Anger
Using our definition of anger, it does not inherently imply sin. What if the negative emotion toward an offense is rooted in our spirits? This is the question which defines whether or not the anger we experience is sin, and it is extremely vital that we have a firm grasp of this concept. It is vital, because with our self-biased tendencies we would have the disadvantage of calling certain anger righteous, “Because if I find offense, it must be a righteous thing to be angry at it.” We cannot arbitrarily and flippantly attribute our self-defensive indignation to righteous motives: we would probably be more correct in calling it pride.
Nevertheless, there is definitely an anger which God would commend in our hearts, that is, anger which reflects something of His holiness. What does Scripture say about the matter?
- Moses was angry because of Israel’s idolatry (Ex. 32:19). This was a disparaging of God’s Person
- The Lord was angry with unbelief (Mk. 3:5). This was a denial of God’s Promises.
- The Lord also rebuked the money traders in the temple (Jn. 2:16). This was a defilement of God’s Presence.
- Nehemiah was angry when the Sabbath was profaned (Neh. 13:17). This was a disobedience to God’s Pattern.
With these things in mind, we would conclude the righteous anger constitutes indignation against a contempt toward God Himself and His authority. This could also be extended to how we view the belittling of God’s representatives: His people.
As to unrighteous anger, this would probably be the category we find ourselves guilty of more often than not. For our consideration it might be helpful to mention Matthew 5:22, “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.” Each expression or emotion that the Lord Jesus brings us to could be viewed as a different level of anger. The first is causeless contempt toward a comrade, that is, a brother. The second is anger which leads to the degrading of someones personal worth: “Raca” means “worthless,” “vain,” or “empty.” The most extreme case is when one sees his brother fit for damnation (William MacDonald says this implies a desire for it also): “Thou fool” denotes an authority to condemn which only God has (compare Luke 12:20). In that extreme case, God will in irony show who really deserved the fire. So then, we could conclude that sinful anger is constituted by carelessness and hypocrisy.
The Process of Cool-down
In light of the gravity associated with these issues, we are obligated to consider a solution to the problem, lest we remain stubborn in our ways and destroy every beautiful thing God has blessed us with.
Firstly, anger is resisted and in a way resolved by reconciliation. After the Matthew 5 verse we looked at, the Lord Jesus said “Therefore (in light of these things) if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there remember that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.” (v. 23-24). Anger has a difficult time finding a place in a humble heart, and it is truly humbling to seek reconciliation.
Secondly, we should also realize our obligation to prevent angering another. Proverbs 15:1 says “A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.” Truly our tongues play a huge role in the strength of our relationships.
Thirdly, we need to learn self control. Proverbs 16:32 “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.” The key to slow anger in this verse is the man’s level of control over his spirit. Paul said “But I subdue (keep under, beat down) my body and bring it into subjection, lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.” (1 Cor. 9:27). Leading up to that point, he said in verse 25 “Every man that strives for the mastery (or prize, or victory) is temperate in all things.” When it comes to anger, it is often a reaction without thought, making it all the more necessary to subdue self.
Fourthly, a peaceable demeanor comes by discretion. Proverbs 19:11 says “The discretion (wisdom, logic, intelligence) of a man defers his anger, and it is his glory to pass over a transgression.” Perhaps the key to anger management is learning to respond rather than react. Response includes balanced wisdom. Reaction is without thought – and this is disaster. Even if we have anger issues, if we could only learn to walk away and think about a response, surely most of the things we fuss about would wither away in their seeming significance. But again, this will involve a level of temperance.
Finally, and perhaps most vitally, we must remember Calvary. Ephesians 4:31-32 – “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” What lovely words: “even as.” They imply a standard. They imply a pattern. They imply incentive. Regarding the standard, we see the extent of love we should have. Regarding the pattern, we see the type of love we should have. But when we consider our incentive for love, it gives us a sense of great accountability, for we are without excuse when we cast off the very sort of grace that has been shown to us in the cross. “And in that day thou shalt say, O LORD, I will praise thee: though thou wast angry with me, thine anger is turned away, and thou comfortedst me.” (Is. 12:1). Truly we rejoice in this. But let us understand that we can never enjoy the cross without exemplifying it. And aside from the issue of joy, can you conceive any greater hypocrisy than to claim the cross as the standard for salvation but not for living! When it comes to anger, the issue is not whether I am right or wrong. The issue is, will I respond in such a way that is comparable to Christ’s response? We need to look to Calvary.