While it may take different forms, most of us have struggled with anger. Some of us turn our anger inward by clamming up or engaging in self-destructive behaviors. Some of us explode at the least provocation. No matter how we express it, anger can be extremely damaging. Today’s post is part 2 of our discussion on “Handling Anger Biblically.”
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Handling Anger Biblically – Part 2
We have just wrapped up a series on God’s design for marriage. If you missed it, you can access the lessons here. We’re in a new series “Handling Emotions Biblically.” Last week we started talking about anger. Today we’ll discuss when and how anger becomes sinful and steps to overcoming sinful anger.
Over the next couple of months, we’ll also talk about:
Fear & Worry
Trials & Suffering
I hope you’ll be here each week (post goes live at 5 PM MST on Sundays).
Last week we said that since God is the One who created us and everything else, all sinful anger flows out of our unwillingness to accept the fact that He is the Creator, and that He gets to make the rules.
We get angry because we want to decide what’s right and what’s wrong for us. We should be asking, “Lord, how do you want to use this in my life?” Instead, we allow the “feelings” to take over.
We also talked about the fact that emotions like anger, sorrow, guilt, depression … are not sinful in and of themselves, it’s what we do with those feelings that makes them sinful or not.
We discussed the different kinds of anger and said that anger is not just an emotion, but an issue of the heart (Matt. 15.18-20).
So, it’s not enough to just “control or manage anger.” The heart issues must be addressed if we want any lasting change and the kind of change that’s pleasing to God.
We may express anger in different ways:
Sometimes we try to keep it under the radar. We say or do something mean … and then claim, “I was only kidding, can’t you take a joke?!” This kind of anger is deceitful and vengeful.
Prov. 10:23 says, “To do evil is like sport to a fool, but a man of understanding has wisdom.”
And Prov. 14:8 says, “The wisdom of the prudent is to understand his way, but the folly of fools is deceit.”
Sometimes anger is explosive. We may yell, slam doors, hit something or someone.
Sometimes we clam up, give others the silent treatment, or turn it in on ourselves.
No matter how it’s expressed, anger, when not dealt with in God-honoring ways, is destructive and sinful.
Why would God give us an emotion that can be so damaging?
Anger was given to help us solve problems biblically. The adrenaline it provides gives us the drive and the courage to do something we wouldn’t otherwise do.
In 2 Sam. 12 God sends the Prophet Nathan to confront King David. If you know the story, David had committed adultery with Bathsheba and when he realized she was pregnant, he first tried to cover his sin by calling her husband home from the battlefield in the hope that he would also sleep with her. When that didn’t work, he orchestrated his death so he could marry her and, hopefully, save face.
Eighteen months or so have passed with no repentance on David’s part, so God sends Nathan to tell him a story:
1 Then the LORD sent Nathan to David. And he came to him, and said to him: “There were two men in one city, one rich and the other poor. 2 The rich man had exceedingly many flocks and herds. 3 But the poor man had nothing, except one little ewe lamb which he had bought and nourished; and it grew up together with him and with his children. It ate of his own food and drank from his own cup and lay in his bosom; and it was like a daughter to him. 4 And a traveler came to the rich man, who refused to take from his own flock and from his own herd to prepare one for the wayfaring man who had come to him; but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.”
5 So David’s anger was greatly aroused against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the LORD lives, the man who has done this shall surely die! 6 And he shall restore fourfold for the lamb, because he did this thing and because he had no pity.”
7 Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! (2 Sam. 12.1-15).
Then Nathan confronted David directly:
Why have you despised the commandment of the LORD, to do evil in His sight? You have killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword; you have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the people of Ammon (2 Sam. 12.9).
David was the king. He could have had Nathan killed. Many prophets had been killed for less.
Righteous anger over sin gave the prophets the courage to do what God called them to do. But notice Nathan didn’t come to David ranting and raving! His emotions were tempered with wisdom and self-control.
In Galatians 2 we see another example of God’s servant overcoming what could have been an intimidating situation.
11 But when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him to his face, for what he did was very wrong. 12 When he first arrived, he ate with the Gentile Christians, who were not circumcised. But afterward, when some friends of James came, Peter wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore. He was afraid of criticism from these people who insisted on the necessity of circumcision. 13 As a result, other Jewish Christians followed Peter’s hypocrisy, and even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 When I saw that they were not following the truth of the gospel message, I said to Peter in front of all the others, “Since you, a Jew by birth, have discarded the Jewish laws and are living like a Gentile, why are you now trying to make these Gentiles follow the Jewish traditions?
Peter was one of the twelve disciples. He was a natural leader. He was a respected authority figure. But he was wrong and his sinful response was leading others astray, so Paul confronted him.
Righteous indignation (anger) overcame any fear Paul might have felt.
And as I said last week, we’re good at justifying our anger.
“I’m just tired.”
“Well, I get mad, but I get over it.”
“It’s just my personality … I have a quick temper.”
Sometimes we get angry out of fear. You’ve heard the expression, “The best defense is a strong offense.” We’re afraid of losing control, not getting our way, or of being taken advantage.
So much is at stake when it comes to sinful anger. It affects our marriages and families. It tears away at the one-flesh relationship of marriage. It sends the message that God’s way doesn’t work. How can we expect our children to respond to problems in godly ways, if we don’t?
It often affects our work and social life. It affects our ability to share the gospel. Why would someone want what we have?
It affects our relationship with God and tarnishes the glory of God.
But worldly solutions don’t work. We must seek God and His way of dealing with anger if we want to see real change.
When Does Anger Become Sinful?
Anger becomes sinful when it’s selfishly motivated, when it’s about my rights.
“I have a right to some respect!”
“… some time to myself!”
“… some peace!”
“… to be appreciated!”
“… to have a husband who works or comes to church with me … or treats me the way I want to be treated … or remembers our anniversary …”
Anger becomes sinful when it fails to give Him glory.
Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10.31).
Anger becomes sinful when we break God’s commandments.
1 Corinthians 13.4-7 says:
4 Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant,
5 does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered,
6 does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth;
7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Sinful anger is often impatient, unkind, and filled with jealousy. It’s rude, proud, easily provoked, and all about self. Rather than believing all things (believing the best), sinful anger usually believes the worst!
Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption (Eph. 4.29-30).
When we give in to sinful anger, we say all kinds of things that are unwholesome. In so doing we fail to impart grace and grieve the Spirit of God.
Anger becomes sinful when it is allowed to linger.
“Be angry, and do not sin”: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil (Eph. 4.26-27).
What We Need to Remember
God can and will use all things for good if we keep our eyes on Him. His desire is that we would become progressively more like His son and He accomplishes that through tests and trials, including our relationships with other sinful, even difficult, people. (Rom. 8.28-29).
As we rely on His grace and choose to respond in godly ways, He develops the fruit of the Spirit in our lives: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5.22-23).
Yet, we can rest in the promise that He sets boundaries on those tests and trials (1 Cor. 10.13).
How Do We Address Anger in Our Lives?
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 (Matt. 5.23-24).
If someone has sinned against you, go to him or her in private in a spirit of love and gentleness (Matt. 18.15; Gal. 6.1-2).
Avoid what we call 100% words.
“You always …!”
“You never …!”
Rather than attacking the person, we might go to them and say, “Honey, I know there’s a problem between us. Can we pray about it? Can we see what the Bible has to say?” Then sit down together with an open Bible.
If the other person is the one attacking, remember:
A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger! (Prov. 15.1).
So, anger was given to help us solve problems biblically. Used rightly, it gives us the courage to do what we wouldn’t otherwise do. But sin often causes us to become self-focused and allows us to justify ignoring God’s commands while we vent our anger in destructive ways.
Next week we’ll look at the primary forms of anger and go over the steps to handling anger biblically in more detail.
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