Close Menu X

Walter on Anger

February 13, 2005

Dear Paul and Friends at Grace Fellowship Church ,

There are few sins as common as anger. Live with almost anyone long enough and you'll see them lose their temper at least once! Unfortunately, this is as true for Christians as it is for those who don't yet know the Saviour. I've heard of church meetings where people yell across the pews at one another. One church up here had the distinct privilege of watching a deacon's meetings descend into a boxing match... at least the contenders "stepped outside" and didn't break the stained glass! Some Christians carry around bitter grudges at someone else for years and years. They are all forms of anger.

Anger often feels so right it is hard to believe it so wrong! Yet, the Lord was clear:

James 1:19-20  ...let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires.

Paul said the same thing another way when he wrote:

Ephesians 4: 26   Be angry and do not sin

Some folks call this "righteous anger," but if we were honest with the text, it would be more accurate to call it "sinless anger." I am not sure I've ever experienced it, but I trust there is such a thing. I think we should be careful with it though... lots of times one churchman's righteous anger is just really sinful anger painted up with religious words. Sinless anger means sinless in intent and attitude as well as vocabulary! That's quite a standard!

I once heard a man say that we usually get angry when we don't get what we want - anger is the fleshly response to a blocked goal. I know that isn't rocket science, but sometimes it can be a big help. When tempted to blow up, we would do well to ask ourselves two questions: 1. What is that I want that I can't seem to get. 2. Is God sovereign?

Looking at life that way often relieves a lot of stress and the need to get angry. If I want my child to stop whining and he won't... I could just get angry and bat him around the house (bad idea!) or I could stop and pray that God would show me if my goals are correct and if they are, ask Him to give me wisdom on how to reach them.

Some men seem to be born angry. The cries they made in the delivery room were prophecies of their ornery spirit in later life. The Bible calls this kind of man hot-tempered and lumps him together with the fool. In our day we sometimes call this kind of man hot-headed - I guess because his red face and scorching words are overheating his brain-holder? Men like this are to be avoided like turkey farms on a hot August afternoon. These men create trouble wherever they go.

 29:8  Scoffers set a city aflame, but the wise turn away wrath. 

Some men's tempers make Nero's fiddling look harmless! They are like walking infernos - all you need to do is get close to the furnace door to burst into flames yourself. Hold a dry leaf just near the flame and watch it ignite. Let a man with a quarrelsome spirit get too close and he'll engulf you in the blaze of his anger before you know it. 

22:24   Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man,

22: 25   lest you learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare. 

This kind of man stirs up strife ( 15:18 ), acts foolishly ( 14:17 ), exalts folly ( 14:29 ), and gives full vent to his spirit (29:11). His tongue slams others like a battering ram on a castle wall and his rage flows like lava down a mountainside. For him, anger is power and power is the way to get what he wants. He is self-centered, selfish, self-exalting and without self-control. Show me an angry man and I'll show you a man who does not pray. There is no fear of God before his eyes.

26:21  As charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife.

A Christian woman who excuses her anger as just a part of her personality or ethnic background or culture or family genetics is lying to herself and avoiding her Lord. Jesus said; 

Matthew 5:21   "You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.' 22  But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, 'You fool!' will be liable to the hell of fire.

What the Bible holds up as the ideal is not a man who can get what he wants by getting angry, but a man who can break his rage like a cowboy tames a wild pony. Besides "sinless anger," there are no other categories of anger available for Christian people.

That is because anger is of the flesh:

Galatians 5:19  Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20  idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife , jealousy, fits of anger , rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21  envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God .

Colossians 3:5  Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6  On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7  In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8  But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice , slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9  Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10  and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.

It's no wonder then that what the Lord wants is for His men and women to be in control of their anger. Out of all the verses on anger in the Bible, only one describes appropriate anger (what we've called sinless anger) and all the rest condemn anger as a sin of the flesh.

What is important to the Lord is a man who controls his own spirit. That can be mighty hard to do when you are in the midst of getting wronged, lied to or cheated. When all you want to do is get from your back 40 to your farmhouse in time for dinner and your lousy tractor gets stuck in the mud - it is tempting to feel a little irritated. No wonder then old Solomon could write:

16:32   Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.

As I understand it, capturing a city in Solomon's day was no easy feat. It took months of planning, siege works, battering rams, starvation and the like before Rabbah fell. Not every sin is conquered as quickly as Jericho . I think that is what Solomon meant when he said that of the two, the better man was the one slow to anger. It may take years of practice and planning for a man to conquer his anger. He will have to starve his flesh, batter away at his indwelling sin, lay the siege works of Truth against his mind and march 700 times around his tongue before he can get that anger under his control. Of the two, I'd say taking the city is easier. The war within never ends; that enemy never tires and just when you think he's beat, he rears up his ugly head again.

Now if we are going to be serious about anger and seek to get it under control, we ought to know some things. The first thing is to learn to avoid even the slightest bit of it in our lives. You know those moving stairs you have down there in the city - escalators? Well, too many of us are happy to ride up the anger-escalator thinking that we'll get off before it reaches the top. Trouble is, running down one of those escalators is much more difficult and slow than riding it up! Too often we let our anger carry us upwards until the fury flows. But, I say, don't even get on the escalator! Turn around and walk away. 

17:14   The beginning of strife is like letting out water, so quit before the quarrel breaks out. 

When I was a boy, I used to play down by the creek at my daddy's farm. I loved to dig in the sand and build big old dams to block the water. One thing every dam builder learns quick though, is that the water will rip open the tiniest hole in your wall in a matter of seconds. Water is drawn to leaks in a dam like hockey fans to a free NHL game - just crack open the door to the Air Canada Center and watch the crowds try to push their way in! Just give anger the tiniest foothold and watch it rip and claw its way with more and more energy to the surface! When the anger light on your dashboard begins to glow, that's the time to put it to death... not after you've vented it on all those around you.

26:21  As charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife. 

It's a funny thing with anger. It feels like it must get vented, otherwise we will explode or something. Yet, quite the opposite is true. Vent it - and you'll be throwing gasoline on the fire! Suppress it - and the fire is snuffed out. Notice I said "suppress" and not "repress." I'm not a wordsmith, by any stretch, but there's a difference in my mind between those two terms. By suppress I mean, turn away from the anger and pray to the Sovereign. By repress I mean just get tight-lipped and fuming mad on the inside. I don't see much grace in the second of the two. I think what the Lord desires is for us to lose the anger on the outside and the inside - and we can, by His help.

One encouragement in all this is to recall the respect God lays on the name of the man that controls his anger:

29:11  A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.

19:11   Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offence.

20:3  It is an honour for a man to keep aloof from strife, but every fool will be quarrelling.

12:16   The vexation of a fool is known at once, but the prudent ignores an insult.

14: 29   Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly. 

Now think of that. The Lord says that a man who controls his anger is wise, prudent, and has great understanding. Not only that, the Lord calls this man's self-control his honour and his glory. Now we understand that honour and glory is from the Lord and doesn't take away from Him at all - but, like you, I would love to be known as a man of honour. What if someone could say of our churches - they are full of wise and prudent members. Paul told Timothy this was the goal in 

1 Timothy 2:8  I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarrelling... 

There was a connection in Paul's mind between personal holiness and a lack of anger. An angry man is a fool. He goes looking for a fight.

14:17   A man of quick temper acts foolishly, and a man of evil devices is hated.

26:17  Whoever meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a passing dog by the ears.

Now kids, the next time you go for a walk, try grabbing every dog you see by the ears! I bet you won't do it more than once, because you'll get yourself a lovely set of canine incisor scars! I'd feel bad for you the first time you got bit, but if you grabbed another dog the same way another day - I'd look you in the eyes and with tender tears of compassion say, "You're dumb." Someone ought to look in the eyes of an angry woman and say the same thing.

21:9  It is better to live in a corner of the housetop than in a house shared with a quarrelsome wife. ( repeated in 25:24)

21:19   It is better to live in a desert land than with a quarrelsome and fretful woman.

27:15  A continual dripping on a rainy day and a quarrelsome wife are alike;

27: 16  to restrain her is to restrain the wind or to grasp oil in one's right hand.

27:17  Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.

It is interesting to me that the "iron sharpens iron" proverb comes right after the "continual dripping" proverb. I'm no Hebrew scholar, but I do think a husband and wife who work as hard at keeping anger out of their home as they do at keeping thieves out, will do a lot to sharpen one another. So many Christians I meet are content to shoot for the status quo - "As long as we don't hit each other, everything's okay!" But the Lord gave you your bride to love and die for, and surely putting to death your anger is one way to do it. Solomon's musings were not intended to give you an excuse to build a deck on your roof or a cabin in the desert! You're called to love your bride and help her to put to death her quarrelling.

Fathers are even commanded to create an environment for their children that does not encourage anger: 

Ephesians 6:1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2  " Honour your father and mother" (this is the first commandment with a promise), "that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land." 4  Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. 

Anger is such a serious thing that the Lord commands us to never go to bed angry!

Ephesians 4:26 b do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27  and give no opportunity to the devil

All the devil needs is a foothold - sly and strong beast that he is. He'll quietly slip his toes in your situation and hold on like a spider's web in the wind. Waiting to pounce and kill, he'll whisper dainty morsels of envy, jealousy, injustice, and false merit in your ear - invisibly pushing and pulling you toward the cliff of bitterness, wrath, anger, clamour, slander and malice. No wonder Paul says to push all these things away from us, and

Ephesians 4:32   Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

If we are going to win the fight against anger we must get into our craw the fact anger is sin - and sinless anger is mighty rare. To grow in Christ you must get serious about how you live.

As they say, "Talk is cheap."

But to have a godly walk is deep. 

How can we live without anger? Here are some ideas: 

1.   Plan to answer softly.

15:1 A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

If we just had it in our minds that the next time we felt the temptation to get angry we would lower our volume, force a smile, and only let loving and gentle words through that big hole in our heads... we would be far better prepared to fight the war against anger. Our goal should be to put the fire out, not stir it up. We need to see ourselves as a big bucket of water, not a bellows cramp! 

15: 18   A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention. 

2.   Decide to put up with more.

19:11   Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offence.

10:12   Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offences.

The fact is , we would do well to consider Jesus and what he endured. When you think of how many days of his life were full of so-called reasons to get angry... and then how little He was sinlessly angry - it ought to humble us and convince us that we really can put up with more.

3.   Avoid angry people. 

I know I mentioned this before, but we do tend to become like the people we spend the most time with. If your best friends are angry people, you are going to become an angry woman.

22:24   Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man,

22: 25   lest you learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare.

4.   Never go to bed angry. 

Before your head hits the pillow every night - do your blood-earnest best to rid your house and family of anger.

For as bad as anger is for us, it is surprising how much the Bible speaks of God's wrath and anger. For Him, it is no sin. It is just and pure and holy and one day every soul will see it in full measure. Some men will be condemned to the wrath of God because they never repented of the anger of man. What a glory, that all the wrath of God a Christian deserved was poured out on God's Son, Jesus, instead at the cross. His satisfaction of wrath is enough to demand our rejection of anger.

29:22  A man of wrath stirs up strife, and one given to anger causes much transgression.

May God give us all grace to kill the sin of anger. 

Following Him with you all, 


P.S. Murray left his gloves here the last time he was up. Please tell him I will send them down in the mail unless I hear from him otherwise.