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All of us have problems controlling our temper at times. Some of us have habitual problems.
Let us consider what the Bible says. Is all anger necessarily sinful? Can we control our tempers? What does Jesus offer to help up overcome the habit of losing our temper?
[I have been benefited in this study by counseling materials written by Jay Adams.]
What is the problem with anger? What is the danger?
Some people assume that Christians should never show signs of a temper. If a Christian raises his voice or becomes visibly upset, some people think or act as though he violated his duty as a Christian. Consider:
Psalm 7:11 - Because He is a just God, God is angry with sinners every day. Surely God's anger is not wrong. It is proper, for it is even based on His justice.
Many other passages show that God is angry when people commit sin. He will punish sinners in wrath. If God is infinitely righteous yet is often angry, why should we conclude that people are always wrong when they are angry?
[Romans 1:18; 2:5-9; 5:6-11; Ephesians 5:6; Colossians 3:6; John 3:36; etc.]
The Bible says Moses was more meek than anyone else on earth (Num. 12:3), yet several times he acted and spoke in great anger.
Exodus 11:4-8 - Moses predicted that God would destroy the firstborn in all Egypt. Moses was acting as God's spokesman, yet he spoke "in great anger" (v8).
Exodus 32:19-24 - While Moses was on Mt. Sinai receiving the law, Israel worshiped a golden calf. When he saw this, "Moses' anger became hot" (v19), so much so that other people could see that he was angry (v22). He spoke and he punished the people in anger (cf. vv 25-29).
Numbers 16:15 - When Korah, Dathan, and Abiram led a rebellion against Moses' leadership, "Moses was very angry." He spoke in anger (vv 16ff), and even prayed to God in anger.
Mark 3:5 - When Jews condemned Jesus for healing on the sabbath, He looked on them in anger, being grieved at their hardness of heart. Jesus became angry and spoke in anger, even when teaching. Did He sin (Heb. 4:15)?
2 Corinthians 7:11 - In obedience to Paul's inspired teaching (1 Cor. 5), Corinth had disciplined a fornicator. Paul praised them for their "indignation." Note that a whole congregation acted in indignation, even disciplined a member in indignation, and were praised for doing so!
Ephesians 4:26 - Be angry, and do not sin. Can we obey this passage? If so, then it is possible to be angry without sinning.
Not everyone who is angry has automatically done wrong. Some anger is justified. But note that every case listed above involves being angry at sin. Sin ought to anger Christians, but we must control our response.
Take care lest you conclude that people have sinned, simply because they became angry. Not all anger is sinful.
[Psalms 119:53; Gen. 31:31; Psalm 2:12; Nehemiah 5:6,7; Mark 10:14 - ASV]
James 1:19,20 - Be slow to wrath, because the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Again, not all anger is forbidden. It does not say to never be angry but to be slow to anger. The problem with anger is what it "produces" or leads to.
Proverbs 14:17 - A quick-tempered man acts foolishly. Not all anger is sinful, but we must take care lest we "fly off the handle," lose control, and act wrongly. [Prov. 29:22]
Anger can cause us to sin in two different ways:
Some psychologists encourage people to "vent" their anger. If husbands or wives become angry, they are supposed to say whatever they think, because it "gets it out of the system" or "releases tension." They tell us to allow even little children to throw tantrums, scream, and call parents nasty names.
A fool vents all his feelings, but a wise man holds them back. Do you see a man hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.
The problem with anger is that it may lead us to lose control of our conduct and lash out at others with foolish words or deeds that are intended to hurt others and may be regretted later. By contrast, a wise man will control himself, even when he is angry.
The Bible teaches that our words and deeds are controlled by our thoughts. We must learn to control our thoughts and emotions, because harboring sinful thoughts will lead to sinful conduct. [Prov. 4:23; Matt. 15:18ff]
Not all anger is sinful (v26), but we should put away anger that is associated with bitterness, clamor ("loud quarreling" - NKJV ftnt), evil speaking, and malice. It is the opposite of kindness, tenderheartedness, and forgiveness (v32).
Anger is sinful when it leads us to lose control so that, instead of being helpful to others, we become abusive, saying evil or hateful things intended to hurt them. Or we may simply not care about how we affect them. [Col. 3:8ff; 2 Cor. 12:20]
Cain is an example. When God rejected Cain's offering but accepted Abel's, Cain became angry and killed Abel.
Cain's anger was wrong, first because Abel had done nothing wrong. Anger at sin may be justified, but Cain was angry at someone who was righteous. Cain was the one who did wrong and was upset because God did not accept his conduct. Second, his anger was wrong because it led him to harm his brother.
[Prov. 19:11; Rom. 12:17-21' Acts 7:54-60; 19:28; James 3:9-12; 1 Peter 3:9; Matt. 7:12]
Ephesians 4:31,32 - Anger and wrath should be "put away" from us, along with bitterness and malice. But instead of putting away their anger, some people just put it inside: they let it build up bitterness and grudges. They may not say anything, but their hearts are full of malice and a desire to hurt others.
Ephesians 4:26 - Do not let the sun go down on your wrath. Instead of letting anger build up, we should get rid of it. One who "clams up" violates this part of the passage. He may not lash out to hurt others, but neither does he work constructively to eliminate the cause of his anger. He just lets it build up.
James 1:19 - Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath. Note that it says be slow to wrath and slow to speak, not "refuse" to speak.
Leviticus 19:17,18 - Hating our brother and holding a grudge against him in our heart violates the law of loving our neighbor as ourselves (which is also a New Testament law). To avoid this, rebuke him: talk to him about his wrong.
Some view clamming up as the only solution to blowing up. You don't say or do anything harmful (at the time), but you hold bitterness in your heart, plotting harmful things to say and do! Both responses violate the pattern.
In fact clamming up is often what leads to blowing up! The pressure builds till finally we lash out with cruelty and malice. When we learn to deal with anger properly, we can avoid both clamming up and blowing up.
Note that both kinds of anger tend to become habit. We practice them so often that they become ingrained in our character and very difficult to overcome. This leads to our next point.
[Matt. 5:21-24; 1 Cor. 13:5]
Anger can be controlled. Jesus was angry at times and was tempted in all points like we are, but He did not sin (Heb. 4:15). He controlled His anger, and we can control ours. The examples of Moses and others who were angry without sinning show that anger can be controlled.
Ephesians 4:26 - Be angry and sin not.
Proverbs 29:11 - A fool vents his feelings, but a wise man holds them back. We should not clam up, refusing to say what needs to be said, but we should control our anger: hold it back.
Proverbs 16:32; 25:28 - He who is slow to anger and rules his spirit is better than one who captures a city. You can restrain your spirit, and God commands you to do so.
Many other passages refer to this as "self control," an essential characteristic of Christians. Every passage that commands self control is a passage that tells us we can and should control our tempers (1 Corinthians 9:25-27; 2 Peter 1:5-8; Galatians 5:22,23).
[Gal. 5:20,23; 2 Tim. 1:7; Psalm 37:8; Prov. 14:29]
God does not command the impossible.
1 Corinthians 10:13 - We do not face any temptation that is beyond our ability to handle, including the temptation to lose our temper. God will make a way of escape.
There is never an excuse for disobeying God. To say we cannot control our temper is to say God is not faithful. What we need to do is to look for the way of escape.
There is no excuse for failing to control our temper. God requires it and will judge us for it.
[Philippians 4:13; Psalm 37:5; Eph. 6:10-18; 3:20,21; 2 Cor. 9:8; Josh. 1:5-9.]
All of us do control our tempers, when it is important enough to do so.
Consider a mother who has a terrible day. The washer leaks on the floor, kids fight, supper burns, she breaks her favorite bowl, kids track mud on her clean floor. So she explodes, screams at the kids and threatens them. Then the phone rings and it's her husband's boss. Suddenly she is quite capable of carrying on a polite conversation.
Dad works on the car. The dealer gives him a wrong part, it won't go together right, then it won't run, and a wrench slips and splits his knuckle. He's screaming and using profanity. Then a car pulls in the driveway; it's the preacher's wife come for a visit. Suddenly he is calm and polite.
We can control our anger, when we really want to. If we can control our temper for the sake of other people, why not do it for God? God sees everything we do. Is God important enough to control our anger for?
Psalms 119:105 - Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Surely God's word will instruct us how to overcome anger.
Matthew 4:1-11 - Jesus dealt with Satan's temptations by quoting Scripture. Surely this approach can help us overcome the temptation of anger.
Make a list of passages about anger, then study and memorize them. When tempted to lose our temper, quote or read them.
Then, based on those Scriptures, develop a plan of action. This would include some or all of the points below.
[Joshua 1:8; Deuteronomy 6:6-9; Proverbs 3:5,6; 2 Timothy 3:16,17; Ephesians 6:17; Romans 1:16; Hebrews 4:12]
A person who is not a Christian must repent and be baptized for remission of sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16; Mark 16:15,16; Romans 6:3,4; 1 Peter 3:21).
But a child of God who sins, whether loss of temper or any other sin, must confess the sin and ask God's forgiveness.
Acts 8:22 - To be forgiven, we must repent and pray for forgiveness. Some want to remove their problem without admitting it exists. God says confess it and make up your mind to change.
1 Peter 5:7 - Casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. We should pray, not just for forgiveness, but for strength to overcome temptation. We should ask God's help especially when facing temptation.
Luke 6:27,28 - Pray for those who spitefully use us. That includes those who anger us. Praying for others helps us overcome our bitterness and develop an attitude of good will.
However, some will admit they have a problem and may even apologize, but then take no steps to change. Still more is needed.
[Proverbs 28:13; 1 John 1:8-10; Matthew 6:13]
James 5:16 - Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.
We may also ask advice from others in overcoming the problem. Often others have had the same problem. They can help bear our burden (Gal. 6:2; 1 Thess. 5:14).
Proverbs 22:24,25 - Make no friendship with an angry man, And with a furious man do not go, lest you learn his ways and set a snare for your soul. If you associate with people who regularly lose their temper, you become that kind of person. This is especially dangerous, if you already have the problem.
Associating with people who practice sin tempts you to participate. Associating with those who have overcome the problem helps you overcome it.
[Matthew 6:13; Romans 13:14; 1 Corinthians 15:33; 1 Peter 4:3,4; Proverbs 13:20; Exodus 23:2; Psalm 26:5; 2 Corinthians 6:14-18; Ephesians 5:11]
James 1:19 - Be slow to speak, slow to wrath.
Proverbs 29:20 - Do you see a man hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.
Proverbs 15:28 - The heart of the righteous studies how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours forth evil. Don't clam up, but don't just pop off whatever comes to mind. Give an answer, but study on it first.
Force yourself to analyze the situation and consider the consequences of what you might say or do. "If I say or do this, will it be good for others, or am I just angry and will regret the statement later?" Count to ten. Maybe take a walk or ask for time to calm down and think. But instead of clamming up, set an appointment: a specific time to discuss the problem later.
Proverbs 15:1 - A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Note it does not say clam up and give no answer. Give an answer, but make it calm.
Being calm does not mean we must never speak in a way that expresses anger by tone or volume. The examples we already learned show that such anger is not necessarily wrong. But don't speak to hurt, get even, or antagonize. Be sure you are calm enough to say what is helpful. And if the other person loses control, then you speak in a way that shows you are under control.
This turns away wrath: not just the other person's wrath, but your wrath too! When one person gets angry and says something mean, the other tends to respond with something meaner. Then the first must top that, etc. To break the cycle, instead of attacking the other person, calmly say something to help him, not hurt him.
This may seem obvious, but most angry people do the opposite. We may say we are trying to solve the problem, but really we are trying to hurt the person who angered us. Instead of attacking the problem, we attack the person.
The issue is not who angered you, but what happened to anger you. Learn to distinguish the act from the person. Hate the sin, but love the sinner. Striking out to hurt the person will not solve the problem. Seek to destroy the bad conduct, while helping the person who committed it.
Note: some problems are not worth being angry over. Learn to distinguish serious problems from imaginary or unimportant ones. If the problem is not worth working on, it isn't worth being angry over. Forget it and go on. If it's important enough to make you justifiably angry, then use your anger to work on the problem.
Anger is a natural reaction intended to prepare the body for action. The question is: what action is proper?
* Blowing up and attacking the person who angered you is the wrong action.
* Blowing up and attacking an innocent bystander (yelling at your wife or kids because the boss chewed you out) is worse.
* Holding a grudge (clamming up the anger inside yourself) does not solve the problem.
* The only proper way to "be angry and sin not" is to use your natural energy to work on the problem.
Matthew 5:22-24; (Luke 17:3,4) - Being angry without cause is not right; neither is saying cruel, hurtful things. If you have something against someone, or if they have something against you, either way go talk. But talk for the purpose of being reconciled. [Matt. 18:15-17]
Ephesians 4:26 - Don't let the sun go down on your wrath. Don't just seethe inside without working on the problem itself. Go work on the problem. This applies on the job, in the church, and in the home.
Ephesians 4:26,29 - Be angry, but sin not. Speak what is good for necessary edification.
(1) Say what is necessary.
Don't say just whatever comes to mind or whatever you feel like saying. Don't drag out all the old wrongs that were supposedly resolved long ago. Don't just talk on and on and on. Use "no corrupt communication" - no profanity, etc. Say what is needed to solve the problem. If it won't help solve the problem, don't say it!
(2) Say what is good and edifies and imparts grace to the hearers.
Speak to help, not to hurt.
[1 Cor. 13:5; Rom. 12:17-21]
James 1:19 - Be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath. Angry people usually want to tell others off and give them "a piece of their mind." They talk, talk, talk, but never really listen. This is not fair, not good for others, and does not solve the problem. We must be willing to listen.
Matthew 7:3-5 - Why behold the speck in your brother's eye, when you have a plank in your own eye? In speaking with others, we must consider the evidence that maybe we have been wrong as much or more than they have. Consider their evidence.
Matthew 5:23,24 - In order for God to accept our worship, we must seek reconciliation with our brethren.
Luke 17:3,4 - If discussion demonstrates we have been wrong, we must say, "I repent." Apologize. "I was wrong. I am sorry. Please forgive me."
If everyone who needs to do this would do it today, many families would be reconciled, many church members would be reconciled, many friends and neighbors would be reconciled.
Some church members have wronged God and the whole church in ways that are openly known. They need to publicly express their repentance to the whole church.
As with all sins, God does not just tell us what to quit. He also tells us what to do to correct our problem. Anger is often a deep-seated habit, but anyone can overcome it by diligent application of God's pattern.
Have you done what you should to be forgiven of your sins? Is there someone you have harmed in anger? Are there sins against others you need to make right? Are there known errors that you need to make right before the whole church? If so, do it today.
Copyright 1980, 2000, 2009, David E. Pratte
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