Practical Christianity: Anger

I can’t help it, it’s just the way I am!” “It just builds, and then I explode!” You can likely think of many other excuses that you have heard or used. We justify ourselves, saying it is “righteous anger,” or perhaps we like to quote Ephesians 4:26, “Be ye angry.” There you have it! God accepts that we are angry. Or does He?

The essence of anger is seen in the reasons given: frustration, resentment, hurt, or even fear. Many times the person who receives the brunt of our anger is not actually the cause of the anger. A husband explodes at home at the supper table because he is frustrated with work. Sometimes, long past offenses may unexpectedly produce anger. Fear that someone will hurt us may also cause us to lash out in a preemptive strike.

The Bible gives a better explanation. Let’s look at what Paul said to the Galatians: “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these …wrath…” (5:19-20). Other translations help us to understand that Paul was speaking about “outbursts or fits of anger.” W. E. Vine tells us that this means, “hot anger, or fierceness;” it is an “agitated condition of the feelings, an outburst.” Have you ever experienced that in your life? Have you ever expressed hot anger in an uncontrolled outburst? Remember that this is obviously not from God, and has not been done in the power of the Spirit, nor is it a true reflection of the person of Christ in us. It is, plainly speaking, a work of the flesh.

There are examples in the Bible of anger. Cain was angry with God, so he killed his brother Abel. Moses was agitated and annoyed due to the complaints of God’s people when he struck the rock twice instead of speaking to it. Saul, who could not control his emotions, tried to kill David in a fit of rage on more than one occasion.

Many who wish to justify their outbursts will point to the Lord Jesus. In Mark 3, He met a man with a withered hand. The Pharisees wanted an opportunity to accuse Jesus, but, with compassion, the Savior restored the hand to complete usefulness. Notice that before He healed the man, He “looked around about on them with anger” (Mark 3:5). His motivation was that He could see the hardness of the hearts of the religious leaders who preferred to see this man continue to suffer. It was Christ’s holiness reacting to human sin.

Too often what causes anger to spring up in our hearts has nothing to do with injustice done to others, the honor of God, or the fact that others are impeding His work. Rather, our anger usually is because someone has upset or offended us, or failed to fulfill our expectations.Perhaps something very simple has irritated us, like a child dropping and breaking a dish. These things often cause a massive outflow and overflow of anger. Notice, as well, that the word used concerning the Lord Jesus is orge, not thumos as in Galatians 5. It is not the outburst of anger, but rather the settled and abiding condition of the emotions. Our anger is often the short-term reaction to something, whereas God’s anger is righteous and long term.

The effects of these “fits of anger” are numerous and hard to measure. Cain was “cursed from the earth,” and became a “fugitive and a vagabond” (Gen 4:11-12). King Saul ended up losing his kingdom (1Sam 13:14), and it wreaked havoc on his relationship with Jonathan. God told Moses, as a result of his unbelief and anger, “Ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them” (Num 20:12). Anger then, as sin, affects us and others around us. Think of how many children live in fear of the anger of their mother or father. This may result in the warping of their understanding of the Fatherhood of God. How many sheep in assemblies think an overseer is unapproachable, because perhaps he will be “soon angry” (Titus 1:7)?

In Paul’s letters we find a few simple exhortations with regard to anger and wrath. “Be ye angry and sin not; let not the sun go down upon your wrath: neither give place to the devil” (Eph 4:26-27). He recognized that there is a danger that in our anger we become a tool in the hands of the devil.

“Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice” (Eph 4:31). It is fairly simple to understand this command, but perhaps more difficult to implement it. The word “all” does not allow us to harbor any anger or wrath.

There are two basic lessons that we need to learn from Paul, and both have to do with control. 1) We cannot allow our wrath to last long, only when we are certain that the cause is justified. Is this the easier lesson? 2) We need to put anger and wrath completely aside. This is the more difficult lesson. There are sins that we excuse, tolerate, coddle, or maybe even enjoy. But Paul says: Let it all be put away!

Some seek an easy solution to their anger issues, wishing to eradicate anger from their lives. Others attend “anger management” sessions. Do we need to manage it? Or get rid of it? What are the two possible ends of anger?

Ephesians 4 will teach us that we have “learned Christ,” and have to “put off the old man.” Paul says we ought not to “grieve the Holy Spirit,” exhorting us to “put away wrath and anger.” In chapter 5 he tells us to “be filled with the Spirit, speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ; submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God” (5:18-21).

Anger is inconsistent, then, with “learning Christ,” and is something that belonged to the “old man.” Remember the excuse? “I can’t help it; it’s just the way I am.” It is the way I was, but it ought not to be the way I am now. Being “filled with the Spirit,” showing a thankful spirit, and submitting humbly to others, will certainly produce a happy spirit within us and make us much less prone to anger.

In Matthew 5:22 our Lord said, “But I say unto you, that every one that is lightly angry with his brother shall be subject to the judgment” (JND), warning us faithfully about the consequences of our anger.

So we can see that one possible end is “sin” (Eph 4:26), but the better end is “learning Christ” and putting away “all wrath and anger” (Eph.4:20, 31).”He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city” (Prov 16:32).