There’s an old story about a little boy with a bad temper. His father gave him a bag of nails and told him that every time he lost his temper, to hammer a nail in the back fence. The first day the boy had driven 37 nails into the fence. Then it gradually dwindled down. He discovered it was easier to hold his temper than to drive those nails into the fence.
Finally the day came when the boy didn’t lose his temper at all. He told his father about it and the father suggested that the boy now pull out one nail for each day that he was able to hold his temper. Most days he got to pull a nail but some days he had to pound a nail in.
The days passed and the young boy was finally able to tell his father that all the nails were gone. The father took his son by the hand and led him to the fence. He said, “You have done well, my son, but look at the holes in the fence. The fence will never be the same. When you say things in anger, they leave a mark just like the nails left a mark in the fence. It won’t matter how many times you say I’m sorry, the wound is still there.”
How do you express your anger? Do you often blow your stack? Do you respond with swear words and cursing? Are you prone to road rage? Do you threaten lawsuits and other legal actions? Do you take your money and business elsewhere? Are you “slow to listen, quick to speak and quick to become angry”?
Here’s the whole verse: it’s from James 1:19-20: “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”
Isn’t that interesting? If you desire to follow God, then your anger doesn’t serve your purpose. It doesn’t “produce the righteousness that God desires.” By contrast, if it produces anything it produces self-righteousness and self-justification.
Ambrose Bierce said: “Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.”
Paul is more explicit still. He wrotes to a group of young believers in Ephesus thus:
“In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold….Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” (Ephesians 4:26-31 )
There’s a whole spectrum here of what anger might look like. If it is totally internalised it is bitterness. If it’s totally externalised it is brawling! And in between we have these words “rage, anger…slander, along with every form of malice.” It’s a pretty comprehensive list of those nail heads.
And he gives the two polar opposite directors of action: the Holy Spirit and the Devil. If you bear grudges and nurse wounds then you are letting “the sun go down while you are still angry” (so to speak) and this gives the Devil a foothold. The word foothold means “place”or right of access. Every time you go over and over that offence in your own mind then you are ceding territory to the enemy. And this “grieves the Holy Spirit.” It hurts and saddens Him.
So you have to decide what your words will do. Self-control is a fruit that the Holy Spirit wants to develop in you. Will your words wound or bless? Will they build up or tear down? Or are you just so selfish and self-obsessed that it just doesn’t matter so long as you can just vent your own feelings in a spasm of anger?
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
The book of Proverbs has many verses on the subject. Here’s a few:
Proverbs 29:11 “Fools give full vent to their rage, but the wise bring calm in the end.”
Proverbs 15:18 “A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict, but the one who is patient calms a quarrel.”
Proverbs 16:32 “Better a patient person than a warrior, one with self-control than one who takes a city.”
Proverbs 22:24: “Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person, do not associate with one easily angered.”
Proverbs 14:29: “Whoever is patient has great understanding, but one who is quick-tempered displays folly.”
To me the bottom line is: a heart filled with anger has no room for love.
PS: The picture is by Julia Ardac and is entitled “The Dragon.”