Jesus was the archetypal Culture-Defier. He taught creative ways to swim against the tide of the prevailing worldview. In a culture of fear, suspicion and prejudice, he taught (and lived out) confident love, empathy and kindness. And where people felt justified in responding vengefully to one another, He replied “Bless those who curse you, pray for those who ill-treat you.” (Luke 6:28)
Is this a practical command or an idealistic aspiration? Does it roughly translate into “Just try not to lose your cool”? I quoted it one time in a seminar on “Handling Emotions”and one of the participants said: “But what about when I get mad?”
“So when do you get mad?”
“When people irritate me.”
“When does that happen?”
“Oh. All the time. Most days, anyway.”
The guy painted a picture of himself like a wound-up alarm clock -a time-bomb!- waiting to go off, and with everybody treading warily around him, hoping to avoid the crisis moment.
Paul wrote to a group of believers in Colosse. Here’s his take on this point: “Put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth.”
But how? How do you say “Stop” to the rush of emotions that flare up like an involuntary spasm when you’re provoked? Here’s a few ideas.
1. First, be honest with yourself about your anger: is it righteous or sinful, (or mixed)?
In Ephesians 4:26, Paul wrote, “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” Then, a few verses later (Eph. 4:31), he told his readers to put aside all anger. These and other Scriptures show that there is a right and a wrong way to be angry. But what’s the difference?
Righteous anger is the godly reaction to sin or injustice. God’s wrath is His settled opposition against sin. In fact, most biblical references to anger refer to God’s anger, not to human anger. Jesus was angry without sinning when He encountered unbelief and hypocrisy (Mark 3:5; John 2:14-17; Matt. 21:12-13; 23:13-33). If we become like Him, we, too, will be angry and feel hatred toward sin, hypocrisy, and injustice.
So the first step is to think about why you’re angry. God used this approach with Cain when He asked, “Why are you angry?” (Gen. 4:6). God never asks questions to gain information, but rather to help the person think about the situation from God’s perspective. Cain was angry because God had rejected his sacrifice and he was jealous of his brother, whose sacrifice God had accepted. God went on to exhort Cain to do well and to warn him that sin was crouching at the door, ready to devour him. But Cain ignored God’s counsel and murdered his brother.
So, be careful! It’s easy to justify sinful anger by claiming that it was righteous. And even legitimately righteous anger is often tainted by sinful anger.
The embarrassing truth is that when I analyze my anger, almost always it is rooted in selfishness: I didn’t get my way and I want my way! I didn’t get my rights and I demand my rights! So the first step in overcoming anger is to analyze it honestly before God by looking at why you were angry.
If selfishness had any part in your anger, it was sinful.
2. You CAN control your sinful anger.
I once lost my temper completely with my teenage son. As the shouting match escalated, there was a knock at the door. I paused for breath, opened the door, and immediately engaged in a polite conversation with a neighbour.
Without batting an eyelid, I had switched off my rage, all by myself, in three seconds flat! This means one thing: If I want to, I can control my temper.
But how big is your “want-to”?
And that is only speaking as a human being. As a Christian, I believe that Christ died both to take away the guilt of our sins and to give us power through the indwelling Holy Spirit to overcome our sins. Paul’s simple command to put aside our anger implies that we CAN control it. He doesn’t make exceptions for those with short fuses or for those who have been victimized. You may protest, “But the problem is, I can’t control it! I explode before I think about it. But that’s not true! The Bible never commands us to do what we cannot do by the power of God’s indwelling Spirit.
And all believers in Jesus Christ have the indwelling Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:9; 1 Cor. 12:13). In Galatians 5:19-21, Paul lists a number of deeds of the flesh, including “enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, and envying,” which all are related to sinful anger. He goes on (Gal. 5:22-23) to list the fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control,” most of which are the opposite of sinful anger. The key to moving from the deeds of the flesh to the fruit of the Spirit is Gal. 5:16: “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.”
So even if it seems impossible -humanly speaking- to control your anger, if you’ll confess it as sin and learn to walk in the Spirit in obedience to God, you can control it or else God’s Word is not true. The word “fruit” implies that it is a growth process. These qualities require nurture and attention.
Paul’s command shows that we don’t have to yell or use foul language that attacks the one we’re angry at. We can control our tongue, even when we’re angry, to bring grace and healing. In fact, as Jesus said, we can “Bless those who curse you, pray for those who ill-treat you.”
So the first step when you’re angry is to stop long enough to analyze it: Is it righteous, sinful, or mixed. Then, realize that you can control your sinful anger.
3. Before I can deal with my anger by putting these things aside, I’ve got to recognize that I am angry, that it’s sin, and that I’m responsible for it.
God’s way is not for us to blame the person who wronged us or to justify our anger as right when it is sin. It’s never right to blame God for allowing some difficult situation that came into my life! Rather, when I’m angry I should acknowledge, “I have sinned” (2 Sam. 12:13; Ps. 51:4) Confessing it means accepting responsibility for it and taking appropriate action to turn from it. It means going to the one I was angry with and asking forgiveness. I need to submit joyfully what God is allowing (Gen. 50:20; Rom. 8:28; 1 Pet. 5:6-10), asking Him to teach me what I need to learn from this trial.
4. Deal radically and decisively with all of your sinful anger.
You’ve got to confront it head on; it won’t go away by itself.
To deal radically and decisively with anger, you’ve got to develop a biblical strategy. First make sure that you’ve trusted in Jesus Christ to forgive your sins and give you eternal life. The minute you believe in Jesus, you receive the Holy Spirit who takes up permanent residence in your heart. Then you need to learn to walk in moment by moment dependence on the Spirit, yielding control of your life to Him.
Also, memorize key Scriptures that relate to anger. Proverbs 12:18 states, “There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” You can use your tongue like a sword to destroy or like a scalpel to heal. God has brought that verse to my mind many times just as I was ready to start swinging my “sword”!
Another helpful verse is James 1:19-20, “But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.”
And “Bless those who curse you, pray for those who ill-treat you.” (Luke 6:28) Respond positively to the situation. Use your mouth to deal out grace and kindness, and not curses and fury.
If you have sinned by being angry, go to the person and humbly ask forgiveness for your wrong. Husband to wife, brother to brother, parent to child. Ask your kids’ forgiveness when you get angry with them. Otherwise, they will smell hypocrisy: “Dad claims to be a Christian and he puts on a good front at church, but he doesn’t act like a Christian at home!”
Our homes should be permeated with the love of Christ, not with rage and fear.
Also, to conquer your anger, spend time daily meditating on God’s mercy to you at the cross. Paul goes on to say (Col. 3:12-13), “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.”
Another way to deal decisively with anger is, pray for and with those you’re angry with. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “I can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me.”
And Jesus was explicit: “ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother will be subject to judgment. …Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”
The gameplan is always restoration, not revenge. The “desired outcome” is not standing on your rights but surrendering them! Reconciliation first,worship second!