(May 2000 – Volume 6, Issue 5)
In his autobiography, Number One, Billy Martin tells about hunting in Texas with Mickey Mantle. Mickey had a friend who would let them hunt on his ranch. When they reached the ranch, Mickey told Billy to wait in the car while he checked in with his friend.
Mantle’s friend quickly gave them permission to hunt, but he asked Mickey a favor. He had a pet mule in the barn who was going blind, and he didn’t have the heart to put him out of his misery. He asked Mickey to shoot the mule for him.
When Mickey came back to the car, he pretended to be angry. He scowled and slammed the door. Billy asked him what was wrong, and Mickey said his friend wouldn’t let them hunt. “I’m so mad at that guy,” Mantle said, “I’m going out to his barn and shoot one of his mules!”
Mantle drove like a maniac to the barn. Martin protested, “We can’t do that!” But Mickey was adamant. “Just watch me,” he shouted.
When they got to the barn, Mantle jumped out of the car with his rifle, ran inside and shot the mule. As he was leaving, though, he heard two shots, and he ran back to the car. He saw that Martin had taken out his rifle too.
“What are you doing Martin?” He yelled. Martin yelled back, face red with anger, “We’ll show that son of a gun! I just killed two of his cows!”
While most of us would chuckle, or at least groan when we read such a story, anger and its devastating effects are not laughing matters. There are few sins that have gripped the heart of so many as that of anger. In this paper we want to define anger, examine its root causes, expose its consequences, and finally detail biblical methodologies of dealing with it.
What Is Anger?
Reduced to its simplest form, anger is a strong emotion of displeasure. Three key words describing various forms of anger are found in Colossians 3:8 “But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth.” The Greek word for anger is orge, which describes the attitude of anger. It speaks of a deep-seated constant habitual attitude, that may or may not be evident outwardly. This word can also convey the idea of revenge. Wrath (thumos) is the expression of anger that is most likely to come to our minds when we consider this subject. Thumos is a violent eruption, an outburst of anger, the losing of one’s temper. Malice (kakia) carries with it the concept of a vicious character (Vines). It is animosity and ill will toward others (Arndt and Gingrich).
When Paul tells us to lay aside all forms of anger, whether it is a deep-seated, carefully hidden bad attitude, or a violent, explosive temper, animosity, resentment, or bitterness, he both frustrates and encourages us. It is frustrating because we know how difficult it is for us to change our sinful habits, especially if we have actually enjoyed them. But it is encouraging to realize that our Lord never commands us to do something unless He gives us the means to obey (I Corinthians 10:13). We are therefore left with no excuse for any form of sinful anger. We are given no loophole to blame our bad temper on heredity, circumstances, mid-life crisis, hormones, or even illness. We are to lay aside all forms of anger. Of course, this is easier said than done.
Why Do We Get Angry?
Before we can attack our anger problem we have to dig below the surface. Anger is often a symptom of other issues and sins. While we must be careful to not fall into the psychological trap of searching the subconscious for deep scars left by our “mother” that now triggers our anger, we must at the same time recognize that anger has roots. Until those roots are exposed and severed, we are unlikely to remedy our problem with the sin of anger.
Proverbs 14:29 says, He who is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who is quick-tempered exalts folly. Given that the word “slow” means patient and “quick” means impatient, we see why the NIV translates the first half of this verse, “A patient man has great understanding.” We are an impatient people. We want what we want and we want it now. And if we don’t get it, we get angry. Sticking us in a traffic jam when we are in a hurry can test the sanctification of a saint. Throw us into relationships with irritating people and we tend to forget the love of the brethren. Yet, gripe as we may, opportunities for impatience continue to abound. Could it be that God is weaving irritations, disappointments, and even traffic jams into the fabric of our lives? He does this not to anger us, but to give us the opportunity to grow in Him. As someone has said, “You cannot be longsuffering until you’ve been longbothered.”
A fool always loses his temper, but a wise man holds it back (Proverbs 29:11). Uncontrolled anger is a mark of a fool. A fool, in this sense, is one who does not understand how to handle life God’s way. If someone or something bothers him, watch out, for he will fire off a salvo of anger. In modern times psychology has taught the importance of venting anger. People are like teapots, we are told, and unless they release steam they will ultimately explode. Of course, since it is often unwise to vent one’s anger toward the cause of that anger (e.g., your boss) a substitute is sought. Screaming at a wall or hitting a pillow will vent that anger, allowing you to not only keep your job, but to feel better as well. I well remember a co-worker at the shipping department at Bible college who suddenly ran across the room and slammed his fist through a box. When his co-workers inquired as to what was going on, he informed us that his counselor had advised such action. Unfortunately, as time ticked on our friend never improved in the anger department. But this should not surprise us after all, contrary to the thinking of some, we are not teapots. Venting does nothing to help us with anger, but it does argue well the case for our foolishness.
Our problem with anger cannot be blamed on others: We are depraved creatures who come by all sins naturally. Nevertheless, anger can be learned, or at least increased, by our association with angry people. Proverbs 22:24,25 is clear, Do not associate with a man given to anger; or go with a hot-tempered man, lest you learn his ways, and find a snare for yourself. Proverbs 13:20 says, He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm. Whom we associate with greatly affects how we handle life.
Undoubtedly the greatest source of anger is selfishness. We are self-centered creatures. Things don’t go our way, we get mad. Someone steps on our toes, we react. Someone else hurts us, and we get bitter. Why? Because we are more concerned about ourselves than we are about others. We are looking out for number one. Our anger should serve as a warning device, an indicator light that something more serious is wrong on the inside.
What Do Angry People Do?
A quick-tempered man acts foolishly (Proverbs 14:17). When we are angry we do and say things that we would never do or say at any other time. In the heat of the battle we just don’t care what other people think. And in the process we lose the respect of others. As someone has said, make a speech when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.
This is not to say that angry people cannot control their anger, but that until they understand the problem, and want to do something about it, they are actually slaves of their fallen passions — and helping them is a futile effort. Solomon underscores this, A man of great anger shall bear the penalty, for if you rescue him, you will only have to do it again (Proverbs 19:19).
When the Lord informed us that an angry man stirs up strife, and a hot-tempered man abounds in transgression (Proverbs 29:22), He wanted us to understand that anger is a key that unlocks the lid to Pandora’s box, unleashing a multitude of sins. Perhaps this is true because angry people believe that their behavior is justified. They convince themselves that their anger is appropriate, even when it clearly is an over reaction.
What Does Anger Produce?
When we are angry, not only do we think that our anger is justified, we think that it is also productive. We like to think that our outburst, or our pouting, or our revengeful attitude is accomplishing something of value. It is accomplishing something all right — it produces:
Hatred for Ourselves
A quick-tempered man acts foolishly, and a man of evil devices is hated (Proverbs 14:17). Of course the angry person will accept none of the blame for this animosity. It is because he is being persecuted for righteousness, or perhaps he is just unloved, or maybe people are not friendly “at that church.” The angry person does not believe that it is his anger, his rotten disposition, his slamming of others, that has caused people to shun his presence and treat him “as he treats others.”
Anger in Others
Proverbs 15:1 is quite a convicting verse: A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Verse 18 of that same chapter does a number on the angry as well, A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but the slow to anger pacifies contention. I still remember an episode from twenty years ago illustrating the truthfulness of these words. Our young people were involved in a paper drive, collecting newspapers from the community. Suddenly a car, driven by a 50ish man, came roaring into our church parking lot. In obvious anger he growled at me that our young people had come into his open garage and had stolen bundles of newspapers that he had planned on selling to a recycling outfit. Rather than respond as I might normally, I smiled, apologized and offered to return the papers immediately. The whole countenance of the man changed; he smiled back, said we could keep the papers and left laughing. I will never forget how a gentle answer turned away that man’s anger.
On the other hand, angry people are always in a battle with someone; they elicit strife because of the way they treat people. Anyone who finds themselves in constant conflict with others would do well to stop blaming the world and carefully examine their own anger quota. I love the way Solomon states all of this in Proverbs 30:33: For the churning of milk produces butter, and pressing the nose brings forth blood; so the churning of anger produces strife. When you press milk long enough you get butter; when you press someone’s nose it bleeds, right? So, it is just as true that when you push people enough you get a fight.
A man of great anger shall bear the penalty (Proverbs 19:19a). We may get away with our angry spirit for a time, but ultimately we will pay the price. If you want to be constantly struggling in life, then go ahead, carefully balance that chip on your shoulder, stay on the defensive, look for opportunities to be offended, make sure that no one steps on your rights, and always, always retaliate — after all, it would be awful if someone got the best of you. This is the perfect recipe for a trouble-filled life.
How Do We Deal with Anger?
If we are to kill the weed of anger (or at least wither it a bit) there are several weed killers we need to apply:
Start with Wisdom and Understanding
C. S. Lewis is perceptive when he writes, “It is only our bad temper that we put down to being tired or worried, or hungry; we put our good temper down to ourselves” (Mere Christianity, p. 21). Isn’t that the way we are? If we are grouchy or short with someone, we say, “Oh, I’m not myself today.” Unfortunately the truth is that we are being ourselves and that is the problem. The first step toward some measure of victory over the weed of anger is to recognize anger in our lives and stop excusing it. He who is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who is quick-tempered exalts folly (Proverbs 14:29).
One way that we might be able to measure our progress is to examine how well we are handling insults, criticisms, and the harshness of others: A man’s discretion makes him slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook a transgression (Proverbs 19:11). Can you overlook some of these things, or do you have to go to the mat constantly?
Learn to Develop Self-control
He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city (Proverbs 16:32). The Scriptures always imply that we can control our emotions and actions if we desire, and doesn’t our experience verify this? You are in a heated argument with a family member when the phone rings, and you answer it with all the sweetness of an angel. What happened to the anger? A friend told me of engaging a wife-beater in a conversation. The guilty man claimed that he just could not help himself — when he got angry he lashed out physically. My friend, a large and strong man, couldn’t take it anymore, and so possibly violating several principles discussed in this paper, he slapped the man across the face. When the slappee howled in pain, “Why did you do that?” my friend said, “I just wanted to see if you could control yourself if you were facing someone who could possibly whip you.” The answer — amazingly he could. When faced with a worthy opponent, rather than a defenseless wife, he found the strength (and good sense) to keep his fist to himself.
Self-control is not just a matter of behavioral modification. Galatians 5:23 includes self-control as one facet of the fruit of the Spirit. When, as believers, we are under the control of the Holy Spirit, we will be empowered to control ourselves. Our obligation is to be Spirit-filled (Ephesians 5:18), allowing the Spirit to control our lives.
Grow in Patience
The foundation of patience rests in our trust in God. Do not say, ‘I will repay evil;’ Wait for the Lord, and He will save you (Proverbs 20:22; see also Romans 12:14-21). When we have been wronged we desire nothing more than to get even. Such an angry response is natural — but naturally wrong. We will only be able to bear wrong patiently when we know that God is trustworthy, and that He will defend us in His own way and in His own time.
Fellowship with Peaceful People
If you apply the other weed killers to your anger but ignore this one, you will do little more than cut the head off the weed, leaving the root. Solomon warns, Do not associate with a man given to anger; or go with a hot-tempered man, lest you learn his ways, and find a snare for yourself (Proverbs 22:24, 25). With whom we spend our time matters a great deal in our Christian development. If we cannot avoid such people, we must be careful to recognize their sin and not imitate it, asking God for special mercy and grace.
The biblical imperative “to be angry, and yet do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26), is surely among the most difficult of all commands to obey. This passage, among others, assures us that there is a time when anger is the most godly of all responses to a given situation. But the right amount of anger, for the right amount of time is a great balancing act; one calling for extreme wisdom. The believer is ahead of the curve to realize that righteous anger is a rarity with most of us. How blessed is the person who sees their anger from God’s perspective and determines to deal with it properly by the Holy Spirit’s power.