By Kayleen Reusser
He stood in line at the cash register ready to pay. The store clerk in another line called, “I’m sorry, sir. That register is closed. Please come through this line.”
The man’s face turned red, he uttered loud profanities, slammed his avocados on the counter, and stormed out of the store.
The clerk shrugged. “Not a good day for him.”
Having observed the scene from one line over, I thought, The people who live with him won’t have an easy time of it either.
Situations in our culture where people lose control of their tempers are legion. In sports arenas angry fans throw debris and heap insults on players. Fathers fight about calls with officials during Little League games. Road rage is common. Churches split when members angrily disagree about church polity. Families are torn apart when one member is abusive toward another.
A Perpetual Problem
King Solomon understood the danger of allowing our temper to rule our actions. He wrote, “Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools” (Ecclesiastes 7:9).
When we allow anger to control our lives, we expose ourselves to hazardous results. People who are angry may indulge in behavior they would not consider in a calmer state. Anger that leads to extramarital affairs, violence, or slander can cause irreconcilable problems. “A quick-tempered person does foolish things, and the one who devises evil schemes is hated” (Proverbs 14:17).
David, the future king of Israel, had to deal with a fiery temper. First Samuel 25 records an incident between David and a belligerent, greedy farmer named Nabal. When David asked Nabal to feed his soldiers, the man refused. David, who had guarded Nabal’s flocks for a time to ensure no animals were harmed, was furious. He told his solders, “May God deal with David, be it ever so severely, if by morning I leave alive one male of all who belong to him!” (v. 22).
Thankfully, Nabal’s wife Abigail heard about her husband’s foolish decision and David’s subsequent vow. She intercepted David before he reached Nabal. By calming David with a peace offering of food and a personal apology, Abigail helped David change his mind about killing Nabal’s household. David surely looked back on that day with relief that his irrational behavior had not resulted in the loss of innocent lives. After he had time to control his anger, he knew God would not have condoned such violence.
Hearing God’s Voice
James wrote, “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” (1:19, 20).
When anger controls us, we’re not willing to hear what other people think. Worse, we don’t stop to consider God’s will in the moment. The writer of Proverbs stated it plainly: “Fools give full vent to their rage, but the wise bring calm in the end” (29:11).
Paul wrote that Christians should not allow their feelings of anger to cause them to hurt themselves, others, or God. “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” (Ephesians 4:26, 27).
On the other hand, anger correctly expressed brings honor to God. When Jesus Christ cleansed the temple, he went in with a whip, drove out the moneychangers, overturned their tables, and said, “My house will be called a house of prayer” (Matthew 21:12, 13).
Jesus may have appeared out of control that day, but after observing the greedy behavior of the moneychangers in the temple, he acted out of sincere love and devotion to God. His actions were those of a self-controlled person doing what was needed to make a point: God’s house was not to be defiled by selfish ambition.
We see evidence of similar strategies today. In 1980, grieving mothers, angry that drunk drivers killed their children, organized Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). During the past three decades, their influence led lawmakers to stiffen penalties for DUI offenders and saved thousands of lives. By carefully choosing how to use anger, Christians can effectively further God’s justice and love in the world.
Let God Lead
James wrote, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:22). The word listen comes from the same root word as audit. A person who audits a class shows up and listens to class lectures and discussions. But she is not required to read assignments, take tests, or write research papers. As a result, she gains less value from the experience than the student who takes the course for credit and puts forth more effort.
Some people audit church and Bible reading. They show up on Sunday mornings. They may even attend Sunday school. While these actions are admirable, it is more important to apply God’s Word to one’s life. In the case of a troublesome temper, pray to God for patience and strength for holding back heated words. Seek God’s leading in the situation. Follow his prompting to act with honor and dignity as his child.
James wrote, “He chose to give us birth through the word of truth” and “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless” (James 1:18, 26).
If I claim to be a Christian and am not in control of my temper, my testimony is not worth much to others or to God. Unless my mind is filled with God’s Word, I cannot overcome my anger and control my life. By filling my heart with his Word, I bless those around me by demonstrating a controlled attitude. By memorizing and meditating on Scriptures dealing with anger, you enable yourself to “get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you” (James 1:21).
Finding the Right Outlet
As important as it is to control anger, it is just as necessary to express it in a nonthreatening manner. People who live with repressed anger often suffer significant negative consequences: divorce, violent behavior, and self-destruction.
It may be difficult for some to accept Paul’s admonition about getting rid of our anger by doing something positive and loving for the object of our anger.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:17-21).
As difficult as it is to accept, we should strive to obey God in this respect.
Those born into God’s family have high expectations placed upon them. It is assumed we are spirit-controlled people willing and able to control our tempers. Those who do not follow God’s leading may not understand how this is possible. But for those who have accepted Jesus Christ as Savior, this factor is vital in our witness of God’s saving grace. By enlisting God’s help in handling our anger, we can be confident he will create us to be spirit-controlled, love-focused people who follow Jesus Christ in every situation.
Kayleen Reusser is a freelance writer in Bluffton, Indiana.
Five Reasons to Be Angry
When you’re trying to purge anger from your life, it can be helpful to redirect your feelings rather than just trying to will yourself to feel calm.
Think about how and why God gets angry.
Let God’s words to Moses in Exodus 34:6, 7 be your guide: “The lord, the lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished.” Remember that vengeance is God’s, not ours.
Here are five legitimate objects of righteous anger. Grieve for these sins and work lovingly toward rooting them out of your life and the lives of those around you.
1. Greed. If there’s one thing the world has more of than anger, it’s greed.
2. Self-centeredness. Anytime we display this sin, we take the emphasis away from God and place it on ourselves.
3. Taking God’s name in vain. This involves both speech and actions that show disrespect toward God.
4. The misrepresentation of God’s image to the world. This includes people who give others the impression that God is interested only in their condemnation.
5. Preying on the weak. Bullying, sexual harassment, abuse of the elderly, and human trafficking are just a few examples.