The Destructiveness of Sinful Anger

It is helpful to understand that anger is not intrinsically evil. Exodus 34:6 describes God as compassionate and gracious and slow to anger. God abounds in love and he is not quick to wrath, but He does get angry. Jesus is said to have been angry and grieved by hard-hearted religious leaders in Mark 3:5. Anger is an emotion that arises when good is threatened by evil, and for God it is always a righteous emotion. But for us anger can quickly turn sinful. Our fallen human nature distorts why we get angry, how we process that anger, and ultimately how we act out of it.

The human heart tends toward hostility without the ongoing, sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. But even those in Christ are not immune from the temptation of sinful anger, which presents itself in various ways. For some, rage is displayed through screaming, grumbling, biting sarcasm, or even violence. But for others, rage is quietly displayed through a sulking that withdraws affection and shuts down from others emotionally. Regardless of how sinful anger presents itself, it ultimately produces works such as envy, gossip, hate, division, and even murder. These works have lasting and deep impact on individuals, families, and churches.

3 Ways Sinful Anger is Harmful

  1. It does harm to our intimacy with God. Jesus teaches that abiding in His love is what produces fruitfulness in the life of His followers; and that the pathway to their abiding is obedience to His commands (John 15). Sinful anger, however, produces much transgression (Proverbs 29:22). So when we constantly give in to anger, it is producing out of us the very works which prevent our abiding with Christ.
  2. It does harm to our personal relationships. By experience we know that sinful anger hurts families, friendships, churches, and workplaces. Volatile people create volatile environments (Proverbs 15:18) which leave lasting wounds.
  3. It does harm to our physical health. The bible teaches that a wholesome or composed heart is good for our health (Proverbs 14:29-30). While science shows prolonged anger can create physical problems including high blood pressure, heart disease, and anxiety issues.

Sinful Anger is Completely Futile

As destructive as our distorted anger can be, it is absolutely useless in helping make right that which is wrong. James 1:20 teaches that the anger (literally violent passions) of man does not produce the righteousness of God (in this context, right behaviors). When faced with injustice, misunderstanding, attacks, or sin – our greatest need is that God will produce his righteous works in the situation. The resolution we need is not the one we can produce, but the one God provides. And no matter how angry we may get, we cannot produce this righteousness. Sinful anger is not helpful. It feeds our flesh momentarily, but then leaves in its wake frustration and bitterness.

James indicates that the opposite of relying on our anger to bring about change, is to humbly receive the words of Christ (1:21). We begin the process of putting away destructive and pointless anger – whether violent rage or silent withdraw – by looking to Jesus. Only He can repair people and restore where life has went wrong. Let us display our trust in Jesus, by asking for His help to avoid sinful anger and obey his helpful commands.

Confronting Sin with Calmness

 In a class my wife and I lead for a local ministry, we teach parent’s about a concept called learned behaviors. In my words, these behaviors are ones that you acquire in your lifetime through interaction with your environment, or by being taught. Often these are not taught through sit down lessons, but rather by being immersed in an environment where a behavior unfolded consistently and frequently. Eventually, it becomes a normal way to conduct yourself. We may even recognize family patterns of learned behaviors- actions that have been passed down from parent to child for several generations. Of course, some learned behaviors are negative and it is important for us to identify those so that we can make changes. This is especially critical to us as parents, because we are now the ones creating the environment where OUR children are being developed.

One of the best places to have your learned behaviors challenged, is the bible. Just this week I came across a couple of passages that confronted not only my own conduct, but a generational pattern that exists in my family. The first was Ecclesiastes 10:4 [ESV], which says in part ‘Calmness will lay great offenses to rest’. Very similar to this is Proverbs 25:15 [NIV], ‘Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone’. Now honestly, growing up in my home – if a great offense took place, the typical response was not calmness. And likewise, a gentle tongue was not viewed as a choice weapon by which a battle could be won. Misconduct provoked a quick response, complete with quickly elevated voices and stinging words. Arguments were typically marked by increasingly harsh tones of voice, discouraging observations, and carried along by a determination to talk over each other as loudly as possible. Today, I have an understanding that this way of exercising parental discipline and working through marital disagreements had existed in both of my parents’ families to varying degrees. And truthfully, I was not immune. I had learned, at least in part, some of these same traits. They worked themselves into my own parental discipline and relationship with my wife. I had learned through my environment that a loud voice and stinging words would win the day. And without a course correction on my part, my children will grow up to learn the same.

Of course, I do not think the bible forbids righteous anger or frustration against sin. Nor do I think a stern voice is always out of place. If a child consistently misbehaves – there should be a strong response. The bible teaches that it is out of love and a desire for good that a parent disciplines their children [Hebrews 12:9-10]. But the bible also teaches us that the heart is the wellspring of life, and ‘everything you do flows from it’ [Proverbs 4:23]. And no combination of volume and vocabulary have the ability to change someone’s heart. Our frustration – James teaches [James 1:20] – will never create right attitudes and beliefs in our children, or in our spouse. So the conclusion James reaches, in light of this, is that we should be quick to listen and slow to speak; and we should control our anger and the actions that proceed from it. Because in the final analysis, our humanity will never yield spiritual health in others.

The word calmness in Ecclesiastes 10:4, can also be translated healing. So it could be said that, ‘healing will lay great offenses to rest’. And yes, this is so true! Every offense, every conflict, every misbehavior, every wrong attitude in us, in our spouse and in our children, is a byproduct of the sin of our first father and mother in Genesis 3. That event created in us a flesh that craves self-satisfaction, which often requires rebellion against authority. And every human on earth is clothed in this flesh. And it is only by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the son of God, on the cross that this flesh can be overcome. ‘By HIS wounds, we are healed’ [Isaiah 53:5], because He has laid all of our offenses to rest. And it is a trust in HIS work, that frees us from the need to respond to sin with more sin. That trust will work itself out in prayer for our own hearts, and the hearts of our children and our spouse. And that trust will free us to confront misconduct in those closest to us with calmness, patience and with a gentle tongue. For the parent, this will be a tongue that while at times stern, will also speak healing through the gospel.

Whether our children or our spouse, their greatest need is the same as ours: to look to Jesus for healing. And it is by our own calmness that we demonstrate a recognition that the power of heart change belongs only to God.

Beware a Harsh Delivery

I have never had a problem with words. As long as I can remember, words have come easily for me. Very rarely, in any situation, am I at a loss as to what to say. (The good people of my church can insert jokes about my preaching length here) But the manner, the tone, the thought, the care by which I deliver those words is often a much different story. And I have learned as I mature in Christ, that the way I say something directly impacts how the message is received.

As they grow older, it has become obvious that my children have received the same gift of words, at least to some degree. Their language skills are showing characteristics of quick wit, creativity and humor. But unfortunately, they have also received my penchant for a sometimes callous and unkind delivery. And the more I have worked to lead them away from this behavior, the more the Holy Spirit has illuminated the same issue in my own life. And I am very thankful for that grace.

‘A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger’ Proverbs 15:1

The Hebrew word behind ‘wrath’ is interesting. It can mean fury or rage, as we would expect. But it is sometimes translated ‘poison’. How many of you have ever been in a poisonous conversation? One that spiraled out of control as one harsh word after another was delivered, like painful blows in a fist fight. And sadly, whatever good message we may have vanishes quickly in the heat of battle.  Our point is completely lost; buried under an avalanche of sinful communication. Healing, helpful words of truth are quickly silenced by the painful noise of a cruel voice. It really doesn’t matter how right we are, when the person we are speaking to is reeling from the harshness of our delivery. We lose influence, when we lose control.

The Holy Spirit, through Proverbs, is reminding us that gentle words are a repellent to poisonous conversations. If this is an area of struggle for you – as it is me – then may I suggest seeking scripture for practical advice and thoughts on the importance of words and how we deliver them. The bible has much to say on this topic. In addition, let’s be reminded that one of the effects of the Spirit in our life is gentleness (Gal 5:23), so ask daily that He will allow that fruit to grow quickly and exponentially in you. And finally, if your children are showing signs of your own struggle – then do not just teach them the right way to speak; but model for them repentance in your moments of failure.

Grace and Peace

David