The Bible tells us of two opposing groups of spiritual emotions, desires, and acts. There is a good or nice group which we should strive to emulate and the other, a bad or evil one of which we should choose to reject. On the good side are the ‘fruits of the spirit’: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control,” (Galatians 5:22b-23, NRSV).1
Opposite these spiritual niceties are the evil ‘works of the flesh’ which are bad or wrong and will prevent you from doing what is good or right. “Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness,2 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these,” (Galatians 5:19-21).
Which group has the stronger influence? That question has been debated forever, but I’ve always figured whichever is the stronger in a person’s life, is the one that visibility radiates through their personality. Scottish novelist, Robert Louis Stevenson, said, “In each of us, two natures are at war – the good and the evil. All our lives the fight goes on between them, and one of them must conquer. But in our own hands lies the power to choose – what we want most to be, we are.”3 God gave us free will; how we use it will decide which way we go.
A Christian monk in the 4th century, Evagrius of Pontus, being a thinker, writer, and polished speaker, placed the various forms of enticement into different categories. Since the scriptures at that time were not available to the general public, and any schooling was rare, his intention was to help the common folk recognize their own strengths and weaknesses and have remedies for them to overcome their temptation.4
The Roman Catholic Church, under Pope Gregory I in the 6th century, enumerated, but shortened, these items as seven virtues and seven deadly sins.5 These lists, as presented by the Church, do not appear in a single Bible verse, but can be found scattered throughout the scriptures.6 This list is still taught today in the Catechism of the Catholic Church as well as other spiritual Catholic texts.
Maybe this list was a good idea during the middle ages, when the masses did not have a proper education or the means to access God’s word. But, this information is now readily available for everyone in the Holy Bible without it first being sifted, filtered, rearranged, categorized and manipulated by religious authorities, who many times did so with their own agenda. Now we can just go directly to the source for this information.
As mentioned, throughout the Bible this important instruction can be found, but it is summarized in ‘The Works of the Flesh’ and ‘The Fruit of the Spirit’ in the ninth chapter of Galatians, written by Paul the Apostle. He presents virtue and vice lists for good and bad conduct; a formula to live by, which includes both physical and spiritual attributes.7 “Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want,” (Galatians 5:16-17).
Works of the Flesh
“Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God,” (Galatians 5:19-21).
The Fruit of the Spirit
“By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another,” (Galatians 5:22-26).
I plan studies of all these vices and virtues, but today we will focus our attention to just one of the bad things listed under works of the flesh — anger. This seems appropriate to me, since there is so much anger in the world today.
As Christians we have a type of freedom. While we should strive for perfection, Jesus knows we are unable to achieve it at this time, but he loves us anyway; he loves us as we are, in spite of our imperfections. Many religious groups are less forgiving and force members to “live under a set of laws and social expectations that can be smothering. This is because when someone’s salvation is tied to [their] behavior, attitude, appearance, and following a set of rules, then there can be little freedom to live, to make mistakes, and to grow.”8
“It is a good thing that Jesus loves us in spite of what we are, in spite of our imperfections. Jesus does not love us because of our appearance, or because we can keep ourselves from sinning, or because we have it all together, or because we are sincere. Instead, he loves us because of who he is, not because of who we are.”9
If we misunderstand this freedom in Christ, it can be dangerous, for as humans, we have a tendency toward self-indulgence, which can express itself in destructive words and actions. That is because “true spiritual freedom manifests itself in love, both for God and for one another.” We must allow ourselves to be led by the spirit to display the qualities that reflect godliness and not that which displays a sinful lifestyle unworthy of the kingdom of God.10
Most anger is a sin, but not all. There are times when anger is acceptable, and even required, such is the case with righteous anger against sin. But even here, we must be careful to keep our anger focused and short and not continuing. “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil,” (Ephesians 4:26-27).
The devil will use a Christian’s righteous anger and intensify it, allowing him to get a foothold, which leads the Christian into further sin. “Then anger begins to control the believer rather than the believer controlling his anger.”11 In other words, righteous anger, while useful and appropriate, “must be kept in its place and not permitted to brood and fester and thus gain the upper hand over the angry person.”12 As an example, not de-escalating your anger can lead to holding a grudge, which will begin to rule your life.
An Old Testament example of righteous anger is when Moses was justly angry with Pharaoh (Exodus 11:8).13 And in the New Testament, a great example was when Jesus cleanses the Temple in John 2:13-25. This was when he chased the money changers out and turned over their tables. He was exercising righteous indignation over sin in the midst of the religious community. (Also, see: Matthew 21:12-17; Mark 11:15-19; Luke 19:45-48.) A common event for most of us would be correcting a child after some sinful event was exposed, which would be righteous indignation over sin in the mist of the family unit.
But to keep it righteous, we can’t let it get out-of-hand. “Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but one who has a hasty temper exalts folly,” (Proverbs 14:29). Angry people cause conflicts and continually get themselves into trouble; it is best to stay clear of them.14 “Fools show their anger at once, but the prudent ignore an insult,” (Proverbs 12:16). And “a fool gives full vent to anger, but the wise quietly holds back,” (Proverbs 29:11).
Sometimes our annoyance leads to thoughts of revenge, when we express an “I’ll show you!” attitude. So, what can we do when we find we aren’t yet strong enough to control our anger? What is it that makes “us out of control?” This extreme type of anger is, basically, a violent passion which was aroused by some wrong experience; it is displeasure and indignation at some unworthy act which leads to wrath and fury. You want vengeance upon the one who caused it.15
Many of us find it very difficult to do self-correction until we grow in our faith, but others are very serious about bringing discipline into their lives even before reaching that level of Christian maturity. One author, Richard Rowley, realized that letting the anger fester to the point of seeking revenge, made his life even worse.
Rowley wrote that he had heard and read about transferring his negative thoughts into something positive and asked himself, “How do you do that? Man, when I get mad or angry, I can’t think straight. I can’t think about anything else, because of whatever it is or was that has got me so upset.”16
He realized that he could diminish his anger by putting his frustrations into words. Writing down all his disturbing circumstances and misadventures into a journal, of sorts, was his solution. In rereading and rethinking the events, he often found much humor and gained some wisdom, too. He wrote, “. . . after a period of time goes by I read what I wrote. I most often will realize that I was lucky I got this under control when I did. I would have really looked like a fool or perhaps did something I could have regretted.”17
His spirit was broken but, through his writing process, he gained knowledge and cheer and learned how not to be a fool, which sort of fits King Solomon’s statement in the book of Proverbs. “A glad heart makes a happy face; a broken heart crushes the spirit. A wise person is hungry for knowledge, while a fool feeds on trash,” (Proverbs 15:13-14, NLT).
I’m sure there are many readers who came through similar situations, as you progressed in your learning and faith. For those that haven’t yet reached that point, maybe reading and studying God’s word a bit closer could provide a shortcut, thus saving a lot of heartache and strife. Getting so wrapped up in ‘getting even’ with someone will actually make you a slave to your hate. The deeper you fall into Satan’s hold, the harder it is to reverse course.
Anger on an epic scale, and in its purest form, becomes wrath and that is when it can cause injury and violence. That kind of persistent anger may last long after the original grievous wrong has passed. This may lead to self-destructive behavior, such as drug abuse or suicide or maybe worse.18
Many professionals in the mental help field see a relationship between fear and anger. Our psychological interpretation of events determines if we feel fear or anger, or something in between. Fear, they say, is regressive, whereas anger is aggressive. Fear is the emotion of the pursued, whereas anger the emotion of the pursuer.19 Aristotle saw anger to be a desire to pay sorrow for sorrow and plaguing those that have plagued us. It is not only a vice, but one against nature, for it divides instead of joining.20
As shown above, anger requires a lot of energy output, so it is best to prepare for it than to just wait for something to happen. We are human and we are sinful, and it is a sure bet that we will face anger’s mighty force many times. Facing it is inevitable, how we handle it is our choice. Speaking about the book, The Angry Christian, a magazine review quotes the following. “The key to dealing with anger, then, is to recognize that we possess ‘the freedom to choose which events will activate our capacity for anger as well as how to express it.’”21
There are many books and articles aimed to calming one’s anger, both Christian and worldly, but most seem to get bogged down in confusion. To start with, I suggest a simple three-step approach. When you get that working for you, than it will be time to expand your approach to the detailed level. My suggestions are: (1) acknowledge your anger with patience, (2) pray for forgiveness, (3) stop thinking about the offense.
Acknowledge your anger with patience. There are two parts to this, first acknowledge to yourself that the provocation makes you angry and realize that patience is needed to resolve the problem without escalation. Second, if possible, acknowledge (calmly) to the offender that you feel slighted in some way. That way you are showing them respect, even though they disrespected you.
You can ask for an apology, but don’t actually demand, or even expect, an expression of regret. Either way, you have set into motion a plan to handle the situation and you have already vented your frustration and have refused to drop down to their level. Your patience is very important for self-control. “For as churning cream produces butter, and as twisting the nose produces blood, so stirring up anger produces strife,” (Proverbs 30:33, NIV).
Pray for forgiveness. This step consists of two parts, also. First forgive the aggressor and pray for them. In praying for them, you are sincerely asking God to help them understand the error of their ways, so they can make corrections in the future (this is the Godly thing to do). Forgiving them does not mean to forget, but only to realize that the aggressor was in the wrong and that it is their problem, not yours. Just because they are forgiven for something doesn’t mean they are no longer responsible — they must still suffer the consequences of their actions. God forgives us, so we should forgive others.
As an example, I know someone who forgave the drunk driver of a car that killed his father in an accident, but he still expected the driver to be sentenced to jail and be financially responsible for the situation he caused. Likewise, you can forgive a friend that blames you for some horrible and inaccurate lie, although they will never be allowed into your home again. You can forget the error, too, if you wish, but you are not required to do so. Sometimes it helps to forget, if the act against you is only a minor error on their part. However, it is at times best if you separate yourself from bad-tempered people. “Make no friends with those given to anger, and do not associate with hotheads, or you may learn their ways and entangle yourself in a snare,” (Proverbs 22:24).
And the second thing — pray for yourself, too. Ask for divine guidance in handling any unpleasant situation to a proper solution or conclusion. You and God can work together, rather than going it alone. Let God be your partner in solving anger issues.
Stop thinking about the offense. Like previously stated, you are not obligated to forget, just don’t continually dwell upon the situation. Don’t drive down the road of your life, only looking through the rear view mirror. (A post about leaving bad memories in the past is listed in References & Notes, at the end of this article.)22 Control yourself. “People with understanding control their anger; a hot temper shows great foolishness,” (Proverbs 14:29). Handle anger in a godly way.
You Must Love Your Neighbor
We must remember that our fight with anger is not a physical battle, but a battle of thought. We must recognize right and wrong thoughts and act accordingly, even if others don’t.
Christian author and speaker Joyce Meyer once said, “We have all experienced anger at some point in our lives, and it can be a real problem. Though it starts as a harmless feeling, it can quickly grow into something dangerous that’s hard to control.” Managing our emotions is paramount to being in control. She said knowing how to operate with self-control, means she doesn’t always say everything she first planned to say.23 That is living within the meaning of Proverbs 19:11, and best stated from The Message Bible: “Smart people know how to hold their tongue; their grandeur is to forgive and forget.”24
All this boils down to love. Love is a gift from God; it is free and does not need to be earned. If we can be given such a wonderful gift, shouldn’t we give it to others?
It won’t Cost us Anything
“If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love,” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3, TM).25
If we consider ourselves a Christian, then we must love our neighbors. If we don’t love our neighbor, then we don’t love God. So let me end this study with reference to a song about this very fact, by the Bluegrass26 music group, ‘Rhonda Vincent & The Rage’ (see References & Notes at the end of this article).27 Selected lyrics are below.
There are many people,
Who will say they’re Christians,
And they live like Christians on the Sabbath day.
But come Monday morning, til the coming Sunday,
They will fight their neighbor all along the way.
Oh, you don’t love God, if you don’t love your neighbor.
If you say you love him while you hate your neighbor,
Then you don’t have religion, you just told a lie,
Then you don’t love your neighbor, and you don’t love God
Copyright © 2020, Dr. Ray Hermann
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References & Notes
- Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible (NRSV), ©1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
- licentiousness: indulgence in sensual pleasure; sexual immorality.
Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 11th ed., (Eds.) C. Soanes and A. Stevenson, (USA: Oxford University Press, 2008 [revised]).
- “Good and Evil Quotes,” (GoodReads, retrieved 28 December 2019), https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/good-and-evil
- “Evagrius Ponticus,” (Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 6 December 2019), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evagrius_Ponticus
- “Seven deadly sins,” Encyclopædia Britannica, (Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., September 11, 2019), https://www.britannica.com/topic/seven-deadly-sins
- “What are the seven deadly sins?” (Bibleinfo, retrieved 25 December 2019), https://www.bibleinfo.com/en/questions/what-are-seven-deadly-sins
- Mays, James Luther, (Ed.), Harper’s Bible Commentary, (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988), p. 1210.
- Slick, Matt, “What does it mean to have freedom in Christ?” (CARM, Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry, 2 September 2016), https://carm.org/what-is-our-freedom-in-christ
- Dockery, David S., (Ed.), Holman Bible Handbook, (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 1992), p. 710.
- Hoehner, Harold W., “Ephesians,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, (Eds.) J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), vol. 2, p. 637.
- Erickson, Richard J., “Ephesians,” in Evangelical Commentary on the Bible, Baker Reference Library, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1995), vol. 3, p. 1029.
- Shogren, Gary Steven, “Anger,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, Baker Reference Library, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), p. 24.
- Singer, Isidore, (Ed.), The Jewish Encyclopedia: A Descriptive Record of the History, Religion, Literature, and Customs of the Jewish People from the Earliest Times to the Present Day, (New York; London: Funk & Wagnalls, 1901–1906), vol. 1, p. 597.
- Rowley, Richard, Keys and Keynotes, (New York: Page Publishing, Inc., 2017), p. 29.
- Ibid., p. 311, and p. 29.
- “Seven deadly sins,” (Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 25 December 2019), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_deadly_sins#Wrath
- Stanley, Hiram M., Studies in the Evolutionary Psychology of Feeling, (London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co, 1895), p. 128.
- L’Estrange, Roger, (translated by), Seneca’s Morals of a Happy Life, Benefits, Anger, and Clemency, (Chicago: Belfored, Clarke & Co., 1882), pp. 308-309.
- Hall, Christopher A., “The Gift of Anger,” (Christianity Today, 1 January 2004), vol. 48, no. 1, p. 71.
- Hermann, Ray, “Looking at Life Through a Rear View Mirror,” (The Outlaw Bible Student, OBS, 27 January 2018), https://outlawbiblestudent.org/looking-at-life-through-a-rear-view-mirror/
- Meyer, Joyce, “Dealing with Anger…God’s Way,” (Joyce Meyer Ministries, retrieved 26 December 2019), https://joycemeyer.org/everydayanswers/ea-teachings/dealing-with-anger-gods-way
- Peterson, Eugene H., The Message, The Bible in Contemporary Language, (Colorado Springs: NavPress Publishing Group, 2002).
- Bluegrass music is a genre of American roots music that developed in the 1940s in the United States Appalachian Mountains region. Bluegrass has roots in traditional English, Scottish, and Irish ballads and dance tunes, and by traditional African-American blues and jazz.
“Bluegrass music,” (Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 22 December 2019), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bluegrass_music
- “You Don’t Love God if You Don’t Love Your Neighbor,” Artist: Rhonda Vincent & The Rage; Album: All the Rage, Vol. 1; Authors: Shorty Sullivan, Thomas Coley; (Sony/ATV Publishing LLC, 2016) – VIDEO: https://youtu.be/IR2rpVd5Lwo