What do you do when anger starts building up inside? It can crop up when we least expect it and take us by surprise. The good news is it does not have to take hold or take control of us.
“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: 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.” – James 1:19-20
For the past five weeks we have been discussing emotions. We have studied what the Bible teaches about them and how they affect our marriages. And we’ve covered the specific emotions of love, fear, and joy.
We want to continue our study this week by exploring an emotion we view as negative, and it certainly can be. It is an emotion that I feel certain we all struggle with at times, including in our marriages. I know it has definitely caused me to hurt my wife over the years. That emotion is ANGER.
The Truth about Anger…from God’s Word
The Bible has much to teach us about anger. But let’s start by looking at what secular sources have to say. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it first as “a strong feeling of being upset or annoyed because of something wrong or bad. The feeling that makes someone want to hurt other people, to shout, etc.” Notice that once again “feeling” is a key ingredient of the definition.
Anger, as with all other emotions, does include feeling, but biblically there is much more to it. For one thing, God tells us to control our anger. This is something we could not do if it were only a feeling.
We read in James 1:19-20: “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: 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” (bold mine). If anger was merely a feeling, we could not be expected to do this.
Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, teaches in Matthew 5:21-22: “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” (bold mine).
Jesus teaches that anger can lead to worse things, even murder. Why? Because anger can be controlled. Uncontrolled anger opens us up to uncontrolled feelings. Those feelings can lead to us committing sins. Murder is certainly a sin, therefore, uncontrolled anger is sin. We do not control feelings, but emotions understood biblically are more than feelings.
Feelings follow after emotions, so if we control our emotions, we will control our feelings and our actions.
We see this same thing when it comes to hatred. Hatred is another emotion we tend to view as a feeling that we have no control over. Yet read what God says in 1 John 4:15: “Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him” (bold mine).
Again we see an emotion leading to an action. We also read a warning not to hate, which means God expects us not to hate. This indicates that we can control this emotion. If it were not so, God would not make these demands.
This truth is vitally important in our marriages. We must learn to control our anger or it could lead to hate and the death of our unions.
Many couples who have come to me over the years for counseling have identified anger as one of the major problems in their marriages.
So what are some things we can learn from Scripture about anger?
I often hear from people struggling with this issue that all anger is not sin. After all, Jesus got angry. We read, for example, in Matthew 21:12-13: “Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. ‘It is written,’ he said to them, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers.’”
Certainly it appears by these actions that Jesus was angry and acting on His anger. But nowhere do read that He was angry. We are making an assumption. Also, if He is indeed acting because of anger, we can be sure He is acting out of righteous anger. He is not acting only based on His feelings. After all, we also read in Hebrews 4:15: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (bold mine).
If Jesus was angry and acting on that anger, He was doing it out of righteous anger. We know He never sinned. This is why Paul could write in Ephesians 4:26-27: “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.”
The Bible does talk about God becoming angry. I have been reading through 1 and 2 Kings in my own Bible study time. The kings of Israel and Judah sinned against God often. God becomes angry with them. We read, for example, in 1 Kings 11:7-8: “On a hill east of Jerusalem, Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the detestable god of Moab, and for Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites. He did the same for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and offered sacrifices to their gods.”
We then read God’s response in 1 Kings 11:9-10: “The Lord became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice. Although he had forbidden Solomon to follow other gods, Solomon did not keep the Lord’s command” (bold mine). This strong passage also reminds us of the importance of having only one spouse. And the husband and wife are to always remain faithful to God’s Word. What might have happened if Solomon had followed that teaching from the Lord?
So it is true that anger is not necessarily sin. But it is also true what God warned us about in James 1:20, quoted earlier: “…human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (bold mine). Jesus is God. He never sins. I cannot say the same. My anger almost never turns out well. This is especially true when I become angry at Sabra, my wife.
Our anger does not produce God’s righteousness because we are not righteous. God displays His anger against sin, but we usually pour out our anger for much less pure motives.
God is love and expresses His love and mercy to mankind in many ways. One way He expresses His love for us is through righteous anger at sin. This is because He is holy and repulsed by sin. But it is also true that He loves us and is repulsed at the harm sin does to us. His anger and the correction that accompanies it is for the purpose of ending the evil, stopping the cause of suffering, and restoring us to a right relationship with Him. We cannot say the same is true for our anger.
While God becomes righteously angry at times, we must not use that as an excuse to justify our anger at our spouses. We may not be able to be angry yet righteous as God can, but we can show love, grace, and mercy to our spouses as God does toward us. We can do as Psalms 145:8-9 instructs: “The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made” (bold mine).
We also read in Psalm 30:4-5: “Sing the praises of the Lord, you his faithful people; praise his holy name. For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” (bold mine).
These scriptures show that God does express anger, but they also reveal that God is slow to anger, and His mercy and love make His anger quickly pass.
This is why we are called to follow His example in the passage I quoted earlier in Ephesians 4:26: “In your anger do not sin: do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.”
We must not allow anger to rest in our hearts. Anger is a heart issue. Jesus warns us in Matthew 5:18-19: “But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” We can be sure that anger could be added to this list. It is one of the “acts of the flesh” God warns us about in Galatians 5:19-21.
If we become angry with our spouse, we must repent to both God and our spouse and ask for their forgiveness. If we do not do this, we will “give the devil a foothold” in our lives and marriages, just as Paul warns against in Ephesians 4:27. It will be even worse for us men who are supposed to be the spiritual leaders in marriage. God says to us in 1 Peter 3:7: “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.”
We all get angry at times. When we do, we usually are focused on our own welfare, comfort, or happiness, not that of our spouses. This is why Paul concludes the passage we have been quoting throughout this teaching in Ephesians 4:30: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” How do we do that? We read on in Ephesians 4:31-32: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (bold mine).
We are able to overcome anger in our lives when we have made Jesus our Savior and Lord. When we do that we receive the Holy Spirit to live within us forever. When the Holy Spirit comes, He helps us put off our old fleshly nature, including anger. He replaces that with His fruit that includes such things as “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (see Galatians 5:22-23).
Controlling our anger is necessary to having a strong and healthy marriage. With the Lord’s help, we can let go of our angry feelings and love each other with forgiveness and grace.
Questions for Discussion
♦ Read this week’s teaching together. Discuss what God has taught you about anger and how you can apply it in your marriage.
♦ Read Ephesians 4:20-27 together. This passage provides the way to deal with anger in your marriage. It is the process of putting off the old self and putting on the new self. God always calls us to become new people in Christ by putting away old sinful ways and replacing them with His new ways.
The first step is to identify what old, sinful ways are leading to anger in your marriage—those things that must be “put off.” Ask yourself these questions:
◊ Did my spouse say something I thought was offensive?
◊ Did they do or say something they knew I didn’t like? Did it seem to me to be on purpose?
◊ Did my spouse’s tone of voice get on my nerves?
◊ Did something I planned not go the way I wanted?
◊ Is it rational to think that my spouse always knows they are upsetting me with something they do or say?
◊ Is it rational to think I have never offended my spouse and would not want them to extend patience toward me in the same situation?
◊ Is it rational to get angry over things that upon further examination are really trivial, petty, or simply a misunderstanding?
Once you identify the sinful actions or attitudes that led to the anger, then you can proceed with the second step—putting on the new self—choosing the ways of Christ.
This step sounds easy, but it is not. It can only be done by the power of the Holy Spirit. With His guidance, you can increasingly control and overcome the sin of unrighteous human anger. This sinful anger represents a lack of godly character, a loss of control over one’s own thoughts and actions. It can only be overcome with God’s help.
When you “put on” the Word of God, the Holy Spirit will bring it to your mind to replace ungodly thoughts with righteous ones. Memorizing the Scripture in this post will help you in times when you face anger. Here are a few more:
“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” – Proverbs 15:1
“Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools.” – Ecclesiastes 7:9
“Do not pay attention to every word people say, or you may hear your servant cursing you for you know in your heart that many times you yourself have cursed others.” – Ecclesiastes 7:21-22
Always remember that your anger is usually sinful, and therefore, you must repent of it to God and your spouse. Ask for forgiveness. And offer forgiveness to your spouse when they request it.
♦ Close your time together with prayer. Ask God to fill you both with the Holy Spirit and to increase His fruit in you, including patience, especially when you feel anger. Ask Him to help you control your anger and not allow it to control you.
Would you like more help in dealing with anger in your life and marriage? These worksheets are designed to help you work through it using biblical principles. These can also be found on our Free Resources page:
RESPONDING TO ANGER
Next week we will conclude this Marriage and Our Emotions series by looking at PEACE.
Until then, may the Lord bless you in all His wonderful ways,
Other posts in the MARRIAGE AND OUR EMOTIONS series:
Part 1: More Than a Feeling
Part 2: What Can You Trust?
Part 3: About Love
Part 4: About Fear
Part 5: About Joy
Part 7: About Peace
All Scripture from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
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