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Against Passionate Anger

Eugene Prewitt


Passionate anger is often manifested in the home even by people who rarely seem angry elsewhere. Nonetheless, the Bible teaches that such anger and its results are both unchristian and harmful to children. What triggers such passion? How can we gain victory over turbulant tempers?


Eugene Prewitt

Director, The Institute of East Asia Training (IEAT)


  • April 20, 2013
    11:00 AM


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I lived in Massachusetts for a short time, and this was about 1995. The parents of one of my students from academy had compassion on me, because they found I was going to try to live in a motor home in Massachusetts in the wintertime, an unplugged-in motor home. I was trying to save money. So, they were going on a very long vacation, and they decided to ask me to housesit their home. I appreciated that, and the first step of that was for me to come meet the family.


So, this day, I knock on the door, they let me in, and, oh, they were so nice. The mother, the stepfather, the daughters that had been my students, and they had a Dalmatian. The Dalmatian was not nice. In fact, the Dalmatian became extremely ferocious and aggressive toward me in the house. And I have never been one to be afraid of dogs, and I thought if I just put out my little hand to him like this, that everything will work out just fine. And as I put out my hand to him like this, he lunged for it. His owner, a lady standing right beside him, was so embarrassed, but she reached to grab him to restrain him, and in his anger he bit her and drew blood from her hand. Now, I think that the Dalmatian was trying to defend her, but in his ferocious demeanor, he lost his common sense.


And I just mention that story to you as an illustration of something that shows up in the Bible a number of times, and that is, when we are angry, we don’t think well. When we’re angry, we don’t act well, and so the message this morning is titled “Against Passionate Anger,” and we’re going to look at three ideas. One, what are the types of situations that create passionate anger? Two, what does the Bible say about passionate anger? And I’ll just give you a heads up on that; it tells us that we ought not to have it and to put it away, and it doesn’t belong to Christianity. And third, we’re going to look at how to fulfill the Bible’s requirements, how to overcome a temper or a passionate anger that causes the problems that they cause. So I’m launching right into that very first section.


What is it that brings passionate anger? What causes passionate anger? In the Bible, there are a number of stories that show that the home circle, the family, is often a place where passionate anger manifests itself. In fact, people that you know that you’ve never seen angry, if you could look inside their home, you would see passionate anger there. There are many people who never show it anywhere else.


The first passionate anger in the Bible is the story of Cain, Cain with his brother. And you remember, what angered Cain was in a way a bit of shame. It was that he had done what he thought was his best, but combine that with the fact that he felt a little guilty and frustrated, and there you have some passionate anger that led to the first murder.


A more common type of family anger leads to nothing like murder, but you can see it in the story of Jacob and Rachel. You know, that story begins with a very tender love, Jacob willing to work seven years to marry Rachel and then eventually willing to work fourteen, but somewhere along in that story Rachel had not become a mother of one of Jacob’s children and Leah had, and that frustration building up inside of Rachel…and that’s what happens in families. Do you want to know why families have more anger than others? It’s because in families there’s often a highly repetitious buildup of some stress. That is, something someone does bothers you today, but it bothers you again later today and again later today and again tomorrow, and so you have the same unresolved stress, and it can happen 360 times in one year. Well, for Rachel, eventually in her frustration, she said something she probably shouldn’t have said. She told Jacob in effect, “Why won’t you give me any children?” That was an unreasonable thing to say, but it brought out of Jacob a passionate angry response. He said something like, “Am I God, that I can open and close the womb?”


You see other passionate anger in the story of Jonah. Jonah’s passionate anger seems very frustrating to us sometimes when we read it, but he was angry at God’s mercy. It bothered him that God let the people get away with the fact that they had been wicked, that he didn’t really get them, and it really made Jonah angry when he became uncomfortable and hot. And, if you would examine your own heart with no one else around, you might realize that when you’re tired or hungry or uncomfortable, that your anger is much more easily flared and ignited than at other times. Well, that happened to Jonah, and when he was hot and frustrated, and then that little worm ate his plant, do you remember how he erupted?


In the story of David, that is, little boy David before he becomes King David, he was chosen over his older brothers. I’m sure that that made them feel really badly. They felt terrible that he would be chosen by the prophet when he was the youngest brother and given that kind of special attention. So, a short time later, that happened in 1 Samuel 16, that’s the story where David is chosen. In the next chapter, chapter 17, David was sent to the front lines to check on his brothers, and you might remember that his older brother there, Eliab, erupts in anger. The Bible says his anger was kindled against David. He misjudged David’s motives and purposes for coming to that battle. What was going on there was likely a feeling of unfairness or injustice that led him to lash out at someone who really had not done him any wrong. And maybe Eliab felt a little embarrassed that his brother would come and say something like, “Why isn’t anyone fighting Goliath?” Doesn’t that make the whole army look kind of something other than courageous? A little while later, and it was only a very short time later, Saul became furiously angry when he heard the ladies singing, and they were singing about David and about Saul. They said, “Saul has killed his thousands, but David has killed his ten-thousands.” Neither one of those was true. But when Saul heard that, the Bible describes how his anger was kindled, and you can see from that point, for the rest of his kingly life, a degeneration in character that is the result of him holding onto that irrational anger sparked by a song of people who weren’t even singing for the purpose of doing anything but making him feel good.


So, I’ve told you stories, and if I would just summarize what you might gather from them, it’s that anger often comes from repetitious frustrations in the home, when you feel you’ve been treated unfairly or unjustly, when you don’t receive proper respect. Insubordination causes anger. We haven’t mentioned that, but that’s illustrated in several Bible stories. When you expect someone to obey and they don’t obey, that can cause quite…and this is why many parents become ferociously angry at their children who never really become angry at anybody else. It’s because they don’t really expect anyone else to obey them, but they do expect that of their children, and when their children don’t obey them, that feeling of insubordination does for the parent the same thing it does for the drill sergeant in the military.


Turn in your Bibles to Ephesians, chapter 6, Ephesians, chapter 6. We’re still in that first short section about the kinds of situations that cause passionate anger, and what I mean when I say passionate anger is the type of angry feeling that would cause you to raise your voice, to say something unkind, to do something violent, or to do something harsh. That’s what I mean by passionate anger. Ephesians, chapter 6, and looking at verse 4, “And you, fathers, provoke not your children to wrath, but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” You can’t see in verse 4 in a very clear way the location of passionate anger, but I assure you that it’s there. It’s in the word “provoke.”


There is a type of discipline that provokes anger and rebellion, and that is any discipline that is done with anger. Listen, parents, let me make this very clear to you, very plain. If your children do wrongly, and they need restraining or correction, this is no excuse for you to do wrongly. You need restraining, and since there is no one to restrain you, you will have to restrain yourself. The Bible puts the burden here in verse 4 not on the children but on the fathers. It doesn’t say that the fathers should only provoke their children if their children are bad enough. It says, “Fathers, provoke not your children to wrath.” What do you do then when those feelings of anger rise?


That’s going to be our third section, but I want to give a little idea now as a heads up. Discipline can wait. It will not cause such a disaster to say, “We’ll talk about this later,” as it will to yell about it now. And if your discipline, even corporal discipline, I mean spanking that causes pain, if it is done later with a calm voice and after a time of cooling down and communication, that shows the young person that you care, and you get help from heaven in correcting misbehavior. But if that discipline is done while you are angry, the young minds have a terrible time reasoning through that accurately, and many of them reason like this, that you can’t possibly care for them if you’re willing to act like that. I don’t say it’s true; surely you do care for them, but many reason just like that.


You’re just a page or two from another similar passage. Look at Colossians, chapter 3. Colossians, chapter 3 and verse 21, “Fathers, provoke not your children to wrath,” and what would be the effect of provoking them to wrath? Frankly, instead of helping them to overcome their bad behavior, it discourages them from trying. That is, wrathful discipline exasperates rather than corrects.


There are some habits that have a tendency to lead to wrathful thinking or to outbursts, and one of them is described in James, chapter 1. Turn in your Bibles to James, James, chapter 1. (I’ll mention that I have a written form of this sermon out in the foyer, a few copies of it, and I could email it to anyone who asks for it that way.) James 1 and verse 19, “Wherefore, my beloved brothers, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: for the wrath of man works not the righteousness of God.” Let’s go to the first part of those two verses. There is quite a connection with how quickly you talk and how little you listen to how angry you become. That is, frequently, by asking simple questions and listening thoroughly, the edge would be taken off of the situation that frustrates you so thoroughly. It is when you’re quick to hear that it’s easier to be slow to wrath, and do you see what we’ve already shown elsewhere? That when you’re angry, you do not do the righteous works of God, that, “The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.”


There are other stories in the Bible, but I think I’ll just leave some of them, so we can come to that second section: What is it other than disappointment and a feeling that you’ve been treated unfairly, other than envy or injustice, what is it when it causes anger, how can you respond to that in a way that is sensible? Our Scripture reading was in Ephesians, that’s similar to some of the passages we’ve already read. Let’s go back there for a minute.


Ephesians, chapter 4. We’re in the second section now, that is, what does the Bible have to say about anger? We’ve already seen that it can discourage. We’ve already seen that we should not have it. We should be slow to wrath. Ephesians 4 and verse 31, “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake has forgiven you.”


Wrath and anger do exist in God’s character. The Bible speaks many times about the wrath of God, but it mentions that the wrath of God is slow, that is, God is slow to anger and great in kindness. God does, in fact, have vengeance, but what God indicates is that His wrath is combined with thorough knowledge and justice, so that when He is angry at sin or with a sinner, when He punishes or executes sentence, He does it just right. That is, the wrath of God works the righteousness of God, but we are not to imitate that. He has told us to imitate His love, His kindness, His mercy, His longsuffering, but when it comes to vengeance, He says, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.”


Colossians 3:8 says, “But now you yourselves put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth.” There are several Greek and Hebrew words used for this kind of passionate anger, and I won’t go through them with you; I don’t think you’d remember it, but I’ll tell you something about them you can study yourself. The Bible does have, both in the Old and New Testaments, words for very strong angry feelings and words for a bitter holding onto angry feelings. There are, both in Hebrew and Greek, words for these ideas that we might call passionate anger or bitterness, and the Bible mentions them primarily to tell us that they don’t belong to that of a Christian. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, this is 2 Corinthians, chapter 12, verse 20, he said, “When I come to you, I don’t want to find you in a way that would disappoint me. I don’t want to find you with contentions and jealousies and outbursts of wrath.” That’s the New King James version there of 2 Corinthians 12:20.


I would like you to turn with me, though, just close to where you are here in Ephesians, to Galatians, chapter 5, back about three pages, Galatians, chapter 5. I think you know what you find in verses 22 and 23, those would be fruits of the Spirit. But just before the fruits of the Spirit, you find the fruits of the flesh. That is, what are the evidences that the Spirit is not operating predominantly in your life? You find those in verses 19 and 20, and we want to notice particularly verse 20, “Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath.” It is that word wrath there that is the type of thing that describes that passionate anger, those outbursts of anger that you would read in the New King James version in some verses. Passionate anger is a fruit of the flesh.


In other words, if you find that you have it, when you indulge in passionate anger, in terms of your spiritual life, it is similar to when an addict lights up a cigarette knowing that he shouldn’t do it, or to when a man takes a swig of alcohol knowing that it’s wrong for a royal priesthood to do that. When you indulge in your wrathful experience, even if you’re addicted and stuck, it’s not different than most other addictions. It is an evidence that you are in captivity, and if it would drive you to desperation to be free, you could be free from that habit just like others are free from their more obvious outward habits. That is, there are many smokers who never smoke in their house, but they do outside, and they need to get victory of that. But there are many angry people who are never angry outside the home but only inside, and they need to get victory over that.


Turn to Psalm 37 and verse 7, “Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him: fret not yourself because of him who prospers in his way, because of the man who brings wicked devices to pass. Cease from anger, and forsake wrath: fret not yourself in any wise to do evil. For evildoers shall be cut off: but those that wait upon the Lord, they shall inherit the earth.” Now, what Jesus said is that the meek shall inherit the earth, but I want you to see who the meek are. The meek are the ones who aren’t the evildoers, but they’re the ones who wait on the Lord. But who are the evildoers? They’re the ones who don’t forsake wrath, but they allow themselves to get frustrated until the frustration leads them to do the wrong thing. I don’t say it’s hopeless that a wrathful person can get to Heaven any more than it’s hopeless that someone addicted to tobacco can get to Heaven, but I say they both have a work to do.


“The Lord is gracious, He’s full of compassion, He’s slow to anger and of great mercy,” that’s Psalm 145, verse 8. It’s a model that God gives us in many places. God demonstrates being slow to anger. The fact that He hasn’t destroyed you yet is a very good model for the way He controls His anger. That is, we have been rebellious enough to be treated quite harshly, and God is powerful enough that He could have treated us quite harshly. And if we do not turn from our evil, at some point we will get what we fairly deserve, but we haven’t got it yet, and in that He gives a model that shows that it’s sensible to defer your anger.


Turn forward maybe 70 pages to Proverbs, chapter 14, Proverbs, chapter 14, and we’re looking at verse 29, “He that is slow to wrath is of great understanding: but he that is hasty of spirit exalts folly.” Oh, there are several verses like this in the Bible. I want to read you two others to save us time. Proverbs 15:18 says, “A wrathful man stirs up strife: but he that is slow to anger appeases strife.” You know, it’s right there on the same page. You might as well look at it. In fact, the next one is right here, too. Turn the page to 16:32, Proverbs 16:32, “ He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that rules his own spirit than he that takes a city.”


There was once a dying general who had been very victorious who said on his deathbed something like this, that when he looked back over the conquests of his life, there was only one that provided him any comfort on his deathbed, and that was the victory he had achieved over his turbulent temper. And that’s the idea here in Proverbs 16. In other words, Solomon doesn’t say that overcoming your temper is easy. He doesn’t compare it to some small achievement; he compares it to a great achievement, but he says it’s worth the endeavor. It is a victory worth the effort.


You know, passionate anger is, while God is slow to it, the devil is quick to it in Revelation 12. When he saw that he was cast down to the earth, he boiled over immediately. And there you have an idea of the source of passionate anger. It’s a spirit trying to put into you a reflection of how he relates to when he feels like things aren’t going the way he wants them to go. Do you know that that’s where a lot of anger comes from? It’s because when we were one and two and three years old, our parents didn’t know how to teach us to submit to someone else’s will. We learned that we could be passionate back then and get what we wanted, and, oh, that makes your battle today so very difficult.


Still, it’s worth the fight, but for those of you who are single here, who have infants or going to have infants, that’s a large portion of this congregation today, you should learn how to help your children so they don’t have the battle with anger that you have. If they’re raised well in those first three years, what a difference it makes. I’m thinking of a powerful book on parenting that I recommend to you that has a whole section about this issue of anger that we see in the Bible. It’s a book called Child Guidance. If you want to know how to get it, you might let me know afterwards, and I could help you find a way.


So, how do we put it away? We’re moving to the third section now. In the first section, we talked about things that irritate us or cause us to be angry. The second section was just a plain study that shows that that anger is not justifiable, it’s not sensible, it’s not acceptable, it’s not Christian. That’s an important section. It’s part of speaking plainly. If you were here a few weeks ago, I spoke about speaking plainly. This is part of speaking plainly.


But now that third section, turn with me to Romans, chapter 12, looking at verse 19, “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay,’ saith the Lord.” You want to give room to God to make things right. You want to give room to yourself to cool down. I’m not really sure which way to understand that verse, but since they’re both true, I’m going to say them both to you. When you’re treated badly, disrespected by your children or not cared for properly by your friends or your co-workers, that is the time to give opportunity for God to take care of it. Didn’t He say, “Vengeance is mine?” It’s not on your shoulders to make those things right. But you might say, “But it is on my shoulders to correct my children.” Yes, it’s on your shoulders to correct your children, but it’s not on your shoulders to execute sentence against them. They will stand before the judgment seat themselves if they live long enough to be accountable in that way. Your responsibility is to help them overcome their defects while they’re still young, and wrathful outbursts will not help them in any way. It only accumulates your own burden of wrath.


We’ve already looked at James, chapter 1, verses 19 and 20, that is to listen carefully and to guard your tongue and speak cautiously. Just watching your tongue will often prevent your anger from overflowing. I mean, while your feelings affect your words, the converse is also true. Your words affect your feeling. When you feel like someone, a child, is being very perverse and because you feel that way, you say, “You are such a disobedient brat,” with an angry voice. Do you know that when you say those words you’ve turned the knob up on your angry feelings? That after saying them, you feel more angry than you did before you said them, and, in fact, just giving opportunity of being slow to speak will make it easier for you to be slow to wrath.


There is something else you can learn from the story of David. There was a time in David’s life, it was a terrible time, when one of his children raped his daughter. They were all adults when that happened. David and his two children were adults. And David as a king was in charge of the civil government and in fact should have had that crime punished. In other words, the fact that the rapist was his son should not change the course of justice. Do you understand what I’m saying? His son should have been punished like anybody else. But David did not treat his son the way he would have treated anyone else. In fact, he just didn’t do anything about it at all.


Do you know, the Bible talks about David becoming wrathfully angry, and I want you to understand that often passionate anger is the alternative response to doing something constructive. That is, instead of finding a way to resolve an issue, many parents kind of let a little disobedience go today, they let it go tomorrow, they let it go until it exasperates them, and then they explode. If you want to know one way to deal with wrathful anger, it is to seek resolution before frustration builds up to a high level while you can do it sensibly.


Turn to 1 Corinthians, chapter 13, 1 Corinthians, chapter 13, and we’re looking at verse 4. Do you see where it says there that charity suffers long and is kind? I don’t mean to teach you anything about Greek, but the word for passionate anger is, in fact, part of the word used here for longsuffering. The idea, thumia is the word for passionate anger and makrothumia is the word for longsuffering. What it means is that you are enduring your own passionate feelings. You’re putting up with them. The gospel really doesn’t offer either for you or I a cure that prevents strong feelings from rising. What it offers is a cure that prevents strong feelings from controlling, strong feelings from choosing our words or choosing our actions or making us bitter. We choose our thoughts, we choose our words, we choose our actions, but when our feelings come, sometimes we just have to put up with them.


That is, longsuffering, what is it that leads to longsuffering in verse 4? It’s the choice of love. Let me say that practically. Love is a choice to endure your passionate feelings and remain kind, so that when you get those passionate feelings, if instead of acting out, if instead you choose to endure the feelings and to act kindly, that choice is, in fact, love. What you feel is not the kind of love that the Bible values, it’s what you do, and that choice is love.


There are lots of other things we could say about how to overcome passionate anger. I’ll summarize a few of them, and then we’ll close.


An addiction to being passionate is like any other addiction or bad habit. It’s not overcome by magic, neither is it overcome by a morning prayer. I don’t say that you shouldn’t pray about it in the morning, I think you must, but addictions aren’t overcome by an event. Bad habits are overcome by a series of good choices and self-discipline. That is, it is a long-term battle. That’s why it’s compared to taking a city, and you should be prepared, when you enter into battle with your own passions, to realize that you will not find your fiery temper going down the first time that you beat against it. The general would not have felt so good on his deathbed about controlling his temper if it had been an easy conquest. You have a battle to fight. In any temptation, of course, thinking about the mercy of Jesus is what motivates you to continue, but particularly thinking about His mercy is what helps you understand or helps put in you a type of mercy that doesn’t act vindictively. That is, the cross is a key to overcoming any sin, but especially it’s a key to overcoming passionate feelings, the acting out of passionate feelings, because you see there that where Jesus had every reason to feel passionately, that He was like a sheep before her shearers; He did not open His mouth, and He endured unto blood striving against His own temptations.


Oh, there are other much smaller recommendations, but for someone they might be important, so I’ll mention them. If you struggle with anger, you should make yourself strict on the issue of going to bed at an early hour. Being tired turns your emotions up, often for some people to an uncontrollable level, and if you ask God to help you when they’re turned up all the way, if you can see the end from beginning, what you might see is Him speaking to you saying, “I did help you. I gave you time to sleep, but you did not use it.” That is, He gives His beloved rest, and sleep is an important component also. Though you might not understand this at all, if you don’t want to trust me, at least experiment and find some evidence. Spicy foods irritate tempers, and if you have a problem with passionate anger, I think, really there are many problems irritated by spicy foods, but if you do have a problem with that, you ought to try, with your other things you do in this battle, avoiding those spices for enough time to see if you find a difference in how you react to the irritations that surround you.


Finally, endure in the work of overcoming. The devil will endure in the work of temptation, so you must endure in the work of overcoming.


What we have said today, first that passionate anger shows up in the Bible, and when it shows up in the Bible, it often shows up inside the home circle. You can see it between David and his older brother. You can see it between Cain and his younger brother. You can see it between Jacob and his favorite wife, Rachel. You can see it between Saul and his most loyal servant, David. You can see passionate anger in many irrational places. Even you can see Jonah angry at a worm. But when you see passionate anger, if you look closely, you’ll see that it does not work the righteousness of God, that though it may be found in men that were otherwise godly, that unless they dealt with it, it led them to ungodly actions. In the case of Saul, it looks like it even destroyed his entire character and led to his eternal loss. We can’t afford to hold onto the anger. So how do we deal with it?


Oh, in Steps to Christ, you can find a whole study on overcoming temptation generally, but some specific things: Give time. Discipline, yes, but discipline at the beginning of the infractions, not when you’re exasperated. Discipline after you’ve calmed down, if you are exasperated. Listen carefully before you speak so that there’ll be no cause of misapprehension, and even listening carefully gives time for your feelings to be reduced. But if mercy is a fruit of the Spirit and wrathful passion is a fruit of the flesh, then maybe you just want to ask for more of the Spirit of God. You want to give Jesus a chance to have his mercy not just around you, but inside of you. You want to have it right there.


Is there such a thing as righteous indignation? There is, but it’s hardly relevant to you. And does God have anger? He does, but it’s hardly relevant to you. What God has given you is the job of controlling your actions, your words, your feelings, well, controlling how your feelings act out when they come your way. Seeing how Jesus endured, being treated unfairly, unkindly, with disrespect, how He was shamed by those that loved Him, how He was betrayed by one that was in His own family, by seeing those things, you allow the life of Jesus to work its way into your mind. And if you expose yourself to many types of media where you see revenge acted out in a very different way, unfortunately, you’re irritating what’s natural to you, you’re giving it good fertilizer when you want to uproot the plant thoroughly.


So the title of this sermon was “Against Passionate Anger.” I want to be against it. I’ll say that things aren’t fair. For me, my dad did not have the kind of passionate outbursts that I’ve seen in many people, and it’s made it easier for me than others perhaps to deal with this thing. But my dad had an internal bitter anger that he struggled with, and that’s the kind I have to deal with. I don’t want you to get the idea, if you’re in this audience and you’re like me, if you don’t have a wrathful outburst, that you don’t have a battle to fight with the issue of your passions. No, we all have a battle to fight with our passions. Anger is an ultimate form of selfishness, and when it is overcome, there’s wisdom. You’re like a man that has taken a strong city. Amen.


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