Colossians 3:8 - “But now you also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth.”
It’s a story that we’ve heard all too often about the young husband and his explosive temper. Without warning he erupts, firing verbal insults into the ears of his wife and children, destroying their feelings of security and self-worth. Excuses are made to hide the family’s shame and embarrassment: That’s just how he is; he doesn’t mean to do it; afterward he is so sorry. But sometimes the outbursts escalate into rage and he physically hurts his wife or his children. Immediately after the tantrum, he’s fine, but those who received the brunt of his anger are not.
Clearly it’s not just men who wrestle with this issue; women and an increasing number of children also overdose on this fiery emotion we call anger.
Studies show that one out of every 10 Americans is angry, and Christians are no exception. Born-again, Spirit-filled Christians get angry, and when anger is expressed for wrong the reason, it is sin.
In the marriage and family course that our associate pastor Dave Smith teaches at our Bible college, he stresses the importance of knowing how a potential spouse expresses anger. It’s important, he says, to know if the one you intend to marry is in bondage to anger. Ask, he advises, if that man or woman is easily provoked, or if his or her anger is uncontrollable because marriage will not change a person. If a person is easily angered before the wedding, then he or she can be angered just as easily after the wedding.
“A lot of people use anger to try to control other people,” Smith said. “Think of a child throwing a temper tantrum in the grocery store because she wants a piece of candy. What’s that child trying to do? Kids are smart and they know how and when to throw a temper tantrum to get their own way, and that’s the motive behind it. That child has learned that rather than dealing with her rebellion, Mom will give in and buy her the candy. Adults do the same thing. Adults use anger to intimidate, dominate, and manipulate so that they can do what? Exactly the same thing: get their own way.”
We get letters all the time, especially from women, explaining how their families are being torn apart by the sin of anger. When a member of the family gives into anger or flies into a rage, that person is out of control and can do anything. And it doesn’t matter if he regrets it afterward because the damage to the family is already done. That’s why this ministry cannot tell a woman to stay with her husband when he gets angry and hits her or starts mistreating the children because that can be dangerous.
There is a story that a lady once told the great evangelist Billy Sunday: “I’ll admit I have a temper, but it’s over in just a minute.” Sunday replied, “Yes, ma’am, and so is the blast of a shotgun, but it destroys everything it hits.”
IS ANGER A HEAD PROBLEM OR A HEART PROBLEM?
Psychology identifies anger as a head problem—a strong feeling, a thought, a behavior. But the Word of God illuminates anger in the heart, where it begins:
“But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man….” (Matt. 15:18-20).
For Christians, the solution to anger cannot be a blend of psychology and the Bible; their only answer should be the Word of God. Unfortunately, many Christians turn to counselors to help them control their tempers—often at the suggestion of a pastor.
Over the years, my husband has written quite a bit on this topic, explaining how the modern church has opted to trust in clinical psychology.
“The psychological way and the way of the Cross are diametrically opposed to each other,” he said. “They are so diametrically different and originate from such totally different sources that there is no way the two can be wed. As for preachers who claim that the two can be melded, it shows either a terrible ignorance of the Cross of Christ, or else, gross unbelief.”
Martin and Deidre Bobgan agree. This couple has six university degrees between them; Martin’s doctorate is in educational psychology. However, after becoming a Christian, Martin discovered that psychology and the Bible don’t mix. So, for the past 40 years, this precious couple has helped others understand that the Bible is sufficient for the issues of life.
In their book, PsychoHeresy: The Psychological Seduction of Christianity (Revised & Expanded), the Bobgans explain how psychological counseling—psychotherapy—has slowly replaced Christian reliance on the Cross and faith in the Bible to address problems such as anger. They write:
“Previous to the influx of psychological theories and therapies, Christians turned to the Scriptures to understand themselves and to live accordingly. They turned to the Bible regarding attitudes and actions. They sought God regarding personal feelings and relationships. They found solid solace, strength, and guidance during difficult circumstances. Moreover, they learned the difference between walking according to the old ways of the world and walking according to the new life they had received through Christ’s death, resurrection, and gift of the Holy Spirit. Much of this has been lost as Christians have been adding the ways of the world to the way of the cross.”
In the same book, the Bobgans give the example of an influential minister who prescribes this unbalanced blend of psychology and theology to people trying to overcome anger:
“To explain his theory, [he] says, ‘...energy cannot be destroyed; it can only be transformed. Once you are angry you are in possession of energy which cannot be destroyed.’ [He] warns, ‘If you don’t develop ways of getting that energy out of you in non-destructive activities, sooner or later it will find symptomatic expression among the weakest of your organic systems. So don’t clam up and run the risk of damaging your physical health.’
To release the anger energy, this minister recommends, “tackling dummies, pounding mattresses, and punching bags” as well as other activities.
Other psychologists dispute such claims. In her article, “Anger Diffused,” social psychologist Dr. Carol Tavris writes, “The psychological rationale for ventilating anger does not stand up under experimental scrutiny. The weight of the evidence indicates precisely the opposite: Expressing anger makes you angrier, solidifies an angry attitude, and establishes a hostile habit.” She later mentions that there is “little evidence that suppressing anger is dangerous to health.”
This is the problem with preachers preaching psychology: their mixed message fails to align with other psychologists, let alone the Word of God, and they don’t help anyone.
ANGER AT GOD
People don’t just get angry at each other; they also get mad at God. Tragic events beyond our control happen to people everyday, and Christians are not immune. The difference is, when tragedies come—child abuse, job loss, disease, divorce, death—the Christian has the option of turning toward God for comfort and strength to make it through. Unfortunately, the majority of people in pain—Christians included—choose to turn away from God. It’s easier to blame Him for the bad things that happen in their lives, and they feel justified in their anger toward Him.
To make matters worse, there are plenty of preachers standing behind psychological pulpits and telling their congregations that it’s okay to be angry at God. They encourage people to shake their fists at God, yell at the Lord, and tell Him just how angry they really are. “He’s God,” these preachers say. “He can handle it.”
The Bobgans also address this point:
“Where in Scripture do we have an example of it’s okay to be mad at God? Jonah was mad at God to his own detriment, but no example can be found in Scripture where anger at God is condoned. Even Michael the archangel, ‘when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee’ (Jude 9). How much more serious to vent anger on God, who is our righteous, just, and loving Creator! We know that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. It would follow that to be angry at God is the beginning of foolishness. King Solomon warns, Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter anything before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few” (Eccl. 5:2). In Scripture we are instructed to hate sin. Therefore we may be angry over sin and evil. One may certainly speak to God about anger over sin and evil, but it is wrong to be angry at God. If a person is indeed angry at God, he must admit his anger and confess his sin. One should also be encouraged to confess all ungodly anger just as one should always admit and confess sin to God according to the promise in I John 1:9. ‘If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.’ Denying the existence of angry thoughts and feelings prevents confession and cleansing and thus leaves the person in his sin.”
SUBMISSION: THE CURE FOR ANGER
“Submit yourselves therefore to God.” (James 4:7).
When the Bible says to submit yourselves unto the Lord, what does that mean? I asked this question of my panel on Frances & Friends in a discussion about anger, and I thought Dave Smith summed it up nicely. He said:
“When you get saved, you repent of sin, and you ask Christ to come into your life as Saviour. But you also ask Him to come into your life as Lord. That means you surrender control of your life to Him. Another aspect of that is in Luke 9:23 where it says “deny self.” In other words, I’m not depending on myself—my abilities, my strength, any of those kinds of things—and I’m totally depending on Christ and who He is and what He did on the Cross of Calvary. Then and only then will the sin nature come under control and be deactivated, so to speak, and then the Holy Spirit can come into my life and can lead me, guide me, teach me—all the things that the Holy Spirit wants to do. That’s the process of submitting to God: it’s surrendering myself, denying self, taking up the Cross, and following Jesus Christ. So that surrender of our will to the will of God is a daily thing; it doesn’t just happen when we get saved. ”
Christians who want victory over anger need to ask themselves, am I going to trust God and keep my faith in what Christ did at the Cross, or am I going to substitute my will and my way?
Consider the words of the Lord Jesus Christ as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Father, if You be willing, remove this cup from Me: nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).
BUT DIDN’T THE LORD GET ANGRY?
“And He said unto them, Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill? But they held their peace. And when He had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, He said unto the man, Stretch forth your hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other” (Mark 3:4-5).
In his commentary on the book of Mark, my husband explains why the Lord was angry:
“With the man standing in the midst of all the onlookers, and the Pharisees standing or sitting nearby, Jesus, with a sweep of His eyes, stares at them for a few moments with anger registered on His countenance. In other words, the anger is obvious to all. Here is the difference between the anger of fallen man and the anger of the Sinless One. With fallen man, anger is the desire of retaliation, punishing those by whom you consider yourself unjustly treated. Hence, in men, unrighteous anger springs from selflove; in Christ, it sprang from the love of God, which must always be opposed to sin, and especially this type of sin. Jesus loved God above all things; hence, He was distressed and irritated on account of the wrongs done to God by sin and sinners. Consequently, His anger was a righteous zeal for the honor of God; and hence, it was mingled with grief because, in their blindness and obstinacy, they would not acknowledge Him to be the Messiah, but misrepresented His kindnesses wrought on the sick on the Sabbath Day and found fault with them as evil.”
Twice in the Word of God, we also find the Lord, filled with righteous indignation, cleansing the temple.
The first time was at the beginning of His earthly ministry:
“And the Jews’ passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem, and found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting: and when He had made a scourge of small cords, He drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables; and said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise” (Jn. 2:13-16).
The second (and last) cleansing was at the end of His ministry:
“And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves” (Matt. 21:12-13).
Throughout the Old and New Testaments, we find the prophets and apostles expressing this same type of anger. So, is it right for Christians to be angry?
Before I address that question, I want to include an important point my husband made about the Lord demonstrating anger. He said, “The zeal the Lord exhibited should be our zeal as well. However, Jesus did this only as His Father told Him to do so. As well, we too must be led strictly by the Lord. To do otherwise, especially in matters of this nature, is to invite disaster. Even though something is done in the will of God, with one being totally led by the Spirit, that does not mean that there will not be repercussions. There were with Jesus, and there will be with us as well.”
“Be you angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: Neither give place to the devil” (Eph. 4:26-27).
As the body of Christ, we cannot be so passive in life that we let just anything go by. We’ve got to get angry at sin. What’s happening in our nation, in the church, and how the enemy oppresses the people of God—these things should make Christians angry. But most of all, we should voice our anger at how the Lord is being treated in all of this and how His Word is being misinterpreted, especially in the church.
Ezra Palmer Gould, who served in the Civil War and later became a minister of the gospel, said, “Anger against wrong as wrong is a sign of moral health.” This from a man who watched our country break in half. Think of that.
More than 150 years later, we see America struggling to stay America. It’s time for godly men and women to rise up in moral indignation at the sin and iniquity that are destroying this nation.
If not the church, then who?
Frances & Friends Sept. 4, 2015.
Jimmy Swaggart, Jimmy Swaggart Bible Commentary/Mark (World Evangelism Press, 1997).
Martin and Deidre Bobgan, PsychoHeresy: The Psychological Seduction of Christianity, Revised & Expanded, (EastGate Publishers, 2012).
Carol Tavris, “Anger Diffused,” Psychology Today, November 1982.
Jimmy Swaggart, Jimmy Swaggart Bible Commentary/John (World Evangelism Press, 1997).