5 Things the Bible Teaches About Handling Anger
Anger is a universal human emotion. No one escapes it. It is a normal emotional response when things don’t go our way and we are hurt, frustrated, or offended because of it.
- If you say something demeaning or disrespectful to me, and step all over my pride, I’m going to get angry with you.
- If you block my path to something I think I deserve to have, whether it’s by cutting in front of me with your car in traffic, or by not awarding me that job promotion I think I’ve earned, I’m likely to get angry with you.
- If you promise to do something I really need for you to do, like taking me to work when my car is in for repairs, but you fail to come when you said you would, I’m almost certainly going to be very angry with you.
The Bible has a lot to say, both positive and negative, about anger. Let’s take a quick survey.
NOTE: all Bible verses are from the New King James Version.
1. Anger Is Dangerous!
The Bible warns over and over that when we allow our anger to flow outside its proper boundaries, it can be a very destructive force. Look, for example, at this very pointed counsel from the Old Testament:
Proverbs 22:24-25 Make no friendship with an angry man, and with a furious man do not go, 25 Lest you learn his ways and set a snare for your soul.
Our anger can become a snare, trapping us in resentment and bitterness. And when we are in the grip of those corrosive emotions, they can lead us into actions or words that not only are damaging to others, but often destructive to ourselves.
A good biblical example of this dynamic is the story of Naaman.
A man who almost allowed his anger to block his healing
Naaman was the commander of the Syrian army. According to 2 Kings 5, he was “a mighty man of valor, but a leper.”
Naaman’s wife had a servant girl who had come from Israel. When the girl saw Naaman’s affliction, she told her mistress about a prophet in Israel named Elisha, who could surely heal Naaman of his disease.
So, Naaman, desperate to be healed of leprosy, set out to find Elisha. But when he came to the prophet, Elisha’s prescription for correcting his condition brought not healing but rage:
2 Kings 5:9-12 Then Naaman went with his horses and chariot, and he stood at the door of Elisha's house. 10 And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, "Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored to you, and you shall be clean." 11 But Naaman became furious, and went away and said, "Indeed, I said to myself, 'He will surely come out to me, and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place, and heal the leprosy.' 12 Are not the Abanah and the Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?" So he turned and went away in a rage.
Naaman was enraged because he thought Elisha was not treating him with the deference his exalted position as the Syrian commander entitled him to. His burning anger at that perceived slight caused him to flatly refuse to do what the prophet directed, and he would have gone home as much a leper as when he came. Naaman’s anger was about to steal from him the blessing he had travelled so far to gain.
But Naaman’s servants gave him some wise counsel:
2 Kings 5:13-14 And his servants came near and spoke to him, and said, "My father, if the prophet had told you to do something great, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, 'Wash, and be clean'?" 14 So he went down and dipped seven times in the Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.
Many times our anger, like Naaman’s, can be a self destructive force that blocks us from blessings in our lives. How many marriages have been destroyed by repeated outbursts of anger? How many careers have been stalled because a person just couldn’t seem to get along with the people he had to work with?
Anger can lead us into sinful and foolish actions
The Bible teaches that when I allow my anger to control my attitude and my actions, it puts me on very thin spiritual ice.
Proverbs 29:22 An angry man stirs up strife, and a furious man abounds in transgression.
In fact, uncontrolled anger can cause me to act like a fool!
Proverbs 14:17a A quick-tempered man acts foolishly…
Ecclesiastes 7:-49 Do not hasten in your spirit to be angry, for anger rests in the bosom of fools.
2. Anger Is Not Sinful
There’s nothing wrong with getting angry sometimes! In fact, God Himself gets angry, as did Jesus:
Psalms 7:11 God is a just judge, and God is angry with the wicked every day.
Mark 3:5 And when He [Jesus] had looked around at them with anger, being grieved by the hardness of their hearts, He said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored as whole as the other.
The Bible teaches that it’s not our anger but our inappropriate response to it that leads us into sin:
Ephesians 4:26a Be angry, and do not sin...
When used rightly, as God intended, our anger can be a positive rather than a negative force.
3. Anger Should Not Be Easily Aroused
It’s not unusual to hear people say something like, “You make me so mad!” But, according to Scripture, no one can actually make me mad but me.
Proverbs 19:11 The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, and his glory is to overlook a transgression.
if you do something that is offensive or hurtful to me, it’s my choice whether I react with anger. You should have to work really hard to get me angry!
Here’s an example:
Would it make you angry if someone spat in your face?
If you were in a heated argument with someone and they spat in your face, do you think you might get angry about it? Very likely you would!
But what if you were holding an infant, and the little tyke puffed his mouth and hit you with a glob of moisture right between the eyes. Would you become enraged? Of course not.
But why the difference? Your face is just as wet in either case.
The answer is obvious. If an adult who was arguing with you spat in your face, you’d immediately conclude that they had deliberately attacked you in one of the most offensive ways they could. And you would feel justifiably angry about it.
On the other had, you know the baby who spat in your face had no intent to hurt or offend. So, instead of getting angry, you’d just wipe your face. You might even laugh.
We choose when we will get angry and when we won’t
It’s not the spitting that makes you angry, but your assessment of what the spitting means. In other words, based on the circumstances in which your face got wet, you choose to get angry or not. It’s your choice!
Proverbs 16:32 He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.
So, before I lash out, either physically, verbally, or just by a bad attitude toward the person I blame for offending or hurting me, I need to slow down my reaction, and remember that I have a choice of whether to respond in anger to their transgression or to just overlook it.
Do you think it's really possible to choose whether to be angry or not?
Be careful about venting your anger!
The Bible says that trying to release our anger by just letting it erupt is not wise. Many people believe that when we feel rage it’s healthy to vent those emotions through negative words and explosive actions. But that’s the exact opposite of what Scripture teaches:
Proverbs 29:11 A fool vents all his feelings, but a wise man holds them back.
God’s intent is that rather than trying to dissipate our angry emotions by venting, we should use that energy to pursue a solution to the situation that caused the anger in the first place.
Video: Controlling our anger
4. Anger Has a God-designed Purpose
Anger can be a force for good in our lives and in the lives of people with whom we interact. The key is that we learn to use our anger for the purposes for which God intended it.
Look, for example, at how Nehemiah responded when he found that the rich people of Jerusalem were taking advantage of the poor:
Nehemiah 5:6-7 And I became very angry when I heard their outcry and these words. 7 After serious thought, I rebuked the nobles and rulers, and said to them, "Each of you is exacting usury from his brother." So I called a great assembly against them.
Nehemiah got angry! And his anger moved him to take steps to correct the situation. That’s why God gave us the emotion of anger.
Why God Built the Emotion of Anger Into Us
Alert us to the fact that something in our lives or in our environment is out of order
Motivate and energize us to correct the situation
The proper alternative to lashing out in anger is to instead take purposeful action to resolve the situation that produced the anger in the first place. How should that be done?
Matthew 18:15 Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother.
- We should confront the person who offended us and try to resolve the issue.
Ephesians 4:26 "Be angry, and do not sin": do not let the sun go down on your wrath.
- We should go to that person immediately: don’t allow anger to fester and turn into bitterness and resentment.
Ephesians 4:15a but, speaking the truth in love…
- We should be forthright in declaring how that person’s actions have hurt or offended us; but we must do so only with respect and love.
5. Anger Should Always End in Forgiveness
Whether the issue that initiated our anger gets resolved is not always up to us. The other people involved have to also be willing to work at finding a solution. So, what happens if they just won’t cooperate?
Ephesians 4:32 And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.
We forgive. That’s the bottom line. No matter what, we forgive. Otherwise, we ourselves will be held in bondage to our rage.
What does it mean to forgive someone who has hurt or offended us?
Forgiveness means I no longer hold a person’s transgression against them. I literally cancel the moral debt they owe me because of their offensive behavior. That means I will never again try to extract any kind of retribution from them, whether by word, deed, or attitude, for what they did to me.
Forgiving someone doesn’t mean I excuse or minimize their offense. In fact, I can only forgive someone when I believe their offense is real; otherwise, there’s nothing to forgive. Also, it doesn’t mean I forget what they did. If a babysitter molests my child, I must forgive them. But that doesn’t mean I won’t report them to the police, or that I will ever let them come near my child again.
Forgiveness is a decision, not a feeling. If you owe me money, and I cancel your debt, it doesn't matter how I feel about you; you no longer owe me anything. Forgiveness takes place when I make the commitment before God to no longer hold a person’s offense against them. That doesn’t mean all negative feelings toward the offender immediately go away! But when those emotions arise, I simply reaffirm my forgiveness before the Lord. Eventually, my feelings will catch up to the fact that in my heart I have forgiven that person.
The Bible has a lot to say about anger, and we’ve only scratched the surface of its teaching. But just by putting these five principles to work when we find ourselves getting angry, we can turn our anger from a liability into an asset.
© 2014 Ronald E Franklin