By Dale Porter
Like me, you probably know some people who are angry people. They may say something like this to justify their words and actions: “I am a Cooper. We Coopers are stubborn people. We just get a little angry every once in a while.”
I am not here to jump down every person’s throat about anger. In fact, my family has a history of being angry people, but I cannot justify myself by thinking: “Porter’s are just angry people.” To do this would bypass the real problem.
I thank the Lord for saving and forgiving me of many past sins including my sinful anger. Yet my times of anger after my salvation reveal a deeper problem than my heritage and family training. What you and I have to recognize is what the Bible says about our sinful anger. We display outward expressions of wrath (volcanic anger) or internalized anger (bitterness, resentment) because we have sinful hearts (Jeremiah 17:9-10).
You might be thinking at this point: “Is anger always sinful?” No, every act or thought of anger may not be sinful. Jesus revealed righteous anger in the Temple when he threw over the greedy money changer’s tables (John 2:13-17). His zeal was for His Father’s house! We can say Jesus’ motives were pure and without sin. He knew His Father’s righteousness was at stake (James 1:20)! However, you and I must honestly admit that we are not perfect like Jesus and it’s more likely because of our sinfulness we often come down on the side of sinful anger.
When I came to know Christ as Savior and Lord, there were many ways I attempted to control my anger. Sometimes I would just not talk about it. Other times I would leave the room. Or, I would listen and say nothing. These strategies sometimes kept me from exploding. Other times I was calm on the outside, but there was a slow burn going on down in my heart.
Then, a loving friend showed me James 4:1. “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” My passions—my desires—were at the root of why I got sinfully angry. After understanding this verse, I started thinking when convicted of anger: “Why do I get angry?” That “why” helped me to see my sinful anger occurred because I wanted something or someone so badly I would sin in order to get it. Or, my desire may have been good, but I had to wait or not obtain it at all. The same reaction would follow, I wanted it so badly that again I would sin in order to get it.
To truly change from our sinful anger as Christ followers, we must take a look at our motives. In other words, we must address–why we do what we do. You see you do what you do, you say what you say and feel what you feel, because you think what you think. The bottom line is that we must have our motives in line with Biblical thinking.
Often times we can easily label our anger as selfishness. That would be in a sense right, but we must dig deeper. I Corinthians 13:5 tells you: “Love does not insist on its own way.” The word “insist” in this verse can also be translated “seek.” The New American Standard translation reads this way: “love does not seek its own.” “Seek” in that phrase helps you to understand what drives you to get angry. This word “seek” should make you take a look at why you are becoming selfish in your life.
Let’s take a look at how other Biblical writers of Scripture use this word “seek.” In Matthew 18:12, Jesus says: “What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray?” The word “search” is the same type of word that’s used in I Corinthians 13:5. Jesus in Matthew 18:12 talks about an urgent search going on for one lost sheep.
You may be thinking: “Ok, Dale. What’s the big deal about this word ‘seek’?” What Jesus, Matthew and Paul want you to answer is this question about your goals in life, “What do you tend to seek after?”
Hang on to that thought! Think with me about the shepherd and the lost sheep. The shepherd loved, cared for and protected that one sheep. That one sheep was valuable to him. Therefore, we can conclude this word “seek” carries the idea of value. So, is your love motivated by what you value? Is it motivated toward seeking your own ways? Or are you motivated toward seeking others? Do you value your own ways? Or do you value others?
Now, what would happen when I would drop a penny on the floor and went searching for it, and then I couldn’t find it. Would I be upset? Probably I wouldn’t be upset. But what would happen when I would lose a debit card with all my financial assets on it? Would I be worried and angry? Yes, because it did happen to me! I made a diligent search for that card!
What’s the point? The Scripture verses which use this word “seek” want you to understand this principle: the higher you value something, the more intensely you seek it. The next time you get upset and angry—stop, think and examine your thinking. Ask yourself these questions and answer them honestly. “What were you seeking? What did you value so much you would sin to get it? Who intruded in on your kingdom? What treasure was lost? What savior or refuge was being threatened?”
I hope you see there is more to overcoming your sinful anger than just a few behavioristic techniques. Your outward and inward expressions of anger only reveal a larger problem—your sinful heart which needs to be changed. Look to Jesus and His Word! He’s the one who can cleanse and save your heart from sinful anger (James 1:20-21)!