A Destructive Work of the Flesh

Anger

Cease from anger, and forsake wrath: fret not thyself in any wise to do evil.
—Psalms 37:8

Homer Montague

“Of all the emotions, anger is one of the most common and most powerful. It assumes various forms designated by terms such as fury, wrath, ire, rage, resentment, vengeance, and indignation. Hardly a day goes by without most of us experiencing some measure of anger—either our own or that of someone with whom we interact, often a family member. The news regularly reports acts of violence unleashed by long-festering anger, a hidden desire for revenge, or a sudden, impetuous fit of rage. Anger plays a central role in assault, child abuse, murder and many rapes, and in interethnic and international violent conflict. Of the seven deadly sins, anger is the most pervasive, injurious to self and others, and most responsible for unhappiness and psychopathological behavior.”—Solomon Schimmel, The Seven Deadly Sins, p. 83.

Emotional anger can be a destructive force that produces numerous harmful consequences to self and others. Manifestations of its existence and effects go back to early biblical times. Following the expulsion from the Garden of Eden because of disobedience, Adam still worshipped God and taught Cain and Abel to offer sacrifices that would manifest their devotion. On one such occasion the brothers were working in the field. Abel made an offering of a fine lamb and gave grateful thanks to God for all his mercies, and this pleased the heavenly Father. Cain made an offering of grains and produce from the field, but God did not find that offering pleasing. Cain then became angry and jealous. He subsequently quarreled with his brother and finally struck and killed him. This uncontrolled rage in Cain led him to commit the unspeakable act of murder.

The following are two other instances where the Bible records unjustified anger:

“But Naaman was wroth, and went away, and said, Behold, I thought, He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the LORD his God, and strike his hand over the place, and recover the leper” (2 Kings 5:11). Naaman was afflicted with pride because Elisha did not greet him personally. He protested in a rage at what he was told to do, to wash in the Jordan River seven times to cure his leprosy. It was only after his servants persuaded him to heed the prophet’s instruction that he was healed.

“And when the ass saw the angel of the LORD, she fell down under Balaam: and Balaam’s anger was kindled, and he smote the ass with a staff” (Numbers 22:27). Balaam was angry because he could not control his donkey to travel through a narrow pass so he could curse Israel at King Balak’s request. The animal could see the angel of the Lord holding a sword to slay Balaam if he proceeded further so it refused to move forward. After the donkey was given the power to speak words of rebuke to Balaam for beatings it received at his hands, Balaam was allowed to see the angel with a sword drawn to kill him if he continued in his act of unrighteousness.

In today’s society, unjustifiable anger is found in schools, the workplace, at home, and other social relationships. This has resulted in the creation of a huge array of services that deal with anger management and counseling. Anger, as well as all destructive behaviors and habits, is a byproduct of sin; but the various emotional health practitioners would have no clients if they espoused such a philosophy. In suggesting possible causes of anger in clients, a therapist might suggest low self-esteem, misreading the meaning of various events in one’s life and becoming offended, rejection, physical or biological disorders, poor social relationships, and false accusations of wrongdoing.

Among consecrated believers, faithfulness in walking as the Master walked will result in a life that is totally opposed to sinful practices because of the indwelling power of the holy spirit. The change that comes upon us once we devote ourselves to the doing of the heavenly Father’s will is remarkable. It is described as being transformed, which, when fully carried out, will not only result in our change from sinfulness to righteousness in thought and conduct, but ultimately we will be changed from the human to the divine nature if we are faithful unto death (Romans 6:3-6; 12:1,2).

The Bible indicates it is God’s will for Christians to overcome anger and other sinful traits: “But now put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and foul talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old nature with its practices and have put on the new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free man, but Christ is all, and in all. Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful” (Colossians 3:8-15, RSV).

Those who have devoted their lives to following the Master will find that, because of human frailties, it will be impossible to consistently perform every aspect of these requirements. Nevertheless, it is possible for us to manifest perfection of intention and be acceptable to the Father: “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).

How is this accomplished? God has given us the holy spirit that enables us to overcome the inclinations of the old nature. He has given Scriptures for us to study and to understand what his desire is for us. His providence shapes our affairs through needed disciplines and encouragements. We have a family of brethren with whom we can share our experiences and learn from each other. He has given us the privilege and responsibility of prayer to succor and sustain us. He has provided precious promises and the assurance that he will never leave us or forsake us. When we are faint, we receive strength from our Advocate who stands with us in our difficulties. Our forgiveness is promised when we repent of our trespasses and strive to be more watchful of our actions.

Cain’s anger led to the murder of Abel. Could those who are spirit-begotten ever have angry or murderous thoughts in their hearts against others, because they had a different way of viewing things? Jesus gave a definition of adultery which was independent of the physical act; it involved having lust in one’s heart for another (Matthew 5:28). Likewise the spirit of murder could be found within believers if they are not diligent in maintaining heart purity: “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abided in death. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him. Hereby perceive we the love because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” (1 John 3:14-16).

If we harbor feelings of animosity toward anyone, we must wage an aggressive warfare against such a disposition lest it consume us: “Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21, NRSV). That warning is addressed to new creatures in Christ and demonstrates that all those works of the flesh, literal or symbolic, including anger, must be eliminated because the continuation in such an evil course would bar us from attaining the kingdom.

“We are to remember, as the Apostle suggests, that we have this new nature in an earthen vessel and that the earthen vessel has practically all of its original blemishes and fallen tendencies still as powerful as ever, except as the new mind has these under its mastery and control; but if that mastery or control should be released even for a moment the result would be the awakening, the reviving of the old nature. And we may be sure that our Adversary is alert and fully realizes the situation and will do all in his power to put us off guard, even to the extent of endeavoring to make white appear black and black appear white before our judgment. The Lord very graciously shields us from temptations more than we are able to bear. Hence it is possible for us at all times to be overcome, not only in the infancy of our new nature, but also in its further development; but the testings permitted grow more severe, more crucial, as we near our spiritual graduation time. Nor can we object to this; it is exactly what we should expect.

“The Apostle, following this line of thought, declares, ‘I keep my body under;’ and again he says, ‘Mortify, therefore, your members which are upon the earth’—your earthly ambitions, will, etc., everything in yourself that would tend toward envy, hatred, anger and strife—put these to death. Allow the new nature to have full sway and control in every thought, in every word, in every deed. And watch to this end; watch your thoughts, watch your words, watch your conduct. Many can watch their conduct who find it difficult to scrutinize and properly weigh their thoughts and their words. Truly the Apostle intimates that out of the heart proceeds envy, bitterness, evil speaking, back-biting and strife; unless they are in the heart the mouth cannot utter them, for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaketh.”—Reprints, p. 4217

The matter of not reacting in anger provides a severe test to believers when unjustifiably they are treated in an evil manner: “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Matthew 5:11,12).

All of us occasionally receive ill-treatment at the hands of others. When we do what is right and are slandered because of it, how do we feel: blessed and joyful, or angry? If ever there was an individual on earth who not even once was deserving of an unkind word or action, it was Jesus Christ. Yet, he never responded in a manner demonstrating personal anger against those who hated him without a cause. He suffered for righteousness’ sake and left an example for all believers to follow: “For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously.”—1 Peter 2:19-23

Righteous indignation should be exhibited by believers when it is appropriate. When we hear false doctrine or God’s name or character blasphemed, we should express our displeasure that such utterances were made in our presence. For example, if someone were to speak of God’s intention to burn the wicked eternally, in conscious torment in hell fire, we should correct that thought by citing a Scripture demonstrating God’s love for humanity in sending Jesus to die on Adam’s behalf, so that all might have an opportunity for life in the kingdom for which we pray. To remain silent might imply assent, and would not be expressing righteous indignation. But if we became angry because someone spoke evil of us, that would be simply a fleshly reaction on our part.

Jesus healed a man with a withered hand on the sabbath and the pharisees condemned him for that: “And he said unto them, What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out? How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days” (Matthew 12:11,12).

This same event is described by Mark in these words: “And he saith 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 saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other” (Mark 3:4,5).

The look of anger on the Master’s face was an act of righteous indignation because the scribes and pharisees were hypocrites whose hearts Jesus read. The spirit of the Law does not prevent the doing of good deeds on the sabbath.

“God judgeth the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day” (Psalm 7:11). Many fail to understand that the meaning of “angry” in this text refers to God’s righteous indignation; they visualize him as a vengeful being intent upon destroying much of the human family whose evil ways warrant such punishment. Throughout the Bible there are so many references to God’s love (John 3:16), holiness (Leviticus 20:26), unchangeableness (James 1:17), and justice (Psalm 89:14).

Our heavenly Father perfectly balances his attributes and is always in control. We could never imagine him saying after having formulated his plan, “The Adversary makes me so angry with all of the wickedness that he’s doing, I am going to destroy him right now.” In God’s own due time and according to his perfect judgment, however, he will do exactly that. He manifests righteous indignation through his unerring justice, such as when he condemned Adam because of disobedience. Nevertheless, love found a way to provide an opportunity for man’s recovery through the sending of Jesus as a ransom for all. Loving righteousness and hating iniquity is an integral part of our grand Creator’s being, and these exist in perfect harmony. The permission of evil was provided to instruct the human family as to the real consequences of sin and disobedience; it also develops the church under adverse circumstances. During Christ’s kingdom the Adversary is to be bound for a thousand years, after which he will be released to test mankind and determine whether they have internalized the principles of righteousness, or if they will follow Satan and reap destruction with him. When all creation has been fully restored and God is all in all, his righteous indignation will not need to be further manifested, because all will come to him in loving obedience and iniquity will be a thing of the past. How blessed we are in having such a wise and merciful God.

As new creatures in Christ, we must rid ourselves of the works of the flesh if we are to be more than overcomers and associates of the Master in his kingdom. Our serious endeavors to identify our weaknesses and rectify them should be of paramount importance in our lives: “Grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice” (Ephesians 4:30, 31).

Here are some of the ways we can take to control anger in our lives:

1. Overlook minor offenses. “The discretion of a man deferreth his anger; and it is his glory to pass over a transgression” (Proverbs 19:11).

2. Accept personal responsibility for one’s own errors. “Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5).

3. Intensify our prayer life. “I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting” (1 Timothy 2:8).

4. Be just and merciful. “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God” (Micah 6:8).

5. Be open to reconciliation. “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32).

6. Exercise care in our deliberations with others. “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God” (James 1:19,20).

7. Meditate upon the wholesome and the good. “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Philippians 4:8).

8. Be receptive to godly counsel in addressing matters that have the propensity for strife. “Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14).

May God’s holy spirit enable us to overcome unrighteous anger in our lives.