Hot Under the Collar: A Godly Response to Anger

Jeff McVay

We have all been there at one point in our lives or another. Our spouse, kids, boss, neighbor, or friend does or says something that upsets us and all of a sudden we feel the pressure begin to build. Your shirt starts to feel tight around the collar, like the dry cleaner put too much starch on it. Heat builds up around the ears and you feel your face begin to flush. As you continue to think about the action or what was said it increases. Your heart pounds and life begins to go in slow motion. You can almost hear NASA control…T minus 10, 9, 8.

What you do or say at this moment may affect the next few minutes, hours, days or even years. What usually happens for you? Do you go into “silent treatment” mode? Do you escape onto the highways and freeways in pursuit of your NASCAR fantasies? Or do you explode with a tirade of intimidating words or actions in a vain attempt to control the situation? Regardless of the action the result is distance, danger and damage none of which bring back the closeness or safety that we all hope for in our relationships.

Have you ever wondered what God thinks about anger and how we should respond to it? Maybe you are wondering what God expects of you when it comes to your angry feelings towards others. You may have searched the Bible for answers and have finished with more questions than you started with. Be assured that you are in good company and your questions are valid and understandable. The Bible makes a few things clear when it comes to talking about anger. It lets us know that anger, is a feeling is God created and is not a sin, but anger is a slippery slope that can lead us to sinful action.

As Christians we believe that God created all things even human emotion of which anger is one. Believe it or not, anger does serve a purpose for each individual. It is not a pleasant emotion but it is one that can be useful. I like to compare it to pain. Pain is not very fun to feel but if we did not have it we would not know to move our hand off the hot burner or our bodies out of harmful situations. Anger is an emotion that comes up as a reaction to someone interfering or placing limits upon our will. If the limit is an unjust one such as slavery, racism or sexism then that anger gives us the motivation to make a positive change. Dr. Richard P. Walters defines this positive use of anger as indignation. Indignation as a response to our natural anger at injustice is a good, non sinful, God created, emotion that can be used for bettering things here on earth. Once the injustice is corrected the emotion drops off much like pain once the healing from the hurt has occurred.

However, the Bible also recognizes that anger can be held onto and even fostered within us to the point that it leads us into sin very quickly. Therefore it gives us a great guideline for how to deal with anger so that it leads us through the feelings and back into relationship with those whom we are angry. Ephesians 4:25-27 tells us:

‘So then, putting away falsehood let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry, but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger and do not make room for the adversary.’

This scripture gives us a great strategy for dealing with our anger in a Godly manner.

In it we are told that there are appropriate times to be angry. In the original language, this word for anger is in the imperative meaning that it is a command. This means that in those appropriate times we are commanded to be angry. But it holds in tension that the anger must be expressed in a way that is not sinful or destructive to the person who is angry or to the group or individual with whom we are angry.

How do we do this?

The first and last verses give us great examples. The prior verse says that we must put away falsehood and speak the truth. This gives two guidelines. First, it reminds us that we must not say false things about the one with whom we are angry. Often when we are angry with someone we say things about him or her that are not true. In our explosiveness we may degrade, insult or attack who they are. This often leads to further anger and hostility on their part and most of the time we wind up regretting what we have said about them.

Secondly, it tells us that we must speak the truth. This means that we must speak truthfully to the one we are angry with about how we are feeling and how the action they have taken has wounded us. We are allowed and even expected to say to the one who is offending that their action has a consequence in our lives and because we are ‘members of one another’ it has a consequence for them as well. Only then can we come to a resolution.

The last verse then prompts us to come to a resolution quickly. Hopefully it can be resolved within the day and we are urged to try to make it so. Otherwise we give our anger a foothold that can be used to break down our relationships instead of building them up.

This does not mean that we cannot take a ‘time out’ to gain control of our anger and frustration so that we can put away falsehood, speak the truth and do so in a timely manner. In fact sometimes we must have this space in order to allow ourselves to calm down and process what we must say. If this is the case for you, a great strategy is to tell the other that you must have some time to think and give them a set time that you will be back to talk about what has happened. Then you must follow through with what you have said.

One of the great ways to speak the truth about your feelings and stay away from falsehoods is to use the following formula when speaking to the one with whom you are angry. The formula is as follows:

‘I feel (state your feeling) when you said or did (state the action or words that were spoken that brought up the feeling) because (state the message that you received from the action or words) and what I need or want from you is (state what it is that you think will fix things in the relationship).’

This simple statement can help you formulate what you want to say in order to make things right in a timely manner. It causes us to be responsible for our feelings instead of the other’s behavior (which we cannot control anyway). Then we state why it hurt us and what we think will help mend the relationship. It is not easy to do but with practice this simple formula can help us follow scripture’s advice concerning anger.

For some of us, anger has been around for so long that we may need to enlist the help of others (pastor or therapist) to help us learn this method. Yet if we commit ourselves to working out our anger in a Godly manner we will find that we are blessed with relationships that enrich and nourish our lives with the goodness that God has for us.

For some help with anger call 1-800-NEW-LIFE. A ministry service representative can help you set an appointment with a Christian counselor or connect you with a Christian coach.
Also, please prayerfully consider joining us at our next New Life Weekend.