A screaming toddler in a shopping cart. A seething teen punching a hole in the wall. A stewing colleague turning a cold shoulder. A begrudging neighbor planning the perfect revenge. An embittered mother yelling at her children. A disgusted spouse slamming the door on the way out . . . for the last time.
Anger, anger, everywhere. We see it in our culture and media, in our workplaces and homes, and even in ourselves. It is often overlooked or excused. Sometimes it is encouraged and praised.
In contrast, Scripture tells us to get rid of it. “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice” (Ephesians 4:31). But, to begin, where does anger come from?
Anger Begins in Our Hearts
The “blame game” is a game we all love to play. It is our human nature to blame relationships or circumstances for our anger. When we become angry, the blaming begins . . .
It’s not my fault I’m angry. If she hadn’t __________, then I wouldn’t be angry. I’m angry because he __________. I can’t help it that I’m angry; you know how hot-headed we __________ (insert nationality here) can be! I’m angry because I don’t feel well . . . I’m under a lot of pressure . . . I’m just not feeling like myself today.
Oh, yes you are!
Jesus said, “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man . . . For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good, and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil” (Mark 7:21, 12:34).
Jesus taught that sin originates in our hearts. In our hearts is where sin (including anger and all its wicked associations) resides. When we are hard-pressed, it comes gushing out like a filthy fountain!
We Become Angry When We Want Something Too Much
James 4:1-2 answers the question of what is going on in our hearts when we become angry: “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.”
A “passion” or “desire” we have might be a good, lawful desire or it might be a sinful desire. Either way, when a desire has taken root in our hearts and becomes the most important thing to us, it has become an idol—meaning it has become more important to us than honoring and obeying Christ with our responses.
Question: How do you know when a desire has become an idol?
Answer: You know that a desire has become an idol when you are willing to sin to get it or willing to sin if you don’t get it. (Think about that for a minute!)
When you are angry, stop and ask yourself, “What is it that I want? What is it that I desire so much right now that I am willing to respond with sinful anger?”
Think of anger as your personal smoke detector. A smoke detector identifies smoke and warns you that a fire is nearby. Similarly, anger detects a desire that is dangerously burning within you. Your anger will tell you what your idol is!
Why is it Important to Know that Anger Begins in Our Hearts?
There are two important reasons to understand that anger begins in our hearts:
- This truth shows us what needs to change—WE do! It’s our hearts that need to change, not our circumstances or the people around us. Stop the blame game!
- This truth shows us that we need God for change! We cannot change ourselves at the deepest level to glorify Him; we are dependent upon God Himself for that. We will only overcome our anger—not mask it, but rather put it to death—by the gracious saving work of Christ and the transforming work of the Holy Spirit. More about that next time.
Previous: The Hulk Isn’t the Only One: Are You Angry? Next: Overcoming Anger
(Thank you to Jim Newheiser of ibcd.org for his many biblical insights reflected in this post. For his audio & notes, see: “Anger Mismanagement: Only Grace Transforms the Heart.”)
For additional anger resources: Resources for Your Walk