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“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.” – James
They believe an anger diagnosis is wrong when, in reality, the person I’m talking to has softened their language to the point where their conscience no longer perceives their anger as sinful. What they don’t recognize is that frustration is anger too. This graphic helps to illustrate the many forms of sinful anger. Please know it does not present an exhaustive list of anger terms as you reflect upon it. Perhaps you can think of others.
Sinful anger will manifest itself on a spectrum. We all have our preferential way of getting angry, which is why our labels must be clear. Without understanding the gradations of anger, you will not perceive yours, which means you will not be able to change. Paul said to put off your former manner of life, but if you don’t know how to identify your destructive behaviors, you’ll not be able to put them off (Ephesians 4:22).
Please note that all the words you see in the graphic fit into one big basket with the label anger on it. Like there are shades of black, there are shades of anger. Now, I’m not the “word police,” and if you want to call your sinful anger something else, that is fine with me as long as you’re willing to acknowledge it is wrong.
Consequences are different, but any sin you commit makes you guilty of them all (James 2:10). Just because you’re not the kind of person to throw a chair across a room or yell obscenities in congested traffic, it does not mean you may use a smaller nail to put Christ on the cross to feel better about yourself. He died for all our sins, not just the big ones.
You may express anger through impatience, apathy, dismissiveness, or frustration. Most of us have “refined” our anger manifestations. The more coarse and obvious ones do not typically characterize civilized believers, which makes the temptation to tamp down our actions all the stronger. Being blind to blindness is the worst possible condition of the soul. (See Hebrews 3:7-8, 4:7, 5:12-14.)
Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding (2 Corinthians 10:12).
Whenever we sense the urge to compare ourselves with others, the best course of action at that juncture is to compare ourselves to Christ. The comparison trap is a snare that can give us a sense of justification for our anger. Once we remove the grievousness of our sin by rounding the jagged corners off of it, there will be less motivation to repent.
Let Christ be the measuring stick that gauges our maturity. Comparing ourselves with others may make us feel better about ourselves, while comparing ourselves to Christ is a more honest reality check. One of the ways you can do this is by filtering your anger through the interpretive grid of James’ filter. If the anger manifestation is sinful, then we’re talking murder.
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 (James 4:1-2).
James called it murder. Take a look at my Anger Spectrum, and you will see the word murder at each end. On the far right is physical murder, which says, “I do not want you to exist any longer,” and on the other end is the silent treatment, which says, “I can’t kill you, but I can treat you as though you don’t exist any longer.”
Physical murder is a consequentially worse manifestation of anger. Still, any form of sinful anger is an offense against a holy God who refuses to listen to the trifling manipulations of our rationalizations. Don’t succumb to the “consequential argument” as a way to wiggle from the repentance that should be forthcoming.
Murder is one of the ways we communicate the sin of anger in our home; it helps to level the playing field and aggressively engage a heart going wayward. We don’t want to give ourselves over to nonredemptive hyperbole, but each family member must see the seriousness and wretchedness of anger. We must take all sin seriously because any evil—big and small—puts Christ on the cross.
When I am impatient, I have found it helpful to think of myself as a murderer. When I see myself as a murderer, there is no place to run, hide, or justify my words. There is only one option: repent to those who experienced my specific version of anger. Do you want wiggle room when it comes to your sin? Do you want to skirt around your anger no matter how light it may appear? Isn’t it better to steer away from ambiguous and subjective gradations?
Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:22-24).
If you’re serious about change, give anger the full credit it deserves. Name it and claim it. Rather than lounging around the pool of purposeless excuses, jump into the water of God’s cleansing Word (Ephesians 5:26) and be brutally honest with yourself. Once you’ve identified what you need to put off, you can move to the transformative stages of renewing your mind and putting on a new kind of person that is created differently from you (Ephesians 5:1). That mindset is humility, which is the one condition that opens the door to God’s empowering favor on your life (James 4:6).
You’re reading my book on anger. It addresses our universal problem with this common sin from several different angles. This book will help any humble person. More than likely, you have not physically murdered anyone, but you have murdered in other ways. How will you respond?
Once you get past the things you do to water down, hide behind, or make excuses for your anger, you’ll be able to find the restoration the Father freely provides to the humble. Rather than guarding our reputations, our best call to action is to ask the Spirit of God to illuminate our minds as we move through this book.
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).