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James called anger a war within the soul (James 4:1-3). Thankfully, there is a Redeemer who has the power to reverse the curse of our collective fallenness. Jesus also gave some helpful advice that cuts to the heart of anger—in His double-edged way, of course. He not only gave us the cause of anger, but He provided the solution when He asked,
Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but does not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye (Matthew 7:3-5).
When I meet with couples for marriage counseling, I occasionally share with them Jesus’ advice and then ask each partner “who has the log and who has the speck” in their marriage. Their answers are always instructive. I met with a couple planning to get married. I told them if they could correctly identify the log and speck persons in their relationship, they would have an amazingly wonderful marriage. Of course, if they get the log and speck reversed, their marriage will fast-track to dysfunction. How about you?
Think about your relationships. To jazz things up, pick the most challenging person in your life. From your perspective, who has the log and who has the speck in that relationship? When I asked the soon-to-be-married guy, he gave the correct answer. He said that he’s the one with the log in his eye—from his perspective. When I asked his soon-to-be-married bride, she gave the correct answer too. Praises. She disagreed with her boyfriend; the log was firmly planted in her eye. If their pre-marriage answers are post-marriage realities, they will experience a beautiful marriage.
Speck person: Why aren’t you angry with me? I hurt you; I’ve offended you; I’ve done you wrong.
Log Person: I killed Christ. I put Him on the cross. Yes, you hurt me, but I can forgive you. I want to show similar mercy that Christ has shown to me. That’s why I’m not sinfully angry with you. Your offense does not compare to my offense against God. There is a log stuck in my eye. All I can see from where I am sitting is the speck in your eye.
Like Paul, the log person never forgets where God found him. Though Paul did not wallow in or exalt his sin, his awareness of where he came from gave him a humble perspective toward others (1 Timothy 1:15), especially those who were annoying him (1 Corinthians 1:3-4). Paul’s attitude toward others complimented the master in Jesus’ story in Matthew 18. Paul knew his debt was massive, and God forgave him. If you’re like Paul and not like the master’s wicked servant, you see yourself correctly and will find the help you need.
Then his master summoned him and said to him, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow-servant, as I had mercy on you?” (Matthew 18:32-33).
Part of the war within that James talked about (James 4:1-3) is the complexity of interrelated fears, shame, and guilt that churns inside the angry person. The angry man is a sad man. He is also a reckless man. Did you know the angry man is probably a scared man? Most sinful anger is born out of insecurity. He is fearful that he will not get what he wants so he uses anger as a manipulative means to make sure he satisfies his craving heart.
This fear-centered reaction was the first twisted outpouring from Adam’s heart shortly after he chose not to do things God’s way (Genesis 3:6-12). After we move from trusting God to trusting ourselves, we become the functional “god” over our lives. After we decide to do things our way, we will walk away from the Lord as Adam did, which is a precarious posture for living well in God’s world.
Relying on yourself rather than the Lord is not for the weakling; it is hard to be the functional god over your life. Have you ever tried being god of your life (2 Corinthians 1:8-9)? God did not build us to do His job. We cannot control all outcomes, which is why anger becomes a “go-to” tool in the arsenal of the weak individual who rejects God’s rule over his life; it is perverted power to accomplish an accomplishable task.
The habituated angry person typically learns this self-centered worldview early in his life. Perhaps as a child, he figured out how to manipulate his parents by using childish anger to bend the parents to fill his craving heart. Maybe his parents resisted, which was his cue to stiffen his will and double-down his effort. His unmet desire morphed into a pouting demand, the pivotal moment in the parent/child relationship. If they cave to his idolatrous demands, they will find it harder to resist him in the future.
This kind of parental capitulation to a child’s will shapes him to become the functional god of his universe. Rather than orienting his heart toward the Lord, they set the child on the throne of his heart—and family. Their home becomes child-centered. The kid’s twisted mind and self-centered deductions convince him that he’s the sole judge of how things ought to be. Somebody has to be “god,” so his youthful arrogance dupes him into believing he is the only one worthy of that mantle.
Let’s index forward twenty years: he’s an adult. The angry man is a bigger version of the kid sitting on the floor throwing a tantrum, manipulating others to get what he wants. It’s the same anger, born out of similar insecurity (fear). His unbridled Adamic nature has now morphed into a habit, a way of life, though amplified more than childish habits. He may be a Christian, but he brought his former manner of life into his Christian experience (Ephesians 4:22). Anger is the familiar portal that permits him to access his desires.
There is a thin line between making demands out of episodic fear and making demands out of deeply-trenched habituations. A child not parented well will learn how to satiate his fears through anger. It will become his habituation if he continues down that path (Galatians 6:1-2). As you look back on his life, you will see how his habituated anger has worked for him. There will be a string of broken relationships his anger has carved up.
“Gods” that parents help create will never be cooperating idols. Those so-called “gods” will devastate relationships and incarcerate souls. But there will be a twist of irony to his sinful anger. He appears to be strong and in charge. His bellowing convinces you of his power. The truth is that the angry man is weak, broken, and insecure. To blow up at someone takes no strength. The angry person is a weak slave to habituated patterns of his making.
It takes a lot of strength to submit yourself to the power of the Holy Spirit while walking under His influence and control (Galatians 5:22-23). The angry person never learns this lesson from the Spirit. Though he has human power (anger), he does not have that higher power (Spirit) that controls his human power. The book of Proverbs gives us insight regarding this lack of “spiritual power over our human power” problem.
Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city (Proverbs 16:32).
Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly (Proverbs 14:29).
A man of wrath stirs up strife, and one given to anger causes many transgression (Proverbs 29:22).
The angry individual is weaker than he realizes. The person who is slow to anger is submitting his human power to the strength of the Spirit (James 1:19). Fallen Adamic anger needs God’s power to harness it. If not, it will pour over the dam of our hearts and hurt people. Let me illustrate: imagine the cap of a fire hydrant popping off. The cap is weaker than the force of the water.
If the cap could withstand the pressure of the water, it would be stronger than the force of the water. In such a case, to be sinfully angry is to be without God—without a cap, which makes this kind of person dangerous. Ultimately, the angry man shows his lack of submission to the Holy Spirit—the only One who can manage him while speaking peace into his heart.
Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man (Proverbs 22:24).
Do not try to help the angry person by yourself. The person habituated in sinful anger is not under the influence of the Spirit of God. They are without God—at least functionally—because God opposes proud hearts; there is a warring army arrayed against this person (James 4:6). It would be a fool’s mission to go alone, trying to stop the angry person from being angry. They need a community of soul-care providers.
The Bible’s synonym in Proverbs 14:29 that describes the angry man is folly. The word folly represents the actions of the angry person—he commits folly. The behavior of folly comes from the heart of a fool. By his fruit, you know him: his behaviors reveal his heart—who he is. Jesus taught us that words originate from the heart (Luke 6:43-45). If the words are foolish, the heart is folly, and the person is a fool.
The angry person is a fool, and you would be wise not to interact with them alone. Remember: this person is his functional god. They do not play by God’s rules. You would be right to make your appeals, but if those requests fall on the hardened ground of an angry foolish heart, you must talk to the spiritual authorities in your life, calling to them to help you (Matthew 18:15-17).
If the angry person has limited authority over you, recognize that he has broken the first commandment (Exodus 20:3), which functionally disqualifies him from leading you. If this person does not submit to God but functionally sets himself up as a god, you are not to follow fools blindly (1 Corinthians 11:1). There is a mutual and reciprocal requirement on the authority figures to lead and love well.
If the authority over you is not leading or loving, you must help them change. The best way you can accomplish this is by trying to get them help. It would be the height of unkindness to refrain from seeking to help a person like this. The angry person is in a deep well from which he cannot extricate himself. He can’t lead you well as long as an angry heart has captured him. There must be a divine rescue, and perhaps you and others can be God’s means of grace to help this person.
It would be wise to treat anger like an addiction. It is a learned habit, born out of a fearful, craving, Adamic nature. We want to do all that we can to live in harmony with others. I’m not suggesting you can change them, but maybe God will use you to bring repentance to them (2 Timothy 2:24-25). The angry individual is so elevated in his mind that he cannot see the entanglements of his heart. Christ is the only solution, but seeing the Savior is hard from such a lofty perch (James 4:6).
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).