An Exploration of Galatians: Deeds of the Flesh Part 4
Galatians 5:19-21; Multiple verses from Revelation - Do not let your anger result in sin. Pray for God’s justice and for a gift of patience and peace.
”Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.“
Galatians 5:19-21 NASB1995
The next deed of the flesh that Paul delineates is outbursts of anger. I decided to dedicate a devotional to this single topic. Biblically, how is the term outbursts of anger defined? This phrase comes from the Greek word θυμός or thymos with the following Biblical definitions:
passion, angry, heat, anger forthwith boiling up and soon subsiding again
glow, ardour, the wine of passion, inflaming wine (which either drives the drinker mad or kills him with its strength)
The Strong’s and Thayer’s definitions (at the same Blue Letter Bible Link) also point to indignation, fierceness and wrath as terms that can be used. This same Greek word is used multiple times in other epistles and in the book of Revelation; here are a few examples from the latter:
”For this reason, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them. Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, knowing that he has only a short time.”“
Revelation 12:12 NASB1995
”And another angel, a second one, followed, saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who has made all the nations drink of the wine of the passion of her immorality.” Then another angel, a third one, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.“
Revelation 14:8-10 NASB1995
”Then I heard a loud voice from the temple, saying to the seven angels, “Go and pour out on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God.”“
Revelation 16:1 NASB1995
”From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty.“
Revelation 19:15 NASB1995
God has a righteous wrath or anger about what has transpired here on this fallen Earth. Revelation also notes the wrath of the devil and the passion of Babylon, which has made all nations drink the wine of immorality.
So these outbursts of anger can be righteous (seeing injustice or suffering) or they can be driven by some other underlying emotional state (pride, envy, drunkenness, fear). Paul is concerned about these second types of outbursts of anger. Let’s see what a commentary says about anger, from Gotquestions.org:
Handling anger is an important life skill. Christian counselors report that 50 percent of people who come in for counseling have problems dealing with anger. Anger can shatter communication and tear apart relationships, and it ruins both the joy and health of many. Sadly, people tend to justify their anger instead of accepting responsibility for it. Everyone struggles, to varying degrees, with anger. Thankfully, God’s Word contains principles regarding how to handle anger in a godly manner, and how to overcome sinful anger.
Anger is not always sin. There is a type of anger of which the Bible approves, often called “righteous indignation.” God is angry (Psalm 7:11; Mark 3:5), and it is acceptable for believers to be angry (Ephesians 4:26). Two Greek words in the New Testament are translated as “anger.” One means “passion, energy” and the other means “agitated, boiling.” Biblically, anger is God-given energy intended to help us solve problems. Examples of biblical anger include David’s being upset over hearing Nathan the prophet sharing an injustice (2 Samuel 12) and Jesus’ anger over how some of the Jews had defiled worship at God’s temple in Jerusalem (John 2:13-18). Notice that neither of these examples of anger involved self-defense, but a defense of others or of a principle.
Anger can become sinful when it is motivated by pride (James 1:20), when it is unproductive and thus distorts God’s purposes (1 Corinthians 10:31), or when anger is allowed to linger (Ephesians 4:26-27). One obvious sign that anger has turned to sin is when, instead of attacking the problem at hand, we attack the wrongdoer. Ephesians 4:15-19 says we are to speak the truth in love and use our words to build others up, not allow rotten or destructive words to pour from our lips. Unfortunately, this poisonous speech is a common characteristic of fallen man (Romans 3:13-14). Anger becomes sin when it is allowed to boil over without restraint, resulting in a scenario in which hurt is multiplied (Proverbs 29:11), leaving devastation in its wake. Often, the consequences of out-of-control anger are irreparable. Anger also becomes sin when the angry one refuses to be pacified, holds a grudge, or keeps it all inside (Ephesians 4:26-27). This can cause depression and irritability over little things, which are often unrelated to the underlying problem.
Our culture is steeped in caustic rage. During Paul’s time, outbursts of anger were certainly localized and probably rarely led to permanent bad outcomes. In our times, many violent, spontaneous crimes of opportunity are committed because of a moment of blinding anger distorts someone’s judgment. I recall an incident that happened when I was growing up in the 1960s. A family (we didn’t know them) that lived not too far south from us in the city of Aurora (CO) was driving in the area and had an encounter with a younger man who took issue with their driving (or they had a minor fender bender, the details are not important). Words were apparently exchanged. The family shrugged it off and returned home, not knowing that the man was in an apoplectic rage. He followed them to their house, created some firebombs from gas, and set their house on fire, killing the entire family. These types of incidents were much rarer in those days, so this had everyone’s attention for weeks.
I recall another incident that happened more recently. A couple was driving on a toll road near us late at night and they were apparently going too slow. Another driver was enraged by their driving and he rammed their car, sending it careening off the highway and killing both people. The road was fairly empty and the perpetrator could have chosen to pass them and drive on. He gave into his rage and is currently serving a life term in prison. If you do a search on “road rage” incidents here are some recent sample headlines:
Man charged with murder in road rage shooting of four-year old boy.
Deadly road rage shootings hit record high in 2021.
Two people injured in an apparent road rage hammer attack in Jackson Heights.
Road rage investigated in fatal shooting of Charlotte bus driver.
Georgia Good Samaritan shot in head after attempting to break up a road rage confrontation.
Two men, two teenagers charged in violent road rage attack on Long Island.
Outbursts of anger have also led to a shocking number of workplace violence incidents and mass shootings at schools and public locations. One of the shootings earlier this year (see this article in Fox News) was at a Christian school in Nashville, Tennessee, with six people killed including three children, and was committed by a former student who was a transgender person. Because transgenderism is on the “oppressed or victim” side of the simplistic and tribal duality that we all now have to endure, the shooter in this case was considered the “victim” by many media pundits and advocates for transgenderism. The shooter’s Manifesto was recently leaked and this person planned the shootings for a long time, because of rage against “white crackers” (this person was also white). This rage fermented for months or years in this sad case.
In this same passage in Galatians, Paul talks about drunkenness and carousing as being two deeds of the flesh. It is a fact that excess imbibing of alcohol can also be a major factor in rage incidents, particularly fights that are started with perfect strangers in bars or sports arenas. A serious incident that happened in 2011 involved the brutal beating of a Giants fan in the parking lot at Dodgers stadium by two drunk Dodgers fans. The fan suffered permanent brain damage and is severely disabled. He was beaten to within an inch of his life merely for being a fan of the visiting team.
Personally, I have dealt with outbursts of anger quite often in my past, but my temper has softened in recent years due to actions by the Holy Spirit (it’s still not perfect, that’s for sure). I recall having some shouting matches at work under stressful conditions, screaming in rage at my Mom on the phone a few times in my younger years, and getting irate at someone’s comments on social media or their bad driving or their slowness in a line or their general “stupidity”. Steve and I both got into a verbal “tit for tat” many years ago at a Rockies game on the road in San Diego when some fans there dissed our team and our city. Fortunately, that situation ended with apologies from both sides. Even a few years ago, I would have unleashed the fire of my words on those social media comments and let a conflagration of conflict be lit. One of the actions the Holy Spirit has done is to make me stop posting long political diatribes to my personal feed on Facebook; sometimes my political beliefs will still be a part of these write-ups on Substack, but these are not reflexive rage responses. I still have a viewpoint, but it is easier to write about it when anger is not part of the foundation.
Going back to that excellent article on Gotquestions.org, here are some ideas on how to deal with anger (this is rather lengthy, but the advice is superb):
We can handle anger biblically by recognizing and admitting our prideful anger and/or our wrong handling of anger as sin (Proverbs 28:13; 1 John 1:9). This confession should be both to God and to those who have been hurt by our anger. We should not minimize the sin by excusing it or blame-shifting.
We can handle anger biblically by seeing God in the trial. This is especially important when people have done something to offend us. James 1:2-4, Romans 8:28-29, and Genesis 50:20 all point to the fact that God is sovereign over every circumstance and person that crosses our path. Nothing happens to us that He does not cause or allow. Though God does allow bad things to happen, He is always faithful to redeem them for the good of His people. God is a good God (Psalm 145:8, 9, 17). Reflecting on this truth until it moves from our heads to our hearts will alter how we react to those who hurt us.
We can handle anger biblically by making room for God’s wrath. This is especially important in cases of injustice, when “evil” men abuse “innocent” people. Genesis 50:19 and Romans 12:19 both tell us to not play God. God is righteous and just, and we can trust Him who knows all and sees all to act justly (Genesis 18:25).
We can handle anger biblically by returning good for evil (Genesis 50:21; Romans 12:21). This is key to converting our anger into love. As our actions flow from our hearts, so also our hearts can be altered by our actions (Matthew 5:43-48). That is, we can change our feelings toward another by changing how we choose to act toward that person.
We can handle anger biblically by communicating to solve the problem. There are four basic rules of communication shared in Ephesians 4:15, 25-32:
1) Be honest and speak (Ephesians 4:15, 25). People cannot read our minds. We must speak the truth in love.
2) Stay current (Ephesians 4:26-27). We must not allow what is bothering us to build up until we lose control. It is important to deal with what is bothering us before it reaches critical mass.
3) Attack the problem, not the person (Ephesians 4:29, 31). Along this line, we must remember the importance of keeping the volume of our voices low (Proverbs 15:1).
4) Act, don’t react (Ephesians 4:31-32). Because of our fallen nature, our first impulse is often a sinful one (v. 31). The time spent in “counting to ten” should be used to reflect upon the godly way to respond (v. 32) and to remind ourselves how the energy anger provides should be used to solve problems and not create bigger ones.
At times we can handle anger preemptively by putting up stricter boundaries. We are told to be discerning (1 Corinthians 2:15-16; Matthew 10:16). We need not "cast our pearls before swine" (Matthew 7:6). Sometimes our anger leads us to recognize that certain people are unsafe for us. We can still forgive them, but we may choose not to re-enter the relationship.
Finally, we must act to solve our part of the problem (Romans 12:18). We cannot control how others act or respond, but we can make the changes that need to be made on our part. Overcoming a temper is not accomplished overnight. But through prayer, Bible study, and reliance upon God’s Holy Spirit, ungodly anger can be overcome. We may have allowed anger to become entrenched in our lives by habitual practice, but we can also practice responding correctly until that, too, becomes a habit and God is glorified in our response.
I’m adding these marvelous precepts to my prayers, especially when I feel anger building inside. We can create new habits, with God’s help.
My next devotional examines the next three deeds of the flesh: Disputes, dissensions, factions.
Heaven on Wheels Daily Prayer: Dear Lord - Please help me, through the Holy Spirit, and also help others in our world to find ways to deal with anger so it that does not lead to harm or to acts of passion or regret. Amen.
Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995, 2020 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. lockman.org
The Blue Letter Bible was accessed on 12/27/2023 to find the lexicon terms for “outbursts of anger”.
Gotquestions.org was accessed on 12/27/2023 to review the answers for dealing with anger Biblically.