Not long ago, a brother in Christ and I were talking about how nothing is new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9), especially when it comes to the religious teachings of men. That got me thinking about of how many Colossians 2-like “food gospels” there are in today’s evangelicalism (read Colossians 2:16-23), which reminded me of a woman who I tried to counsel years ago. She was convinced that the source of her anger problem was sugar and; therefore, if she eliminated sugar completely from her diet then she would keep her anger under control. But it did not work. Her angry outbursts lessened somewhat, but her angry heart did not change; it just found new ways to express itself.
Now certainly there is some validity to the idea that our diet may impact our moods…to a degree. However, no dietary change will ever lead to lasting behavioral change, and no “Christian Dietary Laws” will control your anger or your child’s temper tantrums. Why? Because our behaviors don’t originate in our stomach; they originate in our heart—the inner person, which includes our mind, emotions, and will. Turning our attention to our diet in order to change our behavior not only does not work (has “no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh,” v. 23); it undermines the gospel because it lessens the severity of our problem. Our problem is that we have a sinful, self-exalting heart that needs to be redeemed. It’s our heart, not our Cap’n Crunch, which causes sinful anger.
Pastor and counselor Jim Newheiser helps us understand the heart causes of our anger in his mini-book HELP! My Anger Is Out of Control [Note, this mini-book is part of the series for which I serve as editor]. In the second chapter, Jim refers to five biblical truths concerning the cause of sinful anger.
The Bible treats most anger as a sin issue. — Put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander and abusive speech from your mouth (Colossians 3:8). Jesus teaches that wrongful anger is murderous (Matthew 5:21-22). While it is possible that some of us may be more tempted to anger because of genetic makeup or social environment, these factors can never be used as an excuse for sinful behavior. Each of us is sinful by nature (Romans 3:23 Isaiah 53:6) and we live in a fallen and broken environment. Every person is tempted by sin in various ways. Some who are not as tempted by anger may be more drawn to substance abuse, sexual immorality, or worry/ fear. The believer can be confident that God will never allow him to be tempted beyond what he is able to bear (1 Corinthians 10:13), and as a new creature in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17) he has been set free from slavery to sin (Romans 6:3-7).
All sin, including anger, begins in the heart. — Jesus said, “That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. 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” (Mark 7:20-23). In the context, Jesus is explaining that what goes into a man (unclean food) is not what defiles him, but that which is already in his heart makes him unclean (Mark 7:14-19). In the same way, our external circumstances, including what people do against us, do not make us sinfully angry. All they do is expose the sin which is already in our hearts. That means our hearts must be changed if we are to overcome anger.
We become angry because we want something (too much). — James raises the question, “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel” (James 4:1-2a). Secular psychologists recognize the same dynamic. “The underlying message of highly angry people is ‘things oughta go my way!’ Angry people tend to feel that they are morally right, that any blocking or changing of their plans is an unbearable indignity and that they should not have to suffer this way.” When you feel yourself becoming angry, you should ask yourself, “What is it that I want so much?” The angry person believes that he has a right to what he desires. His anger is active judgment upon whoever keeps him from getting what he thinks he deserves. It is important to understand that it may be that the desire of the person prone to anger is legitimate – i.e. a mother wants her children to be obedient and respectful; or a husband wants his wife to be supportive and affectionate; or a wife wants her husband to pay full attention and understand her; or a boss wants his workers to perform with excellence. The person who is hoping that other people will meet his needs will never find true peace and satisfaction (Jeremiah 17:5-8) and thus will be tempted to anger when others fail him. The person who seeks satisfaction in Christ will have a joy and a peace which can’t be shaken by the sins and failures of others. When angry, ask yourself, “What am I seeking and treasuring more than I seek and treasure Christ?”
Angry people believe that they possess certain rights, including the right to express their anger when their rights are violated. — The angry person is self-centered and proud. He tends to minimize his own sin and magnify the sins of others. He is obsessed with what he believes to be his rights. For example, many husbands focus upon the duty of their wives to submit, but seem to spend little time meditating on what it means to sacrificially love one’s wife as Christ has loved the church (Ephesians 5:22-30).
Angry people learn that their anger often gets results. — They discover that they can manipulate others with their anger, thereby seeming to get what they want. The mother might say, My kids won’t obey unless I scream at them. The wife discovers that her husband doesn’t do household chores unless she bitterly nags him (but see Proverbs 21:9). The husband discovers that if he acts grumpy and bitter, his wife may try to pacify him with physical affection. There are many bullies in families, neighborhoods, workplaces and even churches who use anger to control others and to get their way.
Is your anger often out of control? Do you need help bringing it under control? Do you want to understand what is going on in your heart when you get angry? Then I recommend you get a copy of Jim’s mini-book.