Do you struggle with anger?
Are you hypercritical of others? And you are irritated all the time? Do you feel that living in such a divisive culture justifies an angry response? Have you felt like you'd like to strike out against others in frustration?
Don’t beat yourself up too much. Everyone struggles with anger. And learning how to handle anger is an important life skill for most people.
The good news is that God tells us how to handle it. In fact, there are more than five hundred mentions of anger from Genesis 4:5 through Revelation 19:15. Here's how we can turn from unhealthy anger into a healthy spiritual life.
What is a Healthy Way to Deal with Anger?
Anger is not always a sin (Eph. 4:26).
Even the Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote, “Anyone can become angry. That is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose and in the right way—that is not easy” (Nicomachean Ethics).
- opposes ungodly social or personal evils and
- defends the innocent because of our love for Christ (2 Cor. 5:14)
What is Sinful Anger?
Unfortunately, sinful anger is the kind that most of us experience.
For some people, unhealthy anger is one of their biggest challenges. And for Christians, it is one of the ugliest emotions that we can express.
Anger is sinful when it:
- Violates Scripture (Jas. 4:17)
- Does not bring honor to his name (1 Cor. 10:31)
- Involves revenge, hatred, or hurting others
- Grieves the Holy Spirit and gives Satan a foothold to act in your life
- Obscures your witness to others and disrupts unity with other Christians (Eph. 6:11)
What Causes Sinful Anger
Sinful anger comes from a variety of sources. For example:
- Not trusting God’s sovereignty (Rom. 5:3–5)
- A genuine or perceived injustice or injury
- Pride (Jas. 1:20)
- Living to please yourself (Rom. 6:12-13, 17-18)
- Memories of traumatic or enraging situations
Handling Sinful Anger Through Prayer
Our first step in handling sinful anger is prayer.
- First, we confess our sinful anger to God (1 John 1:9), to others (Eph. 4:31-32), and ourselves (Prov. 8:13; 16:18).
- Second, we rejoice (1 Thes. 5:16) and give thanks (Php. 4:6), knowing that overcoming this will mature us spiritually (Jas. 1:2–4).
- Third, we ask the Holy Spirit (John 14:16; Acts 1:8) to control our behavior (Gal. 5:16) and remove this from our lives (Eph. 4:31).
Dealing with Sinful Anger Practically: 3 Practices
We express our anger correctly when we're clear-headed in our communication and lovingly confront others (Acts 15:36–40). James 1:19 gives three excellent practices:
“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.”
1. What Does It Mean to be Quick to Hear?
Firstly, responding by listening rather than anger is very helpful. A German proverb states that the best answer to anger is silence. Learn to listen carefully. Nothing diffuses anger more effectively than listening.
Secondly, ask questions to understand the other person’s perspective and feelings (Prov. 18:13, 15) without answering defensively or angrily.
2. What Does it Mean to Be Slow to Speak?
I have learned the hard way that there are two times when I need to keep my mouth shut.
- First, when I was swimming in the dirty Illinois river
- And second, when I get angry
Handling anger biblically follows four rules of communication. Ephesians 4:15, 25–32 describes them.
- First, be honest and speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). Seek to be kind and acknowledge the other person’s emotions (1 Pet. 3:8-17).
- Second, settle disagreements quickly (Eph. 4:26) and don’t hold on to your anger. Focus only on the current problem (Jas. 3:13-18).
- Third, attack the problem, not the person (Eph. 4:29, 31). Ensure the other person understands that you are responding only to their actions. You are not attacking them personally (Prov. 15:1). The goal here is to restore the relationship.
- Fourth, act don’t react (Ephesians 4:31–32). In other words, control your spirit (Prov 25:28) by obeying God’s Word regardless of how you feel (Heb 12:15).
3. Finally, How Can We Respond Slowly to Anger?
First, quickly control your anger (Eph. 4:26-27) by taking deep breaths or counting to ten.
Second, use the energy provides to solve problems and not create bigger ones.
Third, maintain a healthy distance from the other person while you are angry. And engage them only when you can speak constructively.
Have a Contingency Plan
When sinful anger begins swelling inside you it is good to have a contingency plan. Immediately pray for insight (Jas. 1:5), remembering that you can control your thoughts (1 Cor. 10:13; 1 Pet. 1:13).
Focus your thoughts, speech, and actions on God’s Word (2 Tim 3:16-17) by reviewing memorized Scripture (Psa. 119:9, 11, 16). Especially verses dealing with anger.
It is also helpful to concentrate on the positive qualities of the person who frustrates you.
Planning for Long-term Change with Anger
The first step is committing to change (Col. 3:23-24) regardless of how you feel (Gal. 5:16-17).
Identify all situations, places, and persons that cause you to become angry (2 Tim. 2:22). Then eliminate, flee, or resist them.
Learn to ignore petty disagreements (Prov. 19:11). And stay away from habitually angry people (Prov. 22:24–25).
If your habits don't change or you become a danger to others, or yourself seek counseling.
Forgiving Like Jesus
Life cannot be “anger-free.” It's a natural emotion that needs a godly response.
This is a long journey and not a quick fix (Phil. 1:6).
There will be times in our lives that each of us will deal with angry feelings. But it is how we choose to deal with that anger that determines its effect on us.
We are not a victim of our circumstances but a victor through Jesus Christ. People or events may have hurt us, but we can respond in forgiveness through our new life in Christ.
By controlling our temper and forgiving others, we are following Jesus’s example. After all, he forgave each of us.
A Final Note of Caution:
If someone threatens your safety, remove yourself to a safe place. Contact appropriate health care workers immediately. And if necessary, call the police to ensure your (and your family’s) safety.
Do not return until the angry person has agreed to a strategy for dealing with their anger and you feel safe.