When You Get Angry: Is it Carnal or Christlike? (Ephesians 4:17-32), Part 2

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17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. 25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. 26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil. 28 Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. 29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:17-32)

“Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: Neither give place to the devil.”

In our last sermon, we learned the Biblical characteristics of Christ-like anger. Any anger that does not measure up to the criteria of Christ-like anger is “carnal” anger and must be “put off” by the Christian (Eph. 4:22, 31).

In this message we want to learn the Biblical method for gaining freedom from carnal anger. God’s command to put it off brings the assurance that He will provide the grace and strength we need to obey His command. When it comes to the defeat of carnal anger, the Bible gives us the steps we need to take to renew our minds and transform our behavior.

The Defeat of Carnal Anger

The first step to putting off carnal anger is to identify the things that stir up your anger. Ask yourself, “What causes me to become angry?” “What makes me mad?”

IDENTIFY THE CAUSES OF YOUR ANGER

Most people find that anger is triggered either by a person or a situation that violates what you perceive as your personal rights. Someone has tried to take advantage of you. Perhaps he or she cheated you, lied to you, criticized you, ignored you, insulted you, or treated you or someone you care about in a way you felt inappropriate or unfair.

Prayerfully try to remember your past angry behavior and ask the Lord to help you to identify which of your personal rights were violated. If you have trouble identifying the causes of your anger, talk with those closest to you and ask them for help. Ask yourself, “Why did that person or situation make me angry?”

Try to figure out the cause of your anger. You will usually find that the root cause involved the violation of one or more of your personal rights. Once you identify the cause or causes for your anger, prayerfully surrender all of your personal rights to God.

SURRENDER YOUR PERSONAL RIGHTS TO GOD

I can hear someone saying, “Why do I have to surrender my personal rights to God?” The answer lies in understanding the concept of “meekness,” which is the biblical antithesis to carnal anger. Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Mat. 5:5). He also claimed meekness as one of his own character qualities (Mat. 11:29).

  • Meekness is the fruit of bringing your will and emotions under the authority of God’s Word. It is the God-given ability to keep your emotions under the control of the Holy Spirit.
  • Meekness is attained only when we fully yield our personal rights to God.
  • And meekness is maintained only as we keep our personal rights fully yielded.

The Christ-like quality of meekness is what enables a person to bear ill-treatment and injury without resentment. Like Jesus, who refused to return railing for railing, who gave blessing in return for cursing, the meek are to respond in like manner to the irritations and hurts of life.

When you find yourself getting irritated before you become angry, ask yourself, “Which of my personal rights are being violated?” View irritation as a red flag reminding you to renew the surrender of them to God. Let irritation be a means of driving you to God in prayer.

Let irritation be a means of driving you to God in prayer

Be careful, however, to distinguish between your personal rights and your God-given responsibilities. We are not to surrender our responsibilities to God. We are to ask God for the spiritual strength and ability to fulfill them.

ENGRAFT GOD’S WORD INTO YOUR HEART AND MIND

A powerful means of changing your behavior is to renew your mind (Eph. 4:23). The Bible teaches us that the Holy Spirit uses Scripture to set us free from sin (John 8:32; Psa. 119:9-11). Find Scripture that addresses the problem area in your life. Write the Scriptures on 3-inch by 5-inch file cards and carry them with you throughout the day. Say the Scriptures aloud, praying them wholeheartedly back to God as your sincere prayer for deliverance.

Here are some verses you can use in your daily prayers for renewing your heart and mind and thereby gaining victory over carnal anger.

  • Psa. 39:1: “I will guard my ways that I may not sin with my tongue; I will guard my mouth as with a muzzle while the wicked are in my presence.”
  • James 1:19-20: “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God [does not bring about the righteous life that God desires].”
  • Eph. 4:29: “Let no corrupt communication [unwholesome words] proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.”
  • Eph. 4:31-32: “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”
  • Col. 3:8: “But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth.”
  • Co. 4:6: “Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.”
  • Mat. 15:18: “But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man.”
  • Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

If you will read these verses aloud, changing the wording slightly to make them more personal, using the personal pronouns, “I, me, and my,” and pray them to God three times a day (preferably after each meal), asking God to change your heart, and to renew your mind and to enable you to put away carnal anger through the power of the Holy Spirit, you will find that God will answer your prayer.

The old pattern of reacting with carnal anger can be broken and Spirit enabled control and Christ-like attitudes can be achieved. Continue praying these Scriptures three times a day for at least thirty days. That should be sufficient time to break the old patterns of reacting with carnal anger and to gain Christ-like ways of responding to irritating circumstances and people.

The Dangers of Wrong Thinking About Carnal Anger

There are at least two dangers that invariably accompany any discussion of carnal anger.

THE REFUSAL TO ADMIT ANGER IN ONE’S OWN LIFE

The first danger one faces is the unwillingness to admit that his attitude or behavior is really “carnal.” Lots of Christians deny that their attitudes or actions fit in the category of “carnal” anger, when, in fact, they do. There is not much hope for change if a person is not willing to measure himself by Scripture and admit his problem.

ACCUSING OTHERS OF CARNAL ANGER

The second danger involves our evaluation of other people. Just because someone gets red in the face, pale around the lips, raises his or her voice, or takes charge of a situation with a firm hand does not necessarily mean he or she is demonstrating “carnal” anger. We need to be very careful about accusing others of carnal anger.

If we are going to be hard on anyone, let’s be hard on ourselves. Let’s give other people the benefit of the doubt. If you had been in the Temple the day Jesus cleansed it, watching Him overturn the tables of the money-changers and driving out the animals with a whip in his hand, you might have thought, “Wow, is Jesus ever angry!” You might even have been tempted to say, “He isn’t acting very Christ-like‚ is he?”

A careful reading of the three gospel accounts that record Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple reveals no mention of the term “anger” (John 2:14-17; Mat. 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-17). Scripture specifically says He was moved by “zeal.” He was led by the Spirit to fulfill the prophetic statement of Psalm 69:9, “For the zeal of thine house hath eaten me up; and the reproaches of them that reproached thee are fallen upon me.”

Jesus, as Messiah, was consumed by a godly ardor (a holy jealousy) to exalt God by maintaining purity of worship. If a person insists on arguing that Jesus’ zeal was fueled by anger, a strong case can be made that if it was, it was a holy anger, a perfectly right state of heart. Is not a child of the heavenly Father demonstrating a sinful defect if there is no show of filial love and respect when the Father’s house is wrongly used?

Should not a child of God become angry, for example, when he hears his Father’s name blasphemed? Whatever one says about Jesus cleansing the Temple, it must never be forgotten that Scripture makes it clear that He was Spirit-guided in all His actions (see Luke 4:1, “full of the Spirit”; Luke 4:14, “in the power of the Spirit”; John 8:28,”I do nothing of myself”; John 8:29, “I do always those things that please Him” [the Father]).

As a spectator, you could have looked at the overthrown tables and the whip in Jesus’ hand, and concluded that Jesus was expressing carnal anger. In reality, he was Spirit-directed. He was acting in a holy manner and was fulfilling Scripture even though his actions could easily be mistaken for carnal anger.

Be very careful about categorizing the behavior of others as “carnal.” If you have a legitimate concern, practice Matthew 18:15 and go to the person and in a non-accusing manner, share your concern and ask him to help you understand why He acted as He did.

Be very careful about categorizing the behavior of others as “carnal”

Victory Through Christ

A Christian is to be angry, but not sin (Eph. 4:26). Because Satan is close by whenever a Christian becomes angry, seeking to push him into un-Christ-like attitudes and behavior (Eph. 4:27), he must be careful that his anger stays within the boundaries of Scripture. Christ-like anger does “explode,” causing the person to lose control of himself. Christ-like anger is also of short-duration.

It does not harbor bitterness or go to bed angry (Eph. 4:26b). Nor does it speak unkind or harsh words. Christ-like anger is not vengeful (1 Cor. 13:4) and is careful not to grieve the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30, 32). If you are having a problem with carnal anger, ask God (and perhaps the people who were recipients of your anger) to forgive you and purpose in your heart that through God’s grace you will put it off.

Faithfully follow the Scriptural guidelines given in this message for the renewing of your heart and mind. Do not deny that you have a problem and do not be discouraged as you wholeheartedly seek to put off carnal anger. Through the strength that Christ provides, you can do God’s will (Phil. 4:13). You can win the victory over carnal anger.

 


 

Originally published in God’s Revivalist. Used by permission.

Allan Brown
Dr. Allan Brown is Professor and Chair of the Division of Ministerial Education at God's Bible School & College. He holds his PhD in Old Testament Interpretation from Bob Jones University and is the author of several books and articles.