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How to: Deal with Anger

Proverbs 29:11, 25:28

Anyone who is slow to anger has great understanding,

But anyone who gets angry quickly shows how foolish he is (Proverbs 14:29).

     Today we’ll be looking at what the Book of Proverbs says about one of the most impactful parts of our human temperament, i.e., anger.  I find it to be one of the most difficult topics to prepare for in this entire series.  Why?  It’s because human anger is usually destructive.  In my years as a pastor, I have met with countless people whose lives have been physically or emotionally devastated by anger.  But – anger is not always destructive.  In fact, the Old Testament alone speaks 490 times of God being angry about wickedness in the world.  And the New Testament confirms it, especially in Romans 1:18, which tells us that the anger of God is focused against all that is evil in our world. And, when we read the many Proverbs about anger, we do not find any of them telling us never to be angry.  Instead, the Bible tells us how to deal with anger – even how to utilize anger to further God’s kingdom.

     So, when I speak about anger, I must warn you strongly about its destructive capability.  At the same time, there are times you should be angry – as God is!  What is challenging is that I know that many people who attend our church who are victims of a lot of sinful and destructive violence coming from angry people hurting them.  So, I have prepared very prayerfully this week – and I want to speak very carefully because I don’t want anyone going away from church blowing up in destructive anger and excusing it by saying, “Pastor Greg said anger is sometimes good – so I’m justified in my anger.”  With that in mind, let’s begin.

Anger: The Powerful Secondary Emotion

     The Anger Research Consortium of the American Psychological Association tells us this:  “Anger is a normal emotion with a wide range of intensity, from mild irritation and frustration to rage. It is a reaction to something else, especially to a perceived threat to ourselves, our loved ones, or to anything we deeply value, e.g., our property, our self-image, or some part of our identity.”

     When you see that definition, you see that anger is a secondary emotion, i.e., an emotion caused by something else.  It can be caused by fear, envy, loss, boredom, perceived and real injustice, or countless other things.  Because of that, there are many times that we feel very angry and we aren’t even sure why.   It’s not always to get behind the anger to identify the cause.

     Let me give you an example:  A man I know became aware that a single woman in his church had become obsessed with him.  She set her heart on him and did all she could to develop a relationship with him.  The obsession grew so much that she became uncontrollably angry with any woman who spoke with him.  That anger became so entrenched in her that she attempted to do physical harm to those she perceived as threats.  Do you see it?  The anger was a secondary emotion.  It was caused by her fear of the loss of something she felt she had to have.  And, so it always is.  Therefore, when I speak to you in this message about the biblical steps toward dealing with anger, you will have to remember that dealing with anger will always force you to step back to discern its primary causes.

How It Plays Out
 I have discovered that people deal with their anger in different ways:

  1. Blow (the Exploder) – Anger turns many people into dynamite – exploding with abusive words and violent actions.  Two verses in Proverbs 15 speak to this.  15:1b: Harsh words (words that hit us like a weapon) stirs up anger.”  And, 15:18 speaks not just of the words but also of the one who speaks them:  “A hot-tempered person (one who is out of control) stirs up conflict.”

     We all know the destructiveness of angry words and actions so let me point you to how counselors have learned over the years about how not to find help for that explosive anger. When I was a college and later a seminary student in the 70s, all the books I read in my counseling courses said that the say to get rid of anger is to “lance the boil” of the infection of anger in our inner beings.  The view was that anger is a limited commodity inside the human made-up and that, if we get it all out in some harmless way (like punching a pillow), we will not be angry anymore.  That simply is not true.  As an article on the website of the APA confirms, “’Lancing the boil’ as a remedy for anger is a dangerous myth.  Research is consistent in showing that letting anger rip on a pillow or piece of furniture actually escalates anger and aggression and does nothing to help either those who are angry or those with whom they are angry…”

     Anger fuels more anger.  When you lash out with anger at anything, you only learn to lash out.  You develop a way of life that explodes with anger and justifies it as healthy.

  1. Lay Low (the Simmerer)  -- In Ephesians 4:26, the Apostle Paul quotes a wisdom Psalm, “Scripture says, ‘When you are angry, do not sin.’ (Psalm 4:4) Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.”  Instead as Proverbs 15:18b tells us, “A person who is slow to anger calms things down.”  Do you see it?  What the Bible calls for is not to explode but this does not mean that we just let things sit and simmer inside.  Those of you who know me will know that I’m much more inclined toward this response than toward the explosion.  Many times, simmerers simply hope the problem will go away and run to diversions like watching TV or getting busy or even to drinking and medication.  So, let me tell you this:  Just letting anger simmer inside and go undealt with is not a better way to deal with anger.  Anger is a terrible overnight guest.  It settles deep and deep inside our psyche and eventually eats us up personally – and creates unknowable walls for those we are angry with.  They’ll sense we are angry but not know why.
  2. Pretend No (the Denier) – This person finds it hard to face the fact that he/she is deeply angry and chooses instead to cover it up by making excuses.  “That’s just the way I am so you have to accept it.”  “I’m a truth-speaker.”  When the seriousness of the anger is denied, neither the anger nor the cause of that anger goes away. 

     In contrast to these, Proverbs tells you to “Go Slow” – to be slow to anger -- when you are angry. And we are told that this is the course of action that actually has a positive impact in this world.  16:32 -- It is better to be slow to anger than to be mighty.  It is better to control your temper than to takes a city.

   The Bible’s call to us to be slow and deliberate when angry has to do with the power of anger and its potential to bring about harm or healing.  Let’s think about why this is so.

The Power of Anger to Bring Harm or Healing

     Let me speak directly and soberly to you now: One of the painful realities of every pastor’s and every therapist’s calling is how frequently we have to deal with the destructive force of anger.  It happens in our homes – in our extended families – in our neighborhoods and at work.  This is a deadly serious topic.  What is so serious about it?  Anger harms:

  • Your personal health19:19b puts this is an open-ended and haunting way:  A person with a bad temper will pay for it…  Research is showing that angry people “pay” for their anger in physical, emotional and relational ways.  For example, earlier this year, a major research project showed that those who are prone to anger are three times, yes three times, more likely to have fatal heart attacks. (See  And the same is true of strokes, high blood pressure and many other physical maladies.  One way this physical harm anger leads to for many younger people is seen by the growing number who become angry with their lack of any control over life and whose anger comes out in them cutting themselves.  My heart breaks when I hear their stories.
  • Your human relationships – 6:34, 15:1 & 18, 29:22 and 30:33 all tell us the same thing: Misdirected anger destroys marriages, families, friendships and whole communities. I am quite sure all of us have experienced this  -- most of us sometimes being the angry ones and at other times the ones attacked by someone else’s anger.  You know that the Bible is speaking the truth.
  • Your relationship to God – This is the main point of 14:16a -- A wise person has respect for the Lord and avoids evil.  The other half of that verse tells us that the one who is a fool, i.e., conducting his life as if there is no God, feels secure in his relationship to God even when he is on the path of destruction.  If you know you have a problem with anger and, at the same time, feel that it isn’t absolutely urgent that you change, you can be sure you are in trouble spiritually.
  • Your impact on the world -- Anger does not end with the one who is angry.  It harms everyone and everything – and it has a lasting and multiplying effect. Look at what is at the heart of 22:24-25:

Don’t be a friend of a person who has a bad temper.  Don’t go around with a person who gets angry easily.  You will soon embrace their habits.  And then you too will be trapped by them.

     It is frighteningly clear from this passage that misguided anger will be passed on to others:  Yes, parents, to your children.  Yes, teachers, to your students.  Yes, pastors, to your parishioners.  And yes, bosses, to your work force.  Those you lead or care for will watch and pick up your ways.

     But again, I must remind you that there are times that we should be angry. 

     To see children being abused or neglected and not to be angry about that not a good – but a weakness.  To see those who are weak in any way be dealt with unjustly by those in power is something that should make us angry.  God’s anger is focused on the evil that has come into his world – and so should ours.  John Stott put it so well:  “A cool analysis of injustice is necessary as long as it leads to hot anger and action.

     I believe that the appropriate outworking of our anger can motivate us to action against evil and injustice and thus lead to healing in this world.  When sin entered God’s creation, God both loved the world he made and was angry at the evil in his world.  This combination led him to execute a plan that ultimately will end with al things being made right.  How might the anger we feel actually lead to healing rather than harm?

Beginning Pastoral Counsel for Turning Anger from Harm to Healing

     I must begin by saying this candidly.  Dealing with anger when you have a pattern of becoming angry is not easy.  You do not have the strength within yourself to break angry patterns.  Anger has more in common with chemical addictions than any other emotion.  Therefore, I imagine that some among us affected by anger may require the help of a professional godly counselor.  We can help you find one if you will let us.  But, with that in mind, let me offer some pastoral pulpit help:

#1:  Begin with Worship -- as you always should.

     By this, I mean that you bring God intentionally into the matter.  Acknowledge his presence and his sufficiency for your own anger as well as for the situation you are in.  Worship has to do with putting God in the center of your vision.  Take time to remember how he deals with his anger about your sin: 1) he calls out the problem and calls it sin when it is, 2) he affirms his love for you and the others concerned, 3) he comes into your life and promises forgiveness, 4) he gives you His Holy Spirit to dwell within.  Remember that it is while you were a sinner that Christ died for you.  And, as I mentioned earlier, remember that his anger with the sin in this world (including our own lives) that led him to initiate a plan to rescue us.

#2:  Be slow in your anger – but intentional.

     This is the consistent message about anger in Proverbs – be slow and deliberate in dealing with your anger.  Parents and elementary teachers are learning that one of the most helpful things for children when they get angry is to call for a time out.  I’m quite sure that’s what the Bible is calling for not only for children but also for those who are older.  In the New Testament, James picks this up with the pithy and powerful words in 1:19Listen carefully to this, my beloved brothers and sisters: let every person be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger…  Putting that together with the Bible’s command not to let the sun go down on our anger, we see that we should be slow to act when we’re angry – but not too slow.  What should you do in this slow but deliberate handling of anger?  Let me suggest a few steps:

  • Take the time for worship and prayer I mentioned before.  Learn from God so that you might allow his perspective on things permeate your mind and then direct your actions and words. 
  • Analyze what is behind your anger.  Remember that anger is a secondary emotion.  Something else is always behind it.  Sometimes what leads us to anger is a rightful anger with the evil and injustice others are experiencing.  Much more often, it’s less noble things:

-       Envy -- Why was I not invited to the party – or offered the promotion?

-       Disappointment – Why did she go out with him instead of me?

-       Unfulfilled expectations – “But he promised he would call.”

-       Bitterness – When we were in high school, he did this to me…”

     I could go on and on about anger’s causes.  But, you simply must stop long enough to nail down what is that cause might be.  St. Augustine says it’s almost always “disordered loves” or that Tim Keller calls inordinate affections” that lead to anger.  In other words, we take something we want and set our hearts on it.  It virtually takes the place of God.  Then when that thing (that has become an idol in our lives) is threatened, we become angry.  When our loves get disordered and we put them into a wrong place in our desires, our anger goes haywire.  In haste, we might lash out against a person when really something very different is behind the anger. 

     Go slow because, in haste, you might lash out against a person when really something very different is behind the anger.  Take time to think all this through.  Be slow before acting on your anger.


#3:  Make plans for how to act and speak in your anger – in ways that will honor God.  Do you remember my sermon on seeking guidance and making plans?  God has given us minds to bake plans and he commands us to make plans not for evil but for good.  Be ready to forgive.  Love to show mercy as much as you love justice.  Thank and pray about the words you will speak the next time you feel anger coming on. 

#4:  Stop the offender’s evil through intentionally blessing him.  Although the Bible calls us to be slow to anger, it also calls us to step in when what is causing the anger is evil or injustice.  But how?  I will now take you to some the verses most often used by Dr. Martin Luther King in the commitment to the nonviolence of Jesus being the best way to stop evil.  They are found in Proverbs 25:21-22 (and Romans too): If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat.  If he is thirsty, give him water to drink.  By doing these things, you will pile up burning coals on his head.  And the Lord will reward you.

     In ancient cities, enemies attacked a fortified city by climbing up the city walls bearing their weapons.  Like most angry words and actions, they were planning to do harm.  The Bible is saying here that you should not simply let those who mean harm do their evil deeds.  Instead, the people of the city usually tried to stop the enemy by pouring hot coals down over the walls and onto their heads.  The Bible is saying something here that Jesus demonstrated – but that most in our world find hard to believe, i.e., the best way to stop evil – even evil caused by anger – is to do things that bring blessing to your enemies.  Screaming back at them doesn’t change anything.  Hitting back only escalates the problem.  And I believe that nations and governments must sometimes provide security for people through military strength.  But a Christians’ most powerful weapon against any kind of evil is offering to our enemies the mercy that we receive from Jesus.

     When evil was thrown at Jesus, he did not offer back hate but forgiveness.  He absorbed the blows thrown at him and did not respond with angry words or threats of violence but with the offer of a new life, of eternal life, through faith in him.  The Apostle Peter, years later, was still in awe of what Jesus did in 1 Peter 2:21-24:  “Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.  He committed no sin… but when people hurled insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.  He bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live…  By his wounds, we are healed.”

     That’s how Jesus dealt with his anger about sin – and about our sins. So, do not ever let anger lead you to repay evil for evil.  That is not the way of Jesus.  When you are angry, do not sin.  Instead, be slow to anger. 

Anyone who is slow to anger has great understanding,

But anyone who gets angry quickly shows how foolish he is.

Proverbs 14:29


To His glory,

Dr. Greg Waybright
Senior Pastor

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Greg Waybright • Copyright 2015, Lake Avenue Church