“Like a city that is broken into and without walls is a man who has no control over his spirit” (Proverbs 25:28).
Russell and Camille Martin
The primary task, and for most of us the most difficult job of the New Creature, is to overcome self. Yes, we have to deal with conflicts and situations created by the world and the devil. But, aside from direct assaults, they mainly prey on the weaknesses of the flesh to attack the New Creature. Any enemy of the Christian character would use the weakest, most vulnerable point to attack. So our battle with self becomes the most critical in our Christian walk.
The battle with self is twofold: will and emotion. Paul recognized and summarized the battle we have with our wills simply and succinctly. “My own behavior baffles me. For I find myself not doing what I really want to do but doing what I really loathe” (Romans 7:15 Phillips).
How often could each of us say the same about ourselves? Our motivation to either do what we should, or what we want, is often influenced heavily by the emotion surrounding the event or situation. Thus to overcome and control these emotions becomes critical to pleasing the Lord and doing his will.
These three emotions — anger, vindictiveness, and enmity — can be viewed as a progression in direct opposition to both the desires of the Lord and the new mind that we are trying to develop. Anger is an emotion that every human has at one time or another. It is the displeasure or belligerence to a wrong caused by a person or an event. Vindictiveness, and ultimately enmity, comes from anger progressing unchecked and growing out of control.
Vindictiveness (or its root) is not used in any major translation of the Scriptures. However, its meaning is closely and synonymously related to revenge or vengeance, which we find numerous times. As anger grows, it more and more likely manifests itself in some form of action — revenge or vindictiveness.
Enmity is characterized as a deep unfriendly feeling; active and typically involving mutual hatred or ill will. That word brings to mind Eden and God’s words to the devil: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel” (Genesis 3:15).1
The point at which anger becomes enmity and hatred is well beyond where we should have recognized it and started to act on controlling and redirecting our anger. In the scriptures there is no justification for hating people, only the record of those who have hated.
How about vindictiveness? When we first have an issue with someone or some set of circumstances, a sense of justice within seemingly cries out to make it “right,” to compensate for the wrong (actual or perceived). This, however, is just the opposite of what the Lord expects of us: “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19).
Jesus was the only human on earth that could read the heart to be sure any compensating act was justified. But instead of taking any sort of action, He admonished his followers to turn the other cheek. He was clearly saying, take no vindictive action, but show your acquiescence to the situation by being willing to endure it.
The root cause of both vindictiveness and enmity is almost always anger. If there were never any animosity or bad feelings toward another, then how could we go beyond it to vindictiveness or enmity? So controlling feelings and managing the passion of anger is the way to address all three.
(1) Quotations from NASB (1977 edition)
Is Anger Always Wrong?
In Scripture, instances of justified anger are few. However, even our Father “is angry.” David said, “God is angry with the wicked every day” (Psalms 7:11). Sin and evil among the human race is always displeasing to the Father, but His anger is with the evil itself. Thus He provides a plan for its remedy.
Jesus’ contempt for the temple moneychangers is almost the only record we have of him demonstrating anger. By his words, and prophecy about him, we can see his true motivation. “To those who were selling the doves He said, ‘Take these things away; stop making my Father’s house a house of merchandise.’ His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for thy house will consume me’ ” (John 2:16-17).
Here we see a case (likely the only case) when the emotion of anger can be considered good. The conditions are: When glorifying the Father or our Lord is the objective, with nothing for ourselves; and when zeal to portray the Father’s love for His creation, is the motivation. Although those witnessing the event perceived anger on His part, it was really an all-consuming passion for the Father.
Paul said simply, “Be ye angry and sin not” (Ephesians 4:26 KJV).
Passion for the Lord’s cause is good. Sin and fallen man so often disrespect and dishonor it that one cannot help but become “angry.” Jesus demonstrated for his followers the limited times that anger was proper.
The world’s counsel is to not keep your feelings bottled up inside (especially those of anger), “Get them off your chest, do something about it.” However, the scriptures advise differently. “A fool uttereth all his anger; But a wise man keepeth it back and stilleth it” (Proverbs 29:11 ASV). “Do not be eager in your heart to be angry, For anger resides in the bosom of fools” (Ecclesiastes 7:9).
To overcome improper anger, God advises us to control every situation where anger arises, and temper it early, for controlling it becomes more difficult as it grows. “A man’s discretion makes him slow to anger, And it is his glory to overlook a transgression” (Proverbs 19:11). “Let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20). “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, And he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city” (Proverbs 16:32).
Letting anger build in our hearts leads to directing it at individuals. Thus we are more inclined to take some action that may seem justified; but in reality the next stage, vindictiveness, is the outcome. In our constant self-evaluation of character, this must be a warning sign to us. Are we about to take some action (i.e., evil speak or neglect a commitment) out of anger toward any? If so, we may develop a vindictive spirit and further damage our characters.
Prior to this stage, we should apply Matthew 18 and go to the one who is the object of our anger and attempt to resolve the issue. Although most recoil at the prospect of dealing directly with the situation, it is clearly the best way to turn things around.
An act of vindictiveness may seem justified to one whose anger is not being self-addressed, but it leads to enmity, a real form of hatred, and one the Lord would never condone. It is clearly at odds with basic godly principles.
Sinning and doing wrong to another is inevitable when sin is in the world, and forgiveness is God’s remedy. All of Adam’s children have experienced the wrath of others, as well as times of anger. Few have overcome it, but those most pleasing to Him have heeded His counsel and controlled their human passion. They either seek or give forgiveness when these emotions develop. May we focus only on the sin as the object of our displeasure and channel the passion of any anger to the sin itself.