Wisdom for Dealing With Anger

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If you struggle with anger, or have to deal with someone who does, you may know how destructive this sin can be. The book of Proverbs has several insights into the nature of anger and how to handle it.

Understanding The Destructive Nature of Anger

#1 – “A man of quick temper acts foolishly, and a man of evil devices is hated.” – Proverbs 14:17

Contrary to how people might justify it, God tells us a quick temper is simply foolish. There is nothing wise about flying off the handle and no good comes from it. Quick anger is a contrast with God who is slow to anger (Exodus 34:6).

There is nothing commendable in a quick-tempered person. It should be rightly seen for what it is.

“Passionate men are justly laughed at. Men who are peevish and touchy, and are soon angry upon every the least provocation, deal foolishly; they say and do that which is ridiculous, and so expose themselves to contempt; they themselves cannot but be ashamed of it when the heat is over.” – Matthew Henry 1

A quick temper destroys one’s ability to act wisely by carefully considering the proper response for a given situation. Emotion boils over and the quick-tempered one only thinks of giving full vent to what he is feeling inside. It is a mark of a lack of self-control.

“The [hot-tempered person] is undisciplined and out of control; his unpredictable and passionate hot-head clouds his judgment and robs him of all sense of proportion so that he overreacts, bringing ruin to the community and/or himself.” – Bruce Waltke 2

The quick-tempered person must learn to see their sin for what it is and seek to be sorrowful and repentant for it. This is a sin for which Jesus died. This is a sin that would send a man to hell if not for the sacrifice of Christ paying the debt for him if he truly belongs to Christ. For the unrepentant, they may need the chastening discipline of God to open their eyes to their sin.

“What frightful mischief may be the consequence of an angry word! (James 3:5). . . . Who then—with this example before us—will dare to let down the watch? But are these sins of temper matters of sorrow and humiliation? Does the remembrance of their cost to our crucified Friend exercise our constant watchfulness and prayerful resistance? Is not the rod of our loving Father sometimes needful to bring conviction of their guilty foolishness? (Num. 20:10-12)” – Charles Bridges 3

Even if one is wronged by another, we must not be quick to anger in return lest we too fall into the same snare of foolishness.

“Rash anger is a fruit and evidence of folly. Because another man has done me an injury, am I to do myself a greater, by suffering my passions to domineer over my reason, and expose me to the vengeance of God? He that is soon angry speaks and does many foolish things, which may cost him many bitter thoughts through his whole life.” – George Lawson 4

How often have those who have given into the temptation to vent their anger later regretted it? Much damage can come from a failure to restrain anger; not only the damage done to others but the shame experienced by the angry person. Better to learn the wisdom of self-control than to put out the fires caused by anger.

“‘Foolish’ indeed is the conduct of the man of a quick, touchy, irritable temper. O! what would the irascible man many a time give to have his hasty words recalled!—His anger, however, vents itself in the vehement bluster of the moment. He utters rash and mischievous things, it may be; but people come to know him, and to appreciate these. His burst of passion is quickly over. The storm soon spends itself. The calm returns; and perhaps an apology for his haste and violence.” – Ralph Wardlaw 5

#2 – “Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.” – Proverbs 14:29

Very similar to Proverbs 14:17, this particular proverb gives the corresponding opposite to quick anger. It is the one who is slow to anger (and thus imitates God) that is wise.

Matthew Henry compares the angry person to one who has a burning flame inside, ready to burn ever hotter when something provokes his troubled spirit.

“Unbridled passion is folly proclaimed: He that is hasty of spirit, whose heart is tinder to every spark of provocation, that is all fire and tow, as we say, he thinks hereby to magnify himself and make those about stand in awe of him, whereas really he exalts his own folly; he makes it known, as that which is lifted up is visible to all.” – Matthew Henry 6

A quick-tempered nature should not be thought of in any way as a positive character quality. It should always be viewed as foolishness. Tragically, the angry person is the last one to realize the foolishness of his behavior; everyone already recognizes it.

“A hasty spirit is the tinder, which lights into a flame the most trifling matters, such as in cooler moments we should be ashamed of having contended for. This is indeed exalting folly, placing it on an eminence, to be seen by all.” – Charles Bridges 7

It should also be recognized that a quick-temper is often mistaken as a sign of strength or power or confidence. Instead, the Bible categorizes it as weakness of character and a flaw.

“Many people are in a gross mistake on this point, and imagine that meekness is a sign of stupidity, and an high and outrageous sense of honour an evidence of great spirit; but the inspired philosopher makes it his business to correct our false apprehensions of things, and assures us, that he is the truly wise man who keeps his passions in subjection to sanctified reason; and that the man who gives way to anger, upon every provocation, is not only a fool, but so far gone in folly, that he lifts it up to public view, and proclaims by his behaviour, that he has given to folly the throne of his heart.” – George Lawson 8

#3 – “A man of great wrath will pay the penalty, for if you deliver him, you will only have to do it again.” – Proverbs 19:19

A person given over to intense anger has a habitual problem with it. If you help them once, you will need to do so again because the condition of the heart is in desperate need of change by God’s Spirit.

“Those that are of strong, or rather headstrong, passions, commonly bring themselves and their families into trouble by vexatious suits and quarrels and the provocations they give; they are still smarting, in one instance or other, for their ungoverned heats; and, if their friends deliver them out of one trouble, they will quickly involve themselves in another, and they must do it again, all which troubles to themselves and others would be prevented if they would mortify their passions and get the rule of their own spirits.” – Matthew Henry 9

If you are an angry person, realize the damage you are doing to yourself. You will eventually pay the penalty for your uncontrolled sin.

“Are your souls, subject to those storms of passion? Turn your anger upon itself. You are displeased with other men, because you take them for enemies; but your worst enemies are the passions of your own heart.” – George Lawson 10

Many criminals have anger issues. Sometimes letting them stay in jail is far better than bailing them out. Their ultimate need is repentance and faith in Jesus Christ who alone can rescue them from the devastating effects of their sin.

“These men are their own tormentors. They are never at rest. They are ever falling into scrapes and difficulties, and quarrels, and suits. You may “deliver” them—but they are no sooner freed from one, than they run into another,—thus punishing themselves, and keeping their friends in incessant vexation and trouble.” – Ralph Wardlaw 11

#4 – “Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man, lest you learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare.” – Proverbs 22:24–25

This is a command from God designed for our protection. Selectivity in friendship is wise and necessary. Do you yourself really want to be an object of a friend’s angry spirit?

“Here is, 1. A good caution against being intimate with a passionate man. It is the law of friendship that we accommodate ourselves to our friends and be ready to serve them, and therefore we ought to be wise and wary in the choice of a friend, that we come not under the sacred tie to any one whom it would be our folly to accommodate ourselves to. Though we must be civil to all, yet we must be careful whom we lay in our bosoms and contract a familiarity with. And, among others, a man who is easily provoked, touchy, and apt to resent affronts, who, when he is in a passion, cares not what he says or does, but grows outrageous, such a one is not fit to be made a friend or companion, for he will be ever and anon angry with us and that will be our trouble, and he will expect that we should, like him, be angry with others, and that will be our sin.” – Matthew Henry 12

Sometimes we give friends too much of the benefit of the doubt and fail to see how their shortcomings hurt us and those around us. Anger is dangerous and it tends to spread.

“Sin is contagion. Alas! our corrupt constitution predisposes us to receive it in any form, in which it may be presented to us. The unlovely passions of a furious man rather repel than attract. But sin never loses its infectious character. Friendship blinds the eye; and where there is no light in the mind, no true tenderness in the conscience, we can see hateful things done by those we love with blunted sensibilities. Common intercourse with a furious man is fraught with danger. His unreasonable conduct stirs our own tempers. One fire kindles another. Occasional bursts of passion soon form the habit. The habit becomes the nature. Thus we learn his ways, and get a snare to our soul.” – Charles Bridges 13

Are your friends people of peaceful spirit who help you also be peaceful or does their anger drag you down with them? Sometimes we think we are stronger than we are and can resist a friend’s evil contagion. Yet often that self-confidence proves disastrous. We aren’t as strong as we think we are.

“But if we make passionate men our friends and companions, we are in great danger of becoming like to them, on another account. Although we should be good-natured, yet their unreasonable behaviour will be apt, on many occasions, to set our temper on fire, and from occasional bursts of passion, we may be led by degrees to contract obstinate habits of falling into a passion, on every trifling occasion; for custom is produced by frequent acts, and in time becomes a second nature. Thus we are in danger of being ensnared into sins of fatal consequence to our souls, for although anger is not always a sin, yet to be under the government of imperious passions, is very sinful and very dangerous.” – George Lawson 14

Angry people cause conflicts. Associating with such people can often result in you being dragged into those same conflicts and troubles that you never intended to get into. Such is the tragedy of choosing evil companions.

“In addition to involving his companions in deep trouble, the hothead conforms them to his image. . . . By associating with the hothead, one becomes fatally involved even before he becomes aware of it himself.” – Bruce Waltke 15

“Not only will the intimacy of such men, men who are thus choleric and quarrelsome, endanger our getting involved in numberless factions and feuds with themselves, and, what is worse, with others through their means,—so that we shall not be able, how desirous soever we may be, to live in peace,—that first and best of blessings in social life to a good man:—but another and a greater hazard is mentioned in the latter verse—’lest thou learn his ways.'” – Ralph Wardlaw 16

Take the warning of the Bible and choose your friends carefully. Even more important, avoid any intimate relationships with an angry person.

#5 – “A man of wrath stirs up strife, and one given to anger causes much transgression.” – Proverbs 29:22

The problem with anger is that it spreads and causes problems. Anger doesn’t want to remain inside; it wants to explode out and find objects on which to vent its wrath. Sometimes angry people delight in causing fights and stirring up trouble.

“[The hothead’s] resentment of others causes him to seek a pretext to transform every deference into a fight, and so he abounds in transgressing God’s moral ordering of society. His willingness to pick a quarrel at the drop of a hat shows that in fact he loves transgression.” – Bruce Waltke 17

Many people have experienced the sadness and pain of being in a family with one given to anger. The damage can be great.

“See here the mischief that flows from an angry, passionate, furious disposition. It makes men provoking to one another: An angry man stirs up strife, is troublesome and quarrelsome in the family and in the neighbourhood, blows the coals, and even forces those to fall out with him that would live peaceable and quietly by him.” – Matthew Henry 18

Anger causes massive relationship problems at the individual level on up to entire societies and nations. Angry people wound, shame, and even murder.

“The general tendency of anger is however here graphically described. Its active energy stirreth up strife—quarrelling even upon trifles, or matters which a forbearing consideration might have satisfactorily explained. And when suppressed, but not laboriously mortified, how often does it become more intense, and break out more furiously—abounding in transgression! Indeed it is difficult to take a full view of the mighty power of this mass of sin. It gives the impetus to every besetting propensity. It may be blasphemy! It stops at nothing. How many murders do we owe to this paroxysm of the moment! But for the Divine restraints the very foundations of society would be torn up.” – Charles Bridges 19

Think of how many sins anger causes? The devil loves an angry person who becomes his useful tool to sow trouble. Anger in the heart of a Christian is a poison that damages his relationship with God and others.

“Railing, and reviling, and backbiting, and evil speaking, and lies, and wars, and duels, and murders, are only a few of the transgressions to which men have been a thousand times tempted by their unbridled anger. He that indulges anger gives place to the devil. He puts that malignant spirit in possession of the throne of his heart, and commits to him the direction of his heart, and tongue, and hands. The wrath of man never works the righteousness of God; it utterly disqualifies him for praying, or doing any other holy action; but it works the will of the devil with both hands earnestly. Many volumes of history might be written in proof of this point; but the evidences of it are every day before our eyes. Cease from anger, and forsake wrath, and let the meekness and gentleness of Christ be still before your eyes.” – George Lawson 20

Right and Wrong Ways to Deal With Anger

#1 – “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” – Proverbs 15:1

Fortunately, Proverbs doesn’t only tell us of the destructive power of anger. It also offers some ways to deal with it. This particular proverb offers wonderful insight in how our words can be tools to calm angry people.

“Solomon, as conservator of the public peace, here tells us, 1. How the peace may be kept, that we may know how in our places to keep it; it is by soft words. If wrath be risen like a threatening cloud, pregnant with storms and thunder, a soft answer will disperse it and turn it away. When men are provoked, speak gently to them, and give them good words, and they will be pacified.” – Matthew Henry 21

The temptation is typically to respond to angry person with angry words. Unfortunately, that only tends to make things worse. An angry person expects an angry response. Being met with calm and gentleness is often a welcome surprise.

“Speech has the potential to quiet a riot or to fan the embers of anger (Prov. 12:18; 15:18; 25:15). A ‘gentle’ word is the way to respond to a threatening situation. The word ‘gentle’ means soft, tender or delicate. Here the idea is probably that of a conciliatory tone. We should be ‘gentle’ in tone of voice, terms chosen and non-verbal communications that accompany our speech.” 22

As we have seen, anger is often compared with fire. A gentle word is like water that can put out the fires of anger. Additionally, a gentle response imitates Christ and helps develop patience and wisdom in us as well.

“Scripture often illustrates the different effects of the tongue. The soft answer is the water to quench—Grievous words are the oil to stir up, the file. And this is, alas! man’s natural propensity—to feed rather than to quench the angry flame. We yield to irritation; retort upon our neighbor; have recourse to self-justification; insist upon the last word; say all that we could say; and think we “do well to be angry.” Neither party gives up an atom of the will. Pride and passion on both sides strike together like two flints; and “behold! how great a matter a little fire kindleth!”. . . . But the gospel sets before us our Saviour’s example; imbues with his spirit; and imparts that blessed “charity, that is not easily provoked;”and therefore is careful not to provoke a chafed or wounded spirit. If others begin, let us forbear from continuing, the strife. Soft and healing words gain a double victory—over ourselves, and over our brother.” – Charles Bridges 23

Once again, Jesus is the ultimate example who did not respond with wrath and anger at the cruel and horrendous lies that were directed at him.

“Christian brethren, let us look to our great pattern: “When he was reviled, he reviled not again, when he suffered, he threatened not.” Yet never surely was there such true dignity of character—the sublimity of composure, the majesty of meekness!” – Ralph Wardlaw 24

#2 – “A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention.” – Proverbs 15:18

Slowness is an antidote to a quick-temper. Instead of responding quickly in anger, slow down and consider the situation. Like the gentle word, slowness is another way to deal anger.

“Meekness the great peace-maker: He that is slow to anger not only prevents strife, that it be not kindled, but appeases it if it be already kindled, brings water to the flame, unites those again that have fallen out, and by gentle methods brings them to mutual concessions for peace-sake.” – Matthew Henry 25

Whereas a quick temper is incredibly destructive, a calm and patient person is a great help at promoting peace.

“A passionate disposition makes a man the firebrand of society; but meekness makes him a blessing to his neighbours. He that appeaseth strife, does us as much service, as he that quenches the fire that is burning down a house. We must learn of Christ, who was meek and lowly of heart; so shall we find rest to ourselves, and pacify contentions, and enjoy a double blessing from the great Author of blessings. “Blessed are the meek,—blessed are the peace-makers.” – George Lawson 26

#3 – “Scoffers set a city aflame, but the wise turn away wrath.” – Proverbs 29:8

Wise people know how to deal with the anger and rage of others. They are peacemakers who benefit the entire community.

“Who are the men that are the blessings of a land—the wise men who by promoting religion, which is true wisdom, turn away the wrath of God, and who, by prudent counsels, reconcile contending parties and prevent the mischievous consequences of divisions. Proud and foolish men kindle the fires which wise and good men must extinguish.” – Matthew Henry 27

How much time and effort it takes to deal with the angry! Prisons are full of angry people and it is the wise that must deal with them for the sake of having a peaceful community.

“The comparison is here between a “proud and haughty scorner, and a wise man.” The one is a public injury; the other a public blessing. The one raises a tumult; the other quells it. The man, who scorns to be bound by common restraints, will bring the city into a snare by his presumption, or set it on fire ‘by blowing the fire of Divine wrath upon it.’ Happily wise men are scattered through the land: their energy and prudence turn away wrath. ‘Proud and foolish men kindle the fire, which wise and good men must extinguish.’” – Charles Bridges 28

Those who serve in roles of justice and law keeping in society can only do so much. The root of human anger is the heart. Only Jesus can conquer the power of anger and bring peace to a soul dominated by sin. Christian, preach the gospel of Christ! The angry need to know the path to forgiveness and internal peace with God.

“the wise turn back anger by addressing the issues of the human heart, not by proposing specific measures that cover over the internal tensions. They call on the community to repent of wrongdoing (Prov. 28:13), to confront its difficulties while trusting in the sovereignty and goodness of God (Prov. 16:1-3), to seek the well-being of others, not of self, to speak with both calm reason for truth and with grace. . . and to act kindly and charitably toward each other.” – Bruce Waltke 29

#4 – “For pressing milk produces curds, pressing the nose produces blood, and pressing anger produces strife.” – Proverbs 30:33

To deal properly with anger, one must not make matters worse. Thus, as already discussed above, it is gentleness that soothes anger. Responding with more anger only causes greater conflict.

“We must not irritate the passions of others. Some are so very provoking in their words and conduct that they even force wrath, they make those about them angry whether they will or no, and put those into a passion who are not only not inclined to it, but resolved against it. Now this forcing of wrath brings forth strife, and where that is there is confusion and every evil work. As the violent agitation of the cream fetches all the good out of the milk, and the hard wringing of the nose will extort blood from it, so this forcing of wrath wastes both the body and spirits of a man, and robs him of all the good that is in him. Or, as it is in the churning of milk and the wringing of the nose, that is done by force which otherwise would not be done, so the spirit is heated by degrees with strong passions; one angry word begets another, and that a third; one passionate debate makes work for another, and so it goes on till it ends at length in irreconcilable feuds. Let nothing therefore be said or done with violence, but every thing with softness and calmness.” – Matthew Henry 30

“As the violent shaking of milk in the churn produceth butter, as the wringing of the nose makes blood to spring forth, so when we teaze our neighbours, and set their passions into a ferment by bitter and galling words, we are the authors of strife, and kindle up that destructive and devouring fire, which perhaps cannot be quenched till it has done a thousand times more mischief than we dreamed off. The command of our passions and tongues is an attainment of vast consequence to our happiness and the welfare of our souls.” – George Lawson 31

The Benefits of Rejecting Anger

#1 – “Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.” – Proverbs 16:32

As we have seen, anger is incredibly destructive and the cause of numerous evils. The person who conquers his own anger exhibits a special kind of power that is not unlike the power seen on the battlefield.

“He that gets and keeps the mastery of his passions is better than the mighty, better than he that by a long siege takes a city or by a long war subdues a country. Behold, a greater than Alexander or Caesar is here. The conquest of ourselves, and our own unruly passions, requires more true wisdom, and a more steady, constant, and regular management, than the obtaining of a victory over the forces of an enemy. A rational conquest is more honourable to a rational creature than a brutal one. It is a victory that does nobody any harm; no lives or treasures are sacrificed to it, but only some base lusts. It is harder, and therefore more glorious, to quash an insurrection at home than to resist an invasion from a broad; nay, such are the gains of meekness that by it we are more than conquerors.” – Matthew Henry 32

It is important to note that man needs help in the battle against his own angry soul. God’s help is available to the Christian who has the Spirit of God living in him.

“The heart is the field of battle. All its evil and powerful passions are deadly foes. They must be met and triumphed over in the strength of God.” – Charles Bridges 33

Self-control should be a character quality that is highly valued and esteemed. It is a powerful victory to suppress one’s anger and not let it out to cause havoc and greater sin.

“But he that is slow to anger and rules his passions deserves far higher praise, for he gains a nobler victory. Others conquer the bodies of men, but he conquers his own soul.” – George Lawson 34

“The proverb entails a battle of inner self; it considers self-control the highest kind of human power.” – Bruce Waltke 35

#2 – “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” – Proverbs 19:11

This Proverb is calling on Christians to imitate God who is also slow to anger and overlooks the offenses of all that are covered by the blood of Christ. As we have been treated, so we are to treat others.

“Discretion teaches us to defer our anger, to defer the admission of it till we have thoroughly considered all the merits of the provocation, seen them in a true light and weighed them in a just balance; and then to defer the prosecution of it till there be no danger of running into any indecencies.” – Matthew Henry 36

One way to controlling anger is to have “good sense.” This is the power of discernment or wisdom to slow down and to carefully consider a matter. Anger thrives from a quick spirit that wants to vent. Slowing down and thinking carefully helps one to exercise self-control and to apply wisdom to the situation at hand. Often, offenses against us are not as bad as they first appear. Sometimes, they should simply be overlooked and let go.

“Again, Proverbs praises the patient man. Here, it is a person’s ‘discretion’ which enables him to have a long fuse. The word describes not only the ability to discern between things, but the insight to know why one is right and the other is wrong. . . .Of course, this does not necessarily mean that a man does not get angry. It means, rather, that he conceals that anger well (Prov. 12:16) and responds calmly (Prov. 15:1) until he can process the wrong that has been done to him. This ability to be slow to anger is so valuable because it is a reflection of God’s own nature.” – John A. Kitchen 37

“What is anger, but temporary madness? To yield therefore to its paroxysm—to act without deliberation under its impulse, is to do we know not what, and what will surely bring work for repentance. An interval between the inward rising and the outward manifestation of the anger is most important. The discretion of a man deferreth his anger. Mindful of his own infirmity, he will guard against indecent sallies of temper, taking time to weigh, and careful not to overcharge the offence. An affront therefore is the test, whether he has discretion, or whether he is the slave of his own passion.” – Charles Bridges 38

What are we supposed to do if someone seriously offends or hurts us? Sometimes gentle confrontation is needed. Sometimes help from others is needed. Sometimes the best thing to do is to let it go. This takes wisdom in knowing the proper response depending upon the seriousness of the situation. Whatever the proper course of action, revenge is never the proper response.

“It is our duty and wisdom to pass by, not only slight offences, but injuries of a deeper dye, such as may be called transgressions; for we need sometimes the forgiveness of such from men, and every day we are obliged to supplicate the forgiveness of transgressions from God, and we are bound to forgive men, even as God, for Christ’s sake, hath forgiven us. It is the discretion of a man to be slow to anger and ready to forgive; for as it is not the water that surrounds a ship, but the water which soaks into it, that sinks it, so it is not the injury done by another man that endangers us so much as the impression it makes upon ourselves. Our fretful and revengeful thoughts are the torment of our hearts, and deprive us of the government of our own souls, and it is a piece of folly, when our neighbour does us an injury, to do a much greater to ourselves, when we mean to be revenged on him.” – George Lawson 39

Questions for Study and Discussion:

 
  1. Why is anger so dangerous? How have you seen unrestrained anger hurt people?
  2. Why should we avoid relationships with people who have uncontrolled anger?
  3. How do we tend to justify sinful anger? What is the right way to view uncontrolled anger and a quick temper?
  4. What are some ways Proverbs tells us we can deal with anger in ourselves?
  5. What are some ways Proverbs tells us we can deal with anger in others?
  6. What are some ways we should not deal with anger? Why?
  7. How do you think we can rely on God and the helps He provides to control our own anger?
Jim Rosenquist

Jim Rosenquist

Jim is Founder, Editor, and Author at 4Elect. He holds a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Reformed Theological Seminary. Jim rejoices that God chooses insignificant people to bring glory to Himself.

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Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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