We’ve all heard the term “anger issues.” It has become an often used phrase (accompanied by a giggle) that would suggest it’s not a big deal. Having a temper has become something we are expected to just accept about each other. We make excuses which allow us to give full reign to our behaviors. However, according to Paul’s instruction in 1 Timothy 4:7, it is actually our own responsibility to train ourselves to be godly. This includes questioning our own attitudes and responses and comparing them to the example set by our Lord Jesus Christ.
One day I came across a verse that smarted just a little. It called out to me as if the Holy Spirit was prompting me to pay attention. I was reading Colossians 3. In my Bible it was subtitled “Rules for Holy Living.” In this chapter Paul is saying for us to put to death the things that belong to our earthly nature. He goes on to say in verse 7, “You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived.” Okay, I can deal with that. I once was… I’m not anymore… So far, so good.
It was when I came to verse 8 that I began to sit up and take notice. “But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.” The “BUT NOW” statement got my attention. In other words, as a Christian, now that I’m supposed to be living holy, I still have this “human nature” or this tendency to anger.
“RID YOURSELVES” tells me that it is my own responsibility. And to rid something does not suggest putting it aside. It says RID. That means completely gone… no excuses.
Then I began to look more closely at the list.
Anger: I read somewhere that all anger is fear-based. If you take a moment to list all the physical attributes of fear, like sweaty palms, racing heart, raised blood pressure, fight or flight tendencies, etc., you will realize they are exactly the same as those caused by anger. Both are accompanied by adrenalin.
Rage: The full expression of anger. The outburst of unleashed commentary fueled by adrenalin.
Malice: the desire to inflict injury, harm, or suffering on another, either because of a hostile impulse or out of deep-seated meanness; spitefulness, bitterness. The words spent during a fit of rage are certainly meant to harm.
Slander: defamation, false statement or report.
Filthy language: words, signs, sounds, or gestures used to express a derogative message
As I read the list and searched dictionary and thesaurus meanings, I realized that each one builds on the next. Anger is an emotional response which when allowed to go undisciplined leads to rage. While a person is raging, it is usually with malicious intent and quickly becomes slanderous with or without conscious effort. And how much easier is it to allow myself to get away with a curse word or two when I’m angry? Also, when I’m angry, it’s usually a lot easier to say things I would normally keep to myself. I began to realize each of these characteristics would be made weaker without the others.
Filthy language: If I take away all adjectives and adverbs that are not encouraging and uplifting, it is easier to communicate what bothers me without the contagiousness of anger.
Slander and malice: By not allowing myself to “vent” to a third party, I will no longer speak falsely or maliciously about another. I must leave out all language and intentions of hurting someone’s feelings to make myself feel superior.
Rage: What fun is it to rage when I’m not using hurtful language, not talking about someone else, and not intending to hurt or put down another?
Anger: Anger is not so strong when I take away all of its friends. All by itself, anger is much easier to deal with between God and me. When I add any of the other characteristics, it becomes an issue between me and another person.
In verse 12, Paul goes on to say we should clothe ourselves (or cover ourselves) with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. He said we are to bear with each other. Forgive whatever grievances we may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord has forgiven us, and above all else, put on love. I couldn’t help noticing that these traits were exact opposites of the traits of anger.
It wasn’t until a couple of days later when the conviction of this lesson hit me fully. I had been angry at work. I “lost my temper” in front of everyone. I didn’t get my blood pressure up. I didn’t yell and scream. But I did give full vent to my emotions. I did say things that were not uplifting or encouraging. I talked about people who weren’t present in a way that certainly did nothing to improve their reputations. I allowed myself to use language to color my expressions not intended to build character. I felt the tug of guilt at the back of my mind, but I continued on in the conversation justifying it all along because I had every right to be angry.
It was later when a friend and co-worker held me accountable that the full force of God’s conviction hit me square in the stomach, and the heart. As she recounted to me what I had said and done, I realized that I had hurt my own reputation and testimony much, much more than the people I had been angry with. The verses I had read only the day before came flooding back to me. As I stood there guilty as charged, I could do nothing but ask for forgiveness. And just like when a parent disciplines a child, the mark of that spanking stayed with me for a while. Hopefully, it hurt enough that I will remember the lesson next time. And if not, my Father loves me enough to discipline me again. It is my responsibility to train myself in becoming godly. I must rid myself of filthy language, making it easier to stop myself from slander, malice, rage, and finally anger.