The Bible warns us against a quick temper:
My dearly loved brothers, understand this: Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for man’s anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness (James 1:19-20).
Because we are the children of God, we must be growing to resemble more and more the character of God who is, thankfully, slow to anger. But the Bible also tells us what to do – or more specifically, what not to do – when we do become angry:
Be angry and do not sin. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger, and don’t give the Devil an opportunity (Ephesians 4:26-27).
That means the progression goes like this: Christian, be patient. Do not be hot-headed and fly off the handle, knowing that it is rare indeed for your anger to be justified. And when you do get angry, understand that there is still an opportunity for you to handle that anger appropriately. So stop, consider, and do not sin.
It’s that last part that has my attention. And with all such questions of behavior for the Christian, the actual “how” will find its answer through faith. In other words, the way we handle our anger without sinning is an issue of faith. It’s an issue of what we believe to be true about God, and whether or not we will act in accordance with that belief. So, then, if today I find myself angry over something, what must I believe to be true about God in order to not sin in my anger? What must I know with confidence about my Heavenly Father that will keep me from overreacting, from taking matters into my own hands, to doing violence with my words or actions to another? I would say at least these three things. If I can stop and consider these things about God, I will find the fuse of my burning temper snuffed out:
1. That God is forgiving.
When I get angry, it’s usually because I perceive (whether true or not) that I or someone close to me has been wronged. That we have been mistreated. That some level of offense has been perpetrated against me. In those moments, I should remember that God is forgiving. But I should remember that this forgiveness of God is not just for the person I think has wronged me; God’s forgiveness is for me, too. By reflecting deeply on the forgiveness of God, I am calling to mind the fact that I am a sinner, and God has forgiven me of very much. Am I, then, as one who has been forgiven much by this gracious and forgiving God, so arrogant as to withhold that forgiveness from another? I hope not.
2. That God is at work.
The work of God is further reaching than you or I can possibly fathom. We might intellectually recognize that He is working in us and through us at a given moment, but we must also recognize that He is doing similar work in people all around us. That person we are angry with? God is at work in them, too. And in this moment when I feel so unfairly treated? God is at work in this. When I stop and consider the great scope of the work of God, I find my attention shifting from what I think I am entitled to, to unclenching my grip on my own rights. I find myself more ready to surrender to the work of the Holy Spirit in me through a given situation.
3. That God will judge.
Yes, there are those rare occasions when my anger is truly justified. And those occasions are indeed few and far between. But in that moment when I am actually right, when an issue of justice is at hand, I can not sin in my anger by remembering that God is the ultimate judge. Nothing escapes His notice. And there will be a reckoning for all things someday. My anger can be diffused when I am confident that I do not have to take matters into my own hands – that in His time, and in His way, God will do the righteous work of judgment.
So, Christian, be slow to anger. Very slow – recognizing that more times than not, your anger (just like mine) is less because of what’s been done to you and more because of the fact that we are not yet fully sanctified. And when the anger does come, stop the escalation not by your own willpower, but with your faith in who God is. Throw the bucket of water on the fire of your anger by reflecting and considering the character of God.