Meet the Angry Man and the Contentious Woman
|Copyright © 2001, 2002 - All rights retained by author|
|Written by: C. W. Booth|
Many find the following verse uncomfortable: "Be angry and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger," Ephs.4:26. However, we are under a rather strong standing-order not to "take away from" Gods inspired words, so we must accept that short, controlled, feelings of anger are acceptable in God’s sight.
But does this permission to "be angry" contradict what appears to be a complete prohibition on anger in Galatians 5?
"Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality…jealousy, outbursts of anger…those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God." Gals. 5:19,20,21
I have heard it said (wrongly) about this passage that every time someone speaks or yells in an angry voice it is the Galatians 5:20 "outburst of anger" and that the person who raises his voice is sinning and may even be going to hell (shall not inherit the kingdom). Sadly, this improper interpretation is based on an inadequate English translation.
Much of the New Testament is translated from ancient Greek manuscripts. There are many different Greek words for different types of anger. The Galatians 5 "outbursts of anger" is an unusual word. The ancient Greek word for "outburst of anger" is thumos, from the root word thuo—to kill, butcher, or sacrifice a life. A more complete and proper translation of thumos is "rage of a murderer", "wrath resulting in death", or, "angry enough to kill"—literally. There are many words for anger in the Greek New Testament, but thumos is a very special word for anger, and only used sparingly. It is restricted in use to when actual death and slaughter resulted from this extreme rage or where murder was intended due to mob rage.
Let us explore some examples of how this specialized word is used to describe a person who has become ready, able, and intent to kill another human due to being full of wrath and rage. This word is used of Herod when he flew into a rage and ordered the slaughter of all the infants in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:16). This word is also used to describe desperate and bitter combat between two warring nations. It is used in reference to the mob that attempted to kill Jesus by throwing Him from a cliff (Luke 4:28,29). It is most frequently used to refer to God being so angry at the sin of unrepentant men that He damns them to hell (Rev.14:10).
Galatians 5:20 is about a person who is so consumed and in the control of rage that his intention is to murder somebody, thumos. Thumos does not refer to the normal emotion of becoming angry. Anger itself is not a sin, "Be angry and yet do not sin…". There are numerous passages where Jesus appears to angrily confront the Pharisees by calling them names, or where Paul confronts the Galatians with passionate, if not angry, appeals (Gals.3:1-3). Paul calls his own words "terrifying", "weighty", and "strong" (2Cor.10:9,10). Even John the Baptist was prophesied as "one crying in the wilderness" (crying—literally, "calling out loudly, shouting"). Is it possible that John was shouting to the Pharisees, "You brood of vipers…" (Matthew 3:7, Luke 3:7)?
Matthew Henry, the great Bible commentator from the 1700s writes on anger:
"Observe, Though anger in itself is not sinful, yet there is the upmost danger of its becoming so if it be not carefully watched and speedily suppressed. And therefore, though anger may come into the bosom of a wise man, it rests only in the bosom of fools." … "Anger is a natural passion; there are cases in which it is lawful and laudable; but it is then sinful, when we are angry without cause. The word is eike, which signifies, sine causâ, sine effectu, et sine modo--without cause, without any good effect, without moderation; so that the anger is then sinful, (1.) When it is without any just provocation given; either for no cause, or no good cause, or no great and proportionable cause; when we are angry at children or servants for that which could not be helped, which was only a piece of forgetfulness or mistake, that we ourselves might easily have been guilty of, and for which we should not have been angry at ourselves; when we are angry upon groundless surmises, or for trivial affronts not worth speaking of. (2.) When it is without any good end aimed at…to let people know our resentments, then it is in vain, it is to do hurt; whereas if we are at any time angry, it should be to awaken the offender to repentance, and prevent his doing so again… (3.) When it exceeds due bounds; …violent and vehement, outrageous and mischievous, and when we seek the hurt of those we are displeased at… would kill if he could…he is a murderer in the account of God, who knows his heart, whence murder proceeds".
John MacArthur, contemporary preacher, writes concerning anger and angry speech:
"We know from other Scripture, and from Jesus’ own life, that He does not prohibit every form of anger. It was in righteous anger that He cleansed the Temple of those who defiled it (John 2:14-17; Matt.21:12-13). Paul tells us to "be angry, and yet do not sin" (Eph.4:26). Although the principle is often abused and misapplied it is possible to have righteous anger. Faithfulness to Christ will sometimes demand it.
In our day of peace and harmony at any cost, of positive thinking, and of confusing godly love with human sentimentality, we often need to show more anger against certain things. There are things in our country…and even our churches about which we have no excuse for not being angry, vocally angry."
Anger is not always a sin, it is an emotion given to us to motivate us to action; and shouting as a result is not always a sin either. The Galatians 5:20 use of thumos, "outburst of anger" has nothing to do with verbal communications, vocal outbursts, talking, calling out loud, or shouting, and it cannot be interpreted as merely "yelling in anger". Thumos is a felonious rage that leads to murder, which is why it is a mortal sin. As the scriptures state, make certain that you control your anger by keeping it brief, "do not let the sun go down on your anger".
It is of great importance that a person be very slow to, and cautious about, leveling an accusation at another Christian of being guilty of violating Galatians 5:20. To do so means that you have eyewitness evidence that the accused man has attempted to kill someone out of blind rage. Attempted murder is a crime against God, man, and the government. This is a rare and dangerous charge, not to be thrown about lightly and not to be invoked without absolute certainty of guilt.
To sum up, you must assume the responsibility to select the words, the tone of voice (Gals.4:20), and even the volume of your voice when initiating a Matthew 18 confrontation. Use wisdom, fear, and humility when choosing. Your goal is to cause the sinner to genuinely see his sin against God (and also man if it applies) and then to repent. But far more important than superficial aspects such as tone and volume of voice is the content of your speech; keep your words precisely accurate, no exaggerations or hyperbole; be absolutely honest; ensure accurate use of scripture; and avoid at all times imposing a "precept of men".
What Qualifies Someone to be Labeled as an Angry Man?
There is also a phenomenon known as "the angry man" (later its feminine counterpart, the "contentious woman", will be discussed). This is in reference to someone who has a lifestyle of anger, but what criteria do you use to determine that? It is obviously not just a person who speaks loudly. For instance, raising one's voice can be an indicator merely that a person is being passionate about something, or that he is hurt, or that he simply has a loud voice. John and his brother James had loud voices and were known as the "Sons of thunder", John the Baptist was "one crying in the wilderness", Elizabeth cried out prophecy in a loud voice as did Stephen and Jesus; the man newly-healed expressed gratitude in a loud voice, and of course the angel in Revelation 5:2 is said to have had a loud voice. God says in Isaiah 58:1 the people are to "cry loudly...like a trumpet and declare to my people their transgression." Loud passion for God's Word is a blessing, not a sign of spiritual weakness or a lifestyle of anger. In reality, a person can be soft-spoken or even totally silent and still be murderously angry.
The Scriptures state a person is permitted to get angry. Anger is after all, an emotion. Emotions are motivators of our actions. Actions can be judged as a sin, and a sinful action may result from anger, but it is not the anger that is a sin. "Be angry and do not sin, do not let the sun go down on your anger, do not give the devil an opportunity." (Ephesians 4;26,27) This scripture permits anger as an emotion. It is the content of one's speech, not the emotion one feels when the words are spoken that define whether the speech is sinful. A person may be righteously angry and yet still speak the truth loudly and boldly to God's glory. However, if a person uses foul language, hurls lies, throws things at people, and becomes physically violent, these are actions that may be construed as sinfully angry communications, though even that too must be properly assessed. For example, when Jesus overturned the moneychangers’ tables and drove away their animals with a whip it is said He was "consumed with zeal (zelos: zeal, jealousy, fury)", but we know for an absolute certainty that His actions and emotions were not sinful.
An "angry man" is defined by scripture as a man who is rebellious toward God and is in constant public sin (Prov.29:22); disobedient to parents, gluttonous and drunk (Deut.21-18-20); delights in the spilling of blood (Prov. 1:11); pleased when his enemy is stricken (Prov.34:17); a back-biter / back-stabber (Prov. 25:23,24); a rumor-monger and whisperer (Prov.26:20); is unstoppable by man (Prov.27:15,16); is unsalvageable (Prov.19:19); seeks to kindle strife with every possible opportunity (Prov. 26:21); and returns insults when reproved with scripture (Prov.9:8).
In the spirit of Matthew 18 you would never rebuke someone for being "an angry man". Rather, you would point to specific words he spoke or specific violent actions he made and say, "you punched Mr.Smith in the eye during a quarrel and you must apologize to him for that as well as confess this sin of violence to God." Just calling someone an angry man, or a bad husband, or lazy as a dog will rarely stir a man to repent. Focus on very specific behaviors that a man can repent from, then you can win your brother.
What Qualifies Someone to be Labeled as a Contentious Woman?
A contentious woman is identifiable by a very specific pattern: the contentions, whatever they are, are non-stop, coming one after the other, seemingly without end. Proverbs 27:16 indicates it is not generally simple or possible to stop her from her ceaseless "contentions" and 21:19 indicates it is better to live among the scorpions in the desert than to deal with her continuous "vexations".
So what are the steady stream of contentions and vexations?
A contentious woman is one who is constantly causing strife by starting quarrels with others whom she has judged, she is in a constant state of anger, bitterness, indignation, and sorrow, and is provoking others to anger and being provoked to anger. Since Proverbs 21:19 indicates no amount of rational discussion will forestall the onslaught, we can assume that all her complaints are without valid foundation and are of a spurious nature.
In earlier articles we commented that the American Heritage Dictionary defines "to offend" as: "To create or excite anger, resentment, or annoyance in; hurt the feelings of…to insult". The contentious woman fits the very definition of someone who believes themselves to have been offended or insulted. It would appear then, that the contentious woman is one who is in a constant state of feeling insulted. As a result, she judges others guilty of insulting her, she becomes angry, bitter, and sorrowful, and is on the prowl to find opportunity to quarrel with others for no other reason than to vindicate her own feelings.
In short, everything that goes "wrong" in the life of the contentious woman and every bad feeling she develops is the fault of someone else. It is often surprising to see such blunt commentary on human behavior as those found in Proverbs.
As with the "angry man", it is of no use trying to rebuke this woman for a lifestyle of being contentious. Rather, on an episode-by-episode basis she must be confronted for leveling untrue accusations, falsely shifting blame to others, and for acting rashly on the basis of "feeling insulted" since insults must be "covered in love".
Anger is an emotion. If it is used in a godly fashion to stir the man of God to righteous action, perhaps for the purpose of rebuking unrepentant sinners in hopes they may at last turn to God in humility, or to purge the house of God of thieves who have institutionalized themselves in front of the sanctuary, it may be used in holiness for the sake of righteousness.
Emotion is not the sin nor is it the enemy. The purpose to which emotion is used can either be God-honoring or sinful. The man or woman who immerses themselves in emotion as a means of self-indulgence without thought of the true purpose for which God gave us emotions (to serve one another zealously) can, and likely will, find themselves awash in hedonistic self-centeredness. These self-focused individuals are prime targets to become the angry man and the contentious woman, constantly finding insults in the innocent interactions of the day, as they live to lavish attention and good feelings of importance on themselves.
Fight the good fight and do nothing from selfishness, consciously deciding to treat others as more important than your own desires and your own feelings (Philippians 2:3). Following this sage command of scripture can give all of God’s children a fresh, new, and unselfish outlook and a better hope for the future than the angry man and the contentious woman we just met.