We are pondering the emotional life of the Christian. Today, let's think about the topic of sinful emotions. And let's take anger as a case study.
How do we know if we’re justified in the anger we feel and express?
Anger is not always sinful. God gets angry.
"Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, 'Stand up in front of everyone.'
Then Jesus asked them, 'Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?' But they remained silent.
He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, 'Stretch out your hand.' He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored (Mark 3:1-5).
To be clear, I believe in the sinlessness of Jesus Christ. If that's a given, Jesus' feeling and expression of anger in this story are perfectly righteous. To cut to the bottom line: righteous anger occurs when God doesn’t get what he wants. That is, righteous anger occurs when God’s will is violated. I think the clearest examples of that in the Scriptures are the imprecatory Psalms where the psalmists prayed curses on God’s enemies over their oppressive injustice.
But we need to be honest with ourselves here, most of our anger or outrage is not aroused because God’s will has been violated. It is aroused because our will has been violated.
"What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight” (James 4:1-2a).
Anger is: there’s something I want, but people or circumstances or life aren’t acquiescing to my desire. The result is I feel frustrated or irritated or angry. The root of it is “I want…my will is being violated.” It’s sinful anger. If we were uncover anger's sibling "fear", we'd discover something similar: "There's something I want, but I might not get it." Anger looks into the present or the past. Fear looks into the future. It is because of this, I believe the secret to a happy life is humility.
Incidentally, this series of blogs is based on a sermon series I preached several months ago. More is said there than I will cover here. But if you're interested, those sermons can be found here.
Emotional immaturity is a barrier to overall spiritual health. This notion needs to be pondered and ultimately accepted if Christians are going to make progress in "living a life worthy of the calling you have received" (Eph. 4:1).
Last time we looked at two unhealthy emotional approaches to avoid: disregarding emotions and granting emotions sovereignty. Neither is biblically faithful. Today, I want to dive into discovering the root of emotions and ask the question: where do emotions come from? Let's let Jesus answer that question:
"For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person” (Mark 7:21-23).
Does murder involve emotion? Our experience in watching the world spin out of control with murder would seem to indicate some type of emotion is involved in the act of murder. But Jesus makes this explicit and takes even further...
“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell” (Matthew 5:21-22).
Jesus links anger with murder.
What about adultery? Is emotion involved in adultery?
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matthew 5:27-28).
Jesus links lust with adultery.
The word ‘slander’ more literarily means ‘abusive speech.’ That’s loaded with emotion.
What I want you to see is that the list of behaviors Jesus ticks off here are deeply emotional. Now, where do they come from?
“For it is from within, out of a person’s heart…All these evils from inside.” Emotions come from within. They aren’t external forces that impose their will on us. They come from our hearts. They come from within.
Paul Tripp once illustrated this. He took a full water bottle, shook it, and asked, "Why did water come out?" One person answered: "Because you shook it." He replied, "Why did water come out?" Because that's what's in it. Exactly.
Circumstances don’t put in us something that’s not already there. Circumstances merely reveal what’s already inside us. Emotions are not simply impulses; they are indicators of what we value and believe.
One question often discussed among pastors is this: how can people attend solid Bible-teaching churches and not seem to make much progress in their growth as Christians? I've been mulling that one for a decade. I think an answer that deserves repeated attention is simple: emotions. Emotional immaturity is a barrier to overall spiritual health. So I'm going to take some time over the next few posts to dive into this.
Two Unhealthy Emotional Approaches to Avoid
In order to get emotionally healthy, we have to approach them the right way. One wrong way we deal with emotions is disregarding them. Stoicism isn't biblical. God wired us to feel. Just read the Psalms! Pretending emotions don't exist or are "evil" and to be suppressed won't help. We need to be honest with ourselves and others about how we feel. We need to self-evaluate what we're feeling and why.
In being honest about how we feel, however, we can drift into the other kind of unhealthy emotional approach: granting our emotions sovereignty. Just because we feel a certain way, doesn't mean what we feel is right or honoring to God. Because emotions aren't sovereign, they need to fall under biblical scrutiny.
Granting emotions sovereignty is a growing problem in our cultural milieu. Feelings have become the litmus test for determining what is true. At the end of the day, this is idolatry and never leads anywhere good. So how do we deal with them in a biblically faithful way? Stay tuned...