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Can you believe this is week 5 of our study? There is so much to unpack in this one little verse, but I pray we’re seeing the value of making sure we understand exactly what God is forbidding and exactly what He wants us to be.
But before we talk about what it means to be wrathful, I want to invite you to follow The Celebration of God on Facebook and/or Instagram. We hope to move to Twitter at some point, but — to be honest — social media can be such minefield and sap so much time and energy.
Either way, our goal is to build you up in Christ and help you worship Him better today than you did yesterday. Lord willing, our worship prompts will meet your need in the moment and help you be better conformed to the image of Christ.
And I hope you’ll also take advantage of the free episode notes, transcript, and mercy resources you will find on our blog.
And now let’s understand why wrath is unmerciful.
Let’s be honest, most of us don’t use the word “wrath” very often. If we do, it’s probably used with a British accent in an attempt to be silly.
But the idea of wrath is something that is likely all too common an experience in our lives.
1. The Definition of Wrath
The Greek word used here refers to fierce indignation — passionate heat that quickly boils up. Wrath describes a quick-tempered response — an explosion that seems to appear from nowhere. It refers to an individual who appears to be at complete ease who — moments later — erupts like an ancient volcano. And often, this same passionate explosion can dissipate as quickly as it appeared.
Now, whether you choose to use the word “wrath” or not doesn’t matter. You may refer to it as a short fuse, hot temper, or whatever else you want.
But if we’re being biblical, it’s unmerciful. In fact, we could compare it to the actions of a terrorist.
In a similar way that malice and clamor are designed to scare people into submission, wrathful outbursts are emotional responses designed to punish everyone in the vicinity for our personal discomfort. But this response does appear to be the most braindead of the anger responses we’ve seen. This is why it can come and go so quickly.
Now, even though it grows from the same root of sinful thinking from which all anger grows, this is much more an emotional, instinctual response to a present external or internal stimulus. This is why wrath can occur so naturally. It’s why you never had to teach a toddler to blow up when he doesn’t get his way.
We’re all born sinners with an inherent proclivity to sinful self-worship, and wrath is one of the natural outpourings of that belief system that doesn’t require any new knowledge or understanding or a well-thought out plan of action.
Now, let’s stop here and consider the wrong belief system underlying these spurts of emotion.
If I believe that a good life is one that goes my way, and I believe that it’s appropriate to experience and communicate passionate dislike when things don’t go my way, then it will be completely appropriate for me to flare up at such times.
Couple all of that with the wrong belief that the person who caused my discomfort deserves a wrathful response from me, and you have the perfect recipe for eruptions of Vesuvius proportions.
But when I recognize the biblical truth about my life and the fact that God expects me to be merciful, then I will be far less prone to losing control in those moments.
Now, let’s consider . . .
2. The Nature of Wrath
The important thing to keep in mind is that — generally speaking — your wrathful responses are animalistic in a way. This observation is extremely revealing.
Sinful short tempers should never be named among Christians. It’s the product of a darkened heart informed by emotional chemicals not submission to God. If you respond to inconvenience with annoyance or aggravation or what most call anger, then there is a significant problem.
Christians don’t easily respond to life that way, and they definitely don’t do it with never-changing consistency.
Please allow me to share a focused quote from Colossians 3: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. 5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you . . . 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth . . . seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.”
A born again believer who’s being transformed into the image of God is going to be moving away from uncontrolled explosions. Unrepentant and consistent wrath in a person’s life is a fruit of a life disconnected from Christ.
So, you can know right off the bat that if your knee-jerk, first response is often uncontrolled, unintelligent fury, you are more spiritually immature than you realize.
Now, let’s talk about . . .
3. The Relationship between Anger and Wrath
It would be unwise for us to exclusively lump ourselves in either the angry or wrathful categories.
It’s true that a wrathful person may not be perpetually angry, but most people who struggle with anger do have wrathful responses that involve clamor, slander, and malice.
The differentiation we’re making between reasoned anger and unreasoning wrath may be a little superficial, so I want to make sure we’re not being too strict in our application.
However, these two Greek words did provide a valuable opportunity to investigate the amount of thought that goes into our merciless responses.
So, this leads us . . .
4. The Cure for Wrath
A. You need to discern whether your angry outbursts are reasoned or unreasoned.
I know, that may sound confusing.
Originally, I wrote, “Discern whether your responses are emotional or angry.” The problem with that statement is that your angry and clamorous and slanderous and malicious behavior is clearly very emotional as well.
Wrath doesn’t have the market cornered on emotion. Delusional emotion with no clearly reasoned response is just usually the identifying feature of wrath.
This is why it’s not happenstance that wrath is the second on the list. Bitterness is wrong thinking, but the moment your thinking goes astray, your emotions are tanked.
So, in order to distinguish between an angry response and a wrathful response, you need to discern if it has any reasoning behind it or not.
So, how does one go about this?
I’ve witnessed many an outburst from many a person, and I’ve had plenty of outbursts myself, but the key is how they try to justify their outburst in the moment.
I’ve watched people sinfully explode on others with laundry-lists of reasons that were clearly thought-through and mulled-over beyond all appropriate measure.
But others when pressed about why they’re so angry have a very hard time elucidating their reasoning. And this has rarely to do with the fact that they are poor conversationalists. It has to do with the fact that their outburst was instinctual and generally mindless.
And I’ve seen that such a response is usually the result of less physical and/or spiritual maturity.
Toddlers are far more wrathful than they are angry, but adults tend to be more angry than wrathful. However, adults who tend to be more wrathful are also less spiritually and socially mature.
Let me give you a childish example.
As children age, their ability to reason generally gets better. This means that the child’s addition gets better too. Their memories are longer and more complex. It’s easier to add up all the grievances they’ve born over the years.
As toddlers in the nursery, they probably didn’t remember that the child with whom they’re now playing was the same kid to bop them on the head last week. And if they get bopped again, their emotional response will not be motivated by last week’s bopping.
But a third grader remembers that unkind fourth grader who occasionally knocked their lunch to the floor in the cafeteria last year. And when that child hears that the 3rd and 4th graders will be having recess together on Thursday, that 3rd grader may likely start to imagine the horrors such a situation may create.
And — as they age — it’s so much easier for them to remember how every time they told the lunch monitor what happened, the bully lied and said they were blaming him for his own clumsiness.
On top of that — now that school has started — the cild has noticed the 4th grade bully and his friends watching him during recess. So when the first unkind act occurs, will the child be emotional? Yes. But will the manifestation of his anger be wrath or clamor?
I’m suggesting that 9 times out of 10, it’s going to be anger that’s been growing from a year’s worth of pondering and contemplation. And the older the child gets, the more likely their outburst is going to be angry and not unreasoning wrath.
And this might be where having a mature friend speak into your situation could be helpful. In the heat of the moment, we’re poor judges of our own actions, but your discipler needs to be able to identify if your response is the result of seething anger or mindless wrath.
Now, please understand that I am — in no way — justifying anger because it has reasoned thought behind it. No. It’s still the result of believing a lie. It’s still unmerciful. It’s still sin.
The reason we’re walking through this exercise is to help us better determine the root cause of our unmerciful outburst.
And if you find that you respond angrily with more passion than purpose . . .
B. You need to understand your emotions.
Let’s be honest, I don’t believe the vast majority of people alive today have any idea what emotions are. And they definitely don’t have a biblical idea of what they are.
I have the privilege of giving a workshop at the Association of Certified Biblical Counselor’s Annual Convention all about unhelpful secular understandings and approaches related to emotions.
It’s my intention to make that talk available to any of you would like to hear it, and I’ll say more about that after the workshop.
The problem is we don’t have time to get into any of the details of what emotions are and why we feel the way we do and why God created our emotions, but I need to at least lay out some basics.
When it comes to this topic, there are so many discrepancies and delusions that cloud the matter. But instead of critiquing all of the wrong ideas, let me give you biblical description of emotions.
First, emotions are a gift from God. They’re a gift to the individual, the body of Christ, and spiritual authorities.
They’re a gift to the individual in that God equipped humans to have a dynamic, passionate experience in this life and the life to come.
They’re a gift to the church because God wants us to use our emotions to minister to others. For example, Romans 12:15 commands that we rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.
But they’re also a gift to authorities because in the same way a child’s emotional response can help a parent determine the best way to parent them, a spouse’s emotional response can help the other spouse know how best to minister to them. And the same is true for pastors, counselors, teachers, friends, and any other disciplers.
Second, emotions are a tool. God gave us emotions to use in our worship of Him. And no, I’m not only talking about the things we feel when singing. I Corinthians 10:31 commands that whatever we do — that includes experiencing emotions — needs to be done to God’s glory.
Also, emotions make it easier to accomplish tasks. Engaging our emotions in a Christ-honoring way can helps us respond better to the situation before us.
And third, emotions are a gauge. In the same way that a smoke detector in your house is there to warn you of a problem, your emotions can help you see when there’s a spiritual problem in your life. If you are experiencing strong emotions in line with God’s will . . . all is well. Do you enjoy what God says is good? Are you angry about sin? Are you jealous for God’s glory? Then God is pleased. But if you’re experiencing strong emotion out of sync with God’s will . . . there’s a problem. Do you enjoy your sin? Are you angry about what God has brought into your life? Are you jealous for your own way? If so, your emotions are being used to worship yourself and need to change.
So, as you mediate on your emotional outbursts, if would be wise to recognize that God wants your inappropriate, unmerciful emotional responses to warn you about the spiritual condition of your heart.
And, so, all of this leads us to . . .
C. You need to control your emotions.
In Luke 12:48 Jesus said, “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.”
We should never tolerate a meltdown simply because we believe it’s uncontrollable or not our fault or because the other person deserves it.
Once we understand what emotions are, why God created them, how they’re to be used, and how to control them, we need to put those truths into practice. And the best time to practice reigning in our emotions will be when they start to get away from us.
We all know Ecclesiastes 3, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven . . . a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” This teaches us that in the same way there are times we should be sad and angry and afraid, there are also times we shouldn’t be. We need to be wise and mature enough to interpret the situation before us and come to the right conclusion about how we’re going to feel about it.
Alright, by way of review . . .
A. You need to discern whether your angry outbursts are reasoned or unreasoned. You need to figure out if this explosion is a clamorous product of anger or a wrathful product of emotion.
B. You need to understand your emotions. Please, please, please, for the sake of the Lord, your family, and the world . . . learn what God has to say about emotions. Don’t buy into the world’s lies.
C. You need to control your emotions. This can be done. Even very young children can learn to control their emotions, and I look forward to equipping you to do this more and more in the future.
For now, though, if you would like specialized help, you could send an email to counselor@CelebrationOfGod.com. I would be honored to serve you I that way.
And that leads us to . . .
D. You need Bible, not pragmatism.
You should have seen that one coming!
I want to illustrate this point by looking at the life of Cain.
Follow along with me as I start reading in Genesis 4:1.
“Now [Adam] had relations with his wife Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain, and she said, ‘I have gotten a manchild with the help of the Lord.’ 2 Again, she gave birth to his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of flocks, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. 3 So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the Lord of the fruit of the ground. 4 Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and for his offering; 5 but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell.”
We don’t know much about Cain, but we do know that he was an emotional person given to bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, and malice. And the first time we see it is here.
Cain’s response was obviously the result of wrong thinking and mindless emotion. The perfect God of the universe had very good reason not to regard Cain’s offering. Had he given it an ounce of thought, he wouldn’t have been angry.
But let’s continue reading, starting in verse 6. “Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? 7 If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.’ 8 Cain told Abel his brother. And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.”
Now, we can’t know for sure if Cain’s malicious murder of Able was an explosion of mindless rage. I think it’s better to assume that this initial wrathful response gave way to quiet stewing and that the murder was premeditated.
But watch what happens next. Verse 9, “Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is Abel your brother?’ And he said, ‘I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?’ 10 He said, ‘What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to Me from the ground. 11 Now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you cultivate the ground, it will no longer yield its strength to you; you will be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth.’”
Now, had Cain given this situation an ounce of thought, he wouldn’t have responded the way he did next. “13 Cain said to the Lord, ‘My punishment is too great to bear! 14 Behold, You have driven me this day from the face of the ground; and from Your face I will be hidden, and I will be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.’ 15 So the Lord said to him, ‘Therefore whoever kills Cain, vengeance will be taken on him sevenfold.’ And the Lord appointed a sign for Cain, so that no one finding him would slay him.16 Then Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.”
Cain was a malicious person because he was angry, and he was angry because he was wrathful, and he was wrathful because he was immature and delusional. And our merciless responses to the people and situations in our lives are a result of the same immaturity and delusion.
I look forward to unpacking even more next time how we need to address that immaturity in our lives.
For now, though, the whole point of this is that we need to stop excusing our merciless responses. We cannot justify our explosive outbursts in light of the fact that God has commanded that we be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven us.
We need to stop leaning on our own understanding. We need to fix ourselves on God. We need to submit to the counsel of the Lord so we can be like trees planted by rivers of water that bring forth merciful fruit in its season.
Friends, will you please stop making excuses for the way you feel? Will you recognize that when God commands you to put wrath far away from you, He’s calling you to reign in your aberrant emotions. He’s commanding you to ground your merciful responses in the reality of Who He is and what He’s done for you.
Please continue to share this series on your favorite social media outlets, and join us next time as we seek to better know, love, and worship God and help the people in our lives do the same.
To that end, we’ll be discussing how a merciful life is a life that withholds bitterness.
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AMBrewster is the creator of The Year Long Celebration of God and host of its podcast.