“Keep Conquering the Evil” by Controlling Anger

“Do not avenge yourselves, beloved, . . . but keep conquering the evil with the good.”—ROM. 12:19, 21.

A GROUP of 34 of Jehovah’s Witnesses were traveling to a branch office dedication when mechanical trouble delayed their flight along the way. What was supposed to be a one-hour fueling stop turned into a 44-hour ordeal at a remote airport without adequate food, water, or sanitary facilities. Many passengers became angry and threatened the airport staff. But the brothers and sisters remained calm.

2 Eventually, the Witnesses arrived at their destination in time for the final part of the dedication program. Although tired, they stayed afterward to enjoy association with the local brothers. Later, they learned that their example of patience and self-control had not gone unnoticed. One of the other passengers told the airline, “If it had not been for the 34 Christians on the flight, there would have been a riot at the airport.”

Living in an Angry World

3 The pressures of life in this present wicked system can make people feel angry. (Eccl. 7:7) Often, this anger leads to hatred and outright violence. Wars rage between and within countries, while family tensions bring conflict right into many homes. Such anger and violence have a long history. Cain, the first son of Adam and Eve, killed his younger brother Abel out of jealous anger. Cain committed this vile deed even though Jehovah had urged him to control his emotions and had promised to bless him if he did.—Read Genesis 4:6-8.

4 Despite his inherited imperfection, Cain had a choice in the matter. He could have held back his anger. That is why he bore clear responsibility for his violent act. Similarly, our imperfect state makes it harder for us to avoid anger and angry acts. And other powerful negative forces add stress in these “critical times.” (2 Tim. 3:1) For example, economic woes can put pressure on our emotions. Police and family-help organizations link crises in the financial system to an increase in angry outbursts and domestic violence.

5 Further, many of the people we come in contact with are “lovers of themselves,” “haughty,” and even “fierce.” It is very easy for bad characteristics like these to rub off on us and anger us. (2 Tim. 3:2-5) In fact, movies and TV programs often portray vengeance as noble and violence as a natural and justifiable solution to problems. Typical story lines lead viewers to look forward to the moment when the villain “gets what he deserves”—usually a violent end at the hands of the story’s hero.

6 Such propaganda promotes, not God’s ways, but “the spirit of the world” and of its angry ruler, Satan. (1 Cor. 2:12; Eph. 2:2; Rev. 12:12) That spirit caters to the imperfect flesh and is in total opposition to God’s holy spirit and its fruitage. Indeed, a fundamental teaching of Christianity is not to retaliate under provocation. (Read Matthew 5:39, 44, 45.) How, then, can we more fully apply Jesus’ teachings?

Good Examples and Bad

7 The Bible abounds in counsel about controlling anger and also contains practical examples of what may happen when we do and when we do not. Consider what happened when Jacob’s sons Simeon and Levi took vengeance on Shechem for having violated their sister Dinah. They “became hurt in their feelings and they grew very angry.” (Gen. 34:7) Next, the other sons of Jacob attacked Shechem’s city, plundered it, and took the women and children captive. They did all of this not only because of Dinah but likely also because it was a question of pride, of losing face. They felt that Shechem had offended them and their father, Jacob. But what did Jacob think of their conduct?

8 Dinah’s tragic experience must have grieved Jacob deeply; yet, he condemned his sons’ vengeful course. Simeon and Levi still tried to justify their actions, saying: “Ought anyone to treat our sister like a prostitute?” (Gen. 34:31) But that was not the end of the matter, for Jehovah was displeased. Many years later, Jacob foretold that because of the violent, angry acts of Simeon and Levi, their descendants would be scattered among the tribes of Israel. (Read Genesis 49:5-7.) Yes, their uncontrolled anger brought disfavor both from God and from their father.

9 It was quite different with King David. He had numerous opportunities to take revenge, but he did not. (1 Sam. 24:3-7) On one occasion, however, he nearly gave in to anger. A wealthy man named Nabal screamed abuses at David’s men, though they had protected Nabal’s flocks and shepherds. Perhaps feeling offended, especially for his men, David was about to strike back violently. While David and his men were on their way to attack Nabal and his household, a young man informed Abigail, Nabal’s discreet wife, of what had happened and urged her to act. Immediately, she put together a large gift and went to meet David. She humbly apologized for Nabal’s insolence and appealed to David’s fear of Jehovah. David came to his senses and said: “Blessed be you who have restrained me this day from entering into bloodguilt.”—1 Sam. 25:2-35.

The Christian Attitude

10 What occurred with Simeon and Levi and between David and Abigail shows unmistakably that Jehovah opposes unbridled anger and violence and that he blesses efforts to make peace. “If possible, as far as it depends upon you, be peaceable with all men,” wrote the apostle Paul. “Do not avenge yourselves, beloved, but yield place to the wrath; for it is written: ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says Jehovah.’ But, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by doing this you will heap fiery coals upon his head.’ Do not let yourself be conquered by the evil, but keep conquering the evil with the good.”—Rom. 12:18-21.*

11 We can apply that counsel. For example, a sister complained to an elder about her new manager at work. She described her as unfair and unkind. She was angry with the woman and wanted to quit. The elder urged her not to do anything rash. He discerned that the sister’s angry reaction to the manager’s mistreatment had only aggravated the situation. (Titus 3:1-3) The elder pointed out that even if she eventually found another job, she would still need to change the way she responded to unkindness. He advised her to treat the manager the way she herself would like to be treated, as Jesus taught us to do. (Read Luke 6:31.) The sister agreed to try. The result? After some time, the manager’s attitude softened, and she even thanked the sister for her work.

12 It might not surprise us when such problems develop with someone outside the Christian congregation. We know that life in Satan’s system is often unfair and that we need to fight against letting evildoers incense us. (Ps. 37:1-11; Eccl. 8:12, 13; 12:13, 14) However, when problems occur with a spiritual brother or sister, the pain can be much deeper. One Witness recalled, “My biggest hurdle when coming into the truth was accepting the fact that Jehovah’s people are not perfect.” We came out of a cold, uncaring world, hoping that all in the congregation would treat one another with Christian kindness. Thus, if a fellow Christian, especially one with privileges in the congregation, is thoughtless or acts in an unchristian way, it can hurt us or make us angry. ‘How can such things occur among Jehovah’s people?’ we might ask. Actually, such things occurred even among anointed Christians in the days of the apostles. (Gal. 2:11-14; 5:15; Jas. 3:14, 15) How should we respond when we are affected?

13 “I learned to pray for anyone who hurt me,” said the sister just mentioned. “It always helps.” As we already read, Jesus taught us to pray for those persecuting us. (Matt. 5:44) How much more should we pray for our spiritual brothers and sisters! Just as a father wants his children to love one another, so Jehovah wants his servants on earth to get along. We look forward to living together peacefully and happily forever, and Jehovah is teaching us to do so now. He wants us to cooperate in doing his great work. Therefore, let us resolve problems or simply “pass over” transgression and move ahead together. (Read Proverbs 19:11.) Instead of drawing away from our brothers when problems arise, we ought to help one another remain among God’s people, safe in the embrace of Jehovah’s “everlasting arms.”—Deut. 33:27, American Standard Version.

Being Gentle Toward All Brings Good Results

14 To hinder us from spreading the good news, Satan and the demons are actively trying to disrupt happy families and congregations. They try to sow discord, knowing that internal divisions are destructive. (Matt. 12:25) In combating their evil influence, we do well to follow Paul’s counsel: “A slave of the Lord does not need to fight, but needs to be gentle toward all.” (2 Tim. 2:24) Remember that our fight is, “not against blood and flesh, but . . . against the wicked spirit forces.” To succeed in this fight, we need to employ spiritual armor, including “the equipment of the good news of peace.”—Eph. 6:12-18.

15 From outside the congregation, Jehovah’s enemies launch vicious attacks on his peaceful people. Some of these enemies assault Jehovah’s Witnesses physically. Others slander us in the press or in the courts. Jesus told his followers to expect this. (Matt. 5:11, 12) How should we react? We must never “return evil for evil,” in word or in deed.—Rom. 12:17; read 1 Peter 3:16.

16 Regardless of what the Devil brings upon us, by “conquering the evil with the good,” we can give a fine witness. For example, a congregation on one Pacific island rented a hall for the Memorial. Learning of this, local church officials told their parishioners to gather in that hall for a church service at the time scheduled for our event. The chief of police, however, ordered the church officials to make the hall available for the Witnesses by that time. Nevertheless, when the hour came, the hall was filled with church members and their service began.

17 While the police were preparing to clear the hall by force, the church president came to one of our elders and asked: “Do you have something special planned for this evening?” The brother told him about the Memorial, and the man replied: “Oh, I didn’t know!” At that, a policeman exclaimed: “But we told you this morning!” The churchman turned to the elder and with a sly smile said: “What are you going to do now? We have a hall full of people. Are you going to have the police chase us out?” He had cunningly maneuvered matters to make the Witnesses appear to be the persecutors! How would our brothers respond?

18 The Witnesses offered to let the church hold a half-hour service, after which the brothers would proceed with the Memorial. The church service ran overtime, but after the church members filed out, the Memorial went ahead. The next day, the government convened an official board of inquiry. After considering the facts, the board obliged the church to announce that the cause of the problem had been, not the Witnesses, but the president of the church. The board also thanked Jehovah’s Witnesses for their patient handling of a difficult situation. The Witnesses’ efforts to “be peaceable with all men” had borne good fruit.

19 Another key to maintaining peaceful relations with others is using gracious speech. The following article will discuss what gracious speech is and how we can cultivate and employ it.

[Footnote]

“Fiery coals” is a reference to an ancient method of smelting ore by heating it from above and below to extract the metals. Our showing kindness to those who are unkind may soften their attitude and bring out their better qualities.

Can You Explain?

• Why are people in the world today so angry?

• What Bible examples show the consequences of controlling or not controlling anger?

• How should we react if a fellow Christian hurts us?

• How should we react to attacks from outside the congregation?

[Study Questions]

1, 2. What good example did some Witness travelers provide?

3, 4. (a) How and for how long has violent anger afflicted humans? (b) Could Cain have controlled his anger? Explain.

5, 6. What worldly attitude toward anger might affect us?

 7. What resulted when Simeon and Levi did not control their anger?

 8. What does the account of Simeon and Levi show about the taking of vengeance?

 9. When did David narrowly avoid giving in to anger?

10. Christians should display what attitude regarding vengeance?

11. How did one sister learn to deal with anger?

12. Why can differences between Christians be especially painful?

13. Why and how should we work to overcome differences?

14. How can we combat Satan’s divisive influences?

15. How should we respond to attacks from outside the congregation?

16, 17. What trying situation did one congregation face?

18. How did the brothers respond to provocation, and with what result?

19. What else can promote peaceful relations?

[Picture on page 16]

Simeon and Levi returned—but after giving in to anger

[Pictures on page 18]

Showing kindness can soften the attitude of others