Being Slow About Wrath
“Man’s wrath does not produce God’s righteousness.”—Jas. 1:20.
1. Why is there no unrighteousness produced by God’s anger, and how does Jehovah set the example?
ANGER in itself is not evil. The anger of Jehovah is the justifiable reaction of the wholly righteous God against sin, wickedness and all forms of unrighteousness. “Because of the aforesaid things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience.” God’s wrath is completely under the control of his attributes of justice, wisdom, love and power. “Jehovah is slow to anger”—this the prophets Nahum, Joel and Jonah affirm. The psalmist says: “Jehovah is gracious and merciful, slow to anger.” And Jehovah himself gives this description at Exodus 34:6: “Jehovah went passing by before [Moses’] face and declaring: ‘Jehovah, Jehovah, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness.’” Thus Jehovah sets the example in being slow about wrath.—Eph. 5:6; Nah. 1:3; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2, AS; Ps. 145:8.
2. Why is slowness about wrath important for imperfect humans?
2 How fitting, then, that God should require us to be slow about wrath. Explaining why slowness about wrath is especially important for imperfect humans, the inspired writer James said: “For man’s wrath does not produce God’s righteousness.” This is true for many reasons. Man’s anger is often excited without sufficient cause; it often transcends the cause, if any cause really exists. Man’s anger tends to operate without due regard to consequences; hence it inclines one toward all kinds of injuriousness. Human anger often leads to loss of self-control—to stormy rages and violent “fits of anger,” and this is classed among those unrighteous things of which the Bible says: “Those who practice such things will not inherit God’s kingdom.” No, man’s wrath does not lead one to live by the righteous standards set by God.—Jas. 1:20; Gal. 5:20, 21.
3. What is the result of being quick to anger?
3 The Christian witness of Jehovah is therefore keenly interested in being slow about wrath, that he may win the approval of the righteous God. “Jehovah is righteous in all his ways,” and the expression of his wrath is therefore righteous. But when a man acts in anger, he usually does not work out divine righteousness; indeed, he usually does something that he himself will later regret. The divine rule is certain: “The stupid is becoming furious and self-confident. He that is quick to anger will commit foolishness.” It has not escaped our notice that when men and women are quick to anger they usually make fools of themselves. This fact should make a deep impression on us. Not only does the one quick to anger tend to make himself appear foolish, but the result of his actions will be so much foolishness. Those who are quick to anger usually injure others, either by verbal or physical blows. Human anger thus tends to be selfish and injurious.—Ps. 145:17; Prov. 14:16, 17.
4. (a) What is indignation, and who exemplified its proper use? (b) Why is it wise not to be quick in expressing even indignation?
4 Unselfish, righteous anger is called indignation. When one’s conscience has been trained according to the righteous laws of God, it reacts spontaneously against what is wrong or evil in God’s sight. Jesus’ indignation resulted in firm speech and actions that worked out God’s righteousness. (Mark 3:5; John 2:14-17) The righteous anger of Christ Jesus was always under his control, always based on the grounds of truth and righteousness. The indignation of imperfect humans, however, could lead to unrighteousness, if prompted by misunderstanding and false reasoning. While Jesus was in Bethany a woman poured perfumed oil upon his head. “At this there were some expressing indignation among themselves: ‘Why has this waste of the perfumed oil taken place? For this perfumed oil could have been sold for upward of three hundred denarii and been given to the poor!’ And they were feeling great displeasure at her. But Jesus said: ‘Let her alone. Why do you try to make trouble for her? She did a fine deed toward me.’” Jesus went on to explain why their indignation was improperly aroused. So even when it comes to what men call indignation, it is the part of wisdom to be slow in expressing it, by allowing opportunity for all the facts and circumstances to be understood.—Mark 14:3-9.
5. After one comes to a knowledge of God’s truth, what kind of change must he make?
5 Before coming to a knowledge of the divine will, a person is often quick about anger, perhaps given to explosive fits of temper, resulting in filthy speech and violent actions. “We all at one time conducted ourselves in harmony with the desires of our flesh, doing the things the flesh and the thoughts willed.” After one comes to a knowledge of Jehovah’s righteous will, he must make a change. God’s Word commands Christians: “Now really put them all away from you, wrath, anger, injuriousness, abusive speech, and obscene talk out of your mouth.” Note what unrighteousness is closely linked with wrath and anger—“injuriousness, abusive speech, and obscene talk.” How vital to make this change from being quick to anger to being slow to anger!—Eph. 2:3; Col. 3:8.
PUTTING ON THE NEW PERSONALITY
6. (a) Being slow about wrath is part of what basic change that must be made? (b) Why is the new personality not outward character development?
6 Being slow about wrath is part of the identifying mark of what the Bible calls “the new personality.” Describing the change that must be made by those seeking divine approval, the apostle writes: “Put away the old personality which conforms to your former course of conduct and which is being corrupted according to his deceptive desires; but that you should be made new in the force actuating your mind, and should put on the new personality which was created according to God’s will.” So it is God’s will that this change be made. God’s spirit is the force by which one makes his mind over, by which his mind must be actuated. Accurate knowledge of the divine will also plays a key role in effecting this change: “Strip off the old personality with its practices, and clothe yourselves with the new personality which through accurate knowledge is being renewed according to the image of the one who created it.” The “new personality” is not some kind of beautiful-looking mask that one puts on over “the old personality.” No, the “new personality” is not character development in which one develops outwardly sweet manners but inwardly he is still the same “old personality,” the mind not really being renewed according to God’s spirit and the divine will. There is no insincerity or hypocrisy associated with the “new personality.” It is genuine. It is not the “old personality” in disguise. It really shows heart-deep evidence of the fruits of God’s spirit: “The fruitage of the spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, mildness, self-control.”—Eph. 4:22-24; Col. 3:9, 10; Gal. 5:22, 23.
7. How do some worldly persons view the new personality, and why is their understanding wrong?
7 It is not impossible to make the change that God wills. Some persons are skeptical, especially those who are not associating with Jehovah’s witnesses. Many of these persons who have written a theme on the New World society of Jehovah’s witnesses study this matter of conforming one’s mental attitude according to God’s will as a mere beautiful theory. They do not get the spiritual sense, the impulsive force. They do not understand the power of accurate knowledge, the power of God’s spirit, the power of a dedication to God for the doing of his will. The truth about the “new personality” is that it is not a theory; it is not man-made at all. “The new personality,” said Paul, “was created according to God’s will.”—Eph. 4:24.
8. Why is the change to the new personality not impossible, and does God make an exception for those who inherit a temperament that is quick to anger?
8 God’s Word, then, is not written with the idea that a change cannot be made. It is written with the idea that a change can be made and must be made. God does not accept the excuse of a professed Christian who might say: “Why, I have always had a quick temper; it’s my temperament; I can’t change now.” In stating God’s will at Ephesians 4:31, the apostle makes no exception for those whose temperaments make them prone to be quick about wrath. Emphatically he states God’s will: “Let all malicious bitterness and anger and wrath and screaming and abusive speech be taken away from you along with all injuriousness.” So the common belief that the quick and explosive temper is an inherited trait and beyond restraint or change is false. There is abundant evidence that the change can be made. Thousands of persons in the New World society of Jehovah’s witnesses once had quick tempers; today they are “slow about wrath.” They have truly put on the “new personality,” knowing that the Bible is written with the idea, not that we cannot change, but that we can!
9. How does one make the change to the new personality?
9 What must one do to make the change? One must seek accurate knowledge of God’s Word. This requires private study of the Bible. It requires association with those who are doing the divine will and who have put on the “new personality.” By attending congregational meetings of Jehovah’s witnesses, one is continually built up spiritually, enabling one to make constant progress in putting on the “new personality.” True, it takes time to become a new personality, but, by setting the mind to make the necessary changes, one gains God’s approval and help. Pray for God’s spirit to actuate your mind.
10. How does a quick temper affect peace and unity, and why is it vital for those association with the New World society to put on the new personality?
10 Remember, too, that “an enraged man stirs up strife.” On the other hand, “one that is slow to anger quiets down contention.” (Prov. 15:18) Since peace and unity must prevail in Jehovah’s organization, there is no room for those who let their quick tempers stir up trouble and strife among God’s people. If one associating with the New World society persists in allowing his uncontrolled temper to stir up strife, Jehovah’s angels will take action against such offender and remove him from God’s organization. It is a serious matter to resist God’s will and spirit by refusing to put on the “new personality.”
MAN’S WRATH PRODUCES UNRIGHTEOUSNESS
11, 12. Why does God’s Word outlaw quickness about wrath, and how do examples in the Bible and in the newspapers show the wisdom of divine law?
11 In ruling against being quick to wrath, God’s Word roots out the cause of so much injuriousness. By even a casual glance at the newspapers, we observe how human anger readily associates itself with the desire to injure others or to inflict pain on them. Since there is usually a loss of self-control at the same time, what monstrous violence can result from a quick temper! Newspapers often tell about fights and killings caused by quickness about wrath. One newspaper recently told about a young boy who killed his mother “in a fit of rage” because she refused him the use of the telephone. How many murders have been committed in a fit of anger! They are beyond counting. Even husbands and wives, newspapers disclose, not infrequently kill one another, because someone has lost self-control in a fit of anger. The Bible tells how “Cain grew hot with great anger.” The result was the murder of his brother. King Saul hurled a spear at his own son Jonathan. “Saul’s anger grew hot against Jonathan. . . . At that Saul went hurling the spear at him to strike him.” No wonder the Bible outlaws the quick temper and fits of anger and tells Christians to let all anger and wrath be taken away from them with all injuriousness.—Gen. 4:5; 1 Sam. 20:30, 33.
12 Worldly lawmakers make laws against murder, but they do not make laws against “fits of anger.” They do not legislate against quickness about wrath. But God’s law forbids these very things. So divine law gets right down to the root cause of so much injuriousness.
13. How does the law Christ Jesus laid down go beyond the Law of Moses, and what danger arises it one continues angry with his brother?
13 The Law of Moses outlawed murder, but the law that Christ Jesus laid down is much more far reaching: “You heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You must not murder; but whoever commits a murder will be accountable to the court of justice.’ However, I say to you that everyone who continues angry with his brother will be accountable to the court of justice.” (Matt. 5:21, 22) One might have good reason for anger, but if he continues angry with his brother he may sin, since anger too long protracted tends to become revengeful. So God’s Word commands: “Be angry, and yet do not sin; let the sun not set with you in a provoked state, neither allow place for the Devil.” By sleeping upon anger, we nurse it and keep it warm—this gives the Devil a chance, as it were, and we may play into his hands, because “man’s wrath does not produce God’s righteousness.” So not only the quick temper produces unrighteousness but also the one nursing his anger, letting it simmer and turn into revenge or vindictiveness. “Return evil for evil to no one,” says God’s Word. “Do not avenge yourselves, beloved, but yield place to the wrath.”—Eph. 4:26, 27; Jas. 1:20; Rom. 12:17, 19.
14. What false belief exists about the quick temper, and why is this belief false?
14 Many are the mistaken beliefs regarding man’s anger. To give way to an angry temper, for instance, is sometimes believed to be a proof of strength of personality. Thus some persons may believe that an explosive temper is a proof of strength. How foolish! When a person flies into a fit of anger, we say he has lost his temper. He has really lost self-control. How could there be any real power in the absence of self-control? Oh, there is power but it is destructive, ruinous, deadly. A mighty conqueror might capture a city, but without self-control he could bring that city to ruin by some foolish outburst of temper. So what is real strength and might? God’s Word answers: “He that is slow to anger is better than a mighty man, and he that is controlling his spirit than the one capturing a city.” Being slow about wrath is strength—strength greater than that of a mighty warrior. The person who rules his temper is the strong person, not the one who loses his temper. Fits of anger not only displace reason and self-control but turn them out of doors and bolt the door against them. Fits of anger and an angry rage are not to be viewed as strength or indignation.—Prov. 16:32.
15. Why is there a place for indignation, and is the quick-tempered person more indignant than one slow to anger?
15 There is, of course, a place for indignation and firm action based on it, as Jesus took in the case of the money-changers in the temple. (John 2:13-17) There are times when not to be indignant would be wrong and would show a sympathy with the wrong or a lazy fear of the result of opposing it. But just because a person has fits of temper does not mean that he is more indignant than those who are slow to anger. A person with self-control may contain twice as much feeling, but he directs it, like explosions in the cylinder of a gasoline motor, to righteous results.
16. Why must overseers be slow about wrath?
16 Since man’s anger does not bear fruit that is acceptable to God, overseers of God’s people must set the right example. They must be slow about wrath, slow to take offense. The quick temper is a sign of weakness. It is the kind of weakness that disqualifies one from overseer privileges in God’s congregation. One could hardly be trusted as an overseer of Jehovah’s flock if such a person had not learned how to rule his temper. “An overseer must be free from accusation as God’s steward, not self-willed, not prone to wrath, . . . [but] self-controlled.” (Titus 1:7, 8) If an overseer were prone to wrath, he could bring trouble and discord upon a congregation, even ruin. So God’s Word disqualifies those persons who are quick about wrath; they are too weak to be overseers!
17, 18. What belief is there regarding wrathful explosions of temper, and why is it false, both from the spiritual and physical viewpoint?
17 There is a belief that giving full vent to one’s anger is a good way to work off something bad, a good way to release pent-up emotions. This is false. What if some worldly psychiatrists believe that it may be good to blow off steam in this manner? Christians should let God’s Word direct their conduct, not the theories of men. Jehovah’s Word has no good thing to say about those who give full vent to anger, nor does it say that such actions accomplish any good.
18 Even looking at it from the physical standpoint, there is no good arising from fits of anger. Man’s Creator says: “A heart that is joyful does good as a curer, but a spirit that is stricken makes the bones dry.” (Prov. 17:22) A person stricken by the emotions of anger and resentment and revenge is only injuring himself. More and more doctors are learning of this injuriousness. In Your Body and Your Mind Dr. Frank G. Slaughter writes: “Studies by Drs. B. Mittelman and H. G. Wolff showed that in patients with ulcer, resentment and anger caused increased secretion of highly acid gastric juice, marked increase in stomach contractions, and a generalized increase in the flow of blood through the mucous membrane lining of the stomach and duodenum. . . . Since these changes are usually associated with a heightening of ulcer symptoms, resentment thus actually caused acute pain. . . . stomach mucous membrane is delicate and easily injured, and normally is covered with a protective layer of mucus, keeping the stomach lining from being digested by the hydrochloric acid which continually bathes it. In studies of the normal stomach, much of the mucus layer was seen to be washed away when increased acid secretion occurred from emotional causes. Also small hemorrhages and actual breaks in the mucous membrane lining of the stomach and duodenum were common. We have here, then, all the necessary factors to bring about ulceration; if repeated often enough they undoubtedly do just that.”
19. What wisdom have heart experts found in the Bible command: “Let anger alone and leave rage”?
19 But the effects of anger and rage can be far more serious than the harm that may be done to one’s stomach. “A calm heart is the life of the fleshly organism,” says the Bible. (Prov. 14:30) Recently seven heart experts offered advice on how to avoid sudden heart attacks. They advised a calm heart, the avoiding of anger and rage. One of the doctors, Dr. Harry Gold, professor of Clinical Pharmacology at the Cornell University Medical College, said, as reported by the New York Times of December 1, 1955: “We must convince our patients that in rage and anger, when they are endeavoring to kill someone else, they are actually accomplishing just the opposite—they are killing themselves.” These heart experts who warned against anger and rage may have had in mind the case of the famous Scottish surgeon, John Hunter. He had a heart attack that nearly killed him. Being a doctor, he knew the importance of emotions in affecting the heart. When he recovered, he said: “My life is in the hands of any rascal who chooses to annoy and tease me!” He was unable to keep his temper under control, however, and one day he lost control in a fit of rage when contradicted by another doctor; he had a heart attack that killed him. How wise it is to follow the counsel of man’s Creator: “Let anger alone and leave rage; do not show yourself heated up only to do evil”!—Ps. 37:8.
20. How does God’s Word describe the man who gives full vent to his anger, and what danger is there in fellowshiping with such persons?
20 What folly to think that losing self-control in a fit of anger is a good way to work off pent-up emotions! “As a city broken through, without a wall, is the man that has no restraint for his spirit.” (Prov. 25:28) So God’s Word does not agree with those beliefs that a quick temper may sometimes be a proof of strength of personality and that it may be good to release pent-up emotions in a fit of angry temper. Temper explosions do not cleanse the atmosphere; they poison it. The poison may contaminate others, so Jehovah warns: “Do not have companionship with anyone given to anger, and with a man having fits of rage you must not enter in, that you may not get familiar with his paths and certainly take a snare for your soul.”—Prov. 22:24, 25.
21. What is the prime reason for a Christian’s becoming slow about wrath, and how do the Scriptures show this is the course of wisdom?
21 It is not merely to avoid injuring one’s own health that the Christian avoids quickness about wrath. Primarily he is interested in doing the divine will, living according to the righteous principles found in the Holy Scriptures. Though some persons may not be ashamed of their bad tempers and may even be quite proud of them, the true Christian takes the course of wisdom and becomes slow about wrath: “A man of discernment is cool of spirit.” “All his spirit is what a stupid one lets out, but he that is wise keeps it calm to the last.” “He that is slow to anger is abundant in discernment, but one that is impatient is exalting foolishness.”—Prov. 17:27; 29:11; 14:29.
22, 23. (a) Being slow about wrath guards against what tendency? (b) What is needed for curing a quick temper?
22 Being slow about wrath also means being slow about taking offense. This guards against peevishness—undue sensitivity to trifles, annoyance at them far beyond what their real significance warrants. The new personality does not and can not possess an oversensitive spirit, a spirit that is ready to fly into a rage over fancied or real affronts. No, the new personality, created according to God’s will, does not become easily offended: “Do not hurry yourself in your spirit to become offended, for the taking of offense is what rests in the bosom of the stupid ones.” (Eccl. 7:9) If some unkindness really does come our way, we are still at fault in God’s sight if we are swift to take offense, swift to become angry: “The insight of a man certainly slows down his anger, and it is beauty on his part to pass over transgression.”—Prov. 19:11.
23 What, then, is the cure for the quick temper? It is the same remedy as for the ear that is not swift to listen and the tongue that is not slow about speaking. It is this: The firm desire to do God’s will and to have his approval. Such a person will put on the new personality and do his “utmost to be found finally by him spotless and unblemished and in peace.”—2 Pet. 3:14.