Studies in Proverbs: Anger

Anger “works”. Anger can get people to conform, get problems resolved, and produce desired results. But, the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God (James 1:20). Dad’s yelling may get the kinds to be quiet, at least when they are little, but it won’t draw them to God or to dad. A wife’s temper may compel her husband to conform to her desires, but it won’t draw her husband to Christ or to her. Anger works in certain ways, but it fails in the important matters. The book of Proverbs tells us why the path of anger leads to failure: anger is a manifestation of foolishness.

Within the book of Proverbs anger is often blatantly paired with foolishness. Chapter fourteen gives several examples of this pairing:

A man of quick temper acts foolishly,
and a man of evil devices is hated. (v. 17)

Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding,
but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly. (v. 29)

There is a contrast between these verses that is key. The one who is “quick-tempered” acts foolishly. He is prone to respond in the heat of the moment, as we say, without thoughtfulness regarding the implications of his actions. He is like a former counselee I had, who in a moment of anger and frustration punched a car window. The window did not break, but his hand did. In contrast, verse 29 says that the man who is “slow to anger” is wise. He doesn’t “blow his top,” but remains controlled and thinks through how he should respond. A quick-temper leads to destructive ends, but a slow and thoughtful anger uses the energy of that emotion to work towards constructive ends. Foolishness and the hot-temper go hand-in-hand.

This foolishness associated with anger plays out in several important ways. For starters, it leads the angry person into constant trouble. Various proverbs talk about the angry and quick-tempered man stirring up strife.

A soft answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger. (15:1)

A hot-tempered man stirs up strife,
but he who is slow to anger quiets contention. (15:18)

A man prone to anger always stirs up trouble. He speaks harsh words, and instead of resolving problems just exacerbates them. He is like fuel to a fire:

As charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire,
so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife. (26:21)

Angry men bring trouble on themselves.

The quick-temper also leads to reckless living. Foolish anger will tempt people to do foolish things, like punch windows. Proverbs highlights a number foolish and impulsive responses by angry people. The angry person is prone to pick fights without cause (3:30), he escalates fights moving from contention to “calling for blows” (18:6). Ultimately, a man who can control his temper is said to be stronger than a man who seizes a city (16:32). Anger will tempt an individual towards impulsivity. We speak of making decisions in the “heat of the moment.” We do this because anger leads to foolishness. So, in anger we say deeply hurtful things, we lash out, we assault others, drive recklessly, or abuse substances. We make decisions we will regret because we have allowed anger to rule us. Impulsivity is a common symptom of foolish and uncontrolled anger.

Proverbs also notes the implications of a man’s anger for those around him. Anger may be a personal problem – that is anger comes from our own hearts (James 4:1-2) – but it has interpersonal implications. Proverbs warn us, then, to avoid the angry person. Don’t befriend him or you might learn to imitate his ways (22:25), instead cast him out of your life wherever possible (22:10). To endure the wrath of a foolish man is weightier than a heavy stone or a mountain of sand (27:3-4).Even trying to correct such an angry fool will result in constant trouble for you. Either the fool will rage at your rebuke, or he will just laugh it off, but the results will be the same: no peace (29:8-10; see also 9:8). We are urged too, not to bail out the angry man but rather let him reap the consequences of his foolishness. If you bail him out, we are told, you’ll only have to do it again and again (19:19). Angry people will heap the woes of their temper onto everyone around them. Damaged relationships is another common feature of uncontrolled anger.

The opposite example of foolish anger is given to us in the New Testament’s picture of perfect wisdom. Jesus has every reason to be angry, but he models humility, patience, and grace towards sinners. So, Peter speaks of imitating Christ’s non-angry response:

21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2:21-24)

Christ did not lash out, he didn’t retaliate. Instead he suffered and entrusted justice to God’s perfect hands and timing. Christ sets a tremendous example for us, and Peter views it as such. He says, “to this you have been called.” We are to follow Christ in His response to mistreatment. How are we to do that? The rest of the passage lays out the gospel foundations of a changed response. He bore our sins that we might “die to sin and live to righteousness.” Those who trust in Christ are freed from the power of sin and are able to grow in gracious and humble responses. We who are believers in and followers of Jesus can respond differently than anger and rage. We are all prone to anger at some level, but Jesus offers all angry people the hope of change! The gospel grants freedom from foolish anger.


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