You've probably seen it before — the pastor is bearing a heavy load; he's under a lot of pressure from a myriad of sources, and he has been for some time. A staff member catches him at a weak moment, rubbing him the wrong way, and bam! He explodes, yelling at the man, unleashing all that pent-up rage and frustration, and reducing the poor soul to a humiliated, quivering heap.
A few minutes later everything is fine, as if nothing ever happened. He might offer a token apology, but everyone knows "that's just his personality." It has happened before, and it will certainly happen again, so everyone just has to learn to get used to it.
When he gets home, the kids are running through the house like wild animals and it grates on him. At the supper table, seven-year-old Danny starts acting like a seven-year-old again, and he carelessly knocks his milk over. This shepherd blows up all over Danny and the rest of his kids, letting them know just how sick he is of all their childishness.
Again, after a few moments everything is fine. Mom has explained to the kids countless times that Daddy really loves them but that he just loses his temper sometimes and yells; that his own family was like that when he was growing up and that's just how he shows emotion.
No big deal, right?
In some segments of our Christian sub-culture we have accepted such behavior as perhaps undesirable, but permissible and certainly not sinful — except that these common responses don't quite line up with God's Word.
A brief review of several key passages demonstrates that God takes a very dim view of such behavior — that it is entirely inconsistent with His nature, commands, and design for His Church.
Indeed, there are times when "righteous anger" is appropriate, but according to God's Word such anger should not lead to sin. The Scriptures place clear parameters around the demonstration of our anger. Let's consider some of these verses together.
Christ and His Kingdom
In Matthew 11:28-29, Jesus said: Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
The Greek word for "gentle" in verse 29 is prause, and it is used synonymously with "meek," "humble," and "considerate." Tragically, our culture does not value these, particularly in leadership. Even more tragic is that many in our evangelical sub-culture do not place a high value on these, particularly in our leaders. Bauder points out that in Classical Greek the word suggested: "a quality shown by friends, while stern harshness may be expected from an enemy." He goes on to say that the concept behind the word was "opposed to unbridled anger, harshness, brutality, and self expression," and that it represented the character traits of "the noble-minded," and "the wise man who remains meek in the face of insults."1
Jesus emulated gentleness. In Matthew 21: 5 we see that He fulfilled Zechariah's prophecy of the Messiah demonstrating His humility by riding on a donkey. In 2 Corinthians 10:1, Paul appealed to his readers on the basis of Jesus' meekness and gentleness.
It should be no surprise, then, that in Matthew 5:5 Jesus indicated gentleness was a priority of His Kingdom and was to be a mark of Kingdom citizens when He said: Blessed are the gentle, because they will inherit the earth.
It makes sense that a gentle King would call His followers to demonstrate His character by embracing this key characteristic of Kingdom citizens. There has been a great deal of emphasis in recent years on the Kingdom, and rightly so, for we are to place a high priority on the Kingdom — but to be consistent calls for us not only to promote the Kingdom from our pulpits, but to develop character and display behavior that is consistent with the King and His Kingdom.
When we blow up at others, we blatantly defy His Kingdom standards and suggest to all who share the experience that we don't truly prioritize the Kingdom and don't really care about what the King commands.
Our Savior and Lord placed a high priority on gentleness, and He expects His followers to behave in a way that reflects Him and His priorities to the world, to our churches, and to our families. When we lose our temper, we cast a false reflection of Him.
The Holy Spirit
In Galatians 5: 19-23, Paul provides a striking contrast between walking in the flesh and walking in the Spirit. Among the characteristics of a person who walks in the flesh are "outbursts of anger." In stark contrast, the "Fruit of the Spirit" includes "peace," "patience," "kindness," "gentleness," and "self-control." A lost temper is totally devoid of all five of these. It is easy (and convenient) to forget that losing our temper is a clear declaration to everyone around that we are out of fellowship with the Lord — that we are walking in the flesh, in sin, rather than in the Spirit. The simple fact is that when we are walking in fellowship with Him, we do not lose our temper.
Here's a sobering thought: the Bible is clear that ongoing sin renders our prayers ineffective (Psalms 66:17-18; Isaiah 1:10-15; 1 Peter 3:7). How many significant church decisions have been made while the Lord was ignoring the pastor's prayers because he was walking in the flesh rather than the Spirit?
Even more alarming, in this passage losing one's temper is equated with such sins as sexual immorality, drunkenness, orgies, idolatry, and witchcraft. Now, just how long would a man last as pastor or leader if people knew he frequently got drunk, was having an affair, or practiced witchcraft? However, we tend to downplay instances of a lost temper, concluding that they are just "no big deal." According to God's Word, it is a big deal.
We brush it off as being "just the way I am," or that it was the "way I was raised," — as if that lessens the sinfulness of the behavior. How many of us would excuse homosexual behavior based on that explanation?
Blowing up all over someone is a direct violation of God's Word. Consider these commands from Scripture:
• I, therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, accepting one another in love (Ephesians 4:1-2).
• All bitterness, anger and wrath, insult and slander must be removed from you, along with all wickedness. And be kind and compassionate to one another (Ephesians 4:31-32).
• Let your gentle spirit be known to all men (Philippians 4:5, NASB).
• Therefore, God's chosen ones, holy and loved, put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience (Colossians 3:12).
• Who is wise and understanding among you? He should show his works by good conduct with wisdom's gentleness (James 3:13).
These are not suggestions or recommendations; they are hard-fast commands. When we lose our temper, we violate virtually every component found in each of these commands. It is impossible to erupt and spew vitriolic verbiage all over staff or family members in a spirit of gentleness, humility, and love. We cannot demonstrate compassion in a fit of rage. Kindness and outbursts of anger are not compatible with each other.
Every time we lose our temper, we disobey God — and if it is an ongoing pattern of behavior for us, we are living in a state of rebellion.
God's Standards for Pastors
God addresses the issue of temper when it comes to pastoral qualifications. Look at what Paul listed in 1 Timothy 3:3: Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money (1 Timothy 3:2-3, NIV).
Notice the emphasis on being "self-controlled," and "not violent, but gentle." Losing our temper violates each of these. If a pastor were found to be involved in an affair or was given to drunkenness, I suspect most of us would agree that according to these verses this man does not meet the qualifications for pastoral ministry. Based on that same scriptural standard, a man who is given to losing his temper does not meet the qualifications for pastoral ministry.
Later in his letter to Timothy, Paul states: Now you, man of God, run from these things; but pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness (1 Timothy 6:11). Here, the Lord places gentleness in the same category as righteousness and godliness. Accordingly, losing our temper would be equated with being unrighteous and ungodly — all of which is inappropriate for a man in Christian leadership.
Paul gives additional support to this emphasis when he says: The Lord's slave must not quarrel, but must be gentle to everyone, able to teach, and patient, instructing his opponents with gentleness. Perhaps God will grant them repentance to know the truth (2 Timothy 2:24-25).
Finally, in his letter to Titus, Paul states: For an overseer, as God's manager, must be blameless, not arrogant, not quick tempered, not addicted to wine, not a bully, not greedy for money, but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, righteous, holy, self-controlled (Titus 1:7-8).
Did you catch that? Paul clearly indicates that a pastor is to be characterized as "not quick tempered," and "self-controlled." Again, these are placed in the same category as being righteous and holy, and losing his temper is on the same level as being addicted to wine — or in other words, an alcoholic. Would a church or evangelical organization permit a practicing alcoholic to continue in a leadership position? Probably not. Why then would we allow someone who regularly loses his temper to continue in such roles? It is so easy to elevate certain "pet" vices and identify them as serious enough to disqualify a person from leadership, but ignore the sinfulness of an uncontrolled temper and the appropriateness of corresponding consequences.
Before I bring this to a conclusion, please understand that these observations have grown from my own former pattern of losing my temper, from researching God's Word on the issue, and from the Lord's dealing with me through the power of His Word and the corresponding conviction of the Holy Spirit. I'm ashamed of the times I have blown up at church members, colleagues, or family members. I have even used the lame excuse at times that mine was a "righteous anger." The Lord showed me that there is nothing righteous about blowing up at someone.
I've even tried to justify my behavior by appealing to the Lord's example of clearing the temple — until I was informed that: 1) Jesus never lost control of His temper (imagine the scene if He had) — He did not have a knee jerk reaction, but rather deliberately, carefully, and effectively executed His plan; 2) He was not confronting His own followers, but those who were enemies of God — those who had corrupted and perverted the holiest of places and were using the things of God for personal gain; and 3) He was driven by His concern for His Father's Kingdom agenda, not because He was tired, annoyed, upset, overwhelmed, or personally attacked. In fact, consider His example when He was attacked (1 Peter 2:23). My own experience has been that when I have lost my temper, it has not corresponded to the Lord's motives or mindset in the temple.
Admittedly, the whole notion that losing your temper could be sinful is entirely foreign and unnatural to some of us — we've never heard that losing one's temper is anything more than an unpleasant personality quirk. And our culture certainly has promoted free expression over the last four decades. But we dare not ignore the truth: according to these passages, losing your temper and blowing up all over someone is nothing less than sin.
There is no doubt that sometimes anger is justified, but anger should never lead to sin (Ephesians 4:26). Sometimes we must confront, but the Scripture is clear that we are to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) and to be gentle in the confrontation, even with those who oppose us (2 Timothy 2:25).
Remember, the Lord has never lost His temper with you or any of His children — His wrath has been reserved for those who ultimately reject Him. Even when He disciplines His children, He extends extraordinary grace and mercy to us. I'm so grateful that the Lord has not treated me as I have treated some of His children.
In recent years we have heard passionate and multiple pleas for the Lord to send revival, but He is clear that repentance is an essential prerequisite to revival. Perhaps if those of us who have struggled with this particular sin would repent, it would help begin the process. Perhaps the Lord in His mercy would begin the healing.
However, make no mistake; if we are not willing to recognize this for what it is — sin — and repent, there is no need to annoy the Father with our passionate prayers for revival (Isaiah 1:10-15). According to God's Word, it would be a waste of time.
1. W. Bauder, "Humility, Meekness," The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Volume 2, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1982), 256, 257
John Revell is editor of SBC LIFE.