anger

Separating Truth from Emotion

Anger is cruel, and fury is overwhelming,

but who can survive jealousy?

Open criticism is better than unexpressed love.

Wounds made by a friend are intended to help,

but an enemy’s kisses are too much to bear. (Proverbs 27:4-6 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 27:1-16 GW)


It can be hard to separate truth from emotion—whether it’s the emotion of the speaker of truth or the emotion of the hearer. Our human tendency is to react rather than listen and consider what we hear before responding.

Too often, we allow our emotions to drive us but emotions cloud and even corrupt how we hear or say things. And so, the meaning or intention of what’s said is obscured or filtered through the emotions of the speaker or the hearer or both.

The ability to separate emotion from words of truth is a valuable quality. Discernment and discretion are needed to gain this ability. The intention of the book of Proverbs, as made clear in the beginning (Prov 1:1-7), is to help a person gain this ability.

Strong emotions

The first verse of these selected verses in Chapter 27 gives us a sense for why emotions cloud our understanding of what is said by others. Words spoken in anger have an intent to hurt, put down, or belittle a person. The phrase—lashed out in anger—describes the cruel intent of words spoken in anger—like the snap of a whip burning or slicing the skin.

Fury is out of control anger—unrestrained like a flood of water or a raging fire. But jealousy is an irrational and untamed emotion. A combination of hate and love. It’s destructive. This brings the question—who can survive jealousy?

It destroys any relationship with its impact on both the jealous person and the one who’s the focus of the jealousy. As one person put it—jealousy [is] jaundice of the soul. Jealousy is like a disease with trust and truth its only cure.

Understanding the impact and power emotion has on words spoken and heard helps give insight for the other two verses—5-6.

You might wonder—How can open criticism be better than expressed love? One simple observation is the former is known while the latter is hidden. But it’s deeper than that. Love is left unexpressed because of fear or indifference. There may be other reasons for love to remain unexpressed but it’s still an unknown truth.

Criticism—even when it comes across in a harsh manner—is more or less an observation. As a pastor, I’ve heard plenty of criticism over the years. It goes with the work and position. When said, it was often not intended to be beneficial nor expressed in a constructive way. But it was expressed.

Learning to separate truth from emotion

I had to learn to hear it in an objective way. As the expression goes—chew the meat and spit out the bones. It’s hard to extract the truth from criticism or a rebuke or a reprimand unless it’s detached from emotions.

In other words, although hard to do, don’t take it all to heart. If we can learn from criticism and correction, we’ll gain insight and wisdom. If we can’t, we lose an opportunity to grow beyond our self—beyond self-focus, selfishness, self-pity and so on.

This is especially true when it comes from someone close to us—Wounds made by a friend are intended to help.

The last two phrases of the third verse brings Jesus to mind for me. Reading through the gospels it’s hard not to notice Jesus used some strong words with His followers. They get rebuked and reprimanded for spiritual dullness (Matt 15:16) and for missing the point—the greater concern (Matt 16:8-12; Mark 10:13-16).

Jesus can also relate to the second half of the last verse. He was betrayed with a kiss by one of His followers (Judas). Betrayal is similar to jealousy because it’s insidious. It’s indefensible. Not only is betrayal cowardly, a person can’t defend them self or prevent it because it’s secretive and underhanded.

Except Jesus. Jesus knew He would be betrayed and knew His betrayer. He even washed His betrayer’s feet the night He was betrayed. Once again, Jesus shows us He can relate to everything we experience in this life—even flattery and betrayal.

It’s a valuable ability to separate truth from emotion just as Jesus did.

Reflection—

It’s a valuable ability to separate truth from emotion. We need wisdom, self-control, discernment, and discretion not to be ruled by our emotions or someone else’s. The wisdom of Proverbs can be helpful and valuable to gain these qualities and gain this valuable ability.

Prayer Focus—

When you find it difficult to hear criticism or correction, ask God to help you sift through what is said without your emotions or the other person’s emotions clouding what may be helpful insights. Remember, the Lord knows what it’s like to be criticized and betrayed. Trust in Him.

©Word-Strong_2019


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The Infection of Overreaction

Drive out a mocker, and conflict will leave.

Quarreling and abuse will stop.

Do not be a friend of one who has a bad temper, and never keep company with a hothead,

or you will learn his ways and set a trap for yourself. (Proverbs 22:10, 24-25 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 22:1-29 GW)


We live in a world of overreaction. Overreacting is not a new phenomenon. It’s ancient. But social media and the internet provide an environment that superheats overreaction.

The volatility and vitriol spewed out in public view is shocking. Well, it used to be but now it seems to be the norm. I find myself wanting to say, “Ok, everybody…take a deep breath and let’s calm down.” But there would be reactions and overreactions to that too.

Unfortunately, social media provides a platform for expressing opinions and overreaction. It encourages it. It is an outlet for people who might be too timid to say things in other settings. This isn’t an indictment of social media, just an observation.

At first glance, these two verses seem to be admonitions to take action to exclude those who mock and have anger issues. The immediate solution is to eliminate the problem and that is one way to resolve things. But I see something deeper to consider.

What drives the mocker to mock and causes the anger to boil in a person? Why is the influence of the mocker and the person with anger issues so infectious?

These are two different concerns.

First, the influence of those who mock and those with anger issues is infectious. It either pulls us along with its force of emotion or stirs us to react.

The longer we’re exposed to such influences, the more likely we are to be infected by them. This is the warning given—…you will learn his ways and set a trap for yourself.

Sometimes, the only solution is to exclude the one who stirs up strife, arguments, and abuse. When one person influences a group in a destructive way and refuses to change their ways—the good of the whole becomes more important.

This is true for a sports team, a work environment, and within a church community or small group. It can be a drastic step to take but a necessity.

When it’s us

But what if you and I are the mocker or the one who has habitual anger issues? What can we do about it? Especially when we see our influence corrupting others and we are excluded because of it.

This goes back to the question of what drives the mocker or what stirs up the boiling cauldron of rage? The possible reasons are myriad but the means to resolve it are pretty basic.

It requires some honest soul searching. We need to ask ourselves some hard questions like—Why am I so angry about this? Why do I feel compelled to blurt things out?

Honest questions such as these should lead us to search our heart with the Lord’s help. This requires honest prayer, reflection, and a willingness to change.

As we begin to understand the core issue—we need to commit to pursuing change.

When I realize what needs to change, I know I need help to do so. My go-to’s are honest prayer, positive and corrective truth to build on, and God’s help.

At the heart of it all—at least my heart—is the need for self-control. I’m intrigued and thankful that self-control is a fruit of God’s Spirit living in me (Gal 5:23). I’m also glad both Jesus and the Holy Spirit are interceding (praying) on my behalf (Rom 8:27, 34).

This is how I can avoid the infection of overreaction—self-control with the help of God.

Reflection—

Honest questions can lead us to search our heart with the Lord’s help. Honest prayer and reflection can lead to a willingness to change. When we begin to understand what needs to change and consciously move towards making it, we need to rely on the Lords help.

Prayer Focus—

When you pursue significant change in your life, be honest with God in prayer and be open to God’s Spirit working in your life—He’s already praying for you.

©Word-Strong_2019


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True Heroes

Better to get angry slowly than to be a hero.

Better to be even-tempered than to capture a city.

 (Proverbs 16:32 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 16:25-33 GW)


We like heroes and stories about heroes. Perhaps the favorite hero-type is the one who rises up out of obscurity to overcome great odds. Think of all those Rocky movies and a multitude of war films with unsung heroes.

Many heroes are unexpected or unlikely. There were hundreds who stepped into action during the 911 terrorist attacks. Many of their individual stories and the people they helped may never be known.

One hero that stands out in the Bible for many of us is the young shepherd David. He defeats the giant Goliath and later becomes the favored king of Israel.

The stereotype of those whom we consider heroes are men and women who face and overcome great odds in a way that benefits others. These are people we look up to because of their extraordinary actions or character or a combination of both these qualities.

But what if we could all be like heroes or mighty warriors? Is this even possible?

This verse in Proverbs speaks of an inner strength greater than any external strength typically associated with heroes. In fact, some of the heroes people look up to wouldn’t qualify as such because they lack this internal strength of character.

The first conscientious objector to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor was an unlikely hero because of his religious convictions and size. His valor is memorialized in the gory but well done movie, Hacksaw Ridge, and the documentary film, The Conscientious Objector.

Thankfully, these films show Desmond Doss as a man of strong character and values that exceed his wartime exploits. His life and how he handled mistreatment by others is an illustration of what is expressed in this verse.

Being slow to anger is obviously in contrast to being quick-tempered. A person who is quick-tempered is reactive and shows a lack of control over their emotions.

Again, to be even-tempered, or as another version says it— one who “rules his spirit”—shows an internal strength and sense of control over their emotions. This is in stark contrast to those alluded to in preceding verses (Proverbs 16:25-30).

For most of us, this isn’t so natural. Some of us may have a temper that flares up easily and often, while others may only allow their temper to get out of control occasionally. In other words, some of us have more self-control than others.

But our self isn’t so easy to control day in and day out. Certain circumstances and situations, and people, tend to get under our skin and bring the worst out of us. Yes, there are times when anger is an appropriate response to a situation but most of the time it’s not.

Self-control governed by an internal strength—a strength of character and spirit—is the key to being a person who is even-tempered and slow to get angry.

This internal strength of character and spirit is developed when God’s Spirit and His word of truth are at work within us and shaping our character. In another place in the Bible, we see that self-control is the fruit or effect of the Spirit of God living and at work within us (Galatians 5:23).

So, a true hero—someone who is respected and a blessing to others in daily life—is someone who is slow to get angry and even-tempered. Someone of strong character and spirit who draws their strength from the Spirit of God and the truth of God.

They will be a hero in God’s eyes day in and day out, and draw respect from most people, even those who may appear as enemies.

The question is—Will you and I choose to be heroic in this way?

Reflection—

Self-control governed by an internal strength—a strength of character and spirit—is the key to being a person who is even-tempered and slow to get angry. A person who submits their life and emotions to the Lord.

Prayer Focus—

Since self-control is a fruit of God’s Spirit living and working in a person, simply ask God to grant you this each day. Perhaps throughout each day! As you come before the Lord in prayer, ask Him for this and be willing to let Him do His work in you to do so.

©Word-Strong_2018


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The Power of a Gentle Answer

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A gentle answer turns away rage,

but a harsh word stirs up anger.

The tongues of wise people give good expression to knowledge,

but the mouths of fools pour out a flood of stupidity.

The eyes of the Lord are everywhere.

They watch evil people and good people.

A soothing tongue is a tree of life,

but a deceitful tongue breaks the spirit.

 (Proverbs 15:1-4 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 15:1-7 GW)


I don't know about you but I'm fed up with the rancorous political rhetoric and mudslinging that goes on at election time. And it seems to get worse each election!

And the news media, including social media, plays off of it all and ramps it up even more. It doesn't matter what side of the political spectrum you're on—it comes from all sides. If it doesn't bother you too, you're probably caught up in it too much.

All of this rancor and uncivil debate confirms the second line of this verse—

...but a harsh word stirs up anger.

But what about the first line of the verse? How can a gentle answer turn away anger or rage? At first glance, it may seem absurd or naive. But it's true. I've seen how it's true firsthand.

I can get emotional and passionate about what I think is right or when I think I'm right in a heated discussion (aka– argument). My wife and good friends have turned away my anger and rage on more than one occasion. Thankfully!

It's been helpful to me personally but also an example for me to do the same. I'm also thankful I've become less easily angered over time, as the Lord continues to work His grace into my heart and life.

Perhaps this is why I'm bothered by combative talk, especially when one party really isn't hearing or considering what the other is saying.

As said many times before, it's not just what you say but how you say it. So, how can a person do this? How can we learn to give a gentle answer in the face of someone else's wrath?

The first thing is to observe how effective it is when someone else does this. For starters, we can all learn a lot from how Jesus deflected the animosity and opposition aimed at Him.

But how is really more about who—our character. This isn't an encouragement about self-improvement exercises or things to say. It's about an internal change in us—our heart, our nature.

It's about an internal change in us—our heart, our nature

Reading further in this chapter, three verses stand out to me in relation to this first verse—

The tongues of wise people give good expression to knowledge (Prov 15:4a GW)
The lips of wise people spread knowledge (Prov 15:7a GW)
A soothing tongue is a tree of life (Prov 15:4a GW)

The first two verses speak of the character of a person and how they speak and what they say. Wisdom isn't gained by osmosis or by birth—it doesn't just come by being around it. It's gained by taking wisdom in, considering it, understanding it, and then living by it.

The first part of verse 4, the third verse mentioned, is very similar to the first verse. It's a little different in its wording but conveys the same thing—a gentle answer... a soothing tongue. These words have power but are not intimidating.

When you speak gently to a scared animal, it tends to calm them down. Talking loudly and forcefully only reinforces the fear in an animal or a person.

When a baby is crying it doesn't help to yell, "Stop crying!" at the baby. But when you speak in a soothing way with encouraging and comforting words, it helps relieve tension and is reassuring. This is true for a baby, a child, and an adult.

So, when confronted with someone's anger or rage next time, try answering them in a gentle way and speak with a soothing tongue—whether in person or in some form of social media. Choose to lower the tension. Choose the wise way—the godly way.

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:17-18)

Reflection—

If we want to give a gentle answer in response to anger or wrath, we need to embrace the wisdom from above and let it bring a change deep in our soul—our heart and mind.

Prayer Focus—

Ask God daily for His wisdom—it's pure, peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere—so you're able to give a gentle answer in the face of anger or rage.

©Word-Strong_2018


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No Joyful Song

Sadness is a strong emotion. It can crush a heart and overwhelm the mind. Anger is also a powerful emotion. Left unchecked it breeds rage and becomes destructive.

Both these emotions are present in Psalm 137. This psalm is characterized as an imprecatory or curse psalm and expresses the psalmist's thoughts with strong emotive words.