Our God is emotional, he has made us as emotional beings, sin has affected our emotions and being born again begins a process of changing our emotions.
Our God is emotional
The greatest of God’s emotions is love. The apostle John simply says that ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:8). He did not make us because he needed someone to love because for all eternity he has existed in the perfect love shared between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Yet, in wonderful grace, he chooses to love those he has created and invited people to experience his family love.
At weddings, I often quote Isaiah 62:5: ‘As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.’ I invite people to observe the groom, walking out of that building looking like the cat that got the cream, and see him as a faint picture of the glorious love that God invites us to experience in relationship with him.
Another wonder verse, that tells us of the magnificent love of God for his people, is found in the prophecy of Zephaniah. ‘The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you, in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing’ (3:17). Many of us look at our flawed lives and find this hard to believe. But God looks at us as a treasured possession in Christ and takes pleasure in us.
Amazingly, God values us so much that our actions can cause him pleasure. The apostle Paul tells the Christians at Philippi that their generosity was an acceptable sacrifice, ‘pleasing to God’ (Philippians 4:18). He reminds the Christians at Thessalonica that he had told them how to live in a manner which pleases God (1 Thess. 4:1).
Of course, we can also displease the God who loves us so deeply. In Ephesians we are warned not to grieve the person of the Holy Spirit, who is especially saddened when there is a lack of forgiveness, kindness and compassion amongst God’s people (Ephesians 4:29-31).
Because our anger is so self-centred, uncontrolled and mean we may find it hard to acknowledge that God is good and angry. The Bible has a lot to say about the perfect anger of God. Brian Borgman writes, ‘Even as God loves justice, so he despises injustice, especially when the injustice is done to the helpless in society’ (see Exodus 22:22-24). J. I. Packer explains, ‘God’s anger in the Bible is never the capricious, self-indulgent, irritable, morally ignoble thing that human anger so often is. It is, instead, a right and necessary reaction to objective moral evil.’
A final example of the emotions of God is his compassion. ‘As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him’ (Ps. 103:3). ‘Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will never forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands …’ (Is. 49:15-16). Apparently, the Hebrew word translated ‘compassion’ in both these verses implies intense feeling and deep tenderness.
We are to put sinful emotions to death
In this life we are involved in an emotional battle. On one hand, we still battle against the desires of the flesh. The works of the flesh include sensuality, envy and sinful anger (Galatians 5:19-21). On the other hand, we now live under the influence of the indwelling person of the Holy Spirit. The fruit of the Holy Spirit includes love, joy, peace and patience (Gal. 5:22). We are called to walk by the Spirit, and then we will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature (Gal. 5:16).
I want us to look at an example of how to put to death sinful emotions and cultivate godly emotions. We are going to think about the emotion of anger.
Sinful anger – ‘You are not just the victim of your upbringing and temperament.’
There is such a thing as righteous anger. When we see the news, with all the suffering that people inflict upon each other, we should feel angry. Righteous anger is concerned with God’s glory and is aroused when things are not as he said they should be. The problem is that most of my anger is concerned with my glory and is aroused when things are not as I want them to be. The apostle Paul has to warn us, ‘in your anger do not sin’ (Eph. 4:26). How do we put sinful anger to death?
We should begin by taking responsibility for our anger. We are very quick to blame external factors. ‘I am angry because no one is listening to me.’ ‘I am angry because the traffic is moving so slowly.’ ‘I blew my fuse because she pushed all the wrong buttons with me.’ But Jesus says that anger does not originate from something outside us, it is from within that evil thoughts flow (Matthew 7:21-23). ‘External circumstances may give occasion for anger to surface, but what comes boiling over the top comes from inside us, not outside of us’ (Borgman).
Sinful anger can reveal how deep our pride is. ‘Where there is strife, there is pride, but wisdom is found in those who take advice’ (Prov. 13:10). The angry person has an exaggerated sense of their own importance, and therefore believes that they should always get their way. The get frustrated, and exclaim, ‘why can’t she just do as I say?’
Sinful anger also reveals our greed. James writes, ‘What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but you do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so your quarrel and fight.’ (James 4:1-2). Anger is often rooted in our deep selfishness and our vain sense of entitlement.
Sinful anger reveals what our idols are. An idol is something that means more to us than God or competes with God for our affections. We know that our outbursts of anger hurt those around us and dishonour the God we say that we love. Yet in our anger we do not care. You may be angry because a sense of control is your idol—you must be in control and will shout at people to get your way. You may be angry because self-importance is your idol—you get enraged when people don’t give you appropriate respect.
In order to overcome our anger we must give up making excuses. The Proverbs tell us that, ‘whoever conceals their sin does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy’ (Proverbs 28:13). Remember that Jesus gives us the power to change. As we keep in step with the Spirit one of aspect of his fruit in our lives is self-control (Gal. 5:22). The apostle Paul tells us to put off anger and put on compassion and kindness (Eph. 4:31-32).
Jesus, our pattern for godly emotions
‘In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form’ (Col. 2:9). Jesus shows us what perfect emotions look like lived out in the most trying of circumstances. Jesus sets the perfect pattern. Christ is in us (Col. 1:27) and Christ is being formed in us (Gal. 4:19).
Jesus gives us a beautiful picture of compassion in action. In the gospels we see Jesus filled with compassion when he saw people in physical distress (Mat. 20:34), who were hungry (Mk. 8:2) or grieving over the death of a loved one (Luke 7:13). In fact, in the gospels there is a word translated ‘compassion’ that is only used of Jesus or people in his parables who reflect his heart, such as the Good Samaritan and the Father of the prodigal.
He also felt pity for those who had spiritual needs. He sees a clueless crowd and has compassion because they were like sheep without a shepherd (Mt. 9:36). He looks over stubborn Jerusalem, who refused to acknowledge him as the Messiah, and laments, ‘How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing’ (Mt. 23:37). ‘It hurt Jesus to hand over lost sinners to their doom’ (Warfield).
Jesus is un-paralleled in his love—both in love towards his Father and people. I marvel at the fact that when he was being crucified he looked down and entrusted his mother to the apostle John—even in the time of his greatest need he was concerned about the needs of others. The apostle Paul promises that God’s love is being poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5). We get angry when people insult us but are apathetic when they dishonour God. Jesus patiently absorbed insults but was angered by injustice and insult to his heavenly Father. Borgman writes, ‘In order for Christlike love to be cultivated in our hearts, we must marinate in his love for us, especially his love demonstrated on the cross.’
Conclusion: ‘What does your anger say about you?’
So, what does your anger say about you? We are quick to focus on the object of our anger, but we would much more progress if we examined ourselves. What idols does our anger reveal? Does it say that we feel we must be in control? Does our anger reveal that we are not walking in the Spirit, and therefore being defeated by the desires of the flesh? Does our anger reveal a heart that is harsh and spiteful? Does our anger suggest that we have an exaggerated sense of our own importance? Does it expose our pride?
Talk responsibility for your anger (stop blaming things outside of yourself), realise that Jesus gives us the power to change, and walk in the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.