Kids express their anger in many different ways, but they’re all connected. Join AMBrewster as he works through Ephesians 4:31 to help Christian parents better understand their children’s rage.
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This is part two of our Parenting Angry Children series. If you didn’t catch our last episode, you really need to start there. It lays the groundwork by answering the question why our kids get mad.
Today we’re going to start a discussion about the different kinds of external displays of anger. It will be important to understand the differences and how they relate to each other if we’re going to be able to parent our children to a Christ-honoring response.
But before we do that, I’d like to invite you to rate and review the show. It’s a huge blessing to us, and it helps connect us with Christian parents who are looking for God’s answers for their parenting struggles.
I also want to thank Josh and Heatherly for making today’s episode possible. Their generous gifts allow TeamTLP and I to produce this free parenting content. We are a listener-supported ministry, so anything you can do to help will benefit everyone who listen.
Thank you, Heatherly, and thank you, Josh!
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Okay, let’s see how God describes the various angry responses of our children . . . and — if we’re being humble — how He describes our sinfully angry responses.
My counseling exam from the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors gave me this assignment . . . among others: “Provide a biblical definition of anger. Describe manifestations of anger in both the inner and outer man. Explain the biblical factors that drive anger. Detail several biblical strategies to respond to anger.”
I had the idea for this series months and months ago, but I love how the Lord providentially lead my study by forcing me to grapple with this issue for the counseling exam. I mention that for this reason: I’m not going to read my essay for you, but we are going to approach this question in a similar way. We need to understand the manifestations of anger in both the inner and outer man if we ever hope to help our kids or mature in our own struggle with anger.
And that leads us to our base text for this study, Ephesians 4:31 and 32.
Verse 31 reads, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.”
It’s too easy for lists like to that to wash over our ears when we encounter them in the Bible.
We have to acknowledge that God chose those words on purpose to inform us. He could have just said, “Let all anger be put away from you.” But he didn’t.
So, we’re going to tackle the first three manifestations of anger today and address the last three next time.
On our last episode I mentioned that the biblical understanding of this word is not the deep-seated resentment about which we culturally think when we hear the word bitterness. “Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary” defines it this way, “This word is used in Acts 8:23, metaphorically, of a condition of extreme wickedness; in Romans 3:14, of evil speaking; in Ephesians 4:31, of ‘bitter’ hatred; in Hebrews 12:15, in the same sense, metaphorically, of a root of ‘bitterness,’ producing ‘bitter’ fruit.”
Bitterness is the opposite of righteousness. It’s another way to refer to the cankering nature of wickedness.
But this word doesn’t merely represent a root of anger, it also expresses a manifestation of anger.
I believe the beginning of all forms of anger start with internalized bitterness — wicked thinking.
Yes, left unchecked, this bitterness will eventually produce external bitter fruit, but it all starts with our worldview. Angry actions grow from an angry heart.
Understanding the progression of anger from internal to external and seeing how it morphs from one to the other will help us reverse-engineer our children’s anger and better determine how to help them.
Now, this episode is not so much about learning how to help our kids, that will come later, but I will make a couple observations as we go.
This beginning stage of anger is often difficult to see because it’s all inside. It’s the way our kids think, and it rarely looks “angry.” In fact, it often isn’t necessarily angry. It’s just wicked. It’s Godless. It’s sinful and dark.
But we have to accept that helping our kids address their anger is always going to require that we deal with our child’s worship as exhibited by their belief system.
So, how do we know if there’s a root of bitterness springing up in our children? Well, how else would you discover what someone’s thinking about life?
Here are two fantastic tools for discovering your kids’ minds.
A. Understand that everything they say and do is a revelation of heart.
It’s amazing to me how often everything makes sense after the fact. It’s that way because we now know the destination. We didn’t have to figure anything out. It’s the difference between working through a difficult connect-the-dot puzzle without knowing what the final design should be and being shown up front what the final product will be.
We need to become better investigators and interpreters on the front end. This will require perception and interpretation. I know it’s easier to get lost in your thoughts at the dinner table or while your kids are playing at the park, but if we really put some effort into trying to figure out why our kids do what they do — why they interact or don’t interact with new children, why they listen to that music, why they eat the way they do, why they handle money the way they do — you’ll be surprised how much better you’ll understand your kids.
To this end, you should check out episode 5, “4 Ways to Better Understand Your Child.”
When it comes to knowing our kids better, A. we need to understand that everything our kids say and do is a revelation of heart, and . . .
B. We need to ask questions that elicit heart.
My daughter had a cool opportunity to participate in some free ballet intensives this week. We’re talking about 18 hours over 3 days. She’s never done ballet before, but we believe that new experiences that stretch you are valuable as long as we discover how the Lord can be glorified by them.
Anyway, the dance studio is 45 minutes away from our house. That’s 3 days of travel — 4 and a half hours — together in the car. And half that time she’s just experienced 6 hours of influence from a teacher and the other students.
There is absolutely no end of conversation there. But, left to ourselves, my daughter would easily pass the time by reading quietly in the backseat while I drove in silence. She wouldn’t be deliberately avoiding me, she just really likes to read . . . and I like silence.
But, with only a few deliberate questions, we were able to fill the time with heart-exposing conversation that revealed how she interprets life. It’s so helpful for me as I parent Ivy because I understand how she thinks, and I can often parent issues before they explode because I was able to identify them when they were seed-thoughts and not full-grown fruit-behaviors.
So, bitterness is the root of all anger, and discovering and addressing the sinful thought patterns is an absolute must if we’re going to help our kids.
Wrath is another word that is easy to misunderstand because it’s not often used by our English speaking cultures. And when it is, it sounds archaic.
Well, the Greek word used here refers to fierce indignation — passionate heat that quickly boils up. Wrath describes the quick-tempered response — the explosion that seems to appear from nowhere. It refers to the child who was playing sweetly moments ago, but when her toy was taken, erupted like an ancient volcano.
And often, this same passionate explosion can dissipate as quickly as it appeared.
Now, whether you choose to use the word “wrath” or not doesn’t matter. You could refer to it as a short fuse, hot temper, whatever you want.
It’s definitely terrorist activity for sure. It’s that emotional response that punishes everyone in my vicinity for my personal discomfort. But it does appear to be the most braindead of the anger responses. This is why it can come and go so quickly.
Even though it grows from the root of sinful thinking, it’s wholly an emotional, instinctual response to the present external or internal stimulus. Thought it’s informed by the wickedness of the heart, the connection between the generally sinful ways of living life don’t appear to have anything to do with the present discomfort.
This is why wrath can occur so naturally. It’s why you never had to teach your toddler to blow up when he doesn’t get his way.
We’re all born sinners with an inherent proclivity to sinful self-worship, and wrath is one of the natural outpourings of that belief system that doesn’t require any new knowledge or understanding or a well-thought out plan of action.
The important thing to keep in mind is that — generally speaking — your child’s wrathful response is animalistic in a way. This is extremely revealing.
Sinful short tempers should never be named among Christians. It’s the product of a darkened heart informed by emotional chemicals not submitted to God. If your child seems to respond to nearly every inconvenience with annoyance or aggravation or what most call anger, then there is a significant problem. Christians don’t easily respond to life that way, and they definitely don’t do it with never-changing consistency.
Please allow me to share a focused quote from Colossians 3: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. 5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you . . . 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth . . . seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.”
A born again believer who’s being transformed into the image of God is going to be moving away from uncontrolled explosions. Unrepentant and consistent wrath in a person’s life is a fruit of a life disconnected from Christ.
So, if your child responds that way, you can know right off the bat that — whether they’re born again or not — you’re dealing with someone whose heart is dark enough that their knee-jerk, first response was uncontrolled, unintelligent fury.
And the only way to help our child mature out of that response over the long run will be addressing the bitterness in the heart and training them to respond differently to provocation.
Okay, so the first internal manifestation of anger is bitterness that is the foundational root of everything that follows.
The next is wrath. If bitterness is the gas, unthinking wrath is the explosion that occurs when even the tiniest flame touches it.
By the way, if you’d like to have these notes all filled-out for you, just click on the link below to be taken to our bog for free episode notes and a transcript of the whole show.
And finally, for today, we have 3. Anger.
Now, I know that this is the general term we’re using for this series to describe all manifestations of annoyance and fury and aggravation and temper and rage, but the Greek word used here refers to a unique form of anger.
This word is often used as a counter to the quick flame of wrath to describe a slow, incensed burning. It describes an agitation of the soul, and it’s the word from which we get our English word “ogre.”
An ogre is imagined as being always ill-tempered. He doesn’t just struggle with angry outbursts balanced by times of sweetness, he’s always angry.
Anger is the Incredible Hulk — a continual rage even when he’s not smashing things.
This is insightful because this manifestation can exist internally with little external indication. Have you ever been seething about something but managed to maintain what you thought was a casual exterior?
For this reason it’s important to note that every form of anger later in the list almost always grows from the items earlier in the list. Wrath will spring from bitterness as will anger. And anger is usually a more “mature” form of wrath. Wrath lacks self-control. It’s brainless. And sometimes we view seething anger as being a more gown up response because it appears to have a facade of self-control. But that’s not more mature, that’s actually more toxic.
The toddler may have screamed until he got his toy back, but at least he has no concept of holding a grudge and mulling over that former injustice and imagining how it will probably happen again next time and how he’d better prepare himself.
So, it’s important to be able to tell if that explosion from our child was a quick result of mindless wrath or the slow build-up of broiling anger.
The slow-burn version of rage is more dangerous because it engages the mind in a way that wrath doesn’t. Wrath is a mindless exhibition of their futile heart, but anger dwells, it interprets, it considers, it thinks, it plans.
If your child is an ogre, if they seem to always be angry, you can be sure they’re not merely reacting instinctually from an immature foundation, they’re actually justifying their responses. They’re putting thought into it. They’re legitimizing in their minds how their sinful response is good and right and acceptable.
They’re persuading themselves to remain and function in their bitter, darkened state. For this reason, we could say their anger is more delusional because they’re actually convincing themselves that it’s a right response.
This is one reason Jesus compares anger to murder. Matthew 5:21-22, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”
In the same way that murder is premeditated in act or intention, anger is premeditated as well, and — according to Jesus — is just as wicked.
And God puts a finer point in the premeditated nature of anger in Romans 12:19, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the [anger] of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’”
Our intentioned anger justifies taking our anger out on the person who’s brought discomfort into our lives. That’s called taking God’s job, and it never works.
All anger is justified in the mind of your child. Their anger is a more developed version of the emotionally volatile wrath. All wrath is a product of a sinful worldview. A sinful worldview is a result of being alienated from God. This can be the eternal disconnect of the unbeliever, but it can also refer to the momentary rebellion of a Christian who separates himself from God’s Truth to sacrifice to self.
On our next episode we’re going to see how these three forms of anger grow into clamor, slander, and malice.
And then, Lord willing, on part 4 we’re going to look at how to parent our kids out of anger and into love.
So, to that end, I’ll see you next time.
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