"I’m a Redhead. Don’t Make Me Use It" October 27 2018

(Part of BCF’S blog series: “Society, Selflessness, and the Scriptures")

I’m an observer of pithy sayings on tee shirts, bumper stickers, license plates, etc., because it provides a little window into how people think. I saw the redhead quote on a license plate frame while driving to work this week – one of the more creative ones I’ve seen this year.  Having had an aunt who was a very red redhead, I can relate to the redhead quips. We all loved Aunt Heather, and she did not follow the stereotype of having a fiery temper. In fact, there is no evidence out there validating if or why redheads have more fiery dispositions than average, at least not that I found. The same is true with the Irish, who have somehow been labeled with a similar stereotype.

But there is a useful biblical principle to consider here concerning anger, a problem all of us have struggled with, and perhaps the most common problem known to man. It is so easy for anger to come out when things don’t go our way, when we think we are being treated unfairly, or when someone does something to us that we don’t like. Jesus directly addressed the problem of anger and its seriousness in the Sermon on the Mount:

Matthew 5:21-22a – “You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘you shall not commit murder,’ and ‘whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court….”

Jesus was reminding all of us that the way we treat or respond to others verbally is as serious as a physical attack.

How many times have we said or thought something like “that person made me so angry!” What we are basically saying here is that we are justified in our anger because of what the other person did, or because of the circumstance we were facing. We can be tempted to say that it was the fault of the other person or the circumstance, or excuse it away because of a personality trait or even heritage. Or we might minimize it by saying something like “I’ve always had a quick temper.”

Interestingly, Jesus dealt with this issue when He was exposing the Pharisees in Matthew 15:7-11:

You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.”

Then Jesus told the assembled crowds in verse 11:

It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man.

In other words, the Pharisees had their focus completely in the wrong place. Spirituality is not about the rules they had put in place, nor about the foods they said that people could and could not eat. Rather, it is what comes out of the mouth that counts, and we see in verses 18-20 where that comes from:

But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man.

Some people and some circumstances might increase our temptation toward evil thoughts, slanders and so forth, but Jesus is saying that it comes out of our own heart. Our anger does not come out of someone else’s heart. Each person is responsible for his own thoughts, words, and deeds.

Sometimes this is not easy to accept. Other people can be thoughtless, unhelpful, unfair, impatient, lack compassion, be mean, and even cruel. They can test our patience, and thus may tempt us to anger. But it is wonderful to know that no other person or circumstance can make us angry. They cannot force us to sin. This is great hope to know that God gives us the capability of choosing not to become angry. By the way, this does not mean that we have no emotion. We can be in turmoil on the inside, but we can respond in a loving way. We’ll see that in a minute.

For example, think about two people who have been embroiled in a major argument.  They are criticizing, yelling, and slamming doors. Then in the middle of this shouting match, the boss (or pastor) calls. How do they answer the phone? We chuckle at this, because we know how quickly we can get the voice and actions under control when we think we need to protect our image. It is amazing how fast the tone of voice can change, and we can engage in a peaceful, calm conversation. 

This is tremendous hope, because we can see immediately that the Lord gives us the power to overcome anger. When we allow ourselves to demonstrate anger or bitterness, we are placing ourselves under the control of the other person or circumstance and taking ourselves out from under the control of the Holy Spirit. But people also have many questions that come up about anger:

  • Is anger ever justified?
  • Didn’t Jesus become angry?
  • What does it mean in Ephesians 4:26-27 to “be angry and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.”

We don’t have space to deal with these here, but the answers to these questions are all in Lesson 11 of the BCF Self-Confrontation manual and Student Workbook. If you have followed previous blogs, you know that the key to lasting biblical change is to “put off” the old self and its former manner of life and “put on” the new self.  In fact, if you especially focus on the “put on,” the “put off” will be much easier. In the area of anger, the Scriptures provide several specific examples of this. It is not enough to just “stop being angry.” The key is what you put on instead. Ephesians 4:31-32 directly addresses this point:

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice (the put offs). Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you (the put ons).

This is a powerful passage for lasting biblical change in the area of anger, with the emphasis being on the “put ons” and pointing to Jesus as the ultimate example. Instead of giving way to anger, He was was full of tender-heartedness and forgiveness. The BCF Victory Over Failures Plan provides structured worksheets for helping you go through the specific “put offs,” “put ons,” and a specific plan for change. James 1:19-20 covers additional “put offs” and “put ons” related to anger, explained in Lesson 11.

So, you redheads and Irishmen take heart. There is no proof that you are prone to fiery tempers more than anyone else. But even if you were, God’s Word and the Holy Spirt can help you resist the temptation to anger in the same way that He helps the rest of us. Thank the Lord that neither our hair nor our heritage can doom us to a life of anger or separate us from a vibrant walk with Jesus!

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Steve Smith