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Check Yourself, Before You Wreck Yourself

Wisdom in being slow to anger

Proverbs 14:29-30

29 He who is slow to wrath has great understanding,
But he who is impulsive exalts folly. 

30 A sound heart is life to the body,
But envy is rottenness to the bones.


Do people say that you have a “hair trigger,” or a “short fuse?” Are friends, family, co-workers, and even fellow church members seeming to “walk on eggshells” when you are around? Having a quick temper, or being prone to flashes of anger may serve you well to relieve stress, or express yourself freely, but you are very likely causing harm to people in your relationships. 

And you are causing great harm to yourself, both physically and spiritually. 

Anger is a normal human emotion, and when you express it, you are simply functioning as you were created by God to do. Love, desire, joy, sadness, and even anger, are part of the complete creature that He has designed you to be. However, too much of a good thing, too suddenly achieved, leads to trouble. 

Solomon speaks often of anger in the book of Proverbs. He knows that dealing with anger is one thing, but dealing with a hot temper, or an impatient heart makes it far worse. Like a match encountering gasoline, the flames of a hot temper can burn down the life of one who does not guard his ways.

[Note: despite the above metaphor, Solomon did not, in fact, know about gasoline. Cars in ancient Israel ran on olive oil.] 

Solomon desires that his young pupils grow and develop into mature adults, and to do this they will need to master the burgeoning emotional seas within them to become productive, godly members of God’s kingdom. Here in chapter 14, he reminds them of this:

29 He who is slow to wrath has great understanding,
But he who is impulsive exalts folly.–Proverbs 14:29

This section of chapter 14 is part of a series of sayings illustrating the consequences of actions that lead directly to life or death. Behavior involving honesty, fear of God, impatience, or oppressing others can lead you directly on the path of righteous living, or an eternal death that begins in your heart during this life.

Solomon begins the passage with a descriptive phrase: He who is slow to wrath… The Hebrew here translates literally, “to relax the face,” and paints a picture of one who, although confronted by some rage-inducing issue, nevertheless remains calm and patient. Commentator Bruce Waltke talks of the significance of this kind of patience:

Patient people relax when wronged; with checked emotions, they act according to piety and ethics.–Bruce Waltke, “Proverbs”

What does your face do when you experience that flash of anger? Do you relax, take a deep breath, and perhaps even smile? Or is a reddening face, and a darkening visage a signal that the pressure-cooker within you is about to pop its top? 

This patience is an image of a characteristic of God, who is “slow to anger”  (Numbers 14:18), and patiently “delays his wrath” (Isaiah 48:9) despite the disobedience of His people or great wrongs committed before Him. 

This is not the patience of a snake about to strike, it is the kindness of a loving Father, who sees His children’s sins, but gives them grace to have an opportunity to repent and turn back to righteousness. 

This is who your Heavenly Father is, for He does not wish for you to continue, wallowing in sin. He seeks to allow you to repent and turn back to Him–and He provides His Spirit to enable you to do this. He gives you space to repent. This divine patience is a characteristic that sets you apart as a child of God. Patience,  Waltke says, is in itself godlike and not human. 

Do you give those who wrong you space to repent? It is not natural within you to do this, but as a child of God, you are an object of His fatherly patience, therefore you should show this patience to others. 

Solomon continues in verse 29 with the phrase, “he who is impulsive exalts folly.” A quick temper can take a bad situation and make it worse. Take for example, Jacob’s sons Simeon and Levi. In their desire to avenge the rape of their sister, they committed wanton murder of the whole family clan of the man who had committed the act (Genesis 34). This brought a worse shame on their father, to where he cursed them on his deathbed (Genesis 49:5-7). 

A flash of rage can cause you to thus become angry even at a true injustice, but then it becomes an occasion for you to sin. Do you do this? An insolent look, or insulting comment from a co-worker or acquaintance can be a true act of disrespect or harm–but your sharp response, or overreaction can make a small incident infinitely worse. 

This is common with online activity. A heated political discussion on social media can lead to to engage in intense debate (often in ALL CAPS for shouting), where you will harass strangers to the point of ridiculousness to defend “truth,” or tradition–but resulting not in changed minds, but a ruined evening and high blood pressure.

Solomon cautions of this kind of real consequence of a hot temper in verse 30:  

30 A sound heart is life to the body,
But envy is rottenness to the bones.–Proverbs 14:30

Like a doctor “tut-tutting” your stressful habits, Solomon is telling you that flashes of anger or rage-filled reactions may actually be causing you physical harm. This is like a recent phrase from pop culture, “Check yourself, before you wreck yourself.” Good, and godly advice, as Bruce Waltke explains: 

Inward turmoil from a resentful mind that is self-centered and narcissistic is like bone cancer that rots the framework of the body and shortens a person’s life.–Waltke, “Proverbs”

You have read before of “rottenness in the bones” (Proverbs 12:4) and know of the lasting effects of unchecked sin. A hot temper may allow you free expression but ultimately it is simply the entertainment of your own selfish desires. Even if your temper seems to give you emotional relief, others around you may be undergoing their “bone rot” having to deal with your violent reactions. 

Jesus often had to deal calmly with those whom he encountered that were carried by their anger. From the furious Jewish leaders who sought to kill him, to the “man of the tombs,” the angry demoniac whom Jesus healed.  

James, the brother of Jesus, reminds you of your Savior’s example of self control and as a peacemaker:

19 So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; 20 for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.–James 1:19-20 

James, raised in a community that honored its traditions, doubtless grew up studying the Proverbs himself. As Christians, you and I stand on the shoulders of centuries of good Jewish teachings. The faithful instruction of children in wisdom comes to you in his writing.

He is saying that if you are slow to hear your fellow believers, you might burn with misplaced and even unrighteous anger, with a result of sinning against not only them, but God Himself. Instead, as Solomon puts it in another proverb: 

11 The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger,
And his glory is to overlook a transgression.–Proverbs 19:11

It is your glory–and God’s glory–to overlook the slights and failures of others. Sun Tzu, the 5th century Chinese general, penned a nugget of military wisdom that can prove useful in your own life as you seek to cool a sizzling temper:

The greatest victory is that which requires no battle.–Sun Tzu, “The Art of War”

When you think about it, when you fly off the handle at your wife, shout at your kids in the backseat, or throw a fit because your husband failed (again) to bring home a receipt, you have already lost the war you are seeking to win.

And what war is that? As you seek to do battle with this sinful impulse, you must do a couple of things. First, you should identify the “triggers” that lead you to flashes of anger–and give them to God.

What is eating at you? Is there a lack of forgiveness in your heart for past offenses committed by others? Do you have high expectations that–noble as they are–cannot be realistically achieved by you, or those around you? Do you feel you need others to show you the respect you deserve?

Do you see the language here? “Deserve.” “Expect.” “Forgive.” “Offend.” These are words of self-interest, and not Christ. The late pastor and author Tim Keller has expressed it this way:

Every destructive emotion, not strong emotion, but destructive emotion such as anger comes from forgetting who God is.–Tim Keller, “God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life”

Have you forgotten who God is? Jesus was offended, despised, rejected, and eventually crucified for the sins of those He came to save. He was the personification of what Paul would later write to the Ephesians:  

26 “Be angry, and do not sin”: do not let the sun go down on your wrath–Ephesians 4:26

Your anger, even when correctly aimed, can be almost nuclear in its destructive power–and more often than not, it is aimed in haste and at those whom you should cover in love rather than fury.

And do not think for a second that just because you may be an introvert, and keep that anger inside, that you are off the hook! See verse 30 above for what that can do. I can personally attest to a life of “holding it in” as a “good” Christian man should do–only to see my blood pressure reach the stratosphere. 

No, you and I are called to lay all of this at the foot of the cross. Not only the “triggers” of your rage, but also the root causes. Once you see your need to die daily to self (I Corinthians 15:31), you must look to what may contribute to your sin in deep down, or in the distant past–and put that to death too.

What are the root causes of your fits of rage or flashes of anger? Were you mistreated by a parent? Did you face rejection earlier in life? Did others receive recognition you felt you deserved, or even had properly earned? Are you bullied by a controlling spouse, or feel that your life and career of chasing of “the American Dream” has come to naught?

Things like this are common in our sinful world. However, at the cross you will have peace, even for your stormy heart. Pray, and give those things to Christ. You will know peace that passes all understanding, and like the man of the Gerasenes, you will be “in your right mind” when it comes to dealing with others–not seeing red and losing it.  Christian artist Wayne Watson puts it beautifully this way: 

Lord, in times alone, my heart has known
The quiet words of Your tender love
And Your gentle touch that changes me
Even through the storm, I'm safe and I'm warm
For You have covered me with grace
In Your hiding place I am at peace



The Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay and this Saturday Deep is written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:

The weekly study guides, which include the Monday–Friday devotionals plus related questions for discussion or meditation, are available for download here:

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

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