Solomon wrote, “A gentle answer turns away wrath” (Proverbs 15:1). Yet sadly those on the Christian Way easily turn down the road to jealousy and anger.
John A. Braun
Road rage is a relatively new term. One expert said that it was coined in 1988. Today the local news frequently carries a story about two drivers enraged and creating danger not only for themselves but also for other drivers.
The apostle Paul never drove a car or truck down a freeway, but he listed “fits of rage” in his list of acts of the flesh. Two additional attitudes—jealousy and selfish ambition—help us see what lies within us all. Paul also knew the fruits of the Spirit—kindness and goodness—that were different and part of the Christian way of life.
Acts of the flesh: Jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition
All three of these acts of the flesh—jealousy, fits of rage, and selfish ambition—flow from the natural sinful tendency within us. Sometimes they lie hidden behind a face of respectability. At other times they erupt into acts that are destructive and sometimes violent.
For example, a driver cuts another driver off, almost or actually creating an accident. Most of us have been in that situation. We feel the sudden surge of anger. We may control the impulse and drive on, still seething. But the urge doesn’t disappear all at once. At times it explodes like a volcano, sending sparks and hot angry retaliation. We don’t even think. We just react as our blood pressure spikes and our sinful natures take over.
We easily see the trouble with road rage. It’s explosive and dangerous. Yet fits of rage also show up in marriages. Ask any police officer about domestic abuse calls. Bruises, broken bones, even gunshot wounds are familiar to police who must calm a fit of domestic rage. Shelters for abused women and children exist because of such fits of rage. Some of those angry outbursts hide behind closed doors and never rise to the level that requires a police report.
There are victims. Children are abused, starved, beaten—not just by fathers and boyfriends, but also by mothers. Sadly, children sometimes are in the middle of a family dispute and are hurt in the crossfire of words, fists, and whatever else is handy to throw. These acts of the flesh are obvious as Paul says (Galatians 5:19), and they are destructive at so many levels. Even if we have escaped the worst of the consequences, we all have felt the anger and rage within. Sometimes we have painfully learned how destructive rage can be.
Jealousy and selfish ambition may hide from public view, but they also lurk in the sinful human heart. They quietly take over, sometimes with just a slight bump of discontent. Shakespeare described jealousy as a green-eyed monster in the Merchant of Venice. His story tells how jealousy can destroy love, distort words, imagine the worst, and bring destruction. Jealousy sours marriages, families, and friendships. It removes contentment not only from the vocabulary but also from the heart. All the while it hides behind that face of respectability while consuming us from within.
Is selfish ambition any different? Maybe a little, but it’s related to jealousy. Perhaps it does not hide as cleverly as jealousy. We should remember that there is nothing wrong with ambition and a desire to achieve. But selfish ambition drives people to action in order to seek an advantage over someone else at all costs. A person’s desire to move ahead can leave wounded and bruised people who have been sacrificed for advancement. The wounded know they have been run over or used, but they are in the rear view mirror of selfish ambition and no longer count. The greatest casualty of selfish ambition is love and concern for others. The same casualty comes in the wake of rage and jealousy. Personal agendas and desires trump love for others.
Fruit of the Spirit: Kindness and goodness
The counterweights to rage, jealousy, and selfish ambition are kindness and goodness. These are created within us by the Holy Spirit. We remain sinners, forgiven, but still retaining our sinful flesh. So the works of the flesh show up in our lives, and at the same time so do the fruits of the Spirit. We are both saints and sinners.
Others, even those that do not know Jesus, are often gentle and good. We should rejoice and give thanks for those qualities no matter where we find them. They contribute to the welfare of our neighborhoods and society. At times they put Christians to shame. Yet our kindness and goodness on the way to heaven has a distinctively Christian characteristic.
What lies behind Christian goodness and kindness? Two things. First, our faith in Jesus has changed us. We know the love Jesus has for us unworthy, angry, jealous, and selfish sinners. We are deeply loved and forgiven. That warms our hearts and changes our attitudes. We see things differently. Second, our attitude has changed so we want to do as Jesus directed. When Jesus was asked which was the greatest commandment, he said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart. . . . The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ ” (Mark 12:30,31). We are familiar with his two commandments and also know his example. We understand his compassion for us and for those who suffer in this world. We know that he did not show rage, jealousy, or selfish ambition while he lived here. We are his disciples here and now and want to be like him. We want our lives to show our compassion, our generosity, and our willingness to do what is right and good for others.
So the Christian Way is a path of kindness and goodness. It is also a way of repentance. We all find it difficult at times to wrestle with and control the acts of the flesh when we feel the strong urge to be angry, jealous, or selfish. Again and again we must repent of our failings, turn toward the mercy of our loving Savior, and resolve to be better disciples.
The works of the flesh erupt so quickly in our marriages, families, and daily lives. It’s no wonder that we learned “the old Adam in us should be drowned by daily contrition and repentance, and that all its evil deeds and desire be put to death. It also means that a new person should daily arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever” (Luther’s Small Catechism, Baptism, The Mean of Baptism for Our Daily Life, Fourth). Note the word “daily.”
We are to be lights in this world and let our good deeds—including our kindness and goodness—be seen so others can give glory not to us but to our heavenly Father (Matthew 5:16). When our light is dimmed by our rage, jealousy, or enmity toward others, Jesus beckons to us embrace the forgiveness we need, to turn away from those acts of the flesh, and to repent, so that we can reignite the light of kindness and goodness on the way to heaven.
This is the fourth article in a six-part series on acts of the flesh and fruits of the Spirit.
Author: John A. Braun
Volume 106, Number 8
Issue: August 2019