Proverbs is about how letting God be God to us effects every dimension of our lives and, ultimately, makes us wise people. He is a good God who cares, not only about our future, but about how we live and navigate life today. He cares not only about big decisions, but also every day matters, like our emotions. What are emotions? Why is it important to understand them? What do we do with them?
Proverbs is ultimately about how letting God be God to us effects every dimension of life, ultimately, making us wise. He is a good God who cares, not only about our future, but about how we live and navigate life today. He cares not only about big decisions, but also every day matters, like our emotions.
So, we’re going to look at this from three angles:
#1 What are emotions?
#2 Why do we need to understand them?
#3 How do we handle them?
#1 WHAT ARE EMOTIONS?
We have emotions/affections/feelings because we are created in the image of God who experiences emotions/affections/feelings.
Ex 34:6-7 “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty.”
Jesus, for example, was not aloof, apathetic, disinterested, stoic, monotone. Being fully divine and fully man, he expressed emotions perfectly. Many have a wrong view of Jesus as this stoic, irrelevant figure and that, therefore, to become a Christian is to be the same. That’s not true. Let’s look at some ways that Jesus demonstrated his emotions:
Compassion: Looks at rich young man and “loved him” (Mk 10:21); “moved with pity” by the leper (Mk 1:41); “wept” over Lazarus (Jn 11:35); wailed over Jerusalem (Lk 19:41); “sighed” over the deaf man “ (Mk 7:34)
Anger: @ the Pharisees “He looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart” (Mk 3:5); disciples want to send children away, he was irritated (Mk 10:14); offended at death at grave of a friend (Jn 11:33,38); busted up moneychangers in the temple (Jn 2:13-17); bible says he made the whip himself (Jn 2:15)
Rebuked: Called people “dogs” and “pigs” (Mt 7:6); hypocrites (Mt 15:7); “wolves” Mt 7:15
Sorrow: “a man of sorrows” (Is 53:3); “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death” (Mt 26:37,38)
Joy-filled: “for the joy set before him enduring the cross” (Heb 12:2); rejoiced in the Holy Spirit (Lk 10:21); came that our joy may be full (Jn 15:11)
Jesus felt deeply, perfectly. He was involved, interested, noticed. It is what he is like today. So, Christianity is not about pasting on a shallow, plastic smile. Christianity is about feeling deeply, in the most human way possible, like Jesus.
So, if emotions are good and they are one of the ways by which we image God, why do they get so out-of-hand, so negative?
James 1:14,15 “Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death”
“Desire” = “over-desire”. Or, in other words, “emotions on overdrive”. When these “over-desires” are fully grown they bring death. That means if we let them get out of hand, unchecked, not repented of, they bring destruction in a variety of ways in our life. What’s stunning here is that James tells us that these come from within. They feel natural and honest. Pracitcally, this is a healthy dose of reality. Se should never think just because we feel something is natural, honest and easy that it is therefore OK. The Bible tells us that we sin naturally, honestly & easily – but that’s not OK.
St. Augustine famously noted that our biggest problem is our disordered desires/loves. Our emotions are disordered because our loves are disordered. Soren Kierkegaard said something similar in his Sickness unto Death. “God calls every person he has created to live coram deo” (before the face of God). What does that mean? Every human is created, by God, to build your identity on God, justification on God, self-worth on God, center life on God. “But, human begins are offended by invitation b/c they don’t want anyone superior to them.” So instead of living before the face of God, we live before the face of other things – approval, money, career, comfort, control.
Why does this matter. Here’s why. What we’re living for on the outside is a physical manifestation of what we’re living for on the inside. The reality is that we may believe in God, but if God’s love = abstraction = not real, then you’ll look for something else that is. Everyone here is pursuing something, deep down, you believe if you have it then you’ll know ur not a bum. If that thing ≠ God, love of God, relationship with God, knowing that God delights in you by faith in Christ. If that’s not deepest consolation of your heart and highest hope, if its not God that convinces you are not a bum – you will spend rest of life an emotional jungle.
“Christ finds us and receives us as emotional jungles, but he does not turn us into emotional deserts. He cultivates us as emotional gardens, with life and color and order, where our drivenness and compulsiveness and all the rest are redeemed into a holy and beautiful freedom and intensity. That is gospel emotion, given by grace.” Ray Ortlund
#2 WHY DO WE NEED TO UNDERSTAND OUR NEGATIVE EMOTIONS?
Often times we dismiss our negative emotions as “just part of who we are…” We become such close friends with them that we can’t imagine living without them, let alone taking a close look at them and potentially forsaking them. But, do harm to ourselves when we do that. Let’s look at five potentially destructive elements of negative emotions:
#1 Destroy your health.
14:30 A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot.
Medical research shows that negative emotions (anger, envy) are incredibly bad for your body. Nothing sets you up for heart attacks, heart disease, high blood pressure, panic attacks, obesity and more. Psychological turmoil often results in psychosomatic illness. Eats away at you from the inside out.
#2 Destroys your relationships.
15:18 A hot-tempered man stirs up strife…
29:8 Scoffers set a city aflame, but the wise turn away wrath.
27:4 Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy?
Negative emotions will not only rot you from the inside out, but will set your relationships on fire. Negative emotions have a rremendous damaging power.
#3 Destroys your ability to make wise choices.
14:17 A man of quick temper acts foolishly, and a man of evil devices is hated.
14:29 Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.
Anger and negative emotions distort our view of world, ourselves, others and, for that reason, causes us to make foolish choices.
#4 Destroys your ability to see yourself rightly.
19:19 A man of great wrath will pay the penalty, for if you deliver him, you will only have to do it again.
Negative emotiosn are like addictive substances that causes personal blindness and leads us to denial. Negative emotions often hide and justify themselves: ”I’m not angry just…sticking up for my self…getting this off my chest…looking out for justice…I’m very direct…I rock the boat…I tell it like it is…” Inevitably, what happens, is that the more angry you are the more angry you become. Anger begets anger. Then, to keep up the fiction that you haven’t brought about all these negative consequences on yourself, you have to get even more angry at life and others – but never yourself.
#5 Destroys your ability to enjoy your life.
17:1 Better is a dry morsel with quiet than a house full of feasting with strife.
21:19 It is better to live in a desert land than with a quarrelsome and fretful woman.
Turns your life and those around you into survival mode. No joy. No feasting. Just survival mode.
#3 HOW DO WE HANDLE OUR NEGATIVE EMOTIONS?
Let’s look at some of the major negative emotions that the book of Proverbs speaks of:
1:7 “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” (cf 9:10)
29:25 “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.”
28:1 “The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion.”
One of the reasons we don’t fear the Lord enough is that we fear people too much. We fear their disapproval. We get our okayness – not a bum! – from approval of others. But, did you know that in Christ, God fully approves of you? You are his. Not abstractly but really, truly. If you’re in Christ, you are pre-approved by God – every day. No one else can off you that.
Wouldn’t it be great to stop fearing people so much?
Under the fear of man, we’re always performing, hoping for applause to feel good about our lives, consider ourselves successful. We’re constantly on stage to attempting to build enough emotional capital from human applause and attention to get us through the day – and life. But, Proverbs tells us that its a trap. What if people find out what we’re no good? What if we don’t get that applause? What if people stop applausing?
The fear of man is a manmade religion. False-god is human approval. Heaven = spotlight. Hell = bad reviews. Daily devo = keep up appearances. When you live that way you get tired, cynical, depressed, insecure, always looking over your shoulder – with no way out.
The answer: to fear the Lord. To look to God and his opinion is only one finally matter to our hearts. Again, you may believe in God, but if God’s love is an abstraction – not real – you won’t be able to get off stage. You can’t step off the stage of human approval until you see that Jesus is on the stage. The gospel says that his performance, applause, acceptance, approval is all yours – and that is infinitely better than anything or anyone could ever off you. Ever.
With Christ on center stage you can stop fearing exposure, pretending, posing, striving. The more you come to see and grasp these great gospel truths you will begin to say things like:
“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” 73:26
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life…” Ps 23:6
“You have made known to me the path of life, in your presence there is fullness of joy…” Ps 16:11
Anger, Hatred, Fury, Vexation, Temper & Strife
10:12 Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.
19:11 Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.
29:22 A man of wrath stirs up strife, and one given to anger causes much transgression.
16:32 Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.
We feel anger, don’t we? It’s important to know that not all anger is wrong. In fact, closer we get to Jesus the angrier we will get at real evil – holy anger. We need holy anger if we’re going to represent real Jesus to our world today. But, isn’t it hard to sort through? Am I expressing holy or unholy anger right now? Is this anger in me coming up due to the Spirit or my flesh?
Proverbs is clear that we should not explode in anger, not merely pack it down. What does it say? We should be slow to anger. “OK, but what does that mean?” It’s a clue. This would have reminded Jews of God: Ex 34:6-7. i.e. Be angry like God is angry. “How does he get angry?”
Ex 34:6-7 reminds us that we can’t separate out God’s slowness to anger from his other attributes. He is slow to anger but at the same time he is merciful, gracious, forgiving, abounding steadfast love, etc. If you can do that – be angry.
“Wait, what about Eph 4:26”? This is every angry persons life verse: “Be angry” >> “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” So, what’s going on here? 26a = sinless anger + 26b = short-lived = short-lived, sinless-anger = heavy restrictions
Why? So you don’t give the devil any footholds in your life.
Look @ 31-32: “Let ALL bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
Gal 5:20 (“under works of the flesh”) – “enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions”
Mt 5:21-26, 2 Cor 12:20 (“fear I may find you not as I wish…”) – “quarreling, jealousy, anger…”
How does the gospel help us with our anger, moment by moment?
#1) All of the holy anger we deserve from God for our sins has been poured out on Jesus. No one will ever sin against us more than we’ve sinned against Jesus. How could we be angry w/ them when God is no longer with us?
#2) Wrath of God. Jesus is coming again in wrath to punish all evil with terrible finality. He will take care of it. If really believe Christ will come in final judgment, then we don’t need to be anyone’s judge right now.
Jealousy & Envy
27:4 Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy?
14:30 A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot.
23:17 Let not your heart envy sinners, but continue in the fear of the Lord all the day.
Cheer, Joy & Good News
15:15 All the days of the afflicted are evil, but the cheerful of heart has a continual feast.
17:22 A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.
15:30 The light of the eyes rejoices the heart, and good news refreshes the bones.
We’ve been lied to about what it means to be happy. We’ve been told that we’ll be happy when we get perfect little world, perfect little marriage, perfect little kid, perfect little job, perfect little home, perfect little neighborhood – all just the way we like it. It feels true, but its not. Things cannot satisfy us. Only God can deeply, perfectly, eternally satisfy us. What is this feast that Proverbs talks about? Pr15:15 = That feast is the love of God for us in Christ.
When Proverbs talks about “Fear of the Lord “ it is not just talking about thinking right things. Make no mistake, we must think the right things! It is not less than that, but it is more, it is a posture of heart and life before the living God – it sounds something like this:
“Your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you…my soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips…my soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.” Psalm 63
Look. We are not helped by mere concepts and abstract theological categories. But, if theology doesn’t move you deeply, then you don’t really understand theology. Goes beyond knowing about God’s goodness and love to seeing it, tasting it, sensing it. Look at it this way. The gospel heals, redeems, transforms our emotions:
Heals our fear of man because now have the approval of the only one that matters. We are home in Christ.
Heals our anger because he’s radically forgiven us and he’s coming again to make all wrongs right.
Heals our envy because we now see all that we most want, need, hope for are in him. He is the prize.
Trusting Jesus for forgiveness doesn’t not just mean being persuaded you’re off the hook for your sin. It also means increasingly believing – and experiencing – the truth that the living, forgiving God is the most precious reality in the universe. Unless you build your life on that, on Him, you will be eaten up by anger, envy and fear all your life. But, the good news is that you don’t have to. In fact, you can live today. You can give him access to your negative emotions today and say “I’m yours. Please get to work because I’m tired of being on stage.” The gospel tells us that God is ready to receive you. Even right now. That good news refreshes the bones – and the soul – forever.
When People are Big and God is Small, Ed Welch
Running Scared: Fear, Worry and the God of Rest, Ed Welch
Desiring God, John Piper Battling Unbelief, John Piper
Pleasures Evermore: The LIfe-Changing Power of Enjoying God, Sam Storms
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