Outbursts of Wrath
Steven F. Deaton
There are many sins of which men may be guilty. As you know, some of these are listed in Galatians 5:19-21. Among the sins listed, there are ones people view as "major" and others as "minor." Some believe "uncleanness" and "lewdness" to be minor, while "idolatry" and "sorcery" are major. Yet, God lists them in the same category of works of the flesh. Another sin that is viewed as minor is "outbursts of wrath," though it is listed with "hatred," "envy," and "drunkenness." Nothing could be further from the truth, as we shall see.
The "outbursts of wrath," of Galatians 5:20, is defined as "passion, angry heat....anger forthwith boiling up and soon subsiding again" (Thayer). Vine states that the Greek word "thumos," the root of "outbursts of wrath," means "Hot anger, passion." E. Huxtable, in The Pulpit Commentary, states "wrath" in Galatians 5:20 "denotes violent ebullitions [boilings] of passionate anger." An examination of various uses of this word in the New Testament will further "define" this work of the flesh.
Outside the book of Revelation, thumos appears eight times, including Galatians 5:20; Luke 4:28; Acts 19:28; Romans 2:8; 2 Corinthians 12:20; Ephesians 4:31; Colossians 3:8; and Hebrews 11:27. In all but one of these it is applied to man's unrighteous "hot anger" and "passion." For instance, upon hearing the words of Demetrius and his accusations against Paul, the Bible says the craftsmen "were full of wrath and cried out, saying, 'Great is Diana of the Ephesians'" (Acts 19:28). These people were filled with "angry heat." Remember, it boiled up, then subsided after two hours (Acts 19:34-35). In addition, when Jesus told the Jews of Nazareth the truth about events in their history, they "were filled with wrath, and rose up and thrust Him out of the city; and they led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might through Him over the cliff" (Luke 4:28-29). In Luke 4:22, the people marveled at Jesus, in verse 28 they were in a rage. This is the essence of "outbursts of wrath."
We mentioned above that thumos appears eight times outside the book of Revelation, with all but one referring to man's unrighteous wrath. As with many other words, the context determines its usage. For example, zelos is used in both good (zeal) and bad (envy) senses, depending upon the application (John 2:17; Romans 13:13). So it is with thumos. The other time it is mentioned in Matthew to Jude, is in connection with God's wrath upon sinners. Romans 2:5-9, says that all men will be judged and face "indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish." Seven of the ten times thumos is used in Revelation, it is applied to God's wrath against the unrighteous (14:10, 19; 15:1, 7; 16:1, 19; 19:15). The other three passages refer to the wrath of the devil or man (Revelation 12:12; 14:8; 18:3). Though thumos is applied to God's disposition toward sinners, we want to concentrate upon man's problem with "outbursts of wrath."
Paul told Christians of the first century to "put off" this work of the flesh. "But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth" (Colossians 3:8; cf. Ephesians 4:3). Likewise, he warned the Corinthians not to be guilty of this or they would not like him, his attitude, when he arrived (2 Corinthians 12:20). In other words, "outbursts of wrath" have no place in the life of a Christian.
We should readily see the unholiness of "outbursts of wrath," because of the sins with which it is listed, including idolatry, sorcery, hatred, envy, and drunkenness. This alone should compel a man to rid himself of "hot anger." However, there are other reasons to put off "outbursts of wrath." First, it damages others. Mike Willis observed,
Those who allow their anger to show itself in this fashion explode and then calm down. After their explosion, they generally feel better. Unfortunately, they usually forget about the people whom they hurt during their outburst of angry passion (Truth Commentaries, Galatians).
This problem of harming others in a fit of rage is clearly seen in king Saul and his envy of David (1 Samuel 19:9-11). Saul not only sought to destroy David, but all whom he perceived as standing between him and David. When Jonathan tested Saul's attitude toward David, the Bible says,
...Saul's anger was aroused against Jonathan, and he said to him, "You son of a perverse, rebellious woman! Do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to your own shame and to the shame of your mother's nakedness? For as long as the son of Jesse lives on the earth, you shall not be established, nor your kingdom. Now therefore, send and bring him to me, for he shall surely die." And Jonathan answered Saul his father, and said to him, "Why should he be killed? What has he done?" Then Saul cast a spear at him to kill him, by which Jonathan knew that it was determined by his father to kill David. So Jonathan arose from the table in fierce anger, and ate no food the second day of the month, for he was grieved for David, because his father had treated him shamefully (1 Samuel 20:30-34).
As with Saul, so it is with us, a problem with wrath can lead you to harm not only the object of your wrath, but also anyone who gets in the way. Countless men have hurt their wives and children because of their anger toward another. The devastation is long-lasting as well. Children are scarred for life and will likely have trouble with their tempers as well.
Another reason to put off "outbursts of wrath" is because you will go to hell if you don't. Many people view a rash, hot temper as just a part of life. A person with this problem may say, "This is just the way I am. It is how I deal with a situation. I get it all out and then everything is fine." We noted the fallacy of this reasoning above, but also want to understand that God will not accept this excuse. He calls it a work of the flesh and will punish the one guilty of it. Remember, Paul wrote that those who are guilty of the works of the flesh "will not inherit the kingdom of God" (Galatians 5:21). Since there are only two destinies in the next life, heaven and hell, this necessarily means those guilty of "outbursts of wrath" will go to hell.
"Outbursts of wrath" is a major thing with God, though minor with some men. It is listed as a work of the flesh, along with "idolatry" and "sorcery." For the one who is guilty of it, but comes to a proper understanding of its consequences, he will put it off. The one who does not put it off, will suffer the wrath of God. Therefore, let us not make an excuse for ourselves or others, but put off this work of the flesh.