The Beatitudes: A Practical Guide to Overcoming Anger

Attitudes that Conquer Anger

13 min

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus discussed key points of God’s Law. He explained to the people the “spirit of the Law” which dealt with underlying heart attitudes and motives and which went far beyond the “letter of the Law” which was all they had understood until now. He began with the topic of anger:

“Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shall not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire” (Matthew 5:21–22).

However, before this address on the topic of anger and the Law’s deeper meaning, Jesus described eight attributes that receive the blessing of God. These eight attributes—the beatitudes—are attitudes that we should apply to every area of our lives, but they are especially applicable for those who struggle with anger. As we read, study, and meditate on these words of Jesus, noted in Matthew 5:3–12, we can further expound on each attribute by considering two related character qualities that the Lord might have us to grow in. Without these qualities, given by God’s grace and through the believer’s humility, overcoming anger and keeping the spirit of the Law would be impossible.

1. Being Poor in Spirit

Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). The Greek word used here for poor portrays a beggar, one who is destitute of resources. A beggar humbly acknowledges his need and hopes others will have mercy on him. Whatever is given to him is more than he deserves, and he is grateful for it. Two character qualities are foundational for being poor in spirit are humility and gratefulness.

Humility vs. Pride

Humility is acknowledging total dependence on God and seeking His guidance for every decision. It involves learning to reflect the character of Jesus Christ, Who said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:29). This one quality will do more to conquer a spirit of anger than any other, because “only by pride cometh contention” (Proverbs 13:10.)

When we are proud, God brings people or circumstances into our lives to humble us. Instead of recognizing these agents as instruments of God for our good, we tend to react to them as intrusions. Our prideful responses lead to anger.

Our prideful responses lead to anger.

The Apostle James counsels us to not resent the trials and tribulations that crowd into our lives. He wrote: “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing” (James 1:2–4).

The Apostle Peter exhorts us with these words: “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time” (I Peter 5:6). There are practical steps we can take to practice humility before God and others:

  • When people disagree with you, do you disregard their perspective and forcefully argue your position? It takes humility to listen quietly and consider carefully what they have to say.
  • In your spirit, do you tend to cut off those who ignore you? Responding graciously to rudeness requires humility.
  • Do you find it extremely difficult to admit when you are wrong? Admitting your faults and asking for forgiveness are expressions of humility.
  • Do you give your opinions before others ask for them? It’s easy to think we know how to solve another person’s problems, but it takes humility to share advice appropriately.
  • Are you quick to correct others when they make mistakes? Humble yourself by being patient with others. Wait to speak until you understand the situation. Ask others to point out your own blind spots.

Gratefulness vs. Murmuring

Gratefulness is expressing sincere appreciation to God and others for how they have benefited our lives. It involves recognizing that we owe our achievements to the investments that God and others have made in our lives, and thanking them for what they have done. “In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (I Thessalonians 5:18).

Murmuring may be directed toward a leader, but in reality, the complainer is mumbling against God about the things he thought he deserved. The nation of Israel repeatedly murmured against Moses as they journeyed through the wilderness to the Promised Land. The problem with Israel was not that they were concerned about a need but rather that they responded to the need with fear instead of faith.

Instead of crying out to God for help, they whined to Moses and blamed him for their troubles. Instead of recalling God’s miraculous acts of deliverance and provision and trusting Him to demonstrate His power in their present circumstances, they gave in to fear and doubt. (See Exodus 15:23–16:12.) If they had focused on the good gifts God had already given to them and trusted Him to continue to provide, they would have made their requests with a grateful, believing attitude instead of an angry, murmuring one.

2. Mourning Over Sin

Jesus said, “Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). To mourn is to lament and grieve over our sinful condition, to be sorrowful for our transgressions. A person who mourns understands the depth of his personal failures and his great dependence on God’s mercy. His grief over his own sin does not allow him to claim the right to be angry over the offenses of others. A true spirit of mourning actively involves the character qualities of reverence and truthfulness.

Reverence vs. Disrespect

Reverence is an awareness that God is working through the people and events in our lives to develop the character of Jesus Christ in us. This quality allows us to respect His work in us and to respond to Him in faith. The fear of the Lord is closely associated with reverence, and “. . . by the fear of the LORD men depart from evil [including anger and wrath]” (Proverbs 16:6).

The fear of the Lord is the awareness that God sees all that we do, and that He will hold us accountable for our thoughts, motives, words, and actions. This awareness involves a fear of punishment for wrongdoing, a fear of damaging God’s reputation when we do wrong things, and a fear of interrupting our fellowship with the Lord when we sin. The fear of the Lord is foundational to all true success: “By humility and the fear of the LORD are riches, and honour, and life” (Proverbs 22:4).

Truthfulness vs. Deception

Truthfulness earns future trust by accurately reporting past facts. A truthful person recognizes his faults in situations that cause his angry outbursts. He will honestly confront his sin and seek forgiveness from the others involved.

Hiding the truth produces tension, which only contributes to a spirit of anger. On the other hand, truthfulness leading to confession and repentance brings freedom from the guilt and tension that cause a spirit of anger. When we become angry, we should ask ourselves and truthfully answer the following questions:

  • To what degree did I cause this situation?
  • Is my anger a result of past offenses that I have not cleared up?
  • Is God disciplining me for other matters that I have done wrong?

3. Having Meekness of Heart

Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). Meekness is not weakness; rather, it is strength under God’s control. A meek person is a strong, gentle person. Meekness is a fruit of the Spirit. (See Galatians 5:22–23.) A meek attitude toward God recognizes that His work in our lives will accomplish His good purposes. Meekness receives what comes in life with faith, trust, and patience. Meekness involves the character qualities of deference and gentleness.

Deference vs. Rudeness

Practicing deference involves limiting personal freedoms in words, attitudes, or actions in order to not cause offense to others. Deference requires discretion in determining what is appropriate. King Solomon observed, “The discretion of a man deferreth his anger” (Proverbs 19:11). While indulging in anger may bring a moment of satisfaction, often what follows is a lifetime of regret. Deference chooses to forgo personal satisfaction so that others will not be injured.

Gentleness vs. Harshness

Gentleness is showing personal care and concern in meeting the needs of others. When the Apostle James described the characteristics of wisdom, he included gentleness: “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy” (James 3:17). Gentleness seeks to live in peace with others. It responds to weakness with patience. A harsh reaction to weakness can prompt bitterness and hinder others from the growth and learning they could experience through the hardship.

4. Longing for Righteousness

Jesus said, “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled” (Matthew 5:6). Jesus spoke of the importance of righteousness when He said, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33).

To seek after God’s Kingdom and His righteousness is to seek salvation through Christ, Whose perfect righteousness becomes our own through faith when we trust Him as our Savior. (See II Corinthians 5:19–21.) Jesus Christ is the only One Who fulfilled the requirements of God’s Law and thus lived righteously. Only through His righteousness can we approach the Heavenly Father. (See Romans 5:1–2.)

Unresolved anger and wrath are opposite to God’s righteousness: “The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God” (James 1:20). Hungering for righteousness involves the character qualities of wisdom and faith.

Wisdom vs. Foolishness

Wisdom is seeing and responding to life from God’s point of view rather than from our own perspective. A wise person behaves in a way that brings peace, but a foolish person’s attitudes, words, and actions stir up anger and wrath. “. . . Anger resteth in the bosom of fools” (Ecclesiastes 7:9).

A wise person will love the one who rebukes him, but a fool will react to reproofs. (See Proverbs 9:8.) A wise person learns from his mistakes and also from the mistakes of others, while a foolish person fails to see the cause-and-effect relationship between his actions and the reproofs of life. A wise person controls his tongue, but a foolish person speaks whatever is on his mind. (See Proverbs 10:19, 29:11.) A wise person listens to counsel and instruction, but a foolish person despises the instruction of wisdom. (See Proverbs 1:7–9.) Wisdom builds up; foolishness tears down. (See Proverbs 14:1.)

Faith vs. Presumption

Faith is recognizing God’s will for a given situation and acting upon it. Faith involves being persuaded of the truth, relying on it with certainty, and acting with confidence. Faith is one result of believing the promises of God. When we abide in faith, we know that God’s promises are true; therefore, waiting for them to come to pass is not discouraging, and acting on them is natural. Faith in God’s promises helps us endure adversity, affording no cause for anger to form in our hearts.

5. Being Merciful

Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7). To show mercy is to withhold the punishment that an offense deserves. When we show mercy to others, one of the rewards is that mercy will be shown to us. A person who has a spirit of anger over an offense is already punishing the offender for it and, therefore, is not showing mercy.

To show mercy is to withhold the punishment that an offense deserves

A merciful person is ready to forgive an offender. Jesus taught that if someone offends you “seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him” (Luke 17:4).

Mercy should be given in light of justice. Until a person acknowledges both that he was wrong and deserves a just punishment, he will not appreciate any mercy that is extended to him. The character qualities of compassion and forgiveness especially relate to being merciful.

Compassion vs. Indifference

Compassion is responding to a need with a desire and willingness to do whatever is necessary to bring healing. It is more than feeling sorry for someone’s pain; it is feeling pain along with him and doing all that can be done to ease that pain.

A person who makes others angry has his own deep needs, which are evidenced by his offensive actions. A compassionate person sees past these faults to the pain inside. He will then act to help heal those hurts, instead of responding in anger.

Forgiveness vs. Rejection

Forgiveness is clearing the record of those who wrong us and allowing God to love them through us. We are not to seek revenge over our wrongs. God will judge our offenders and use the offenses toward us to benefit our lives, because “all things work together for good to them that love God” (Romans 8:28). When Joseph’s brothers wronged him by selling him as a slave, he could have become very bitter. Instead, he trusted God to work on his behalf. He gained wisdom and grew in maturity. Later he was able to tell his brothers, “Ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good” (Genesis 50:20).

Forgiveness differs from pardon, because pardon requires the jurisdictional authority to release someone from the consequences of the offense. For example, if an offense toward you involves a crime against the state, you do not have the authority to release the offender from the consequences of his actions. You can still forgive him by releasing him emotionally, but pardon must be granted by a higher authority.

The forgiveness we extend to others is based on God’s forgiveness toward us. Seeing the magnitude of our transgressions and the depth of God’s forgiveness toward us equips us to forgive our offenders with understanding and humility. Jesus told a parable about a servant who owed a huge debt and was forgiven of it. But then the forgiven servant confronted a fellow servant who owed him a small debt. Unable to repay the debt, the forgiven servant had the indebted one thrown into prison! When the king heard what this forgiven servant had done, he reinstated the original debt and put him in prison until he paid the entire debt. After Jesus spoke this parable, He said, “So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses” (Matthew 18:35).

6. Maintaining Purity of Heart

Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). This purity of heart is described by the Greek word katharos. It means “clean, pure, clear.” The Apostle James wrote, “Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded” (James 4:8).

Impure motives damage the integrity of a person’s actions and hinder one’s relationships with God and others. The guilt from lust and secret sins increases the tendency to become angry. Only through the cleansing power of Jesus Christ are our hearts made pure: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9). The character qualities of sincerity and virtue relate to being pure in heart.

Sincerity vs. Hypocrisy

Sincerity is eagerness to do what is right, with transparent motives. It involves being genuine, inside and out. The Hebrew word for sincerity means “entire . . . integrity, truth” and has been translated as “without blemish.”

Many people appear to be kind and gentle in public, but they are harsh and cruel when they are at home. This hypocrisy is especially damaging when demonstrated by a father. He severely damages relationships in his family, and he fosters a false perception of God’s nature, which encourages his children to reject God.

Virtue vs. Impurity

Virtue is the moral excellence and purity of spirit that radiate from our lives when we obey God’s Word. One Greek word for virtue is dunamis, which is usually translated in terms that express power and might. A virtuous life is a life of power. A life that is in harmony with the holy standards of God will demonstrate this power.

A person with unresolved anger is hungry for power and uses an angry spirit to get it. A virtuous person desires to honor God and benefit others, and he is given power by the Holy Spirit to do so.

7. Establishing Peace

Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God” (Matthew 5:9). A peacemaker is one who initiates reconciliation between people who are in conflict with each other or who are in conflict with God. Such reconciliation requires God’s wisdom. (See James 3:17–18.)

In order for a person to help others make peace, he must be at peace with God and with others. A peacemaker follows the pattern of Jesus Christ, Who came into the world to make peace between man and God. Therefore, it is fitting that peacemakers are called “children of God.” Discernment and persuasiveness are two character qualities that a peacemaker must have.

Discernment vs. Shortsightedness

Discernment is the ability to distinguish between good and evil in order to make wise decisions. One Greek word for discern is diakrino. It means “to separate thoroughly . . . to withdraw from . . . oppose . . . to discriminate (. . . decide).”

King Solomon asked God for an understanding, discerning heart (see I Kings 3:9), and we would be wise to ask God for such wisdom as well. Discernment comes from understanding what God says is right and wrong in His Word. Acceptance of these truths protects us from the anger and frustration of trying to convince God or others that what is evil is actually good.

By understanding the truth of God’s Word, we will be able to discern the predictable consequences of rebellion against God and His ways. The goal of discernment is to understand why things happen in order to lovingly confront wrongdoing and to bring reconciliation and peace where there is dysfunction.

Persuasiveness vs. Contentiousness

Persuasiveness is convincing others to accept vital truths, which often involves the wise navigation of a conversation around a person’s mental roadblocks. To persuade is to convince by sound reasoning, to guide another person’s thoughts by a sequence of convincing statements. In situations that require a peacemaker, the gift of persuasion is needed to help others see how their wrong attitudes, words, or actions are contributing to the conflict.

8. Rejoicing in Persecution

Jesus said, “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Matthew 5:10–12).

Being willing to suffer for doing what is right and being able to rejoice in the midst of persecution are two important attributes for conquering anger. When we are walking in obedience to God and are advancing His Kingdom, persecution will come as the natural response of those who reject God’s truth. The character qualities of joyfulness and endurance are essential for responding to persecution with faith.

Joyfulness vs. Self-Pity

Joyfulness is a brightness of spirit that comes from fellowship with the Lord. It is an inward delight that results in true happiness and spiritual prosperity. Joy can be experienced even in the midst of sorrow, because it is not dependent on outward circumstances but rather on the inward realities of faith and contentment in Christ.

Scripture explains that all who live Godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. (See II Timothy 3:12.) To rejoice in persecution is opposite of our natural inclination to become angry when we are mistreated. Yet this response is possible when the joy of the Lord is our strength and we consider the long-range benefits of rewards in Heaven (see I Peter 4:12–14).

Endurance vs. Discouragement

Endurance is inward strength that withstands stress in order to accomplish God’s best. It requires patience and longsuffering. A person who has endurance is not quick to demonstrate an angry spirit. Scripture indicates several specific things we are to endure: afflictions (see II Timothy 2:3, 4:5), persecutions, tribulations (see II Thessalonians 1:3–5), grief (see I Peter 2:19), chastening (see Hebrews 12:7), and temptation (see James 1:12).

The Apostle Paul exhorts, “Let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (Galatians 6:9). If we lack endurance and give up, we will become frustrated, angry, or bitter. For those who endure tribulations with joy, Paul writes that there are significant rewards: “We glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us” (Romans 5:3–5).

Applying the beatitudes to our lives and developing the related character qualities through the power of the Holy Spirit are keys to resolving anger. Because of our faith in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit lives within us and transforms our hearts. As He changes us to become more like Christ, then we are able, by His grace, to put away ungodly responses and walk in love. Then and only then will we be able to follow Christ’s example and encouragement to deal not only with our outward actions, but with the deepest matters of our hearts as well.

“And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you. Be ye therefore followers of God as dear children; And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour (Ephesians 4:30–5:2).

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