Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— Phil 3:1-4
Can we be talking about rejoicing in the Lord and calling men “dogs” at the same time? Does not the command to rejoice in the Lord exclude being angry at the same time? Another similar question might be: Is anger ever an appropriate emotion to be expressed in the service of the Lord?
Some might say that Paul was not angry. He was just stating a fact. I don’t think so. You can say, “Those are false teachers and maybe not be angry, but call them “dogs” and not be angry? I don’t think so. The “dog” image he had in mind was not a cuddly puppy but a scavenging predator. It was a contemptuous term used by the Jews to attack the Gentiles. Paul had no problem with getting in the face of those whose teachings and actions threatened God’s people or diminished Christ’s Gospel.
More examples are found in Galatians. To those who slipped into the church adding works to the simple Gospel he would declare, “…let them be eternally condemned!” And, for those who advocated the necessity of being circumcised, he added, “I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!” [Gal 5:12] To the Christians who had been caught up in their heresy he wrote, “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?” [Gal 3:1] Even Peter did not escape Paul’s ire: “When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.” [Gal 2:11]
What about James assertion? He wrote, “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” [James 1:19-20] I would say two things. First, Paul did not condemn anger per se. [See Ephesians 4:26], nor did James. He said be slow to anger. The second thing he said was this: “the anger of man” will not bring about the righteous life God desires.
Years ago a very nice lady who happened to be a psychologist came to me with a book she had written. The name of the book was The Gift of Anger. Her thesis was that anger was a natural emotion that should be exerted freely without guilt. She had been schooled in the pop psychology of her day that holding in anger could be detrimental to a person’s soul so that all anger should always be expressed in some way. She asked me to read her book and give my feedback. I did read it and she came in to discuss my thoughts. I knew how much she had poured her life into the writing of that book so I tried to be very gentle in my words. I told her that there were many good things in her book but that it had one fatal flaw. She looked shocked. “What was it?” she asked. I asked her how she dealt with James when he said that the anger of man does not accomplish the desires of God. She answered sullenly: “That is the one passage in the Bible I could not deal with.”
In the light of what we have seen above, how do we “deal with it?” First, we need some kind of definition of anger. Here is my take. Anger is a normal emotion which arises in us when we perceive something as being an evil threat to our welfare and happiness. “Man’s anger” is totally self-centered. It is a reaction to a perceived wrong that reacts by attacking the enemy with bitter thoughts or actions with intent to hurt or get even without any thought of Christ, redemption, forgiveness, truth or love.
Righteous anger has God’s name and the welfare of humanity clearly in focus. To say that Paul was not angry in defense of himself misses the point. He is angry. It is his emotion. He is angry precisely because he is totally given over to the Gospel of Christ and concerned with the welfare of his people. Paul is angry, but it is directed toward evil that has been allowed to slip into the Church, threatening to steal the precious joy that comes to those “who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh.”
For many, calling somebody a “dog” is hardly a good Christian testimony. These same folk are probably uncomfortable with Jesus calling religious leaders hypocrites [Matt. 22:18], blind [Matt.15:14] wolves [Matt 7:15], snakes [Matt. 23:33] and robbers [Matt. 21:13]. In a day when contending for doctrinal truth [Jude 3] is often seen as a divisive and an unnecessary distraction, to get angry about theology seems over the edge. Accommodation and dialogue are far more acceptable than confrontation or contending. “Are we not family? Are we not all brothers? Is not love the governing principle of all that the Church is and does?
Apparently, Paul would say there is more to be said. The Gospel is so precious, the truth of God’s Word is so precise, the purity of the Church is so necessary, the Enemy’s schemes are so subtle, the effects of his lies are so evil, that he determined that drastic acts and caustic words are appropriate in times of great danger.
A few years ago, I read in one of my denomination’s publications a statement by one of our leaders that I found absolutely shocking. He affirmed that sanctification was God’s provision for the hurts of the past. I immediately identified this statement as heresy. It was another example of how unbiblical theories of psychology can sneak into the very center of the church without detection. So, I wrote to my denominational head. I pointed out that sanctification has nothing to do with the hurts others had inflicted upon us. It had everything to do with what we have done against God and how He, by his grace, was changing us from rebels to saints.
He later informed me that he had referred my concern to The Committee for Doctrinal Purity. In a few months, I received a letter from its chairman, a man whose father was friends with my father, years ago. He wrote that if the author, one of our most distinguished psychologists, actually meant what he wrote he probably was technically wrong in what he asserted. Then he addressed me and said something like this: “You know my father and your father were good friends. They would never allow any division to cause a breakdown in their fellowship.”
First, he apparently did not know my father’s love for the Bible or his devotion to its truth. If Dad saw something happening in the church that was obviously in conflict with what God’s Word affirmed, he would be all over it. Second, he missed my motive and intent for writing. I was not writing to hurt or break fellowship with this brother. He had made a public statement that was blatantly false and detrimental to the life of the Church. I was seeking a public correction to that dangerous and false assertion.
I know some of you are thinking: “Gary, you need to get a grip, chill out. You need to judge your heart. You are taking this too personal.” You are absolutely correct in bringing this up. I do need to judge my attitude. If it is prideful, seeking to win points over a rival, I need to repent. But, if God’s truth is precise and precious, for me to overlook teachings that take away from the glory of Jesus Christ and the welfare of his church I would be derelict in duty. The joy of the Lord is so valuable, that it demands that we protect it, contend for it and even get radical because we love it.
So here is a question for you. When was the last time you saw an evil so great or heard a teaching so false, that you became angry? It caused you to speak out, forcefully and directly against those who were promoting it? Here is the real question. Do we love the Gospel of Jesus and the truth of his Word so much that we publicly fight for it, even if we are labeled as divisive or intolerant by our contemporaries? We are called to “contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” [Jude 3], not because we are cantankerous or love to fight, but because we are consumed and love the Truth. Yes, we must judge our motives. Yes, we must choose our words wisely. Yes, we must love the offending brother or sister. But, fear of controversy or loss of face should never keep us from standing for truth. The joy that is ours in Christ is too precious for us to remain silent and safe.