Genesis 4:1-8.
Changing Anger to Grace

American Journal of Biblical Theology, www.biblicaltheology.com
Copyright 2015, John W. (Jack) Carter     Scripture quotes from KJV


God has a purpose for every one of his created children.  We find one example of God's purpose following the very familiar verse that Paul writes in his letter to the Romans,

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.  For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren (Romans 8:28-29). 

God's purpose is that people would turn to Him in faith, and grow in that faith, becoming more like Christ in their nature and character.  Consequently, as Christians grow in the faith, they should appear less and less like worldly pagans, and more and more like Christ.  Yet Christians are immersed in a world culture that stands against the development of godly virtues.  Where the word of God would lead us to be caring and generous, the world would lead us to first "take care of number-one."  Where the word of God would lead us to be patient and "turn the other cheek," the world would lead us to defend ourselves by taking firm, offensive action.  In recent generations our culture has been largely shaped by images that are portrayed in television and movies that are meant to sell advertising as they entertain us.  How do the actors on movies respond to events that make them angry?  The most common response is to attack with overwhelming weapons and by so doing, exact immediate vengeance, much to the approval of the audience.  Violence is the common theme of the most successful television programs.  Why is it so easy for people to get angry and respond aggressively to that anger?  Self-control is a virtue, as is wisdom.  Responding to stimulus with violent anger requires neither.  With the virtues of self-control and wisdom abandoned by our culture, we witness more and more explosive and deadly demonstrations of anger each year.

In order to avoid being drawn down the slippery slope of decline, Christians must be proactive in maintaining Christ-like character and a Christ-like witness.  One's witness is based upon reputation that is built over time in a lifestyle of consistent integrity.  That witness can be destroyed in a single moment when one compromises their virtue and wisdom in reaction to some event, and one of the quickest ways one can compromise their witness is in a thoughtless outburst of anger.

1.  Anger is a normal, but volatile, emotion.

Anger is a normal emotion that can be channeled in a positive manner when wisdom and self-control are employed in its expression.  We see numerous scriptural examples of anger expressed by God and by Jesus Christ, and in these cases we see the channeling of that anger for a constructive purpose, whether it is to bring loving discipline upon a disobedient nation, or whether it is to drive the money changers out of the temple in order to restore its purpose of worship.   Anger only becomes a problem when it is handled and expressed without wisdom.  When this happens, anger can become a tremendously destructive force that, when expressed can bring great hurt and compromise relationships, and when internalized can lead to an avalanche of descending and destructive emotions.

Unresolved anger prevents a believer from fully becoming what God intends the person to be.  Unresolved anger sucks the peace and joy from the heart of the believer.  Unresolved anger can have a dramatic and negative effect on the relationships we have with one another and with God. 

Anger is a normal emotional response to conflict and can be both destructive or constructive, depending upon our response to it.  What are some destructive ways we respond? We might break relationships, injure and hurt others, or ourselves. 

There are some ways of responding positively to anger.  For example, the emotion can motivate one to make positive changes to the environment of their anger, for example, to defend the defenseless.  Why do some adults refrain from anger while others seem to thrive on it?  Much of the difference is simply an indication of their spiritual maturity.  As previously stated, when one is characterized by a spirit of self-control and wisdom, one responds to anger in a calm and positive way. 

2.  Anger is easily expressed in violence.

We are going to look at some biblical examples and instructions on the subject.  Anger is borne out of conflict.  In many cases, the foundation of anger is personal pride and arrogance, and one becomes angry if that pride is injured.  We see one such example in Genesis 4. 

Genesis 4:1-3.

And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the LORD.  2And she again bare his brother Abel.  And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.  3And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD. 

Adam and Eve bore two sons.  Each was raised in the same environment, yet had dramatically different personalities.  Most parents of multiple children will agree that such variation in personalities among siblings is quite common; it is as if they are "pre-wired" with some basic personality traits.  It is the personality difference in these two that served as the catalyst of the events of the following verses.   The predominant task of the day was agriculture.  Though God had provided for people's needs in the Garden of Eden, they lost that provision when they sinned against God, and he "cast them out" to a land where they would have to raise their own food.  To meet basic needs of food and clothing, it was now necessary that some individuals work the soil and others raise animals.  We see from the first recorded relationship between God and man, that God has required faith and obedience.  "Without faith it is impossible to please God" (Hebrews 11:6).  One way that people show faith and obedience to God is through the giving of offerings.  This was done from the time of Adam.  Since Cain worked the soil, what kind of offering should he bring? An appropriate offering from Cain would be the first fruits from the harvest.   Since Adam worked the flocks, what should Adam bring to God? For Adam, an appropriate offering would be the first fruits from the flocks, perhaps a lamb or other animal that he raised.   Throughout history it has been clear that we are to return to God some of what we have been given in order to acknowledge the true source of those gifts.  At this point we can note that both sons were bringing appropriate offerings to God.

According to this verse, what did Cain bring to God? "Some of the fruits from the soil." As we look at the difference between the sacrifice of Cain and Abel do not lose sight of their respective attitudes.  The more literal translations make it clear that Cain's sacrifice was simply, "some of the fruits." This could be compared with those who bring an offering to the church of "some" of what God has given to us.  There are a lot of people who will place a single dollar in the offering plate, and still do so grudgingly.  Is it the gift or the attitude of the giver that God is looking at? (The attitude of the heart.) Adam presented his gift in a different manner. 

Genesis 4:4. 

And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof.  And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering: 

What did Adam bring? (The fat portions of some of the firstborn.) Our culture has come to disdain fat because we get so much of it in our diets.  In their culture, the fat was the most important part of the meat because they had so little in their diet.  Not only did Adam present the fat, he presented it from the firstborn of the flock.  What does this mean? It is truly a sacrifice, because that firstborn is the first fruit that he needs to preserve his flock.  The firstborn will breed and grow, providing the farmer with more in the future.  It is also the first reward for his labors.  It would be much less risky to offer an old animal that is near the end of its usefulness.  It would also be personally expedient to make sure all of his needs were met before offering the sacrifice.  Consequently, the offering of the first is extremely important as it represents the true faith and love on the part of the believer.  Giving of the firstborn illustrates dependence upon God instead of on the works of his own hands.  How did God respond to Adam's offering? God looked on Adam's offering with favor.  The conflict in this event starts with the next verse. 

Genesis 4:5. 

But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect.  And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell. 

How did God respond to Cain's offering? Without favor.  There are many times in our lives when we do things that others are not pleased about.  If you are trying to please someone and fail to do so, what might be your response? One would probably try to find out what is wrong and correct it.  As we observe the personality of Cain and the scriptural references to him, we find a tremendously different personality than his brother Abel.  Cain did not have the attitude of Adam.  Again, he brought "some" of his fruit, not a first fruit, or any form of true sacrifice.  What was Cain's response? Cain did not ask what was wrong with his sacrifice, and given his response, he probably knew already.  Cain was madly jealous of his brother Abel's faith in God.  Cain did not demonstrate concern over why God did not honor his sacrifice.  He did not attempt to correct the problem.  He simply got very angry. 

It is usually some event that makes us angry.  Anger in response to an event is normal.  It is how we respond to that anger that is important.  How did Cain respond? His face was downcast, a response to rejection.  The New Century version adds more of the Hebrew context of this when it says that Cain "felt rejected."

Genesis 4:6. 

And the LORD said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen?  7If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door.  And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him. 

What was God's response to Cain's anger? He counseled him with reason.  What effect does reason have on someone who is angry or otherwise unreasonable?  It is usually very difficult to reason with one who is not open to reason.  Anger is an emotional, not a rational or reasoning response.  It is very difficult to bring the two together.  When a person is irrational or unreasonable in their emotional response to something, it is difficult to discuss anything rationally or reasonably.  Cain's anger blinded him to God's loving and rational response.  Instead of trying to resolve the conflict the way that God stated, by being obedient, Cain opened the door of sin that God describes here. 

Genesis 4:8. 

And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him. 

How did Cain ultimately respond to his anger? He saw that his offering was upstaged by his little brother, so he killed him.  Cain saw the solution of his anger played out in violence.  It is clear that Cain did not think that this would make his offering acceptable.  Cain simply chose to kill Abel and remove the object of his jealousy.  Some have argued that Cain's offering was rejected because it was of the ground.  When one looks at the context of the verses, it is obvious that it was the hardness of Cain's heart that defiled the offering.  

Anger is motivated by conflict and the nature of its expression is a choice.  Cain chose to kill Abel.  Today many people are choosing to respond to conflict with anger and violence.  There are two dynamics here that must be brought under control.  The first is anger itself, and the second is our response to it. 

Responding to an event in anger is a choice in and of itself.  Often, an angry response is simply a loss of self-control brought on by a self-centered interpretation of an event.  God counseled Cain to respond in obedience instead of in anger.  Can did not have to respond to God's rejection of the offering in anger.  He could have simply asked God what was wrong with the offering, and repented.  By so doing his future offerings could have been worthy. 

What was Jesus' instruction on responding to someone who "strikes your cheek"? To turn the other.  Jesus taught that people of faith best express that faith by carrying the extra garment, and going the extra mile, responding in a way that brings glory to God.  If our initial response is not formed by an expression of anger, those who expect it will be surprised.  Often people will attack us to specifically obtain an angry response.  By making us angry, that person has demonstrated control over us.  By our failing to be angry, we demonstrate an inner power and strength that defeats the purposes of the enemy.  How did Jesus say we should feel about our enemy?  Jesus taught us to love those who would set themselves as enemies, and pray for those who persecute us.

3.  Anger is expressed best with a demonstration of grace.

Was this Cain's response? Can placed the blame for his circumstance on Abel.  Such blame shifting seems to be the norm in today's culture, and a common error among Christians in conflict.  When was the last time you heard a criminal say, "it was my fault"?  How often are Christians ready to admit, "it was my fault"?  Cain is responsible for his own actions, just as each of us are.  When confronted by situations where our anger is inflamed, what is the nature of a response that is consistent with self-control and wisdom?  Anger is best expressed in a demonstration of God's love and grace, necessitating immediate forgiveness and a caring and thoughtful response.  This can be exceedingly difficult when one does not develop a discipline of grace in their lives.

Part of the key to changing the result of our anger involves that word, respond, as opposed to the word, react.  One reacts to a stimulus without thinking.  One reacts to a stimulus with a fight-or-flight act of self-defense.  Reaction is mindless and self-centered.  One responds to a stimulus by assessing the nature of the stimulus and forming the appropriate response after the application of wisdom.  Christians are to demonstrate the wisdom of God in our lives as we also demonstrate self-control.  When we do this, our response to angering stimuli dramatically changes. 

Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath:  (James 1:19). 

It is our duty to hear God's word and apply our minds to understand it, rather than to speak according to our own passion and opinions, or the opinions of others, and run headlong into the heat of the emotion and error that passion creates.  For example David: "I am cut off", or Jonah, "I do well to be angry". 

  1. Instead of blaming God in our trials we should listen to what it is that he is telling us.
  2. The epistle of James  was written to address a variety of sufferings among Christians.  What better tactic to start with than this advice?  If we become slow to anger, much of our penchant for responding to that anger will fade as the fruit of the spirit has an opportunity to be expressed.

For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God (James 1:20). 

A very good reason for suppressing and controlling anger is that when anger takes control, the individual who succumbs to it is acting in an unrighteous manner.  .  God's cause is better served by meekness and mildness than by wrath and fury. 

The words of wise men are heard in quiet more than the cry of him that ruleth among fools (Eccl.  9:17). 

A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger (Proverbs 15:1). 

Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: Neither give place to the devil (Eph 4:26-27). 

There is some good advice in these verses.  We are not to let the sun go down while we are still angry.  Therefore, to maintain anger obediently, all we have to do is stop the sun from setting.  Which is easier to do, stop the sun or control our emotions?  God has given each person the intelligence to deal with situations, and the time to do so.  The instruction is to seek God, and find that solution quickly, and not let the anger be held for long.  Married couples should covenant with one another to hold to this instruction, always resolving any anger engendering conflict before lying down for the night's sleep.  

Once when I was verbally attacked by a colleague in a university faculty meeting, my response was to listen silently to a tirade that continued until the assailant stormed out of the room, red-faced, and shouting obscenities.   Another faculty member was rather astonished at my quiet and calm response that made no reference to this individual's attack and asked me how I was able to maintain my composure.  My question to them was, "Do you really want to know?  Drop by my office after the meeting and I will tell you."  Following that meeting I had the opportunity to share the gospel with that faculty member.  It was not long after this event that I was also given the opportunity to counsel the angry faculty member and help him to rediscover his own faith in God.  Had I reacted to his tirade with anger, none of these opportunities would have been possible. 

What happens if anger is not dealt with in a positive manner, and dealt with quickly? Anger is like an acid.  What can acids do when used correctly? They can act as solvents to clean dirty surfaces.  They are used to fertilize soil.  Likewise anger that is gracefully directed at our own sin can inspire cleansing and spiritual growth.  However anger directed at our own heart is like an acid that burns and eats away, destroying everything it touches.  Anger directed outward destroys relationships at best and motivates us to hurt others at worst.  When left unresolved, anger will continue to drag you down into an avalanche of more pain and suffering.

What do you do when you realize that you are harboring anger? (1) Give it to God.  (2) Confess this sinful form of anger to God, and (3) ask his forgiveness.  (4) Ask for God's help in (a) removing the anger, (b) resolving the conflict if necessary, and (c) finding a way to express the anger in grace.  Often, it is not the situation that needs changing, but rather the way we respond to that situation.  For example, when we share a relationship of agape love with others, we are far more patient with them, and are not so easily angered. 

There are two types of situations that inspire anger: (1) those that we have some control over and (2) those we do not.  When dealing with events we can change, we can seek God's help in converting that anger into a graceful and constructive inspiration for change, either in ourselves or in the situation.  When faced with events that we cannot change, the harboring of anger is foolishness and self-destructive.  In these cases we need to seek God's wisdom in dealing with circumstances that we have no control over. 

Again, anger is like acid.  When applied properly it serves us in many positive ways.  However, if expressed inappropriately, it festers and eats away, producing destruction.  Part of self-control is temperance:  the ability to maintain one's temper.  To lose temper is to lose self-control.  If you find you have a tendency to get angry easily, take this lesson and the example of Cain seriously.  Through the expression of God's love in your heart, the self-control in our spirit, and God's wisdom in your mind, you have all of the resources needed to conquer this sin, and use circumstances that would tempt us to respond in anger to demonstrate the grace and love of God.