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You and Your Temper!

By Fred G. Zaspel –


Proverbs 14:17 counsels us, “A man of quick temper acts foolishly, and a man of evil devices is hated” (ESV). This proverb warns of human anger and its results in relation to others, and it does it in a most interesting way. Notice that two men are identified in the verse, along with their distinguishing characteristics, and are then noted in respect to the effect of their actions on those around them. The first man is short tempered, soon angry. In Proverbs 14:29 this same person is described as one who is of a “hasty spirit.” The idea, obviously, is that of one who is impatient, quick-tempered, or as we say, “has a short fuse.” This short-tempered man “acts foolishly,” or “works foolishness” as the KJV renders it. “Foolishness” in Proverbs implies moral more than mental deficiency, and in Proverbs 14:29 it is the opposite of “great understanding” which likewise has moral as well as mental connotations. The “fool” in Proverbs is one who both lacks sense and is generally corrupt.

This first man then, by his quick temper, does things that are senseless and morally wrong. The sense seems to be that of explosive, unpremeditated violence. The proverb does not specify the precise reaction of those around him, but their distaste for him is clearly implied (17b). By his actions the wrathful man displays his own folly (14:29) and so is an unfit companion (22:24-25). He’s the kind of person whose company no one desires.

The second man is identified as “a man of wicked imaginations” or “intentions.” This man is one who, rather than being explosively violent, is one whose anger is not so visible. Rather, he quietly plots and schemes. His expressions of anger are more calculated and so more “hateful.” As the saying goes, he doesn’t get mad — he gets even.

So there are two men here, and both have a problem with anger and revenge. Just as the short-tempered man works foolishness by an anger that is quick and uncalculated; so the man of craftiness, although he displays his anger more subtly, is just as vengeful and contemptible. And so anger may show itself by an uncontrolled spirit which is quick to explode, or it may show itself in cunning and deliberate methods of retaliation. But both are reprehensible and despised.

And notice that neither man is very well liked in the community! In fact, they are disliked. People “hate” them, and do not want them to be around. It doesn’t seem to matter much how you vent your anger — in haste and violence, or by scheming revenge. The effect is about the same — no one will want your company.

The proverb, then, warns of two kinds of anger — the violent, explosive anger of a man with a short temper; and the cold, calculated revenge of an otherwise seemingly mild man. Both are foolish, and both are despised. A man with an easily excited temper is foolish (Prov. 14:17, 29), troublesome (15:18), wicked (21:24, 29:22), and self-destructive (19:19, 25:28).

In contrast to the hot-tempered man is the man with a calm temper, the man who is able to control and even defer his anger (Prov. 19:11). Calmness of temper is a virtue that is both wise (14:29, 19:11) and profitable (15:1, 25:15), and it brings “glory” to a man (19:11) rather than shame and hatred. A calm temper shows a man to be wise (14:29). A quick temper shows a man to be a fool, and that man will be the friend of no one.

Likewise, a man who quietly and carefully devises his method of retaliation is also hated. Indeed, his wrath is more culpable, being due not to weakness but to willingness. Such a man is recognized as evil (Prov. 24:8), is hated by others (14:17) and God (6:18), and will incur condemnation (12:2 14:22). It is true folly.

By contrast, wisdom shows itself in self-restraint (Prov.12:16, 19:11), and such restraint evidences true greatness (16:32). Both kinds of anger are senseless and moral foolishness, and both kinds are hateful. The wisdom which this proverb enjoins is that which brings a man to quell his wrath and live peaceably with all men. We further learn from this proverb our need of Christ and his provision of the Holy Spirit whose it is to work in us self control (Galatians 5:22-23).

 Fred Zaspel holds a Ph.D. in historical theology from the Free University of Amsterdam. He is currently a pastor at the Reformed Baptist Church of Franconia, PA. He is also the interim Senior Pastor at New Hyde Park Baptist Church on New York’s Long Island, and Adjunct Professor of Systematic Theology at Calvary Baptist Seminary in Lansdale, PA. He is also the author of The Continuing Relevance of Divine Law (1991); The Theology of Fulfillment (1994); Jews, Gentiles, & the Goal of Redemptive History (1996); New Covenant Theology with Tom Wells (New Covenant Media); The Theology of B.B. Warfield: A Systematic Summary (Crossway, 2010). Fred is married to Kimberly and they have two grown children, Gina and Jim.

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