Works of the Flesh: Wrath

Let us now turn our attention to the work of the flesh called “wrath” (some versions, like the ASV, use the plural “wraths”) by Paul in Galatians 5:19-20:

Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths, factions, divisions, parties…

The word translated here as “wrath” (in other versions “outbursts of anger” or “fits of anger”) is the Greek word thumos, defined by Thayer as:

1) passion, angry, heat, anger forthwith boiling up and soon subsiding again
2) glow, ardour, the wine of passion, inflaming wine (which either drives the drinker mad or kills him with its strength)

This word is used in Romans 2:8, Ephesians 4:31, and Colossians 3:8 in reference to “wrath:”

But unto them that are factious, and obey not the truth, but obey unrighteousness, shall be wrath and indignation.

Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and railing, be put away from you, with all malice.

But now do ye also put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, railing, shameful speaking out of your mouth.

We may see from the definition of the word itself and its association with such things as “anger, malice, railing, [etc.]” demonstrate that this type of quality ought not even be named amongst Christians. It is a mark of one who is factious, one depraved in mind, and a characteristic of the Gentile world.

Wrath is really a strong form of anger, and we all recognize that we do feel angry from time to time. Lest anyone believe that any form of anger is sinful, Paul commands the following in Ephesians 4:26:

Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath.

Anger is a completely natural feeling; even Jesus at times was angry (Mark 3:5). There is a significant difference, however, between a feeling of anger that is quickly resolved and does not cause one to sin and a feeling of anger left to fester and burn and gives birth to sin.

How can we be angry, and yet not sin? We must remember some key ideas from the Scriptures:

  1. We are to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:39).
  2. We are to work for our neighbor’s good above our own (Romans 15:2).
  3. We all are to have an attitude of humility, serving one another (1 Peter 5:5).
  4. We are to forgive others as we have been forgiven (Matthew 18:23-35).

There will be times when people, even brethren, will say things to us or do things to us that will anger us. If, however, we may remember that we are to love them and to seek their good, and to be humble and ready to forgive, we will avoid any temptation to sin and to stretch out our anger into wrath.

The problem with wrath and anger is in the fact that it leads to significant pain, emotionally and many times physically, for both the angry party and the one who has angered him/her. Many a time this anger and wrath is poured out in the form of words. The Christian, however, is called to tame the tongue and use it properly, as James teaches in James 3:2-12:

For in many things we all stumble. If any stumbleth not in word, the same is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body also. Now if we put the horses’ bridles into their mouths that they may obey us, we turn about their whole body also. Behold, the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by rough winds, are yet turned about by a very small rudder, whither the impulse of the steersman willeth. So the tongue also is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how much wood is kindled by how small a fire! And the tongue is a fire: the world of iniquity among our members is the tongue, which defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the wheel of nature, and is set on fire by hell. For every kind of beasts and birds, of creeping things and things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed by mankind. But the tongue can no man tame; it is a restless evil, it is full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we the Lord and Father; and therewith curse we men, who are made after the likeness of God: out of the same mouth cometh forth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. Doth the fountain send forth from the same opening sweet water and bitter? Can a fig tree, my brethren, yield olives, or a vine figs? Neither can salt water yield sweet.

Mastery of the tongue, along with mastery of emotions (including wrath/anger), are part of the need to “renew the mind” as Paul explains in Romans 12:1-2:

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service. And be not fashioned according to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, and ye may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

There are many times, unfortunately, when Christians allow their anger to get the better of them, and this is condemned by Paul as “wraths,” a “work of the flesh.” We must always remember that we have a higher calling and must treat people differently now than we perhaps might have before we put on Christ. As we mature in the Word, working toward the renewing of our minds, we shall find it easier to remember to love our neighbors and to count everyone higher than ourselves, and any anger we shall feel will fall within the parameters of Ephesians 4:26, anger without sin which is resolved promptly. Let us strive to avoid wraths and work for the peace that is in Christ Jesus.


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