The Root Cause of Violence

by Jeffrey W. Hamilton

For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience, and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them. But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices” (Colossians 3:6-9).

Paul discusses the need to change with the Colossians. He already gave them a list of changes that need to be done in regard to sexual practices (Colossians 3:5) but now he brings up another common problem: sins that revolve around anger. It is a list similar to those found in Ephesians 4:29-31 and I Peter 2:1 but there is an order to Paul’s list in Colossians.

Some of the terms seem confusing because in English the words are synonyms.

Paul begins his list with “anger.” This refers to someone who is so angry that he has lost control and has become violent. Such destructive rage is easily recognized as wrong by Christians and non-Christians alike. Thus, the question should be how we can minimize that level of violence from occurring.

Before we pot boils over, we can see it steaming. Paul’s next term, “wrath” refers to heavy-breathing fierceness. Imagine, if you would, the classic cartoon of some character who is so mad that he is gritting his teeth while huffing and puffing. An example of wrath is found in Luke 4:28-29 when the Jews in Nazareth were so furious by Jesus’ reminder that God did favors to Gentiles over Jews that they were breathing heavily in rage and sought to throw Jesus off a cliff. People with this much hatred no longer think clearly and have little to inhibit them from becoming violent.

Such anger and rage do not spontaneously appear. There is a heart problem that precedes most sins. “Malice” is acting with evil intent. This was the motivation of the Jews when attempting to trap Jesus (Matthew 22:18). Thus, people who already hate someone and wish that person ill will easily act out on their thoughts. “But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes” (I John 2:11).

“Blasphemy” is the wilful vilification of someone with greater authority. Many of the translations use the broader term “slander.” Think about the various riots that break out. Before the uproar, there are almost always stories circulating that some authority figure is doing evil things. Without checking any facts, people begin thinking evil things about the person. Soon they are seething in anger and violence breaks out. You can see this in the riot in Jerusalem against Paul (Acts 21:28-31).

Prior to the slander, you will find people engaged in “trash talk.” Paul lists “abusive language” or “filthy language.” This is when people bad-mouth another person, saying mean and hurtful things. It is empty talk because there is no real content behind what is being said, but it does stir up resentment. People are likely to accept slander about someone they already resent.

But behind all of these are lies. People aren’t interested in discovering the truth. Lies are juicer and more shocking.

It is surprising how often lies are connected to sins of anger.

  • Romans 1:29 - deceit, malice, gossip
  • I Corinthians 5:8 - malice and wickedness versus sincerity and truth
  • Ephesians 4:31 - wrath, anger, clamor, slander, malice
  • I Peter 2:1 - malice, deceit, slander

So how do we keep from getting caught up in violence? The core is to be honest people who check their facts before telling others things that they have heard. Without the fuel of lies, fiery tempers cool. “For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, contention quiets down” (Proverbs 26:20).

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