One of modern day’s worst impacts on us as Christians is the teaching that emotions are a part of life all by themselves and that we aren’t responsible to control our emotions. Even the world is bit by bit starting to realize how faulty this idea is and to recognize that the way to help those with emotional problems is to restructure their thinking.
For us as Christians, our emotional lives (like all of our lives) must be subject to the Word of God. We recognize that our natural emotions are all sinful, born with grossly wicked and self-centered tendencies. Parents must help children to see that all the wicked tendencies of their emotions are derived from Adam via themselves (and therefore they may not be hyper-critical, either). Then parents must help children learn to control their emotions through prayer and application of God’s Word.
Wrong emotional attitudes among us are expressed like these:
“I tell my children to do their best in school…but they don’t have to LIKE SCHOOL!”
“If I don’t enjoy something, I don’t have to do it.”
“I can’t help being the way I am. I have a temper and so that’s that!”
We could make quite a list of similar everyday expressions we use but these are enough to summarize some main areas of erroneous thinking we have. Probably all of us feel all of these ways sometimes, and the expressions are so common we have to make ourselves stop to evaluate them. But are these ideas about our emotions Scriptural? Are they submissive to God?
Rather than letting our emotions control us, we must control our emotions. Don’t misunderstand; surely, “but of course,” emotions are important; surely our tears can be legitimate; but they must be under the control of holiness, not a servant to sin. This control over our emotions is a spiritual and a mental task. We must pray that God will mold our emotions by grace to serve Him. As we study His Word, we must prayerfully allow that Word to teach us what our emotions should be.
Many passages of Scripture teach us emotional values. Were we to make a thorough study of Scripture on the subject, we would scarcely know where to begin. But one place where we can certainly begin is with the Psalms. God’s book of spiritual songs for us throbs with emotions. Just start once from the very beginning and look at the first ten Psalms:
Psalm 1: delight in God’s law
Psalm 2: “serve the LORD with fear”
Psalm 3: “I will not be afraid of 10,000 enemies”
Psalm 4: “Thou hast put gladness in my heart”
Psalm 5: “Let them that love thy name be joyful in thee”
Psalm 6: vexed, grief, weeping due to trouble
Psalm 7: “Arise, O LORD, in thine anger”
Psalm 8: (no emotional words, but the emotion of AWE at God’s works)
Psalm 9: “I will be glad and rejoice in thee”
“Put (the nations) in fear, O LORD”
Psalm 10: “Lord, thou hast heard…the humble.”
We find Scriptures which speak to the emotions of sorrow, of fear (versus faith), of love, of anger, of envy, of covetousness, of humility, of joy, of forgiveness from the heart, of worry, of honoring those in authority…and more. Always, we are called to submit our emotions to God, both our emotions of sorrow due to sin or persecution and our emotions of joy resulting from God’s deliverance. God’s grace can overcome sinful emotions and can strengthen sanctified emotions.
One among many Scriptural passages speaking to the emotions is found in the vibrant fourth chapter of the Epistle to the Philippians. There we have the admonition to “Rejoice in the Lord always…”: rejoicing is a duty, a command from God! There we have the admonition to “Be careful for nothing…”: we are commanded not to indulge in worry! And there we are presented with the tools necessary to obey these commands: (1) prayer; (2) spiritual thinking; and (3) imitation of Paul (who imitates Christ) in our deeds. Paul promises that God will keep us in perfect peace if we thankfully present our requests to God, if we think on those things that are true and pure and virtuous, and if we do the things he does. That means that our emotions must be subject to our thought patterns and to our will through the power of God received in prayer. Philippians 4 should be memorized by us and contemplated often.
Through example and teaching and enforcement, parents must also train their children to control their emotions. Let us take anger as one example. STEP 1: TRAINING BY EXAMPLE. Anger in itself is not always sinful but too often—almost always, in fact—our sinful natures do sin in our anger. When do children see their parents angry? Does every small annoyance, like spilled milk or coats on the floor, upset parents? Is our anger over things that are a personal offense (like a child’s recognition of some sin I commit?) Do our children see us quickly retaliating (husband to wife or wife to neighbor)? Do we hit our children too quickly, thoughtlessly, sometimes undeservedly? Or, by contrast, do we practice self-control over our emotions? Do we take personal offense meekly, quietly? Are we gentle and kind with our children? When we rebuke them, is it with humility rather than rage, acknowledging that we also sin and that discipline is not punishment but love?
STEP 2: TRAINING BY INSTRUCTION. When our children show sinful anger themselves, how do we react? Do we ignore their anger, hoping they will outgrow it someday? Do we show self-righteous indignation as though we ourselves never fall into sin? Or do we rather point them to the Scriptures, to God’s will for our lives? Do we confess that we too, fall into this sin but that God calls us to confess and forsake wrong anger, loving our neighbor, never letting the sun set on our anger, fighting against continued anger through repentance and prayer? We might well teach our children to memorize a key verse or two and to repeat these each time they fall into sinful anger.
STEP 3: TRAINING BY ENFORCEMENT. Training always proceeds as gently as possible: first the gentle word, then the sterner word, then enforcement as it is needed. Enforcement may take various forms depending on the child and the particular cause of his anger; a spanking is not always the answer. Sometimes the rebelliously angry child needs time to be alone first, then to be talked with and then to straighten things out with the object of his anger. Sometimes the child is willfully and deliberately angry without repentance so that the rod used firmly is necessary to bring him to repentance. The one thing that is never right is for the parent to do nothing and to permit the child’s anger to go uncontrolled. The child must be made to confess and forsake his sin in anger…otherwise he is not being trained to submit his emotions and all of his life to God.
Yes, Young People, your parents often fail. We parents are imperfect examples; we often train poorly. We ourselves are constantly in need of God’s chastening hand! How we, first of all, need God’s abundant grace in Christ! We must look to God for His pattern of dealing with us to be guided in our training of our children. As He deals with us in love—by His example, by His Word, by His staff of chastening—so we also must try to deal with our children in love.
When your parents fail, what then? Then your calling may be to remind them in all respect of their calling. If you know you really need the rod, have you ever thought to ASK your parents to apply it? Seek Godliness at all costs, surrendering all areas of life to God as our gracious Sovereign…also in our emotions. “And the God of peace shall be with you.”