I have been reading Devoted to God: Blueprints for Sanctification by Sinclair Ferguson (Banner of Truth, 2016). Among the many things I appreciate about his theology of the Christian life, one page resonated at me for several days. Ferguson helpfully spends chapters on the major biblical passages that teach progressive sanctification.
In chapter 6, “The New Rhythm,” he considers Colossians 3:1-17. Along the way of his discussion of the call to put off the old Adam, and to put on Christ, Ferguson notes that the statement in 3:8 that we are to “put them all aside: anger, wrath…” actually hits our normal functioning more closely than I had realized. Not having studied the passage beyond just reading the English translation, I thought I had more or less lived in line with Paul’s exhortation (at least since I struggled out of the teen years). Wrath (thumos) and anger (orge) also appear in the similar sort of list in Ephesians 4:31. My ignorance let me off the hook of thinking that these passages addressed my ongoing experience today.
According to the very lengthy TDNT article on orge, the LXX used the two terms (thumos and orge) synonymously with little distinction between them. Perhaps Paul’s usage of both terms in the two lists follows that pattern. When used for people in the New Testament, the two terms are “generally interchangeable,” but thumos is more of an outburst. According to Lenski as cited by Ferguson, the better translation for orge in this context is “boiling agitation of the feelings; i.e. ‘exasperation.’”
Ferguson adds to this meaning of the exasperation that we are also to put aside the related reactions of impatience and irritation. This means I am way worse off than I had thought. Other drivers in traffic, the people I live with, my pets, my own mistakes—all are daily causes of exasperation, irritation, and impatience for me. Ferguson then drives the point in more deeply—my frustrations and irritations that I suppress or vent towards people or circumstances are actually directed at God. Ferguson explains (pp. 121-22):
“If all Paul meant was ‘rage’ we might think of others to whom these words apply, but hardly ourselves. But ‘exasperation’? Respectable impatience? Irritations when things go wrong? Surely these cannot be classes as real sin? But this is to remove God from our perspective. For the root cause of impatience and exasperation lies in our response to the providence by which God superintends our lives. At the end of the day the deep object of our exasperation is the Lord himself. For it is his sovereign purposes and detailed plans, and the way in which he has ordered our steps to bring us into the situation, that has been the catalyst of our exasperation.
So in fact ‘exasperation’ spells spiritual danger. Yet most of us do not think of it as serious sin….For such exasperation is an expression of the warped and distorted old way of life in Adam. It is un-Christlike and needs to be put off. At its heart is a self-exaltation over others, and a dissatisfaction with the way God is ordering and orchestrating the events of our lives.”
Ahem. Thank you Professor Ferguson.