How mature are you? That question can be answered in several different ways. Physically, you are maturing quickly—perhaps you’ve come through a big growth spurt and suddenly find yourself looking at your parents eye-to-eye. This is an automatic maturing process that occurs as you get older. Mentally, you are developing your mind through school, perhaps even learning specific skills that will serve you in your career as an adult. Maybe you are even one of those rare teens working to grow up spiritually—learning how to pray and study the Bible each day, trying to apply scriptural lessons in your daily life.
But if you are like many people your age—in fact, many who are full-grown adults, even into their old age—you might be in your “infancy” in emotional maturity! I guarantee you have a lot to learn about how to manage and master your emotions. We all do! But if you make this a priority in your life, it will help you move gracefully into adulthood more than just about anything else you could do.
Let’s see what God has to say about this subject by consulting His Word—the Holy Bible. Each of the questions in this column you will be able to answer simply by consulting the scriptural reference. So be sure to have your Bible handy to engrave these biblical lessons into your mind.
The Origin of Emotion
1. First, does God Himself experience anything like emotions? Does God have joy? Psalm 16:11; Luke 15:10. Does He get angry? Even jealous? Deuteronomy 4:24; 32:19-22; Psalm 7:11; Jeremiah 30:24; Nahum 1:2, 6.
2. Does God love? Romans 8:38-39; 1 John 3:1; 4:8-9, 16. Does He hate? Psalm 5:5-6; 11:5; 45:7.
3. Does God experience grief and sorrow? Genesis 6:6; Psalm 78:40; Isaiah 53:3; John 11:35; Hebrews 3:10. Does He feel compassion? Matthew 9:35-36.
The Bible shows that God experiences many profound states of mind that we associate with deep emotion—both positive and negative. Certain specific things delight Him, and others upset Him. Of course, being composed of spirit (John 4:24), God does not undergo the physical changes that occur when we get emotional (e.g. tears, stomach churning, face turning red). But He does think and feel deeply about various circumstances.
4. Did God create human beings to be like Him? Genesis 1:26-27.
These verses show that God created humans in His image and likeness. We look like God, and we even possess similar mental capabilities (that is, distinct from animals)—the power to reason, to think creatively. God also gave us the power to feel. He gave us emotions so we can experience joy and love; we can have deep relationships; we can also experience anger, jealousy, fear—a variety of emotions.
If we channel our emotions to respond to circumstances the way God does, we actually are learning to think like God! This is the essence of emotional maturity—that is, to delight in the same things God delights in, and get upset over what upsets Him. That is a lot more difficult than it sounds! Not only must we be thoroughly educated in what moves God one way or the other, but we must then discipline our thoughts to match and allow Him to shape our thinking. Such emotional mastery, however, will produce God-like action, and bring countless blessings—as we will see.
Where Negative Emotional Pressure Comes From
Emotion is a two-edged sword. It can be a wonderful blessing—or, when not properly managed, it can be a terrible curse in our lives. Let’s understand this point.
1. The Bible reveals the existence of an evil being called Satan the devil. What is one of his names? Ephesians 2:2.
Herbert W. Armstrong explained what it means that Satan is the “prince of the power of the air”: “Satan broadcasts! He broadcasts worldwide—as far as there is air. … He does not broadcast in words or pictures—neither audibly nor in video—but in attitudes of self-centeredness, of vanity, lust and greed, of jealousy and envy, of competition, strife and violence, of hate, resentment, bitterness, of rebellion and resentment against authority” (Good News, August 1978). In other words, one of the main ways the devil tries to influence you is through your emotions!
This verse in Ephesians shows that his evil spirit works in people. It is Satan who has orchestrated our lack of emotional control! Let’s look at a scriptural example.
2. Right at the beginning, the devil (in the form of a serpent—see Revelation 12:9) tempted Eve. What techniques did he use? Genesis 3:1-5.
Satan lied, insinuated, weaseled his way into Eve’s mind. How? Essentially by working on her emotions! He appealed to her vanity, her self-importance, her desire for independence, for “rights” and “freedoms.”
3. Did Adam and Eve do what felt right? Verse 6.
This was an emotional decision, not a rational one. The fruit looked good to Eve—it seemed OK—she desired it, even though God had told her to avoid it. Adam and Eve did not consider the pros and cons of this decision, based on God’s instruction, and then carry out the wisest choice—they acted upon their emotional desires.
Isn’t that what we do so much of the time? Like Adam and Eve, we feel therefore we act.
We must learn to master those feelings and emotions. If we don’t, we are enslaved by them. To avoid this trap, we need to replace wrong thoughts and emotions with right ones.
The Link to Law Keeping
How can you know whether a particular thought or emotion is right or not? Is that open to each person’s individual interpretation?
The entire universe is governed by law. Physical laws like gravity and inertia govern physical matters. Relationships among people, and between God and people, are governed by spiritual law—reflected in the Ten Commandments. God is the Creator of both physical and spiritual law (James 4:12).
1. Some people say God’s law is harmful or bad for us. What does the Bible say? Romans 7:12.
2. Does keeping God’s law make you happy? Psalm 19:7-11; 119:14, 111; Proverbs 13:9; 29:6. If you love God’s law, will you have peace in your life? Psalm 119:165.
This is a vital principle to remember in life. God gave His law to teach us how to be happy. Problems between people are a product of broken spiritual law, which is a result of wrong spiritual attitudes in one or both individuals. God’s law is absolute. Breaking it brings penalties. Wrong spiritual attitudes always bring negative consequences. And eventually, those consequences always impact the emotions. In other words, emotional problems are generally spiritual in nature! They are caused by sin and often result in greater sin.
Consider, as an example, the account of Cain in Genesis 4.
3. Scripture suggests that Cain was nurturing wrong spiritual attitudes toward his brother. How did that impact Cain’s emotions? Genesis 4:5. What did Cain’s poisonous spiritual attitude result in him doing? Verse 8. But before that happened, what advice did God give him? Verse 7.
The end of verse 5 in the Moffatt translation reads, “Cain was furious and downcast”—he looked sad and depressed. Moffatt translates verse 7, “If your heart is honest, you would surely look bright? If you are sullen, sin is lying in wait for you, eager to be at you—yet you ought to master it.” In other words, Cain’s attitude, caused by lack of emotional control, was directly leading to sin. The more he dwelled on his negative thoughts, the more emotionally out of balance he became. If he had mastered his thoughts and emotions, he would have prevented the sin of murder.
You can see the close relationship between law keeping and emotional control. Mr. Armstrong defined emotional maturity, “[T]he technical art of putting into practice the Ten Commandments. It is the real secret to human happiness.” Another author defined it, “[D]evelopment from the state of taking to the state of giving.”
God’s law is a reflection of how He thinks. Breaking His law handicaps us emotionally; obeying His law—not just in letter, but also in spirit—gives us peace of mind, joy, satisfaction; positive, godly emotions.
Some Practical Advice
1. What does God say of the person who cannot control his anger? Ecclesiastes 7:9; Proverbs 14:17. What about the person who can control his anger? Proverbs 14:29; 15:18.
2. If you know someone who gets angry easily, what advice does God give you? Proverbs 22:24-25.
3. What does God say to people who tend to blurt it out whenever they are upset with someone? James 1:19-20.
4. We saw earlier that God gets angry. But does He follow His own advice? Joel 2:13; Nahum 1:3. Does He hold on to His anger for long periods of time? Psalm 30:4-5.
5. We saw earlier that God loves. What is God’s definition of love? Romans 13:10; 1 John 5:3. What are some specific ways God’s love is exhibited? 1 Corinthians 13:4-8.
These are wonderfully valuable passages of Scripture that can help you distinguish true, abiding love from the shallow, selfish type of love that many people are absorbed in.
What many people think of as love is actually little more than sexual lust. These verses show that God’s love is actually not an emotion—though it may be expressed with emotional content.
God’s love is reflected in actions, not in feelings. His love is entirely unselfish—it benefits the other person more than self. And it never runs contrary to His law. We must strive for a level of maturity where we never allow our emotions to drive us outside the bounds of God’s law. Ideally they should impassion us to more perfectly keep God’s law.
6. Does God want us to enjoy life? To have pleasures? Psalm 36:7-8. Does He want us to rejoice? 1 Thessalonians 5:16; 1 John 1:4.
God gave His law to teach us how to be happy. He doesn’t give commandments simply because He enjoys bossing people around. His commands are expressions of His love. If we live the lifestyle God commands, we will receive countless blessings and rewards!
God wants us to have emotions. He wants us to cultivate godly emotion. He wants us to have proper fear of God. He wants us to hate evil. He wants us to get angry at sin. He wants us to grieve at appropriate times. He wants us to have full joy! When we develop these emotions, we are learning to think like God.
Satan also wants us to have emotions. He wants us to cut loose emotionally. He wants us to fear other people. He wants us to hate other people. He wants us to get angry quickly and hang on to that anger for days or weeks. He wants us to grieve over ourselves. He wants us to rejoice over other people’s failures.
This battle is going on in your mind!
Evaluate your own life. Learn, practice and grow in emotional maturity, and improve your life!