Many Christian people are willing to confess to an ungentle temper. They seem to think it a matter of not very grave importance. Perhaps the very commonness of the infirmity blinds our eyes to its ugliness and its sinfulness. We are apt to regard the malady more as a weakness than as a sin which makes us guilty before God.
But there is no question that a bad temper is unChristlike. We cannot think of Jesus as bitter, touchy, irritable, peevish, or vindictive. Love ruled all His dispositions, His words, His feelings. He was put to the sorest tests but never failed. He endured all manner of wrongs, insults, and hurts; but, like those flowers which yield their sweetest perfume only when crushed, His life gave out the more sweetness, the more it was exposed to men’s rudeness and unkindness.
We are like Christ, only in the measure in which we have the patience, gentleness, and good-temper of Christ. We all agree that a bad temper is very unlovely in other people. We know, too, what discomfort and pain a bad temper causes wherever the person goes. Bad temper is not any more lovely in us, as we appear to others’ eyes.
An essential teaching of Christianity is that marred human nature can be changed. The worst temper can be schooled into the most divine sweetness of spirit. The tongue which no man can tame, Christ can tame; so that, instead of bitterness, it shall give out only words of love.
Paul was quite an old man when he said he had learned in whatever state he was therein, to be content. His language implies also that it was not easy for him to learn this lesson, and that he had not attained full proficiency in it until he had reached old age.
The lesson of sweet temper is probably quite as hard as that of contentment. It has to be learned, too, for it does not come naturally. This lesson can be learned. We need only to put ourselves into the school of Christ and stay there, accepting His teaching and discipline, and advancing little by little, until at last we can say, “I have learned in whatever circumstances I am, under whatever provocation, irritation, or temptation to anger or impatience, always to keep sweet-temper!”
This lesson can be learned. Among Jesus’ own disciple family, there was one who at the first was hasty, fiery, and vindictive, but who at length grew into such sweet beauty of disposition and character that he was known as the beloved disciple, the disciple of love. John learned his lesson by lying on the bosom of Jesus. Intimacy with Christ, close, personal friendship with Him, living near His heart of love, will transform the most unloving, selfish nature, into sweetness of spirit!
Such love within the heart will soon get control of all the outer life, the dispositions, the speech, the manners, and all the expressions of the inner life. Thus bitterness, wrath, clamor, and all evil speaking will give place to gentleness, goodness, and grace.
-J.R. Miller (with minor edits for today’s reader)