Understanding Our Emotions

by Todd Shupe

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  Galatians 5:16-21  (ESV)

As Christians, we all want to follow Jesus but often struggle to actually put it into practice.  The day to day grind can lead us astray and put our focus on earthly desires.  For example, Peter loved Jesus, but his focus was temporarily for himself and not for God.  Peter did not want Jesus to die and was rebuked by Jesus.  ”Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns (Matthew 16:23).”  Peter, a disciple of Jesus, was living in the flesh in this moment.

Paul identifies the works of the flesh in Galatians 5:19 and they are often evident in our life when we are distant from God.  In these circumstances, we are prone to anger, jealousy, and engage in divisions.  In short, we tear each other down rather than build each other up.  However, no matter how much you tear somebody else down, it will never bring you up.  Sexual immorality and alcohol will feed the flesh 

but ultimately leave us empty.   In the flesh, we are jealous of our neighbor’s accomplishments and we seek out divisions based on race, religion, gender, etc. as means to attempt to comfort ourselves, but such actions will always fail us. 

Our emotions are a gift from good and can provide us with many benefits.  However, our emotions also have the potential to generate actions and words that divide us rather than unite us.  When we feel hurt, angry, betrayed, or jealous, we should ask ourselves a few questions to better understand the situation. 

  • “What’s the real reason I’m feeling this?”Maybe the answer is an unresolved past event. Maybe it relates to something a family member or friend member said or did to you years ago. When someone else says something similar, and even though it’s been decades, that person becomes the target of all your pent-up anger.
  • “Is it true?”Is what you’re feeling at that moment true?  Anger by itself is not always bad.  Jesus was angry at the money changers at the temple for cheating the people with unfair currency exchange to enter the temple.  It was true that His Father’s house had become a den of thieves.  However, often our anger is based on false assumptions. 
  • “Is what I’m feeling helping me or hurting me?” Many of our feelings we have seem natural, but they’re actually self-defeating.  This is why Scripture teaches us to “take each thought captive” and exam it.
  • “Who is the author of this feeling?” If you watch an advertisement on television that shows children dying due to lack of food and water and you become angry, then God has placed that emotion into your brain.  However, if you watch television and see a beautiful house of a Hollywood actor and feel jealous, then that is clearly the work of the enemy that is seeking to divide and destroy.

The Bible teaches us in 1 Peter 4:2, “From now on, then, you must live the rest of your earthly lives controlled by God’s will and not by human desires” (GNT).  This is the essence of living in the Spirit.  A life lived in the Spirit will yield the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).

Prayer:  Dear God:  We thank you for the gift of our emotions.  Help us to use them wisely so that they will stir us into action that builds up our neighbors.  Amen.

About the Author:  

Todd Shupe is the President of DrToddShupe.com and is a well recognized expert on wood-based housing and wood science.  Shupe worked as a  professor and lab director at LSU for over 20 years. He is active in several ministries including his Christian blog ToddShupe.com. Todd is the Secretary of the Baton Rouge District of United Methodist Men, Database Coordinator for Gulf South Men, and volunteer for the Walk to Emmaus, Grace Camp, Iron Sharpens Iron, Open Air Ministries, HOPE Ministries food pantry. Todd is currently preparing to be a Men’s Ministry Specialist through the General Commission of United Methodist Men.