Emotions Versus Actions

By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.

Many present a split between emotions and actions. In this way we tell ourselves that we are not able to change our feelings but that is acceptable as long as we do not act on them. Examples would be fear, anger, or desire. So acting right becomes more important. Similarly, if one does not feel enough joy, hope, or love, one may put more emphasis on actions, focusing instead on doing what is right instead of what they are feeling.

Using love as an example, is it possible, to act right but not actually love? In this verse the writer supposes that actions could be good, but inadequate. “If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3). Love appears to be more than just actions.

Some focus on doing what is right and leave the emotion out of it, though the Bible indicates that right emotions are important along with doing right. “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him” (Philippians 2:13). The risk is that too much emphasis on acting without feeling may leave one feeling empty inside, or may even lead to more negative emotions like guilt. Or, acting and finding one’s worth in one’s actions can lead to hypocrisy and self-righteousness. What is God’s view of the self-righteous? “They say to each other, ‘Don’t come too close or you will defile me! I am holier than you!’ These people are a stench in my nostrils, an acrid smell that never goes away” (Isaiah 65:5). Instead, God may be looking for a change of heart. For example Jesus told the religious Pharisees “First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean” (Matthew 23:26).

Are Emotions Commanded?

Are Emotions Commanded?

By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.

There are many commands to have or not have particular emotions in the Bible in a given context. Many Christians focus on what they do or not do, and leave the emotional side as out of their control. However, emotions reflect beliefs and values, and thus are a valid window into the soul. They are not to be left behind in view of “doing the right thing.” Many come to counseling because they feel their emotions are out of control.

One difficult command in the Bible is to love your enemies (Matthew 5:43-48; Luke 6:27-28, 32-36). Those that have enemies know this difficulty; in fact following Biblical precepts are difficult. It is understandable that Christians then focus on what they do or don’t do in spite of what they feel.

The story of the Good Samaritan is an example of loving your enemy. Reading the story suggests that the Samaritan acted out of compassion, and not a command to “do good.” Love is more than an action. For instance, God “pours” love into hearts (Romans 5:5). In the Bible, Paul’s love was deeply felt (2 Corinthians 2:4). Matthew A. Elliott supports the importance of emotion in Faithful Feelings: Rethinking Emotion in the New Testament. On page 157 he writes “If love was action how could it be judged as insincere?” The Bible distinguishes between love and actions (1 Corinthians 13:3, Revelations 2:2-4).

But what if one does not feel such compassion? Are there ways to control emotions? The Bible points to the effect of knowledge, beliefs and values on emotions (Philippians 1:9). Finding truth and experiencing truth changes emotions. However it is a process and thus grace is needed.