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. Elliot 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.

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