Is Anger Sinful?
Someone new to faith or someone who’s misguided may instinctually feel like any anger of any kind is sinful in and of itself.
Let’s challenge that assumption by looking to scripture. If God is Holy and perfect, and anger is inherently sinful, then the LORD must have never been angry. However, if there is a form of righteous anger (since God is indeed righteous), then we’ll see examples of God Himself becoming angry.
“Even at Horeb, you provoked the LORD to wrath, and the LORD was so angry with you that He would have destroyed you.” (Deuteronomy 9:8)
“‘Now then, let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them; and I will make you a great nation.’ Then Moses entreated the LORD his God, and said, ‘O LORD, why does Your anger burn against Your people whom You have brought out from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?’” (Exodus 32:10-11)
“The Lord has swallowed up; He has not spared all the habitations of Jacob in His wrath He has thrown down the strongholds of the daughter of Judah; He has brought them down to the ground: He has profaned the kingdom and its princes.” (Lamentations 2:2)
Those are just three examples of God becoming angry. So you see, anger can’t be sinful in and of itself. However, before you start calling people fools and shouting at every person who ever does the slightest thing to you, consider for a moment what angers the Lord: sin.
When one is angry because of an offense to God, that person’s anger is justified and holy. If you’re just angry because your wife forgot to pick up milk on the way home, you might be overreacting. Why are you angry? What sin has she committed against God? When it’s your pride and your desires being denied, you’re using self-centered thinking. Don’t read this and think I’m not sinfully angry. I’m actually working on that very thing in my walk with faith at this time in my life. I get so mad when my schedule is thrown off. I get mad when my reading time is interrupted. I get mad when I don’t get my “me time.”
Some may say to themselves, “Who doesn’t get mad if they can’t get what they want?” The answer to that question is people who aren’t thinking selfishly. A person focused on God is looking for ways to use his time to glorify God. I’m human, and sure, I like the chance to think in the quite for a time, but to become angry because I’m not getting what I want isn’t righteous. Being aware of this truth doesn’t mean I’m not guilty of this sin. I speak on it not just to show i’m not perfect, but to offer myself as an example of what not to do.
But when one sins against God, when a child dishonors his father or mother, when a husband fails to love his or a wife fails to respect her husband, those things will probably anger a person, and that anger in itself isn’t wrong. But what we do with that anger is another test.
“Be angry and do not sin.” (Ephesians 4:26)
Well how the heck does one pull that off? Jesus, our Savior provides us a few examples. I’d like to look at those for a short time in this chapter.
“And he looked around them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.” (Mark 3:5)
That statement stemmed from a test the Pharisees set up. They wanted Christ to heal a sick man on the sabbath, showing that he’s “working” and therefore wrong. The problem was, there’s nothing wrong with doing good on the sabbath. The Pharisees knew this, but their pride and desire to see Christ (who was at that time healing the sick) fall, caused them to set up this horrible and elaborate trap.
But what did Christ do? He indeed showed the Pharisees their sin. He then showed them the right action to take. This pattern is one I like to see. In this case, Christ rebukes, shows the heart-wrongness (the sinful desires of the offending people), and shows the correct action. (Do good. Give to those who ask.)
This pattern is seen again in another example:
“And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.’” (Mark 10:13-15)
Here, Jesus was indignant (a synonym for angry) at his own disciples. Again, he rebukes (Let the children come). Some may argue Christ didn’t show the heart-wrongness, but He did. You see, the disciples were trying to have the authority to decide who got to see Him and who didn’t. Christ showed them the heart wrongness by showing them (one of several times) just who has the most right to His Kingdom. ( .. for to such belongs the kingdom. This shows that the kingdom of God belongs to children.) God takes it a step further (teaching the right thinking) by explaining that those who don’t receive the kingdom like a child, shall not enter it.
There are several examples of the disciples jockeying for authority and importance, and on many occasions, Christ turns their attention to children.
Anger can be Holy when your anger is based on the word of God and his commandments. However, that still doesn’t grant you authority to punish or rage. It’s certainly not the most used format Christ showed us.
Most used? Well, there was the time Christ made whips and chased a bunch of people out of the temple. (John 2:13-22) Yeah, Christ literally made a whip and drove out the sellers and exchangers of the temple. Even in this, Christ rebuked and taught. Christ, the sovereign King of Kings, also used force. Still, He could have done much more. Instead, he drove them out of the temple. The offense was turing the house of God into a house of trade. This description of God’s house warranted a stricter rebuke. But he still showed them their heart-wrongness. Is driving them out with a whip the correct course of action?
Someone might say that. Remember, we’re still looking at God in the flesh. Driving people out of a church is a Biblically-based doctrine. There are several reasons the Bible gives to do just that. However, if we take up whips and add our punishment, we’re still taking on a role and sinfully placing ourselves where we don’t belong.
God may punish in his wrath. God grants leaders, government and world leaders, authorities, that privilege. But us normal folks? We don’t have that right. Vengeance belongs to God. (Romans 12:19)
So before you start searching for good whips to use on Amazon, remember who you are and where your authority lies. Parents have authority to discipline their children (discipline, not abuse). Governments have authority to punish law breakers. Churches may cast people out (and should for some specific reasons). However, even in this, those churches aren’t granted corporal authority.
Because we’re talking about how to be angry and not sin, I had to mention that for the sake of transparency. Focus more though on the technique and process Christ followed on many other occasions.
Our options when we are angry are to rebuke, show heart-wrongness, and demonstrate the correct action; or we can just let the offense pass.
“A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.” (Proverbs 29:11)
“Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” (Proverbs 19:11)
These are good things to consider the next time you start to feel your metaphorical pot beginning to boil. Stop for a moment and make sure your anger isn’t just a selfish expression causing you to want your way over another’s.
“ … or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;” (1 Corinthians 13:5)
If your anger is holy, then you have to decide. Can you overlook an offense to your glory? If you can’t, then by all means, rebuke (tell them what they did wrong from a Biblical standpoint), show heart-wrongness (reveal to them how their sinful heart is tainting their actions), and demonstrate or teach the proper action.
For our panel: What are other times Jesus showed us how to righteously discipline a person? When we rebuke someone, should we be offended if they don’t repent? What are some ways one who has offended another may offer repentance? Does the Bible have any evidence of anyone other than God righteously punishing transgressions? How do we defend ourselves if we’re not guilty of the offense of which we are accused? How do we respond if we’re punished for something for which we are not guilty?