We said last time that anger is an emotion that helps us identify something that is wrong, and then motivates us to fix it. Anger is not always sinful, because Ephesians 4:26 “Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath.” The phrase “Ephesians 4:26 “Be ye angry, and sin not” lets us know that it is possible to be angry without sinning. However the phrase also identifies the fact that it is often likely that when we are angry, we will sin. Think back over the last five times you were angry. Did you act in ways that displayed the character and glory of God? Or, more likely, did you act in selfish ways, or in ways that hurt others?
We have a plethora of examples in Scripture of people who were sinfully angry. Saul was angry at David’s imagined usurpal, and threw a javelin at him. King Uzziah was angry at being barred from the Temple by the priests, and God gave him leprosy. Peter was angry at being confronted over his connection with Jesus and swore an oath, saying that he did not know him. Sinful anger is the reason that Proverbs 22:24 says: “Make no friendship with an angry man; and with a furious man thou shalt not go.” How do we know when we are sinfully angry?
- Anger is sinful when it has no sufficient cause. Some people are angry over the smallest things. Road rage is so common because people are at the edge of anger already, and it doesn’t take much to push them over the edge. What they are angry about seems trivial, because it is. It is also sinful. Jesus said in Matthew 5:22: “Whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.” If you find yourself angry for no reason, you have allowed sinful anger to get the better of you.
- Anger is sinful when it transcends the cause. It was appropriate for Jesus to do what he did in the Temple because they were the symbol of taking advantage of people, and prohibiting people from worshiping. However, it would have been wrong for Jesus to kill someone in the Temple in His anger, because there was no threat of life. We all know people who became physical after a verbal spar, or took the fight to the next level. This is always sinful. Anger is meant to rectify the situation, not exacerbate it.
- Anger is sinful when it accompanies a desire for revenge. The goal of anger should never be “to get back at someone,” but instead to right a wrong. It is meant to make things right again, not to continue the fight. Proverbs 29:22 says: “An angry man stirreth up strife, and a furious man aboundeth in transgression.” But Christ has a better way. Paul says in Romans 12:19: “Avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.”
- Anger is sinful when it is soon raised or long continues. God designed anger as a quick, short burst of energy and passion to right a wrong, and then disappear. The same is true for any emotion. Sadness is meant to help us process what went wrong, and grieve, and find our way back to normal, and anger is the same way. When you find yourself still angry about something after a long time, you are sitting in sinful anger and it will move toward bitterness. It is also sinful to have what we call “a short fuse.” This is speaking of when it is very easy to make you angry. While it is true that God is angry, it also says this of Him in Psalm 145:8: “The LORD is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy.” Proverbs 14:17 says: “He that is soon angry dealeth foolishly: and a man of wicked devices is hated.”
- Anger is sinful when it is not directed to a good end. Again, anger should resolve an issue. When it does not, but remains, it is sinful anger. This speaks primarily to when we refuse to forgive someone who has sinned against us. When we instead choose bitterness, we are letting our anger fester, and it will destroy us.
- Anger is sinful when it feels like the person is losing control. We say of some people that they “lost their temper.” Temper is a good thing: it is a balance. God wants us to be able to be angry, but to retain our control over our emotion. Thus He says in Psalm 37:8 “Cease from anger, and forsake wrath: fret not thyself in any wise to do evil.” It is possible to turn away from our anger and not let it overtake us, but when we feel like we are losing control, we will sin.
The grace of Christ is always available for us to do the right thing. God does not take as an excuse: “Well, I am just an angry person!” God is angry, and yet does not sin. Jesus was angry, and yet did not sin. With His help and by His power, we too can experience victory over sinful anger. Next time we will look at the last part of Ephesians 4:26, which says, “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath.”