“A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict, but the one who is patient calms a quarrel.” -Proverbs 15:18
God’s anger, referred to as wrath, is His holy and perfect reaction to sin. God does not sin in His anger. His anger is always justified, and throughout the Old Testament, His wrath was meant to draw His people back to Himself. Human anger, the focus of this article, is widely staked in our prideful justification. Although it is possible for us to have a righteously angry reaction to sin, most human anger rises up and reacts as a result of it. Proverbs 16:32 reminds us, “Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.”
Biblical Definition of Anger
“Be angry and do no sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” - Ephesians 4:26-27 ESV
In the verse before, Paul says, “having put away all falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members of one another” (Eph 4:25, ESV). Honesty amidst discord is difficult, even when we are righteously justified in our anger. But we must still strive to speak the truth in love. “In contrast with our modern emphasis on the constructive uses of anger, Proverbs urges us to think carefully before expressing anger, to be patient, and show restraint,” notes the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. And Proverbs 15:1 says, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (ESV).
Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology defines anger as a “strong emotional reaction of displeasure, often leading to plans for revenge or punishment.” Ephesians 4:31 guides us to “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” While the NIV Study Bible notes confirm that those things will grieve the Holy Spirit. The original Greek text for the word anger is defined as “the natural disposition,” or a “movement or agitation of the soul.” Our default as humans on this earth, under the curse of sin, ushered in by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, is sinful. Our gut reaction is to get angry, amongst other things. Sin stirs in us under the surface, and it will inevitably bubble up, over, and out of us from time to time. Even more so, if we employ no effort to control it. Self-control is a gift the Holy Spirit gives us to fight sins like unrighteous anger. We’re to confess, mourn, and repent of our anger when it flares.
“When you get angry, there is a cost: You’re going to get in trouble. You’re going to sin. You’re going to cause arguments. You’re going to make mistakes,” wrote Rick Warren for the Daily Hope Devotional, “When you lose your temper, you always lose, whether it’s respect, the love of your family, your health, or even your job."
The Sin of Anger
Human anger is usually portrayed as sinful in Scripture (Baker Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology), and anger against God is always a sin. “Anger becomes sin when it is allowed to boil over unconstrained resulting in hurt being multiplied and leaving destruction in its wake,” Dave Jenkins wrote for Christianity.com.
Proverbs 19:11 says, “A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.” This is the opposite of the way society is wired to react. Feeds full of status updates claim the right to be offended. The justification of offense is everywhere, permeating every topic of conversation. But the Bible is clear about which offenses rightly justify an angered response. Christians are to turn away vindictive anger and avoid revenge.
2 Corinthians 12:20 says, “For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want to be. I fear that there may be discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambitions, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder.”
Galatians 5:19-21 states, “The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
And finally, Colossians 3:8 begs us to “rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.”
God takes the sin of anger seriously! It is lumped in with many other behaviors we would not question as sinful behavior. In Mathew 5:22, “Jesus warns that angry people will face God’s judgment,” and according to Paul in Ephesians 4:25-27, "people should speak truthfully, but their anger should be restrained, short-lived, and used for righteous ends.”
What Is Righteous Anger?
“Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” - Romans 12:19-21
Being righteously angry means being angry at what makes God angry, explained John Bloom for desiringGod.com. Examples of this are perverting God's goodness and going against what God has said is right. Paul instructs us to guard our hearts against the consequences of unrighteous anger. Righteous anger, over the things God, Himself, is angered over, does not react in the same way unrighteous anger does. Godly anger comes from a place of love.
In the above verses, Paul walks us through what to do, even if our anger flares on account of a righteous cause. We should most certainly speak up in righteous anger but not in a way that will cause us to sin. Christians are to be peacekeepers, speaking the truth in love even to their enemies … even when they are justified in their anger. To be angry in a godly way is not the same as the flaring human anger that leads us to sin.
When Is it OK to Be Righteously Angry?
As we walk through life with Christ, evil makes us angry. Godly injustice fuels righteous anger. Child abuse and racism, for example, anger the righteous heart of God. Any evil that goes against the good nature of our holy God spurs righteous anger. “Jesus is perfectly righteous, and holy and cannot endure the presence of transgression without responding in wrath because His anger is always righteous,” wrote Dave Jenkins for Christianity.com, “Our outrage as Christians should lead to bringing others into a loving relationship with Christ.”
A vast majority of the time, our anger is rooted in pride and jealousy. Even when our anger is righteous, walking through Romans 12:19-21 (above) is wise so we do not act in sin on account of our righteous anger! God is bigger than everything and anything we could become angry about, righteous or not. The only way we can be assured we are not acting in sin due to anger is to remain in Him. Through our daily relationship with God through prayer and Scripture, He prepares our hearts and communicates to us clearly concerning the activities of each day. Our reactions must be rooted in His truth and love at all times, or we allow our sinful humanity to take the reins and steer us to sin. “Don’t excuse your anger, and don’t let it destroy you and those around you- as it will, if left unchecked,” Billy Graham responded at billygraham.org, “Instead, turn to Jesus Christ and ask Him to forgive you. Then ask Him to help you learn to react to life’s frustrations with patience instead of anger.”
Prayer is the biggest weapon we have against our anger. We can stop on a dime and check our thoughts with God’s truth. In hesitation, we should always wait on God for directives concerning our reactions to righteous anger. Anger is a normal human emotion and feeling angry isn’t a sin. It’s what we do with our anger that steers us either in the direction of Christ and His love or sin on account of our anger. Through the Holy Spirit in every believer, because of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, we have a very real hope in controlling our anger.
Day by day as we seek Him, we become more like Him. Created in God’s image, we naturally crave His presence. By design, we are wired to seek Him in all things … including anger. Scripture promises, when we seek Him, will find Him. Jesus flipped a table in the temple out of righteous anger. There will be times in life where we will be called to have courage to get righteously mad.
A Prayer to Pray When You're Angry
Keep our anger in check with Your Love and Your Truth. We want Your agenda for our lives over our own, Father. On the days where our anger threatens to flare, we beg You to remove our pride and justification. Replace it with Your righteousness, Father. Jesus, be our strength to resist reaction when we are fuming and offended. Even for righteous causes, let us not sin in our anger, Father, but bring glory and honor to You in everything we do.
In Jesus’ name, we pray, amen.
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Meg, freelance writer and blogger at Sunny&80, is the author of “Friends with Everyone, Friendship within the Love of Christ,” and “Surface, Unlocking the Gift of Sensitivity,” She writes about everyday life within the love of Christ. Meg earned a Marketing/PR degree from Ashland University but stepped out of the business world to stay at home and raise her two daughters, which led her to pursue her passion to write. She has led a Bible Study for Women and serves as a Youth Ministry leader in her community. Meg, a Cleveland native and lifelong Browns fan, lives by the shore of Lake Erie in Northern Ohio with her husband, two daughters, and golden doodle.