I am quickly realizing there are certain things in life that cause me to get angry. A certain attitude, a look, a comment, or an action, are all things that seem to shall we say get my goat. The underlying question I have to ask myself is why am I seemingly so easily angered? Is the anger justified, meaning is my response legitimately based on what Scripture deems as righteous anger? Or on the other hand, am I merely allowing needless anger to bubble up and run over out of my mouth for reasons far less godly than I would like to admit? I humbly submit 9.9 times out of 10 the answer is the latter.
Why? Why do we so easily succumb to unrighteous anger? I use the term “we” because be honest, you fall prey to this as well if you are being honest with yourself. Anger can easily become a besetting sin. There are times when anger is merited such as being angry with the murder of the unborn, anger against the decimation of biblical marriage in society, or anger at those who prey upon the innocent. Of course, one must be careful with how they respond in anger, as the motivation must alwaysremain pure and holy. Even when we respond against godlessness in society, we must not let our anger move from godly anger to out of control sinful rage.
This, of course, begs the question as to how to determine the difference between righteous anger and sinful anger. How can we know the difference and how can we deal with the constant urge to lash out at others because our triggers have been tripped (code for lack of self-control)? Thankfully, Scripture has much to say about the topic of anger, both righteous anger, and sinful anger. I have found instead of trying to control anger by mustering up enough internal fortitude (a true impossibility), the answer to dealing with besetting sins is to take seriously the medicine of Scripture by ingesting God’s Word so that it inhabits your entire being. In doing so, what ends up coming out of your mouth is grace and peace instead of anger and nonsense responses that tear down rather than build up.
Let’s first examine godly anger so we know what the proper approach looks like:
Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity. (Ephesians 4:26-27)
Wow! So it is possible to be angry without sinning. That is indeed a comfort as it provides the reality that there is such a thing as righteous or godly anger. The keynote of this verse is to not let the day end while still harboring anger towards someone. Remaining in a state of anger provides the enemy the opportunity to plant a root of bitterness that will grow into that trigger; resulting in you lashing out in sinful anger. If you have an issue with someone, resolve it before the day ends or at least come to a resolution that allows for the anger to subside until a full solution can be reached.
God judges the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day. (Psalms 7:11)
Here we have an example of how God approaches wickedness. Quite simply, He is angry with the wicked every day and He does not sin in His anger. The anger of the Lord burns against the wicked. The question, of course, is why. The reason is because as a perfect and holy God, He abhors wickedness. As the people of God, we should also abhor wickedness to include the wickedness we strive against each day in our own lives. This anger should result in action rooted in righteous actions that deal with wickedness appropriately.
The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” (John 2:13-16)
This passage is perhaps the best example of righteous anger in action. Now I do not recommend grabbing a whip of cords and give a beating to the wicked. One must remember this was Jesus acting in righteous anger against those who were profaning His Father’s house. There are times, many times for that matter when the people of God should be angry at what they see happening around them in society. The challenge is always acting in righteousness.
I ran across a blog post by Paul Tautges on righteous anger. In this post, Paul shares three outstanding criteria:
For our anger to be righteous, all three of the following must be true.
Righteous Anger Reacts against Actual Sin. Righteous anger arises from an accurate perception of true evil, from sin as defined biblically, i.e., as a violation of God’s Word (Rom 3:23; 1 Jn 3:4). Righteous anger does not result from merely being inconvenienced or from violations of personal preference or human tradition.
Righteous Anger Focuses on God and His Kingdom, Rights, and Concerns, Not on Me and My Kingdom, Rights and Concerns. In Scripture, God-centered motives, not self-centered motives, drive righteous anger. Righteous anger focuses on how people offend God and his name, not me and my name. It terminates on God more than me. In other words, accurately viewing something as offensive is not enough. We must view it primarily as offending God.
Righteous Anger Is Accompanied by Other Godly Qualities and Expresses Itself in Godly Ways. Righteous anger remains self-controlled. It keeps its head without cursing, screaming, raging, or flying off the handle. Nor does it spiral downward in self-pity or despair. It does not ignore people, snub people, or withdraw from people.”[i]
If we look at the example of Jesus clearing out the Temple, we see clearly that all three of these criteria were met. Jesus was reacting against actual sin. His anger was focused on His Father’s house which reflects a concern for the Kingdom of God. Finally, His anger was expressed by being accompanied by godly qualities and it was expressed in godly ways.
Now that we have an idea of what righteous anger is all about, let’s look at what unrighteous anger is according to Scripture:
“for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:20).
Unrighteous anger is not rooted in the righteousness of God. If you are finding yourself consistently angry, you must examine why you are angry. Does your anger bring glory to God? Is your response to others founded in grace and peace with the express purpose of lifting one another up towards love and good deeds? If not, you are acting out in unrighteous anger. The fruit of your action determines whether it is producing the righteousness of God.
“Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” (Romans 3:13-14)
The descriptions in this particular passage are outstanding. There is no doubt as to what unrighteous anger looks like and what it is focused on. Those who lash out in unrighteous anger are likened to one whose throat is an open grave, just waiting for someone to fall into. Their lips are as venomous as asps. If you are not familiar with the term asp that is because it is an antiquated word that refers to any number of horrifically venomous snakes such as the cobra for example. The word picture being presented is that of a deadly bite via the venue of unrighteous anger. Finally, the mouth is said to be full of curses and bitterness. Not good and certainly not righteous.
This leads us finally to a discussion of how to deal with unrighteous anger in our lives. Ephesians 4:15 provides us with clear direction, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,”
The verse prior speaks of the need towards growing in maturity in the faith. Thus, an essential element is learning to control our tongue and to exude grace and mercy towards one another. Speaking in grace and mercy does not negate the necessity for speaking the truth; however, when speaking truth, animosity, slander, gossip, biting tongue, and unrighteous anger should be completely absent.
“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29)
The Greek word translated as corrupting is sapros which means “rotten, putrefied; of poor quality, bad, unfit for use, worthless”. Perhaps this is why those who are so often angry and have nothing good to say are labeled as “rotten apples” given what comes out of their mouth is putrefied filth that is unfit for use. What is fit for use is a response and words that build up as fits the occasion.
“The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.” (I Corinthians 2:15-16)
This is yet another passage that drips with the call to maturity. To be spiritually minded is to have the mind of Christ. To have the mind of Christ requires us to be holy as He is holy, to approach situations with love and grace while at the same time standing firm in the truth. This is not an easy balance; however, it is the approach demanded of us in Scripture and a hallmark of a spiritually mature believer.
Furthermore, it is absolutely necessary to be people who spend time with God in the study of His Word and in prayer. If you struggle with unrighteous anger, ask God for wisdom and help. He has promised that if we ask, He will provide assistance through the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. Allowing our anger trigger to be pulled is far too easy. We all need to work on this issue in our lives.
Let the Scriptures that have been shared in this article sink into your mind and heart as you deal with this pernicious problem of anger. May we all strive to have the mind of Christ in our attitudes and dealings with others, dripping the fruit of the Spirit of patience, long-suffering, and most of all love rather than the venom of unrighteous anger.
Michael lives in Belleville, IL, a suburb of St. Louis, MO with his wife Erica, adopted daughter Alissa, two cats Molly and Sweetie Pie and horse Beckham. After spending eight years in the United States Navy as a Yeoman, he has been employed for the past ten years by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) where he oversees advanced educational programs. Michael holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Religion (Biblical Studies) from Liberty University and is currently closing in on completing a Master of Arts in Religion (Biblical Studies) from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. He is an avid reader and blogger.