When our computers crash, our appointments are rescheduled, or people slip up, we are prone to anger. But being inconvenienced is no moral reason for becoming infuriated. We may complain about being stuck in an endless traffic jam, but without justification, because no moral code has been violated. Life’s nuisances and problems are amoral, but our fleshly reactions to them, including unrighteous anger, are immoral.
It’s a universal problem. We all struggle with anger. However, every time we get angry, the Lord challenges us as He challenged Cain: “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen?” (Gen 4:6, ESV). In others words, “Do you have a moral right to be angry? Is your response appropriate?” If we fail to address these questions properly, then, like Cain, we face the prospect of broken relationships and lost opportunities which will dog us for the rest of our lives (Gen 4:13). Unfounded and uncontrolled anger will seriously curtail our participation with the family, in the assembly and at work or school.
The Word of God tells us, “Be angry and sin not” (Eph. 4:26, KJV). This verse actually commands us to be righteously angry while forbidding unrighteous anger. Righteous anger flows from the knowledge of God and love for His holiness. Such good anger is contained and constructive, and always seeks to bless others and honor God.
Our capacity for anger is rooted in the fact that we are made in the likeness and image of God. Anger is a God-given, moral emotion; a good thing built into our human nature. We are to mirror God’s indignation at injustice and unrighteousness. We are called to love what Christ loves and to hate what Christ hates (Heb 1:9). We should be motivated to intervene, decisively and constructively, when we witness others attempting to violate moral boundaries defined by God.
If our children speak disdainfully to our spouses, and we respond with a strong but controlled rebuke, we make it clear that disrespectful behavior is wrong and should be confronted with firmness. Godly anger expresses love for both our spouses and children. It teaches our children the significance of their sin, and it shows them how to respond to another’s sin. Within the sphere of our responsibility, expressing godly anger is the only proper response to true moral wrong.
Perhaps the Corinthians didn’t think worldliness, immorality, and the lack of clear Scriptural teaching in the assembly involved or affected them or their families, so they remained at a safe distance and did nothing. Paul reminded them “a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump” (1Cor 5:6, KJV). He warned them that their worldly concept of tolerance would lead to insensitivity, spiritual blindness and the acceptance of other sins. When they eventually acted with godly anger, however, Paul commended the Corinthians, saying, “What earnestness this godly grief has produced in you … what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment!” (2Cor 7:11, ESV). The man who had sinned was delivered from this sin, restored to the Lord, and the assembly itself was preserved from a downward spiral toward further indulgence of sin.
Hostile and harmful, sinful anger feels righteously entitled to be icy cold, dangerously explosive, or smugly self-righteous. Such prideful anger attacks people rather than their problems, and aims to hurt rather than help. Sinful anger is at the center of all our interpersonal conflicts and alienates us from one another.
Our sinful nature is always ready to distort right and wrong and warp legitimate anger to satisfy its own sense of justice; to return “evil for evil,” pain for pain, insult for insult (1Peter 3:9, KJV). Although few of us will admit we are sinfully angry, our attitudes and actions expose us. These include in-your-face hostility, passive-aggressive avoidance and withholding love, and gossip, which includes sharing the sins and shortcomings of our foes, so others will think less of them. Even if no words are spoken, the sinfully angry mind broods with resentment over what was said or done, and rehearses imaginary retributive scenarios of comebacks which should have been said at the time, and plots to humiliate in the future.
Even though something we want may be good, if we are willing to unleash some form of sinful anger to get it, James says we are “double-minded;” we are not serving the living God. We are instead only serving self. It is only by good methods we can righteously achieve the good desires we have for our marriages, families, and assemblies. The tactical “end-justifies-the-means” use of sins of the flesh, like sinful anger, to force desired results is usurping God’s sovereign control. It’s at this point that God meets us with His Word and asks, “Who are you to judge your neighbor?” (James 4:12, ESV). “There is One Lawgiver” (4:12, KJV). Ultimately, we need to repent and reestablish the rule of God in our hearts, and be both good and angry.
When Jonah said to the Lord, “I know you are a God … merciful … slow to anger … abounding in steadfast love” (Jonah 4:2, ESV), he was acknowledging that God would restrain His anger toward Nineveh, yet offer them His mercy and love. Merciful anger cares. Although it hates what is wrong, it is “abounding in … love.” Before approaching an offender, it patiently stands in the presence of the Lord and forgives the offender from the heart, seeking to avoid resentment and self-righteousness (Matt 18:35). It forbears; it doesn’t retaliate like an aggrieved victim, demanding an apology or inflicting back the kind of pain it received.
Good anger understands that, while full and just reconciliation requires repentance and restitution (Luke 17:3-4), these desired behaviors may never occur. It always confronts sin constructively, does what it can, and then extinguishes itself before the sun goes down (Eph 4:26). Further, it makes the best of every situation and grants the offender relational forgiveness, leaving the matters of repentance and restitution with God. It chooses to love its enemies and do good to them. It does all of this because it truly believes “as for God, His way is perfect” (Psa 18:30, KJV) and He will have the final word.
In the face of daily disappointments, frustrations, and life-long sorrows which may never be resolved, only the grace of God can transform us into the image of Christ. So, when necessary, we may be both good and angry, and not bad and ugly (Phil 2:13). Consider the perfect pattern of Christ: “When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly” (1Peter 2:23, ESV).