Friday, March 16, 2012

Is It OK to Get Angry?

We’re in the middle of a series on the 10 Commandments. It has been challenging for all of us, particularly in the area that most people find most challenging, our hearts and what motivates them. Last Sunday’s sermon on the 6th Commandment may have been the most challenging of them all, so far. Here’s what it says:

Exodus 20:13 “You shall not murder.

Bearing in mind that the Law, as it pertains to a born again Christian, applies to our sanctification and is a measure of how much our hearts have been transformed, as well as an indicator of how much they still need to be transformed, this commandment addresses a heart condition (anger) that God intends to refine in us as much as it does a behavioral condition (murder) that is prohibited.

The Hebrew word for “murder” indicates this commandment prohibits the unlawful, malicious or negligent taking of a human life. It does not address capital punishment, just wars nor the hunting and killing of animals. The debate over those issues is beyond the scope of this article.

So, why should a Christian be concerned about it if he has not physically murdered someone? We can find the answer in the Sermon On the Mount, where Jesus says, ““You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.” (Matthew 5:21–22, NASB95). Here we find that getting angry at someone is the same as murdering them. The anger described here is passionate, self-righteous anger. “Provoked” can be another way of describing the emotion. There are two escalations of that anger presented but we should keep in mind that Jesus is addressing a heart attitude here, not a behavior. The wrong path, leading to improper behavior  begins with the anger that is in the heart. He also mentions anger against a “brother” as well but we should be careful not to limit this commandment to only Christians as later in the passage He tells us to love even our enemies. So the commandment applies to everyone’s heart attitude toward everyone else. We are not permitted to get angry. When we do, it reveals a heart attitude that God intends to work on.  This is not a condemnation, it is a gift of grace, showing us the things in our hearts that need to be purged in order to enter into the fullness of our relationship with Christ.

Still, there are valid questions.

But what of Jesus in the Temple? Wasn’t he angry? Isn’t He our example?
Let’s remember that Jesus’ anger was not at any offense against Him. It was righteous anger directed at offenses against His Father. This anger expressed in clearing the Temple (and at certain members of the religious community) poured from the same person that allowed Himself to be spit on, beaten and crucified without protest, anger or self-defense. The question you and I have to answer is whether or not we are capable, as human beings, of experiencing righteous, holy anger the way Christ did, or even the way God does when He gets angry. While Scripture is not perfectly clear on this point, I believe it infers that we cannot, “as it is written, “There is none righteous, not even one;” (Romans 3:10, NASB95). How can someone who is not righteous nor perfect express perfectly righteous and pure anger? We can only express human anger. 

That we immediately begin to justify certain acts or types of anger when we hear the 6th Commandment telling us not to get angry seems to affirm that we have inappropriate anger in our hearts. We want to find a way to be angry. We claim it is righteous, we point to Jesus, we claim God’s anger is ours, but we never look deep enough within to see if our anger is a result of some offense we have taken at some action that has impacted us, tainting our anger with improper and selfish heart motivation. It seems to me that all human anger is retaliatory in some fashion and designed to justify or vindicate human behavior and emotion. None of this acknowledges that Jesus says we, as human beings, are not to get angry. That is God’s prerogative, “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19, NASB95)

What about Eph 4:26, “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,”? Here’s what The Word Biblical Commentary has to say about this passage, emboldened emphasis is mine :

“Although v 26b recognizes that anger will occur, v 27 indicates how dangerous it is and v 31 repudiates all anger (cf. also 6:4). The focus of v 26a, then, is on not sinning by indulging in anger. Its paradoxical formulation was not meant to encourage speculation about what types of anger might be permissible. Whatever the merits of the traditional notion of righteous anger at injustice or the modern notion of the healthiness of expressing rather than suppressing anger, they should not be thought to have support in the concessive aspect of this prohibition. Its force may be conveyed by a paraphrase, “Anger is to be avoided at all costs, but if, for whatever reason, you do get angry, then refuse to indulge such anger so that you do not sin.” In this way, the exhortation is very much in line with the view of anger elsewhere in the NT. Jas 1:19, 20 has similar force, “Let every man … be slow to anger; for the anger of man does not work the righteousness of God” (cf. also Matt 5:22; Gal 5:20; Col 3:8; 1 Tim 2:8; Titus 1:7). There is also an overwhelmingly negative evaluation of anger in wisdom sentences from a variety of sources (cf. Prov 15:1, 18; 22:24; 29:8, 11; Eccl 7:9, “Be not quick to anger, for anger lodges in the bosom of fools”; Sir 1:22; 27:30; T. Dan 2.1–5.1; Lucian, Dem. 51; Seneca, De Ira; Dio, Orat. 32; Ps-Phocylides 63–64; Did. 3.2, “Never give way to anger, for anger leads to murder”; b. Ber. 29b, “Do not flare up, so that you do not sin”). For Ephesians, anger and the estrangement which accompanies it, both as cause and result, are incompatible with the new relationships of those who are members of one another in the body of Christ (cf. v 25).[1]

We are left with little justification for being angry. Yet we get angry. Don’t we? If we begin to recognize our anger as human frailty, instead of trying to explain it away, if we repent instead of claiming righteousness, then we will be able to take a step forward in our sanctification. This is why God has given us the indwelling Holy Spirit, to reveal these things to us. It’s why He has given us the Law, as an objective measure of how much we need the Holy Spirit in our sanctification. Both of them, taken together, move us closer to God, molding us into His image. When we surrender ourselves and our hearts to them, we become more like Him. 

None of this will prevent any of us from getting angry. This is merely because we are still human beings living in imperfect bodies, still in need of His sanctifying presence. What we will learn, though, is how to properly repent from that anger, not allowing it to fester inside of us, causing us to miss His greater blessing and ruining our witness. 

God is a God of grace and mercy. The work He does in our hearts and lives is to bring us closer to Him. We should be thankful to Him for revealing the inappropriateness of our anger and showing us the need for our hearts to be refined.  

[1] Lincoln, A. T. (2002). Vol. 42: Word Biblical Commentary : Ephesians. Word Biblical Commentary (301–302). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.


  1. Good insights! Also worth referencing is Nehemiah 13:8 "And I was VERY ANGRY..." hahaha. I love that verse!

  2. I do believe that we are able to experience righteous anger. We are not righteous in and of ourselves, but we have the Holy Spirit, and that Holy Spirit directs us in righteous anger. How else would we know to act against injustices? When you see a child being trafficked in the sex trade, is the anger you feel only unrighteous? I certainly hope not. Though I do feel unrighteous anger because I feel anger against her traffickers and those who use and abuse her, I know I also feel righteous anger for what has been done to her, and not just to her, but to our Lord, for as he said in Matthew 25:40, "And the King will say, 'I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!'" So shall we remain calm and peaceful in such a situation? How about when someone is murdered? Shall we not feel this injustice? It is possible to feel anger without harboring unrighteousness in our hearts. We are vessels for the Holy Spirit, and as Christ, God expressed anger, and in the Old Testament, God expressed anger, and it is through the Holy Spirit, through God's spirit, that we know right from wrong.