Everyone deals with anger. Feeling anger is part of the human condition; we all are angry from time to time, and that includes believers who follow Christ.
But the Bible makes a distinction between different kinds of anger. One kind is acceptable and even described in Scripture as a moral responsibility, while another type is considered sinful. Do you know the difference?
Many people don’t, and that is why this week’s Bible study, “Befitting and Unbefitting Anger in Office,” examines this issue from Scripture.
In Ephesians 4:25-32, the Apostle Paul tells believers how to behave in five different categories, including anger. He instructs us to put off selfish anger and put on righteous anger. This kind of anger is commonly referred to as “righteous indignation” and it occurs when God’s character, his attributes, his name, his Word, his will or his purposes are impugned. When this happens, it is incumbent upon the believer to defend the truth. This is righteous anger over evil.
In fact, to be complacent when righteous indignation is in order is not to love the God who saved you, who is righteous altogether (Psalm 19:9). Failure to react to manifest evil is “a sign of moral decadence and of godlessness and irreligion,” D. Martin Lloyd-Jones states in his sermon “Sinful and Righteous Anger.” It stands to reason that, if we are to be Christ-like, then we too will hate sin and not tolerate it because God hates sin.
Notice how the psalmist substantiates our need to be angry regarding sin: “Hate evil, you who love the Lord” (Psalm 97:10). “Burning indignation has seized me because of the wicked, who forsake Your law” (Psalm 119:53).
Given this imperative to be angry, it is not surprising that Scripture often articulates the Christian life in terms of a battle — and the believer as a soldier fighting for the truths of Scripture — as it does in 2 Timothy 2:4: “No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier.”
Jesus was also such a warrior. In Mark 3:5, he expressed righteous anger over the Pharisees’ reactionary condemnation of his healing the man with the withered hand. Why? Jesus had performed this miracle on the Sabbath, and he was appropriately angered by the Pharisees’ outlandish alterations of biblical commandments. In addition, Jesus cleansed God’s temple of the moneychangers not just once, but twice (John 2:15, Matthew 21:12).
In those instances, Jesus defended the holiness of God and his worship. So every believer who is a mature, avid follower of Christ should take action when blatant, unrepentant wrong exists. As believers, we are God’s appointed ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20) whom he expects to uphold and defend his righteousness in a fallen world.
Such action is in keeping with the Matthew 5 concepts of salt and light. Being an ambassador has a lot to do with upholding truth. Definite displeasure with human sin reveals a healthy moral nature. Conversely, a lack of anger over sin is a statement about a person’s moral apathy — an admission of spiritual laxity and immaturity.
But the believer must be aware of sinful anger and what the Bible says about how to avoid it. Sinful anger is quite different from righteous anger. Dishonorable anger is selfishness manifested: It raises its ugly head when a person does not get his way.
The imperative command implied in the verse under study is that we are to put off this kind of anger, which stems from impure motives of pride, malice, revenge and resentment. Whenever you are tempted to fly off the handle, learn to view the brewing emotion as an alarm — an alarm that says you are about to act out on your self-centeredness. Respond by choosing to not be self-centered!
Sinful anger is self-defensive, self-serving and characterized by everything from outbursts to bearing grudges. It is even a root cause of depression. Obviously, this kind of anger destroys unity in the body of Christ.
Paul’s point in this passage: When you or I experience sinful anger, we are failing to live according to our new nature in Christ, which was imputed to us by the Holy Spirit at the time of our salvation. Rather than putting off the old man, we are living according to his decrepit nature.
Conversely, Scripture says in Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” In other words, our old nature is dead, so why resurrect it as evidenced by self-centered bad anger? When you are angry for sinful reasons, you are choosing to behave according to your old, crucified nature. It follows that any Christian activist who is characterized by these vitriolic, acerbic motives and actions should not be applauded.
This week’s Bible study delves into the theology of bad anger and offers Scriptures from Proverbs. The believer also learns through Scripture how to handle anger in himself, how to manage it in others, how to shun it, and whether to associate with people given over to anger, among other guidance.
As believers, we are in a spiritual battle. One of the greatest God-given weapons that Christians possess to defeat the whims of the devil and build God’s kingdom is the corporate unity of the body of Christ. Selfish anger works against that bigger objective.
Click here to read the full study so that you are aware of how to manage this emotion in a biblical way and bolster God’s kingdom on earth.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.