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Be Angry, and Yet Do Not Sin

The Bible is filled with warnings about anger.  Consider a few of these warnings in the writings of the apostle Paul: he warned the Christians at Corinth lest he should find "angry tempers” among them (2Cor. 12:20); he listed "outbursts of anger” as a work of the flesh in Galatians 5:20; he told the Christians in Ephesus and Colossae to put away "wrath and anger” (Eph. 4:31; Col. 3:8); and he admonished prayer without "wrath and dissension” in 1Timothy 2:8.  This body of Scriptural evidence is enough to demonstrate that anger can be a dangerous condition.

If we view these passages outside of their biblical contexts, then we may conclude that anger is always inappropriate for Christians.  However, the Bible’s commandments regarding anger do not prohibit all anger, but rather they instruct us to practice self-control over anger and to direct our anger toward appropriate objects, purposes, and even persons.  The prohibitions against anger pertain to uncontrolled anger that leads to sin (violence, sinful words, etc.) and worldly anger that does not serve God’s purposes.

Notice Ephesians 4:26-27 – "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.”  First of all, let us notice that this message is given in the same context in which Paul also wrote that wrath and anger should be put away (v. 31).  It may appear that these two messages contradict one another, but they do not.  Instead, they complement each other.  The first message permits a Christian to be angry but places limitations upon that anger.  One of those limitations is, "Do not sin.”  This limitation is further addressed in the second message, which teaches that the types of anger and wrath that should be put away are those associated with the other sinful traits of verse 31 – bitterness, clamor, slander, and malice.  Anger of this nature has no place in the life of a Christian, and it should be eliminated.

Thus, we see that anger should be prevented from evolving into sin, and to that end it should also be quickly dispelled as indicated by the instruction, "Do not let the sun go down on your anger.”  Even if the reason for anger cannot be resolved quickly, the anger itself can be resolved within the day through a calming prayer to the Father ("casting all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you” – 1Pet. 5:7) and by other godly means.  Anger that is not quickly resolved can fester and create an opportunity for the devil in that unresolved anger leads to temptation and the potential for sin.

Not only should anger be quickly resolved, but it should also be slowly acquired.  Notice James 1:19-20 – "But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.”  Those who have uncontrolled, impatient, quick, hot tempers are notorious for making foolish mistakes, saying sinful words, and committing evil deeds (consider Prov. 12:16; 14:16-17, 29; 15:18; 16:32; 19:19; 22:24-25; 29:22).  Such behavior does not achieve the righteousness of God, but rather it fulfills the ambition of Satan who takes advantage of the opportunity afforded to him by a short temper.  Instead, a Christian’s temper should be measured, cool, and not easily aroused.

With the limitations upon our anger understood, let us also understand that the anger condoned by the Bible is righteous indignation.  Righteous indignation is anger that is aroused by unrighteousness, wickedness, injustice, and irreverence against God.  It is anger resulting from violations of that which is right and true.  Righteous indignation can be directed at persons, objects, purposes, and even oneself.  Some examples of righteous indignation are: Moses, due to Israel’s golden calf (Ex. 32:19-29); Phinehas, due to the immorality of an Israelite (Num. 25:1-15); Jesus, due to moneychangers in the temple (John 2:14-17) and the hard hearts of the Jews (Mark 3:5), and the Corinthian Christians, due to their own sin (2Cor. 7:11).  The most obvious example of righteous indignation is God the Father, whose fierce wrath is stated and demonstrated countless times throughout the Scriptures.

Therefore, heed the words of the Scripture – "Be angry, and yet do not sin.”  Your Christian character should prevent you from being provoked to anger by personal insults, but there are some things in this world that should provoke you to anger just as they provoke God to anger.  When this occurs, you must not allow righteous indignation to become unbridled rage that leads to sin.  Instead, you should calm your temper through prayer and godly restraint, and then you should channel your righteous indignation into useful action.  Convert your anger into motivation to protect yourself and your family from unrighteousness, teach and practice truth and justice, and pray for all who are affected by the source of your anger.  In this way you can be angry and yet not sin.

Stacey E. Durham




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