Anger - Righteous or Sinful?|
Q. I know we shouldn't blow our cool and dump our anger on others. But, isn't there a righteous anger or a righteous indignation encouraged in Scripture? What about when Jesus overturned the money tables in the Temple or ripped into the Pharisees? What about the verse that says "Be angry but do not sin?"
These are excellent questions and something every Christian should examine in his or her life. We all know sanctimonious, self-righteous church goers (and ordinary citizens) who bludgeon others with their "righteous indignation." They have an "in-your-face" demeanor and tend to push others to "stand up for their rights" and not to act like "doormats."
Added to that they seem to feel that every tiny little disagreement deserves a full Matthew 18:15 type confrontation. Very shortly they become isolated church members and family members who are avoided by nearly everyone! They reach a point where they have made themselves simply offensive and odious to others.
So when is a display of anger warranted? When should we show others our displeasure at certain behaviors or deeds?
We are not God or Jesus
We need to be very careful when looking at Scripture passages that portray God's righteous anger or Jesus' display of anger at the moneychangers or the Pharisees, for example. That's because their motives are pure - ours are not.
We are not God and we are certainly not Jesus. We are human beings filled with sin. This won't change until our bodies and minds are transformed into new beings at the return of Jesus our Lord. (See 1 Corinthians 15:50-52). Only God - only Jesus Christ - have the ability to express pure emotions of love or anger or jealousy not tainted by sin.
Sick, Deceitful Hearts
We don't have the ability to display pure, untainted emotions. Instead, our hearts are desperately sick and deceitful. The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah made this clear when he said,
"The heart is deceitful above all things,
and desperately sick -
who can understand it?"
(Jeremiah 17:9, ESV)
A Sinful Preacher
To illustrate, we recently knew of a pastor who gave terrific sermons about human frailties and anger. During the weeks he preached on this subject, it turns out he simultaneously had sexual affairs with various women in his congregation!
After he was confronted with these terrible behaviors and apologized for his immoral deeds, the preacher became very hostile to his Board of Elders. He was angry because they wouldn't forgive him by allowing him to continue preaching! In anger this pastor quit! (Never mind that most sinning pastors are fired for such behaviors and are required to spend many years in remediation).
A Dilemma of Forgiveness?
How would you assess the pastor's behaviors? Aren't we supposed to forgive? Aren't we required to forgive when a brother "repents?" Don't' we risk God not forgiving us for our own sins if we refuse to forgive someone their misdeeds?
After all, Jesus said "Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him - and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven time, saying 'I repent,' forgive him" (Luke 17:3-4, NASB).
In Matthew 6:14 Jesus explains, "For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions."
Obviously, we need to use some common sense and study our Bibles to learn answers to problems such as these. In the case of the immoral pastor, passages dealing with qualifications for pastors such as First Timothy chapter 3 and Titus verses 5 through 9 automatically disqualify teachers living in such blatant sin.
Bible Study Helpful
So in doing research for this article, imagine our surprise to learn that studying our best English Bible translations may not shed as much light on this subject as we might expect.
Oh, yes…certainly we will find a majority of verses telling us not to be "hotheads." There is nothing admirable in being short-tempered. That's clear. Numerous verses from the book of Proverbs warn us against losing our cool.
Other passages speak of God's patient, slow-to-get-angry nature. The apostle James quips, "Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger - for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God" (Jas 1:19-20, ESV).
OK…But, then what do we do with Ephesians 4:25-32? In verse 25 we are told, "Be angry and do not sin - do not let the sun go down on your anger."
Yet, in verse 31-32 we are reprimanded not to "grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you."
"Be angry." (v. 25)
"Let all bitterness and wrath and anger…be put away from you…" (v. 31).
Which is it?
Greek - not English
This is one occasion when a perfectly literal bible translation may be less helpful than a paraphrased version. Surprisingly, unlike English there are actually three Greek words translated "anger" in our Bibles. Our best translators use the English equivalent "anger" to represent these three Greek words.
1. The first Greek word for anger is "Thumos." "Thumos" means unrestrained, out-of-control, furious anger. In the New Testament it most often refers to unregenerate (unsaved) men or sinning people. Satan is said to characterize "Thumos." In Revelation 12:12 we read…"woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath (anger), because he knows that his time is short!"
2. The second word for anger from the Greek vocabulary is "Parorgismos." This means a seething resentment that often comes from feelings of jealousy.
3. The third word for anger is "Orge." It is an anger that results from conviction about something.
If we paraphrased these Greek words into English words or phrases it might look something like this:
- The violent, angry gunsman fired shots into the crowd (Thumos).
- She was seething with jealous resentment (anger) over her husband's attention to his beautiful secretary (Parorgismos).
- She passionately (angrily) donated her home to the abused women in her community (Orge).
From these three Greek words for "anger" we know that Christians can be rightfully angry over things that hinder God's agenda and over things that grieve him or cast His Name in a bad light.
For example in John 2:13-17 we see Christ's fury as He cleanses the Temple from greedy moneychangers and animal salesmen. This Bible passage fulfills an Old Testament prophecy: "For zeal for Your house has consumed me…" (Psalm 69:9). This is one example of "righteous anger."
Defending God's Holy Nature
However, it is not a license for self-interested parties to angrily tear down modern-day churches, engage in hateful crimes against church property, or to slander other Christians!
Not for Offenses, Resentments&Moodiness
Christians are only permitted anger over those things that grieve God. "Don't get angry when people offend you. Don't let your anger degenerate into personal resentment, bitterness, sullenness, or moodiness. That is forbidden," notes Pastor John MacArthur. "The only justifiable anger defends the great, glorious, and holy nature of our God" (MacArthur 2009, 3).
Paul's anger at the Corinthians is another example of righteous indignation (1 Corinthians 5:1-2). They tolerated a form of incest among them that even outsiders would have banished. Instead, they should have dealt with this sin immediately.
"Anger that is selfish, passionate, undisciplined, and uncontrolled is sinful, useless, and hurtful. It must be banished from the Christian life. But the disciplined anger that seeks the righteousness of God is pure, selfless, and dynamic."
"We ought to be angry about the sin in the world and in the church. But we can't let that anger degenerate into sin. That's why Paul said, 'Be angry but sin not - do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity' (Ephesians 4:26)" (MacArthur 2009, 3).
In other words, take care of the matter quickly and don't let Satan get a hold of your thought-life.
Christians are appropriately angry over sins such as abuse, pornography, unjustified poverty, racism, drugs or child sex trafficking. These are issues having to do with social justice and God's defense of weaker beings.
But, every time we become angry we must ask ourselves if we are angry because we want to be "right?" Or are we angry because God's holy nature has been offended? Is our motive one of pride or to defend God's worldview?
If we can we should take some form of redemptive action after we have identified a justifiable cause. This may include work with organizations devoted to freeing women or children from sex slavery or abuse, helping to free people from drug addictions, helping to alleviate poverty through job training, and so forth.
Against Short Fuses
But, always remember that the number of verses in the Bible speaking of the foolishness and folly of selfish, short-tempered anger far outweigh just the handful of verses encouraging "righteous" anger. A "short fuse" is never a good thing. In other words, 99% of the time we should all just "chill out!"
"Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you" (Ephesians 4:32).
Adams, Jay E. 1994. From forgiven to forgiving. Amityville, NY: Calvary Press.
Anderson, Neil T.&Rich Miller. 2002. Getting anger under control. Eugene, OR: Harvest House.
Harper, Lisa. 2008. What is righteous anger? Today's Christian Woman. 9 October. Available from: http://www.christianitytoday.com/tcw/article_print.html?id=60533. (accessed February 14, 2009).
MacArthur, John. 2009. New life, new walk, principles of new life. Ephesians 4:25-32. Tape GC 1930. Available from: http://www.bibebb.com/files/MAC/sg1930.htm. (accessed Feb. 14, 2009).
Authors Ken Emilio holds an MA in Biblical Studies from Louisiana Baptist University. Valorie received her MA in History from UCLA focusing upon early church history.