Recently, I preached a sermon on anger from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:21-26). As a result, I’ve been thinking more about this emotion. I want to share some of my imperfect reflections. This list is not exhaustive, but are just some things that came to mind. You can find them below.
In no particular order:
1. There’s a difference between righteous anger and unrighteous anger.
Is anger always a sin? No. The Bible never says, “Thou shall not get angry.” In fact, the Apostle Paul says, “Be angry, and do not sin. . . ” (Eph. 4:26). So anger can be bad, but it is not always bad. That means we must differentiate between righteous anger and unrighteous anger.
Righteous anger is when you get angry toward sin, injustice, and oppression in the world. Take, for example, something like high school bullying or sex trafficking. The thought of these two makes me angry. I don’t think my anger here is sinful because my anger is aligned with the heart of God who himself hates sin, injustice, and oppression.
Unrighteous anger is all other forms of anger. The context of Matthew 5:21-24 is personal anger toward your brother or sister in Christ. Getting angry at petty offenses and slight snubs are not valid forms of anger. We must seek to steward our emotions and channel our anger toward injustice in the world. The heart of the Christian is to pray, “Lord, help me to love what you love, and hate what you hate.”
2. There’s a difference between murder and authorized killings.
Murder is always bad. Killings are often bad, but sometimes justifiable. Killings that are sometimes justifiable may include: an act done in self-defense, just war, capital punishment, etc. (NIV Zondervan Study Bible, pg. 1938). From an Old Testament perspective, some killings were justifiable because God’s law was continually disregarded. Examples in the Old Testament abound. After many situations in which grace was extended, God eventually had enough and decided to get rid of either individuals or whole communities at a time.
Every human is an image-bearer of God. So if you (or anyone) violates another image-bearer, there are consequences. If done on an extreme level there are extreme consequences which sometimes includes death. God has given us governing authorities and they do not hold the sword in vain (Romans 13:1-5). This should cause a holy fear in us, helping us to treat all persons with dignity and respect.
3. Violation of the 6th Commandment includes more than just murder.
The sixth commandment is, “You shall not murder (Exodus 20:13).” When Jesus added to the severity of this commandment in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:21-22), he was showing that just because you have not physically committed murder does not mean you have not violated the sixth commandment. If you get angry with your brother or sister in your heart, you’re guilty. Jesus, therefore, is not merely concerned with the external act of murder (although he is), but also your inward disposition toward others.
Also: violation of the 6th commandment includes more than just murder, but also includes racism and hate and abortion and the desire to seek revenge. For more on the ten commandments, see The Ten Commandments: What They Forbid and Promote.
4. Anger doesn’t look the same for all people.
When we think of angry people, we think of people who get drunk and verbally or physically abuse others. True. But this is only one form of anger. Anger is a multi-headed monster that shows many disgusting facial expressions. Someone who is passive-aggressive, for example, is an angry person. Instead of having the boldness to take the situation head-on, they go behind your back to diminish your life in some way. Anger is not limited to actions only, but internal desires and those who are passive-aggressive reveal their true heart.
5. What you do with your anger often makes the situation worse than what got you angry in the first place.
You got angry — got it. Now, what are you going to do with it? Are you going to seek revenge? Are you going to use your words to hurt someone? Resist the temptation. There are healthier ways to deal with anger than by trying to get even. What you do with your anger often makes the situation worse than what got you angry in the first place.
I recently heard Andy Mineo (Christian musician) say something like when it comes to your pain, you have two choices: get revenge or get healing. This is a good word. Revenge feels good for a moment, but it makes things worse. Healing is the best route. It’s a beautiful feeling to be able to forgive someone, to live in unity and peace, to not wish the worst for someone who has hurt you. That’s true freedom.
6. Our anger reveals our idols.
Want to know your idols? Show me your unrighteous anger. Whenever you get angry, as I believe I heard Tim Keller once say, you should ask what you are defending. Your pride? What others think of you? Most unrighteous anger comes down to an aspiration to be sovereign over the universe, to have others stroke your ego. The next time you get angry over something silly ask yourself why you’re getting angry. Look closely, and you just might find something that you’re banking on for your identity.
7. We should not expect quick fixes for anger.
If you grew up in a verbally abusive household, you might expect this sin to be transferred to you. Much of our weaknesses derives from our family of origin. Although you shouldn’t use your hard life to blame your sinful actions, knowing how God has wired you and being attuned to your childhood circumstances might shed light on why you struggle the way you do. Sanctification is possible through the power of the Holy Spirit and through the means of grace. Sometimes the Spirit will take away someone’s unrighteous anger in a second, other times he will leave us to struggle to be continually dependent on him.
8. Never feeling anger is a bad sign.
Never struggle with anger? That’s not a good thing. It’s a blessing to not struggle with unrighteous anger as a besetting sin. But Christians should get angry at things that God gets angry at. Never getting angry might be a sign of someone who is passive, cold, and indifferent about the world around him or her. We are blessed to be a blessing, called to fight for justice and shalom. Your lack of anger could be indicative of a lack of love.
Anger is something — to varying degrees — everyone struggles with. We must learn to deal with anger in a godly way. We will do much good for our heart and to the lives of the people around us if we do.