What to Do With All Your Anger

(by Daniel Henderson with Dr. Philip Brown)

Our nation has been dominated by all kinds of emotions in recent months, as have our personal lives. Fear seemed to be prevalent in the national psyche – until this week. Now, anger is the headline story. Much of it is justified. Some of it is destructive. So, what do we do with our anger from a biblical perspective?

Our nation has been dominated by all kinds of emotions in recent months, as have our personal lives. Fear seemed to be prevalent in the national psyche – until this week. Now, anger is the headline story. Much of it is justified. Some of it is destructive.

Without getting into the details of the rightful national infuriation over the unjustified death of George Floyd in Minneapolis or even analyzing the outrageous violence in cities across our nation, I wanted to offer a clear biblical perspective for Christians on the subject of managing our personal struggles with anger. As Christians, we can’t control mob violence nor can we ultimately manage the unfolding of national atrocities, but we can look at our own hearts in light of the Bible to examine our anger according to the word of God.

As Christians, we can’t control mob violence nor can we ultimately manage the unfolding of national atrocities, but we can look at our own hearts in light of the Bible to examine our anger according to the word of God.

Rather than recreating more content, I found an excellent article by Dr. Philip Brown in which he was asked about the difference between “righteous” and “unrighteous” anger. I thought his insight was helpful and hope you will too. Here was his response to the question:

Great question! First off, your question correctly assumes that there is such a thing as righteous anger. A lot of folks have heard it preached that all anger is sinful. That is not what the Bible teaches.

Consider the following biblical data: The Bible tells us that God is angry with sinners (Isa. 34:2), and He becomes angry with His people when they dishonor Him (Deut. 1:34, 37). Jesus, our perfect example, experienced anger at the hardness of people’s hearts (Mark 3:5). Paul commands the Ephesians, “Be angry and don’t sin” (Eph. 4:26a). If God experiences anger, it cannot be an inherently sinful emotion. Since the Spirit inspired Paul to command believers to be angry and not to sin, it must be possible.

On the other hand, just 5 verses later, Paul tells the Ephesians to put away all anger and wrath (Eph. 4:31). So, clearly there must be a difference between righteous and unrighteous anger.

There are at least three factors that determine whether anger is righteous or unrighteous: 1. its reason, 2. its expression, and 3. its duration.

The duration of godly anger is short-lived. Specifically, God says regarding righteous anger: “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath” (Eph. 4:26). Any anger that is prolonged, harbored, or nursed is or becomes unrighteous anger.

How anger is expressed is the second factor that determines whether it is righteous or not. Godly anger is controlled anger. James directs us to be “slow to anger” (Jam. 1:19). The context of James 1:19 and my understanding of God’s anger suggest that this means “be slow to express or act upon anger.” Angry explosions do not “work the righteousness of God” (Jam. 1:20).

Paul writes, “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth …” (Eph. 4:29a). It is possible to be angry for a righteous reason and yet fail to express that anger in a godly manner. When righteous anger is expressed, it must be expressed in a manner that is “good for edification,” is “appropriate to the need of the moment,” and that ministers “grace to the listener” (Eph. 4:29b).

Paul goes on to say in verse 32 that we must be kind, tender-hearted and forgiving toward one another. When you are angry, if your verbal or non-verbal communication is not edifying, appropriate, gracious, kind, and tender-hearted, then regardless of how legitimate your anger is, you have sinned and need to ask God’s forgiveness and the forgiveness of the person to whom you expressed your anger wrongly.

The reason for anger, the third and probably most significant factor, presents the greatest challenge to evaluate. How does a person tell if they are angry for godly or ungodly reason(s)?

The things that anger God—wickedness, rebellion, injustice—should also anger us. Paul tells us to “abhor what is evil, and cling to what is good” (Rom. 12:9). It seems reasonable to assume that if you abhor something, you will be angered if you see it happening.

“The things that anger God—wickedness, rebellion, injustice—should also anger us. Paul tells us to ‘abhor what is evil, and cling to what is good’ (Rom. 12:9). It seems reasonable to assume that if you abhor something, you will be angered if you see it happening.”

 

Dr. Philip Brown

On the other hand, if we are angry because our rights have been violated, our expectations have gone unfulfilled, our desires were not granted, or our feelings were hurt, then self-centeredness is behind our anger. This is the kind of anger we are commanded to put off (Col. 3:8).

When we get angry, we should make it a point to evaluate our anger in the light of its duration, expression, and reason. If on any of these points, we find that our anger does not fit the biblical description of righteous anger, we should respond with repentance, restitution where necessary, and most importantly, we must examine our thinking and find out where our mind needs to be renewed so that our emotions (anger) will be in harmony with God’s word.[I]

In another helpful article, one writer affirms:

Righteous anger is a response to sin, the mistreatment of others, or an attack on the Kingdom of God. It should make us angry when kids are bullied or employees are fired for acting with integrity or when people do evil things in the name of God. Unrighteous anger typically occurs when our anger is caused by an attack to our own pride. If someone tries to hurt or insult us, then we respond by trying to hurt or insult them.

The truth of the Gospel, however, frees us from this nasty cycle. If your identity and purpose in life come from God, it won’t bother you nearly as much when others insult you. You don’t have to fight back because you know God loves you for who you are, and His opinion alone is the one that matters. Righteous anger seeks restoration, but unrighteous anger seeks destruction. [ii]

You don’t have to fight back because you know God loves you for who you are, and His opinion alone is the one that matters. Righteous anger seeks restoration, but unrighteous anger seeks destruction. #leadersgolast

In closing, I think of a moment when the wife of one of my mentors stated that in the decades of their marriage she had never seen her husband lose his temper around the home. With a sense of both conviction and curiosity, I asked him about her comment later that same day. He was a bit surprised by her gracious observation, then took a moment to reflect on his response. He eventually noted, “Well, I guess it is rooted in my theology. Anger is a control mechanism in our relationships. I have such a high view of the sovereignty of God, that there is not much that I have to get angry about.” Of course, his answer was in reference to expressions of unrighteous anger.

The bottom line is that whether we are expressing justifiable righteous anger, or struggling with a temptation toward unrighteous anger, our principles, position, and purposes of life in Christ should be the guideposts for our actions and reactions.

Whether we are expressing justifiable righteous anger, or struggling with a temptation toward unrighteous anger, our principles, position, and purposes of life in Christ should be the guideposts for our actions and reactions.

Copyright © 2020 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.

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Dr. Philip Brown serves as the Graduate Program Director and teaches NT Greek and Biblical Hebrew as well as English Bible, Theology, and Homiletics classes at God’s Bible School and College in Cincinnati, OH (https://www.gbs.edu/). This article used by permission.

[i] https://www.gbs.edu/righteous-vs-unrighteous-anger/

[ii] https://leadersgolast.com/righteous-anger-vs-unrighteous-anger/