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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Is All Anger Sinful?

In our look at Matthew 5:21-26 last Sunday, there was a somewhat obvious question that I did not have time to address, so I’d like to cover it here.  

Is all anger sinful?  Jesus’ statement, “…everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment…” sounds like a blanket condemnation of all anger.  Is teaching that all anger is wrong?

As always, when we come to questions like this, we need to interpret Scripture with Scripture.  If we do this, we find that it cannot be the case that all anger is sinful – God Himself experiences anger.  Psalm 7:11 tells us that God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day.  There are many references in the Old Testament to the wrath of God (Exod. 22:24l 32:10;Num. 25:11; Deut. 9:8; 2 Ki. 22:13; 2 Chr. 19:10; Ezr. 7:23; Job 20:28; Ps. 2:5; 78:21; Prov. 14:35; Isa. 9:19; Jer. 6:11; Lam. 2:2; Ezek. 7:8; Dan. 9:16; Hos. 5:10; Nah. 1:2; Zech. 8:14).  We know that God cannot sin (Jas 1:13;1 John 1:5).  

We also know that Jesus was angry.  The most vivid demonstration of this is in John 2:13-17: The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. 15 And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables.
 16 And he told those who sold the pigeons, "Take these things away; do not make my Father's house a house of trade." 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for your house will consume me."
(cf. Mark 3:1-5).  Scripture also tells us explicitly that Jesus never sinned (2 Cor 5:21).

Further, there are passages like Eph 4:26, which reads, Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.  All of these things indicate that there is some form of anger that is not sinful.  So we can say definitively that anger is not inherently sinful.

We might classify some anger as righteous anger, that is, anger for God-centered reasons.  The wrath of God in the Bible is always connected to His displeasure over sin or His zeal for His own will, reputation, and honor.  These are righteous reasons for anger.  Likewise, Christ’s anger was an expression of His displeasure over sin and His concern for the Father’s honor and reputation.  

It is quite possible for us to experience righteous anger.  When we see the abuse of children or the victimization of the weak in the news and we get angry, this could be considered righteous anger.  When we get angry because of how someone’s sin has brought disrepute upon the Lord or His people, this is righteous anger.  When we experience anger about the same things and for the same reasons that the Lord does, we are experiencing righteous anger.  

On the other hand, clearly there is sinful anger, which Jesus condemns in the passage we covered on Sunday.  We could say that sinful anger is anger for self-centered reasons.  It is anger that is connected our zeal for our own will, reputation, and honor.  Typically, it results from not getting what we want.  It stems from our lusts.  Perhaps, someone does not give me the respect that I want.  Perhaps, my plans get interrupted.  There are million different possibilities, but what they all have in common is a concern for self rather than for God.

Scripture is clear that this kind of anger must not be tolerated.  Eph 4:31 reads, Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.  In Gal 5:19-21, Paul classifies it as a “work of the flesh,” going so far as to say that those who practice it will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But Scripture is equally clear that sinful anger can be defeated through the power of the Holy Spirit – “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” Gal 5:16).  Remember that Christ saved us that we might live righteously for God’s glory.  And He offers the grace and strength necessary to live for Him (Phil 2:12-13).  If you struggle with this sin, you may be interested in a teaching series we just completed on dealing with anger.  You can find recordings of those lessons here.

Posted Greg Birdwell

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