Be Angry and Do Not Sin
This Post Might Make You Angry
One day in class, I made the comment that anger itself is not a sin. A student challenged this idea, so this article is my detailed explanation concerning the idea that anger in and of itself is not sin. (Note: Because of the context of the interchange, this is a THOROUGH explanation in dealing with arguments and issues). In a spirit of learning and examination, I submit this article.
First, Paul says in Ephesians 4:26, “be angry, and do not sin…” Paul is quoting Psalm 4:4 which says, “be angry, and do not sin…” In other words, Paul directly quotes and reapplies the Psalms.
Second, the word is “orgizo” which looks like our word “Oger” (big, angry monster). This word means “to be angry at someone or something.” It doesn’t mean “be agitated,” or “perturbed,” but really as we would use the word in English, “angry.”
Now, we are commanded in two different places in Scripture to be angry. So if we assume that anger of any kind is a sin, then
- The Bible contradicts itself since it tells us to be angry and not be angry.
- God is not talking about anger but something else.
- Anger in itself must not be a sin.
We reject #1 because if the Bible contradicts itself, it is not the word of God and we don’t need to stress over the issue of anger anyway.
Option #2 would work if we have a really good reason for saying that God’s command should not be taken literally, but this would require us to be “not angry,” but “something else.” You’d have to make a case that “anger” is not “anger.” In such a simple passage, and a command at that, such a hermeneutic would stretch credibility.
Option #3 would require changing our assumption about anger. The key is to try to understand what Scripture says about anger without reading our conclusions into the passages. For example, if we say Job never got angry because he didn’t sin is to assume 1. Anger is a sin and Job didn’t experience anger, and 2. That we know the full extent of Job’s emotional state (Scripture is often sparse in such details).
James 1:20 says “anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” Here, James qualifies anger as that which is “of man” which would disqualify any anger that is “of God.”
An example of anger of man is Jonah’s anger in 4:9-11 which shows him getting angrier over a shade tree than the issues of the pagans. Bad anger is bad. But is there such a thing as good anger?
In verse 19, James says to be “slow to anger.” Either this is a figure of speech meaning “don’t get angry at all,” or experiencing anger might be appropriate since you can get there slowly (and presumably for the right reasons). There is no parallel expression for every other sin like “slow to lust,” or “slow to greed,” or “slow to drunkenness.”
Now, anger makes the list in several lists of sins like 2 Corinthians 12:20; Galatians 5:20, and Colossians 3:8. But if there is a distinction between appropriate anger and misappropriated anger, these lists only represent misappropriated anger. In addition, “divisions” are often discouraged, yet believers are frequently commanded to root out and remove false teachers which would cause a division in the church. There are appropriate times and places to divide (in moral issues and issues of core doctrines). Are there appropriate times to experience anger?
Jesus says in Matthew 5:22 that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgement. Again, this is a qualified statement about anger towards a brother. This still does not exclude appropriate types of anger.
Towards Counter Examples.
Now let’s look at some of the counter examples in Scripture.
The first is Mark 3:5 where Jesus is reported as getting angry. This is the only explicit reference in the New Testament that says Jesus got angry (though several other passages imply it). And it’s the same Greek word as used in Ephesians (but in the noun form). Jesus looked with anger (adverbial reference describing the type of looking) at the people who were testing him.
Now, Jesus experienced anger. Some might say, “Well, Jesus is perfect so he gets to experience anger.” First, if Jesus, as fully human, experienced anger and it was not a sin, then other humans can also experience anger and it not be a sin. Second, if one claims that Jesus’ anger was entirely different than the anger we experience, this would be an assumption and not one that makes sense. How is it that Jesus, as a human, is experiencing an emotion other humans aren’t allowed to experience even though they do experience it as a reaction much like Jesus did?
Now, I don’t know if theologically we can say Jesus gave them all the “stink eye,” but he looked at them “with anger.” He was mad. And he did not sin.
One other example of clear anger worth considering is Nehemiah’s display anger in chapter 13. He gets angry and throws out a usurper from the temple as well as beating the men who married foreign women. If that wasn’t enough, he pulled out their beards after beating them. He was angry. And he asked God to remember this. He never repents for his actions. His actions in many ways parallel what Jesus does when he beats the money changers out of the temple.
Are Anger and Love Incompatible?
In God’s nature, anger and love are in perfect harmony. God is both all loving, and all wrathful. God must be all of what he is because is spirit. He doesn’t have “parts.” He is what he is. So they are not incompatible.
Now, when it comes to people, in what way is God’s anger related to human anger? There are three possibilities:
- Our anger and his anger are entirely the same. Very few people believe this and the position is far from orthodox.
- Our anger and his anger are entirely different. For this reason many people say “God’s anger is different (entirely) from ours.” But if this is the case, then the same can (and should) be said of God’s love, mercy, and justice. His characteristics, all of them, are entirely different, and not only do we NOT know what his attributes really are, we know that our love, justice, and mercy are nothing like God’s.
- Our anger is similar but different from God’s. This is what is meant by “God is love, we have love.” We know our love is not perfect and as full as God’s, but our love is similar. We know how to love because he loves us. We know how to be merciful because God is merciful to us. I would also add that we know how to be angry because God is angry with us (which is why he disciplines us).
Correctly Categorizing Anger
The key to this entire issue is to correctly categorize anger.
Our anger (human), will never be in category #1. We can agree with God and understand (in an analogous way) why and how he is angry, but that will never represent our kind of anger.
Our anger can begin in category #2 and move to category #3 which is what I believe the “do not sin” part of Ephesians warns against. Be angry (#2) but don’t sin (#3).
And sometimes our anger might begin in #3 and we can move it to category #2 if our anger is warranted but we have misbehaved as a result of it. Now, the big question:
How can we be angry and yet not sin?
Example 1: When my child rebels (or shall we say “sins”) against me,
#1: Do I have a right, or should I be angry with my child? Yes.
#2: Do I have a right, or should I respond based on that anger?
In one sense, no, I should never let anger fuel my actions.
In another sense, yes, I should always let my anger towards sin help me identify when something goes wrong and goes against God’s plan. Children disrespecting parents would be in that category. Much like pain tells the body something is wrong, our anger should stir in relation to sin like injustice, oppression, and blasphemy.
Example 2: When I see a beautiful woman, my natural reaction is to recognize and be attracted to beautiful people. This is not in itself a sinful thing. What happens next determines if I make it sinful.
#1: if I think and dwell on her beauty and run and embrace her, I have done NOTHING wrong to my wife, and such actions/thoughts are to be expected, and in some ways, encouraged.
#2: If I do the same to a stranger at wal-mart, it is a sin, EVEN IF the strange lady likes it! They key is categorizing my feelings correctly and acting correctly on them.
Application: Be angry and do not sin.
- Use anger to help identify the sins that also make God angry.
- Reserve judgment and wrath and vengeance for the Lord.
- Seek a higher stance of showing love, forgiveness, and mercy rather than wallowing in anger.
- Always question your anger due to limited perspectives and data.
- Be slow to anger to prevent over reacting.
- Anger is a reaction and should never be sought, always controlled, and very rarely let loose.
#1 “We should free ourselves from anger and not even accept our anger as something good.” Be angry (experience it) and do not sin (let it go and don’t let it control you). Paul wouldn’t warn about not giving the devil a foot hold if anger wasn’t something acceptable. If the anger wasn’t acceptable at all, then the anger itself would be the devil’s foothold!
#2: “God’s anger is different from our anger.” Having already partially addressed this, let me add that any argument that says we shouldn’t experience anger because God’s is entirely different also means we cannot experience or understand love because ours is entirely different and unrelated to God’s. Such a statement fails to take account what anger really is and the image of God that we bear.
#3: “Being angry is not a virtue.” Indeed, it is a reaction. Humans would never experience it if we hadn’t sinned, nor would God pour his anger out (because it is poured out on unrighteousness, something that doesn’t exist on earth if we hadn’t sinned). But sin does occur, so we should always be angry toward sin but control it and shift it as we are not God we and cannot pour ours out.
#4: “If you didn’t experience anger, you wouldn’t commit sin in anger.” True, and if I didn’t find women attractive, I would never commit the sin of lust (or any other potential sexual sins [that I don’t commit; this is only hypothetical!]). Yet, recognizing beauty is part of my nature. We are created that way by design, not by virtue of the Fall. Anger is part of my design for as I recognize sin, I react the way God reacts emotionally (I’m speaking in anthropomorphic terms for my philosopher friends). Yet, my actions in response to my emotions must be different from God’s as I am not God and bear no authority as the judge as he has.
Finally, What I’m Not Saying
I am not saying that any and all anger is ok. I’m saying that just because someone experiences anger, that person does not automatically have to repent. If anger was in and of itself wrong, believers would be expected to repent of each and every experience of anger including Jesus.
I am not saying that anger should be justified. Anger should be controlled, resisted, and eliminated as soon as possible since humans are prone to letting anger fester. Even when I’m angry at the rebellion of my children, that anger can fester and grow to bitterness and malice.
If this post has made you angry, go and repent right now as you believe you should not be experiencing what you are experiencing. Otherwise, I welcome comments and discussion on the subject.