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Isn’t Anger Always Sinful?

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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In your anger do not sin." Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.

Ephesians 4:26

The What, How, and Why of Anger: Part 2

As we saw in yesterday's reflection, the first sentence in Ephesians 4:26 reads, "In your anger, do not sin." More literally, the Greek original could be translated, "Be angry, but do not sin." The main point is simple and direct: When you are angry, don't sin. This wording seems to imply that it is possible to be angry without sinning. Is that true? Isn't anger always a sin, at least to some extent?

I used to think this way because, quite frankly, my own experience of anger was so mixed up with sin that I couldn't separate the two. Growing up in my family, my father rarely got angry. He was almost always a pleasant, patient man. But, about once or twice a year, he did get angry, and these incidents of anger were the scariest experiences of my young life. By God's grace, my dad never beat me or my siblings horribly or said terrible things to us, but he did act in ways that certainly weren't consistent with "In your anger, do not sin."

As you might expect, I was quite a bit like my dad. Even as a boy, I was also patient and cheerful most of the time. But when I got angry, then I'd think, do, and say things that were clearly wrong. This pattern of behavior continued into adulthood.

So, given my experience, I was once inclined to believe that all anger is sinful, at least to an extent. That's all I knew. Plus, there were some verses in the Bible that appeared to support this conclusion. In Ephesians 4:31, for example, it says, "Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice." Doesn't this imply that all anger is wrong and should be cast away? (I'll deal with this verse in a few days.)

But then there's the little problem of Jesus. The Gospels show us that our Lord became angry at times (Mark 3:5; 10:14; 11:15-17). And then there's the big problem of God. Many times throughout Scripture, God is revealed in his anger over sin and injustice (for example, Ps. 90:7-11; John 3:36). So if Jesus, the Son of God, can be angry, and if God the Father can be angry, then anger must not be intrinsically wrong. And, since human beings were created in God's image, perhaps our feelings of anger are not always wrong either.

When I was in college, one of my InterVarsity leaders, Steve, helped me see anger from a new perspective. He talked about how he felt when he witnessed injustice, when he heard of children being abused, when he saw people intentionally dishonor the Lord. Steve helped me understand that, indeed, feelings of anger could be a righteous response to sin, and therefore not sinful in and of themselves.

So, I now believe that anger isn't always sinful. But I am keenly aware of how often my own anger is mixed up with my sin, both in its origin and in its expression. Thus, as I heed the command of Ephesians 4:26, "In your anger, do not sin," I find questions rising in my soul: How? How can I keep from sinning when I'm angry? How can I control my temper? How can I prevent myself from saying or doing things that hurt the ones I love? In tomorrow's reflection, I'll work on the how issue. For now, let me encourage you to consider the following questions.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: I assume you know anger that is mixed with sin. But have you ever witnessed anger that you would describe as righteous? Have you ever felt this kind of anger? How can we know when our anger is motivated by sin and when it is motivated by godliness?

PRAYER: Gracious God, you have made us in your image. Thus, we are created to feel angry when injustice hurts people and when unrighteousness dishonors you. There are times when anger is appropriate.

Yet, Lord, I am aware of how readily my anger is mixed with sin. I tend to get angriest when I don't get my way, whether I'm driving down the highway, taking on a project at work, or trying to get a family member to do what I want. Help me, Lord, not to use the possibility of righteous anger as a justification for my sin. May I offer to you all that I am, including my anger. Use me for your purposes, Lord. Amen.

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P.S. from Mark: Next Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Christian season of Lent. If you're wondering about the meaning of the holy day and how some Christians keep it, you might find helpful a short piece I've writing on the subject: Ash Wednesday: Meaning and Practice. Also, I've written a short introduction to Lent: How Lent Can Make a Difference in Your Relationship with God.

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Mark Roberts is the Executive Director of Digital Media and the Theological and Cultural Steward for Foundations for Laity Renewal. He is the author of eight books, including No Holds Barred: Wrestling with God in Prayer. He lives in Boerne, Texas, with his wife, Linda. Their children spend most of the year away at college on the East Coast.

Show Me the Way

Seeking advice for the road ahead is a practice as old as people. How we do it may look different from one generation to the next, but all of us want what wisdom has to offer. Our series at The High Calling, Show Me the Way, addresses this topic from various angles. Our hope is that even the most professionally independent among us will remember the power of sage advice as we serve the Lord in our jobs.

Image courtesy of Laity Lodge, one of our sister programs in the Foundations for Laity Renewal.

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