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Anger and Sin

Could you explain these verses in Ephesians 4:26, 31. Can we as sinners be angry and not sin?

Anger is a strong feeling of displeasure at a real or perceived wrong accompanied with a strong desire to to something about or against the source of wrong.

ILLUSTRATION #1 - You are driving down the road minding your own business. Suddenly, a car pulls out in front of you so that you barely get the car stopped without hitting them. They proceed to drive in front of you at about half the speed limit. You are angry. You honk at them and tailgate them for a mile. You feel the rage in you and know that you are a hair from playing bumper cars with them. Finally, they turn off and you go on with your heart pounding and your adrenalin flowing.

ILLUSTRATION #2 - You get home from work and step out of the car. You are still seething a bit over the car that pulled out in front of you. You come up to your porch and step on a loose board you have been meaning to replace. It comes loose and knocks you on the head. You grab the board, wrench it from the one remaining nail and sling it out into the yard. Thankfully, no one got hurt. "Tonight," you say with absolute determination, "you get replaced." Later that evening you replace the bad board.

ILLUSTRATION #3 - It has been a long day and you are finally getting settled for the night. Just before you go to bed, the phone rings and you get a call from someone in your church. Your heart breaks while you listen to them tell you about how they just found out that one of their teen aged children had been lured by an adult over the internet to run away from home. The police are seeking the teen and the parent wants your prayers. When you get off the phone, you are saddened but also angry--angry at people who would do such a thing to a teenager. You think of all the dangers teens face on the internet and you decide then and there that you will get involved in providing instruction and protection measures to other parents. You will fight to make a difference.

So, is anger bad all of the time or is it sometimes a good thing. We know that anger cannot always be evil because numerous scriptures speak of God's anger (Psalm 6:1; Isaiah 9:17). "God is angry with the wicked every day" (Psalm 7:11). Jesus Christ became angry (Mark 3:5).

However, men are given many warnings against anger. Here a sampling of the warnings:

Psalm 37:8 Cease from anger, and forsake wrath: fret not thyself in any wise to do evil.
Proverbs 14:17 He that is soon angry dealeth foolishly: and a man of wicked devices is hated.
Proverbs 29:22 An angry man stirreth up strife, and a furious man aboundeth in transgression.
Ecclesiastes 7:9 Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry: for anger resteth in the bosom of fools.
Colossians 3:8 But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth.
James 1:20 For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.

Obviously, man cannot handle anger as God does and it often leads him to sin. However, anger itself is not a sin; it only tends to lead men to sin. But why men and not God? I think the answer lies in the self-centered nature of man. We get angry because someone did us wrong and we want to settle the score. Therefore, it quickly leads to sin. But God's outlook is always righteous and just. When He gets angry, He will respond in a righteous manner and no wrong will be committed.

Anger is a powerful motivator. It pumps us up with energy and removes natural inhibitions. When sufficiently angry, we lose all fears and inhibitions; we do not care about the other results of our actions; we only want to make things right. Ah, herein lies the rub. In our rage, we tend to overlook the other consequences of our actions and become ultimately self-centered--not caring how anyone else is effected. As such, we usually do wrong; that is, we sin.

So, how do we deal with anger is such a way as to benefit from its motivational energy without reaping the disastrous effects of its unhindered execution? Well, if we are to be godly in our anger, then we need to look to God as our example in anger. Three characteristics of the anger of the Lord are applicable to us.

  1. God is slow to anger. "The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy" (Psalm 103:8). Therefore, we also should be slow to anger. "He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city" (Proverbs 16:32). Most of the unrighteous acts caused by anger come from knee-jerk anger. Something happens or someone says something to offend us and we immediately respond in like kind and usually with harmful results. This is not godly anger and it should be put away from the life of the believer. To be slow to anger means we must pull the reins on this desire to respond immediately and harshly. We must keep our anger on a short leash. Proverbs 14:17 warns, "He that is soon angry dealeth foolishly."
  2. God keeps His anger under control: "yea, many a time turned he his anger away, and did not stir up all his wrath" (Psalm 78:38). The righteous man must do the same. "The discretion of a man deferreth his anger; and it is his glory to pass over a transgression" (Proverbs 19:11). That is why we are told in Ephesians 4:26, "Be ye angry, and sin not." There are things in this world that will stir up our anger. There are some things that should make us angry. But we must keep that anger under control recognizing its tendency to lead us into sin.
  3. God is quick to release His anger: "For his anger endureth but a moment" (Psalm 30:5). We are also told to quickly leave our anger behind: "Cease from anger, and forsake wrath: fret not thyself in any wise to do evil" (Psalm 37:8). The practical rule of thumb given by Paul is, "let not the sun go down upon your wrath" (Ephesians 4:26). The worst thing we can do is to hold on to anger. It will come naturally and it may even work productively as a motivational starter, but we cannot drive our engine on anger. It will turn on us and destroy us. We must ever be ready to put it away along with the vices of bitterness, wrath, and evil speaking (Ephesians 4:31). Otherwise, we will become what Proverbs calls an "angry man" (Proverbs 22:24; 29:22), a man who stirs up strife, abounds in transgression, and is to be avoided by those determined to please the Lord.

Anger has many bad but some good purposes. God must be in charge of our anger and He has given guidelines for righteous living. If we will follow these guidelines for dealing with anger, God will bless our lives and our relationships with others. I pray we can all grow in this area of our lives.