If you have grown up in the Church, you may have heard conflicting messages about anger. You may have been taught that it is wrong and sinful to be angry, only to read about Jesus turning tables over in the temple and beating people with a whip. So, what’s the story on anger?
In Psalm 4:4-5, David challenges his people by saying, “Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord. ”
From this passage it appears that there must be an anger that is holy and acceptable: a righteous anger. Yet, far too often, the anger that sweeps over us is of a different kind, unholy and immoral: an unrighteous anger.
What is the difference between righteous and unrighteous anger?
Righteous anger is what we experience when we are stirred up against that which is evil. Righteous anger is when the work of the Lord in us chafes against the work of the Enemy. Righteous anger rebels against rebellion. Righteous anger hates sin.
We experience unrighteous anger when our pride is assaulted and we feel the need to defend the idol of self. Unrighteous anger seeks to preserve comfort and convenience for self at all costs. Unrighteous anger emerges when our autonomy and independence from God is questioned. Unrighteous anger is rebellion against God. Unrighteous anger is sin.
Consider this example: Hidden sin is uncovered in the life of a friend. Provocation wells up in your heart, a sense that something wrong has happened. You trusted this person, and they revealed themselves to be flawed. Does their offense stir up anger in you because it is an offense against a holy and eternal God? Or, does their sin merely frustrate your expectations of them?
Unrighteous anger often manifests itself when we are primarily concerned with how sin affects us instead of how sin breaks the law of God. Righteous anger is first and foremost the overflow of a heart that “delights in the law of the Lord and meditates on it day and night” (Ps. 1:2).
The apostle Paul quotes David’s words from Psalm 4 in Ephesians 4:25-26, saying, “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.”
Paul warns us that righteous anger does not seek cover in the darkness. Righteous anger is not allowed to fester and become pride-fueled rage or bitterness. Check the “tone” of your anger, whether it is righteous or unrighteous, by asking yourself, “Am I angry because someone has offended my pride? Or, am I angry because evil is assaulting my heart, my family, my church, my neighbor or my King?”
There is a righteous anger, but it does not come from wounded pride. The righteous anger that is commended in the Bible comes from the Spirit of God stirring the hearts of God’s people to despise evil and to trust that vengeance belongs to Him alone.